It may be difficult to think that Mo Kenney has had any “bad luck” in her lifetime. She’s young, has garnered the respect of her peers even at the earliest stage of her career and her demeanour is as even keel as a sea side horizon on a calm, serene day. But we all know weather patterns in our lives can change and if you listen closely to the lyrics of her songs, you get a teeny glimpse of some rougher seas in the past, but just a little.
Her biggest regret in life so far seems to be that she wasn’t allowed to start guitar lessons when she really wanted to as a child because her fingers were too small, or so she found out later. Instead, she had to start with piano lessons first. Then, at the tender age of 11 years old, she finally picked up the guitar and started learning. A few years after that, she quit. All because she instinctively knew that for her, it didn’t make sense any more. And therein, lies the directness and simplicity of knowing what she knows and a path that Moe Kenney walks and talks and plays.
The 22 year old Nova Scotia born singer/songwriter has had East Coast music lovers enthralled for the past couple of years. And the list of those loudly singing her praises amongst her singer/songwriter peers is impressive. Like Ron Sexsmith who describes her as “the real deal”. “She seems perfectly content to be what she is and to sing about what she knows. This is what makes her and her songs so appealing,” observes Ellen Reid of the Crash Test Dummies.
Now, with her recently released self titled debut album, produced by Joel Plaskett, and a tour spot opening and performing with Plaskett, the rest of the nation is waking up to this rising talent as well.
“Things are 100% different for me now than they were before,” says Kenney. “This is my first real tour, before this it was a few dates around the Maritimes, but I’m a lot busier now with having my own album out now recorded in a legitimate studio, not a four track recorder and it’s just incredible, it all started because of Joel actually.”
She first met the Juno award winning Joel Plaskett, a rock and roll hero to many young and aspiring musicians, when she was seventeen. He had listened to a few of her demos. And later, at 20 years of age she got a call from Plaskett’s manager with an invitation to attend a singer songwriter workshop with Gordie Sampson.
But let’s back up a bit. At the age of 15 Kenney had started writing songs and secretly recording them on an old 4 track recorder. This eventually led to jamming with some high school chums and a couple shows at their high school. When she discovered it was a lot easier to simply go solo and she was frequenting open mics at the time, she got a little more serious about things. So did Joel Plaskett. He’s not only a prolific and accomplished singer/songwriter/musician with a legion of awards, he also has excellent credibility as a producer. Acclaimed artists Two Hours Traffic, Sarah Slean and Steve Poltz have all collaboratively spun magic with Joel and his Scotland Yard studio skills.
Upon her return to Halifax, Plaskett’s manager suggested a meeting. Now, we have the conditions for a change in the weather.
“It was pretty surreal,” laughs Kenney “Up until the time I got that phone call I didn’t know where to go. I had a series of open mics but I didn’t know how far that was gonna get me and I didn’t really know who to talk to or how to get any guidance as a musician. Up until then I had been making pizzas at the Sobeys in Halifax and hating my life.”
She describes her music as “pop with a folky twist.” There’s a freshness to her style that adds a bit of whipping wind to her songs. “They’re often short, catchy little songs so it’s pop–y,” she explains “but I wanted to stay away from the typical singer songwriter thing and do something a little different.”
Kenney and Plaskett co–wrote two songs that are highlighted on the record, “Deja Vu” and “Scene of the Crime.” “Deja Vu” is being described as frisky, positive break–up song (“gonna take my bad luck, turn into good luck” and “gonna take a train wreck, bounce it like a bad cheque”). Her other originals including “Sucker”, which she wrote when she was feeling a little sorry for herself and living on her own in Halifax and “Eden” which she wrote when she was only sixteen, give evidence to her influences like Elliot Smith and Sigur Ros of Iceland. The only cover on the album is David Bowie’s “Five Years”, a song that she has always loved to sing and and was part of her vinyl collection. It`s familiar to her in a way that it acts as a bit of a timecapsule and she thinks “it was a wise choice because it fits in nicely with album and suits the whole vibe.”
With reports of standing ovations after her opening set, it would seem audiences are in agreement. Mo Kenney is one to watch for and catch live as she sails across the nation, with Plaskett navigating what is sure to be a great adventure for everyone. V
Joel Plaskett with special guest Mo Kenney Friday, October 19 at Hamilton Place.