Jenn Grant hasn't seen the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild yet. Understandable: she's been busy preparing for the release of her new album, The Beautiful Wild, and a fall schedule jam-packed with tour dates.
But the acclaimed film shares more in common with Grant's record than just a similar name. They're both elemental affairs, concerned with documenting sensation and highlighting the ephemeral nature of simply being. Their worlds are filled with powerful forces---beasts, dragons, fire---and they're both driven by drums, bass, piano and strings, played in an exhilarating, heart-stirring fashion.
If this sounds like a bit of a shift for Grant from the keyboard-driven pop of Honeymoon Punch, her 2010 Juno-nominated release, you'd be right.
"People were kind of labeling [2009's]Echoes as 'sad' and Honeymoon Punch as 'happy,' and I was ready to switch gears and try something new," Grant says. "The other albums have all been categorized in some way, and I feel like I've moved beyond that.
"I didn't want to make something that was easily classified. I wanted it to be natural and raw."
Part of the reason The Beautiful Wild, due out September 25, sounds so in the moment is the speed at which it was written. Grant went into the studio last fall with her band, her producer (and husband) Daniel Ledwell, and a set of songs she planned to record. Unsatisfied with them, she ended up junking almost all of them and began writing fresh.
"I just let my voice be the lead instrument this time. I would tune my guitar down to different places and find a note where I felt comfortable, where I felt a song was going to happen. And almost all of the songs just came out in the time that I was recording in PEI."
She then let the record sit for the winter, coming back to it in the spring to build on the core bass-and-drum tracks. To do so, she called upon a whole host of talented friends to help: Rose Cousins, Erin Costello, Old Man Luedecke, Kinley Dowling of Hey Rosetta! and the Halifax Boys Honour Choir.
"There was this explosion of songwriting, then this whole winter of just letting it sit and waiting until it was ready to have things laid on it," says Grant. "You need time to let those ideas cook, so it was nice to then have people play on it and be specific about my choices and what I wanted."
This fall, Grant has a handful of shows opening for Kathleen Edwards before she sets off on her own national tour with Cuff the Duke. Before that, she'll play a few shows in Australia, film a music video and celebrate the album's release with a hometown show at the Spatz Theatre in Halifax on Friday, September 21. "A Halifax show is always going to be so special and have guests. I don't know who's in town yet, so it depends, but we'll see."
Even with a busy year ahead, she's already thinking about the next project, saying that her experience on this album, along with other collaborations like her work with Buck 65, has opened up a different songwriting and recording style for her. "It's like I've found a new voice within myself, a new way of singing and performing. I feel like it's opened up a whole new way of working for me, one that I've just started to discover. It's exciting."
Ryan McNutt is a writer and editor for Dalhousie, as well as a part-time musicology student.
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