Growing pains

Mo Kenney talks classic rock and self-discovery

Any artistic pursuit involves constant focus, effort and sleepless nights spent sweating over whether or not an individual voice will rise up from the heap of work on the floor. Halifax-based artist Mo Kenney reports that the many years using that exact recipe has paid off in the form of her slightly different second album, In My Dreams

“I think it’s just a reflection of the way I am,” Kenney says from her home in Nova Scotia, on a break from the European leg of her tour. “It’s kind of blunt and there’s dark humour in there. I feel like it’s more the direction that I want to go in.”

In My Dreams - released in September - represents a bigger and bolder approach than her self-titled debut, which earned her a Canadian Folk Music Award for New/Emerging Artist of the Year, an East Coast Music Award for Pop Recording, the SOCAN Songwriting Prize and three Nova Scotia Music Awards.

Both of Kenney’s albums have been recorded and produced by Nova Scotia’s indie-rock hero Joel Plaskett (Two Hours Traffic, Old Man Luedecke), and released through his label, New Scotland Records, and Pheromone Recordings. Plaskett, who also bears the title of Kenney’s mentor and collaborator, aided her through the recording process to achieve a more pop-rock sound with a fuller band element, and away from airy singer-songwriter vibes.

“I’ve always been honest in my songwriting but I’m not as cryptic as I once was,” Kenney reflects. “It’s like plain speak now. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m just trying to have fun with it and trying to do whatever comes to my brain.”

Kenney grew up listening to her mom’s Led Zeppelin records and recalls childhood memories of being bummed having to learn to strum on an acoustic. It was after buying an electric guitar when the young musician became obsessed and knew that she wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll.

“I learned every guitar solo from Dark Side of the Moon,” Kenney says with a laugh.

Songwriting came to Kenney in a fashion similar to her guitar playing, quick and all-consuming. She began with scrawling poetry which naturally morphed into songs. One half-written composition from Kenney’s teenage years even made its way onto the new record after some polishing.

Despite digging a larger sound on the record, Kenney still prefers to do much of the creative work alone.

“The less people around the better,” Kenney says. “I’m really comfortable with Joel so it’s fine when it’s just me and him, but I like recording and writing by myself so I can really go crazy and immerse myself in it.”

Not only has Kenney discovered her sound, she’s found it to be liberating.

“My favourite part is letting loose and going wild on stage,” Kenney says with a chuckle. “Oh and those guitar solos.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 5, 2014)

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