The best possible light

Last here to play at the ECMA’s in February 2004, Jill Barber is set to come back to play a gig at the Holy Heart Auditorium with a fellow critically-acclaimed songwriter, Ron Sexsmith. She’s come a long way since then, having picked up the FACTOR Recording of the Year and Female Solo Recording of the Year at this year’s ECMA’s.

Emilie Bourque spoke with Barber on the phone to ask her about her present tour, her decision to move from the big T-dot to Halifax, and her plans for the future.

What made you decide to tour with Ron Sexsmith?
Well, this is my second tour with him. Last year, last December, we did this same tour, only on the West Coast. So it’s really nice to now bring it back home—you know, the same tour—and do it in Atlantic Canada. So, it’s kind of a reunion tour in a way, because we’ve already done it, only on my turf now.

I met Ron a number of years ago. I guess we have a number of friends in common, and we kind of run in the same circles, so over the years I’ve gotten to know him personally. When that last tour came up, I’d sent him a few e-mails trying to say, “hey, I’d just love to tour with you if ever the opportunity came up!” So I kind of put a bug in his ear a few times, and it paid off, because when he eventually was going out on tour, things all came together.

You’ve been touring a lot lately, including some international stuff. What was it like when you went over to the UK?
It was awesome. It was so good. I went over for the month of August, and that was my second time over in the UK, the last time I was there was last fall.

Was that for a tour?
Yeah, both of them were tours. Actually, I got really lucky a couple of years ago at the ECMA’s in Charlottetown because there was a British agent that was there, and he signed me on. So he’s the one that brought me over to the UK for the first time.
He’s a really great agent. He sent me out on a really fabulous tour there last fall. So, I went back in August just to kind of follow that up, and I played a handful of summer festivals and some club dates. I spent the rest of my time kinda hanging out in London and playing some shows there.

I’ll bet that’s some musicians’ dream tour…!
Yeah, it was. And I really loved the audiences over there, they’re very responsive and they’re real music fans. People of all ages come out to the shows, it’s really—I don’t know—there seems to be a real appreciation for live music over there.
And they’re really into Canadian musicians, which is cool. There’s a lot of currency in being Canadian over there right now. So it’s a good time to be a Canadian musician touring there.

You’re originally from Toronto—what brought you to Nova Scotia?
Ah, well, it was an old boyfriend that brought me out here. That was five years ago… I stayed out here, and I really felt I had found a home, musically speaking. I started to play around, meet other musicians, and really got the sense that there was a strong community here. And I’ve just had so much support from people in this region. I’ve built my career out of this part of the country.

I just really like living here, and I stuck around ‘cause it’s kind of become my home.

It’s really interesting to hear you’ve built your career in Nova Scotia since you’re from Toronto, because I think for a lot of people, they feel the opposite—that they need to move to Toronto to make a go of it…
I know, it’s certainly indicative of a changing industry, because I know it seems counterintuitive at first, but I think for me it was actually a really positive move. It allowed me to work in a smaller community, and I found that more nurturing as an artist. Rather than be a small fish in a big sea—which I would’ve been in Toronto—here I was able to make friends more easily, have others help me out, and me help them out. It all seemed easier somehow; to work in a smaller, more supportive, more nurturing musical community.

From your perspective, how would you describe the difference between your albums Oh Heart (2004) and For All Time (2006)?
Well, I guess I like to think that they both represent different times in my life, and that there’s somewhat of an evolution between albums. That’s always my hope, as an artist: that hopefully I’ll evolve and change a little bit with each recording.

In a lot of ways, I think the production of For All Time is not quite as elaborate as it was on Oh Heart, which has strings and horns and stuff on it. For All Time is a little more, maybe, organic, I’d say. And, I don’t know, it might even be heading in that direction moreso with my next one.

I think at the end of the day it’s all really about the songs, and any production on top is just to try to bring out the best. It’s all to put the songs in the best possible light…

I noticed you never usually have very many tracks on your albums, is there a specific reason for that? Do you keep them small on purpose?

Yeah, I’m just a short-and-sweet kind of girl. I’ve always thought that shorter is better. And by that same token, I wouldn’t fill a record with a bunch of songs that—you know, people talk about ‘filler’ on records—I just want every song to be able to stand on its own. And it’s like it gives each song more of a chance to be heard too.
Given, if it only has six songs, then people might listen to it twice! [laughs]

What’s next for you?
Well, I’m spending a lot of time thinking and working on writing my next record. Going into the winter months, I’ll be doing some hibernating and writing, and then in the spring I hope to emerge with a new album. That’s my goal!

Jill Barber will be sharing the stage with Ron Sexsmith on Friday, October 19, 8pm at Holy Heart Theatre. Tickets available at the Mile One Centre box office (576-7657) and online at www.admission.com. Doors open at 7:30pm.