| Often considered by many as Canada’s answer to Kate Bush, Jane Siberry is argued as one of the country’s most original and idiosyncratic artists ever. She took piano lessons at an early age while growing up in Toronto. By a teen, she’d gained an acute appreciation for classical music and operas, and mimicked their nuances without the benefit of any formal training. She also listened heavily to the likes of Miles Davis and Van Morrison.|
While studying both music and microbiology at The University of Guelph, she took a waitress job at a local coffeehouse. While there, she used her passion for music as a means to make another extra dollar, and began doing both solo shows as well as part of the duo Java Jive around town. After dropping out of university, she eventually saved enough money to fund her 1981 independent self-titled debut, handling production and marketing on her own also. It quickly disappeared without a murmur, but songs like “Marco Polo,” “Mystery at Ogwen’s Farm,” “Magic Beads,” and “Above The Treeline” showcased her vocal range and gave early indications of her unique songwriting ability.
She continued doing her own thing until 1983, when manager Bob Blumer saw her playing in a coffeehouse. He quickly took notice of her unique ability to relay an abstract musical atmosphere into something potentially commercially successful, and signed her to his Duke Street Records. She was taken to Manta Sound and Inception Sound early the next year and recorded what would become her breakout album, and one of the most original pop records of the year, NO BORDERS HERE. Led by the eccentricities of the smash underground hit, “Mimi On The Beach,” the record broke Canada’s Top 40 list, and was a huge hit around campus radio stations, reaching # 1 on the Scarborough, Ont college’s playlist. The other singles “You Don’t Need” and “I Muse Aloud” were showcases to her personal inner reflections, while the lead off “The Waitress,” “Extra Executives,” and “Map of The World (Pt 1)” told stories of everyday life for a working woman. Her versatility led to nominations later that year for CFNY-FM’s awards in the Female Vocalist of the Year, Engineer/Producer, and Best Album Art categories.
SPECKLESS SKY followed a year later. Produced again by John Switzer, it helped secure her position as one of Canada’s brightest new talents. The lead-off track was “One More Colour,” which was also released as the only single in the fall of ’85 and backed with “The Empty City.” The video for “Map of The World (Pt 2)” was filmed live later the next spring at Montreal’s Le Spectrum during a 70-date tour which saw her throughout Canada and a few American dates. Her name was again in the hat for several of CFNY’s awards that year, and took home the honours for Album of The Year and Engineer/Producer.
She returned to Manta Sound in the spring of ’87 to record a new record with Switzer, around the same time she signed with Reprise Records for international distribution. The result was the evocative and provacative THE WALKING, released later that year to critical praise, but relative commercial indifference, despite the eccentric rhythm changes and mood shifts throughout songs like “The White Tent The Raft,” “Ingrid and The Footman,” the title track and the ten-minute long “The Bird In The Gravel.”
Following Duke Street’s collapse, Reprise took over her Canadian distribution as well in time for 1989’s BOUND BY THE BEAUTY. On the heels of the title track and the second single, “Everything Reminds Me Of My Dog,” it again showcased a versatility that kept the critics guessing as to what was coming next, evidenced by the self explanatory “Hockey” or “Something About Trains,” to the deepest realms of philosophy in songs like “Half Angel Half Eagle” or “The Life Is The Red Wagon.”
Her duet with Martin Tielli, “A Long Time Love Song” appeared in the film “Kick at the Darkness” in 1991. But for the most part, other than the occasional show over the next few years, Siberry for all intents and purposes dropped out of the limelight until returning In 1993. She continued collaberating more with other artists, and worked with Brian Eno and Michael Brook on WHEN I WAS A BOY, released that summer. A duet with KD Lang, “Calling All Angels” became the first single, first appearing in the film “Until the End of the World.” It was also later used in the “Pay It Forward” soundtrack. “Temple” was released as the second single, but failed to chart, but other tracks like “The Gospel According to Darkness” and “At The Beginning of Time” hallmarked what was becoming her trademark more spiritually-oriented themes. She parted ways with Reprise in ’94, prior to the label releasing a ‘best of’ compilation called A COLLECTION – 1983 – 1995 the following spring.
She released SUMMER IN THE YUKON, a UK only album in the summer of ’95. Recorded while on tour in England a couple years earlier, the album featured 13 of her most memorable and most popular works, along with a drastic overhaul of “The Life Is the Red Wagon,” which became a minor dance club hit. 1995 also saw the release of MARIA on WEA Records. With the hypnotic vocalizations of “See the Child,” the title track, and the quirky “Goodbye Sweet Pumpkinhead,” the album focused on more of a jazz-oriented sound than her previous works.
She founded her own independent label, Sheeba Records in 1996, and released TEENAGER. With tracks like the lead off “Let’s Not Talk Now,” “The Squirrel Crossed the Road,” “The Long Pirouette,” “Angel Voyeur,” and “Trumpeter Swan,” the album returned her to the avant-garde style that always kept critics guessing as to what was to come next, full of personal and intimate reflections, if not somewhat obscure and abstract.
Choosing to stay out of the public eye, she didn’t tour to support the record, instead choosing to spend her time on her next project – A DAY IN THE LIFE, released before the year’s end, which featured the songs “Yoga Class,” “Coming Up for Air,” “Bottom Line,” “The End of The Day,” “In My Dream,” and “When I Think Of Laura Nyro,” about the Toronto psychadelic folk singer/writer during the 60s – who Siberry considered one of her biggest influences. Heralded by the critics, the album featured her trademark eccentric rhythm changes and dramatic mood shifts.
Her next project was THE NEW YORK TRILOGY, which captured three nights at New York’s Bottom Line Club, released in 1999. The contents of the set was also released simultaneously on their own – LIPS – MUSIC FOR SAYING IT, which featured “First Word,” “Valley of the Dolls,” “I Will Survive” and “Mimi Speaks,” sort of the sequel to the single that broke her into the mainstream, “Mimi On The Beach.” TREES – MUSIC FOR FILMS AND FORESTS contained some of her most bizarre and idiocentric material to date, including “Slow Tango,” “When Last I Was A Fisherman,” “I Paddle My Canoe,” and “Up The Loggin’ Road.” CHILD – MUSIC FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON followed a year later in time for the holiday rush.The record was a mix of traditional yuletide songs such as “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “O Holy Night,” and “The Christmas Song,” and “Silent Night,” but also featured a number of original tracks written especially for the project. Also included was a remix of “An Angel Steps Down,” from the WHEN I WAS A BOY album.
HUSH, her most spiritual album thus far, came out in 2000, and featured the standards “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Ol’ Man River,” as well as the originals “Jacob’s Ladder,” The Water Is Wide,” and “All Through the Night.” Praised by the critics, it was considered a brilliant collection of traditional American and Celtic compositions.
The eclectic CITY was released in 2001, and contained several remixes of earlier songs, such as “Shir Amami,” Calling All Angels,” and “When I Think of Laura Nyro.” Also on the album was “My Mother Is Not The White Dove,” with a peculiar mix of strings, ney flute, and flugelhorn, and “All the Pretty Little Ponies,” from the soundtrack to “Barney’s Great Adventure.”
A year later saw the release of LOVE IS EVERYTHING, a double album length greatest hits package, which was followed by SHUSHAN THE PALACE – HYMNS FOR THE EARTH in 2003. Another exceptional piece of spiritual awakenings, the album featured “How Beautiful Are the Feet,” “A Star Shall Rise Up Out of jacob,” “Jesus Christ The Apple Tree,” and “If God Be For Us.” Following its release, Siberry again pretty much dropped out of the public eye.
In 2004, she contributed to the “Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-lot” movie with the song “With All Your Heart.” Siberry openly criticized to great lengths what she considered extreme power of commercial radio and the recording industry, and beginning in 2005, began a system of buying her music through her website, where the consumer basically paid what they thought a song was worth. She later maintained that on average, consumers paid slightly more than what she considered ‘standard price’ – about $1 US per track.
In the spring of 2006, Siberry closed the doors on Sheeba Records, then reportedly sold or gave away nearly every possession she woned, including her home and instruments, except for one guitar, and a few odds and ends like her Miles Davis CD collection that were put in storage. She left the country and went on a self-awareness sabatical in Europe, and officially changed her name to Issa (the female variant of Isaiah) that June.
She released her first album under her new persona in December of 2008, DRAGON DREAMS. She followed it up with WHAT SHALL I KEEP WARM less than a year later, under both her real name, and her new identity.