by Coral Andrews
Jann Arden has a lot on her mind today, as she sits at her kitchen table looking through the window into a “cloud-filled abyss”. She had been spending a great deal of time with her grandmother who recently died just before this tour in support of her latest release Blood Red Cherry. In a touching concert moment Jann actually dedicates Cherry song In Your Keeping to her “Gran”. I spoke to Jann from her home in Calgary.
CA: On your earlier CD Living Under June you wrote, “It’s a weird world. Be yourself at all times.” Does this credo still hold true for you?
JA: It’s pretty straight forward, and yeah, it’s the same deal all these years later. I don’t know how else to be. It has certainly been an anthem for me. My family has been very encouraging as far as just remaining true to yourself. This isn’t something I came up with myself. You see a lot of schools promoting the same idea, something like a cereal company, you know, ” look good on your own terms”. It’s been happening in this decade and it is important because I think people have been dealing with this over the past few decades, with being something other than what you are, recreating yourself. It’s drilled into us that being what you are isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough for the workplace. It’s not good enough to land a man, not good enough to buy yourself a house. It’s not good enough to be able to fit into a size six dress. We are told not to be ourselves at every checkpoint in life, and it is not fair. I think people are rebelling more, especially younger girls.They are slowly getting it. People still go on diets at 10 years old. But I think there is a shift in the consciousness of people who are growing up now.”
CA : Your vulnerability is uncanny. It is so all or nothing when it comes to your music. You constantly put yourself out there on that emotional limb in songs like Insensitive and Hanging by a Thread or In Your Keeping . How do you find the strength to do this from song to song?
JA : Honestly, it is not a process where I am consciously thinking about what I am doing. That is just how I approach things. I don’t feel like it is that personal, but maybe it is. I have always been fairly open with myself and my feelings, and have been able to articulate what I feel. I wasn’t one of those kids who stumbled around trying to express myself or felt like I was misunderstood. I could always articulate.
CA: The song Insensitive was your first big break….
JA : I didn’t write Insensitive. My neighbour wrote it. It’s not unlike something I would write when I think of the lyrical makeup of the song. It is a little punchier than what I would write. I’m lofty. I’ll have one word hanging in the air for moments. Anne was a neighbour of mine, a recovering alcoholic and a woe-begone. She’d shuffle from this bar to that, never really doing anything. I heard her sing Insensitive a number of times, and she would forget the words. It was only two minutes long. We added a music lead breaker and an extra chorus. But the first time I heard that song, I knew it was something special. Anne was a gifted writer, and I hope she is still writing. Sometimes people are overwhelmed by the success of a song, and that song has a life of its own.
CA : Your music has gone through quite a transition from Living Under June and Time for Mercy to Happy? and now Blood Red Cherry. The character in your songs has gone from somebody unlucky in love and searching for happiness, to someone who says ” I only wanted sex”.
JA : I don’t know if it is so much me. It is very funny. I found it empowering to write something like that. It was supposed to be funny. I said to my guitar player at the time, ‘Can I say this’, and he said ‘Sure, why not’. You know what it’s like in the heat of the moment when people are hurling insults at each other during a fight. You say all sorts of things that you don’t mean. I Only Wanted Sex is a culmination of many fights I have had over 15 or 20 years of being an adult. It’s ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe I said that, than you apologize of course, 15 minutes later. That’s why that situation always makes me laugh. I picture this woman going up to this guy ‘ Look I didn’t like you, never mind love you’. It’s interesting the number of ways you can look at that song. A lot of people thought it was the most hurtful thing I’ve ever written. True, I draw a lot of my work from my personal life and what I would like to be. But I have no great process or secret. I just think of it and I write it down. I look at it and think .. well that looks pretty good. I don’t toil. If I can’t think of something right away, I know it will come to me sooner or later. There’s no real mystery to it at all.
CA: Blood Red Cherry is a solid well-produced piece of work despite the fact that your producer Ed Cherney ‘s father Richard died during this process.
JA : I have had always had the same production team . We are like an extended family, so yes, it was hard to continue at times. I don’t look at Blood Red Cherry as my best work ever. I don’t speak about my work in those terms. It’s just 14 more songs, a good travelling record, a good housecleaning record. You can put it on and just forget about things. It was an interesting time to make this record because of all the things that were happening. When it was finished, I was very proud of it, and I think it will have a long life as my records usually do. I can’t be all things to all people, but I needed to move along and try new things. I wanted something rich and lush, and I think we have done that. There are lot of things about this record that are evocative. It is teeming with innuendo, loss, innocence, and sensuality hence Blood Red Cherry.