Since I first heard Mo Kenney a month or two ago on CBC radio, more often than not I wake up singing one or another of her great lyrics with their catchy tunes: might be “Gonna take a train wreck, bounce it like a bad cheque, send you on your way and I won’t think about it twice,” or “I don’t feel tired, I don’t feel shy, haven’t gone a day without telling a lie,” depending on my mood. I only wish I had a few more songs to choose from, but that problem will be solved in September when she releases her second album, which she says will be a little heavier, a little more rock ‘n’ roll. The upcoming release will feature the three-piece band she plays with regularly at Jacob’s Lounge in Dartmouth Nova Scotia. Less folk-acoustic, more rock-electric, the new album promises some new sounds from this up-and-coming, multiple-award winning, uniquely uncategorizable Canadian voice.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mo in anticipation of her upcoming show at the Montreal Folk Festival. I told her I was surprised to read that her early influences include Pink Floyd, Ozzy Osbourne, and Led Zeppelin: not particularly folksy fare. She laughed and explained that her mom was into Ozzy so she heard of lot of it growing up. She started playing electric guitar at 11, and it wasn’t until she was in high school that she found herself surrounded by a new group of people who recommended new sounds to her. She was particularly influenced by film soundtracks, especially those of Wes Anderson.
Mo began writing songs when she was 16. She had been grounded for an entire summer — “I was a shit disturber when I was a teenager. I got into a lot of trouble, did a lot of things. I’m the oldest child. I came home drunk at 3 a.m. It was not cool to do that!” —- and took up songwriting to pass the time. Now, she often gets her ideas either while driving, when a phrase may just pop into her head, or while fiddling around on her guitar. If she finds a melody she likes she’ll add lyrics and take it from there.
When she first began performing she suffered from stage fright, but with experience she eventually overcame her performance jitters. “I didn’t like being the center of attention, or in front of people in general. Singing was one thing, but talking in between songs was worse.” Now however, she is completely comfortable onstage, performing regularly at home and on tour.
When I asked Mo which of her many awards she is most proud of, it didn’t her long to respond: “All of them are so awesome. But I feel really good about the ECMA (East Coast Music Association Award). I discovered those awards when I was 12, and wondered if I would ever win one.”
Mo Kenney plays the Montreal Folk Fest June 20 at 5:30 p.m., on Charlevoix Island on the Lachine Canal. Free.