Published on February 5th, 2021 | by The Riz0
Interview: Jay & Jo (Part II)
The Riz sits down for Part II of our interview with Jay & Jo, talking about their new album, Victory, songwriting, and more.
Recently, I had the opportunity to send a series of questions to Saskatchewan-based vocalists, songwriters, and multi-instrumentalists Jay & Jo, otherwise known as Janaya and Jolissa Trudel. They recently released their sophomore album, Victory, and a lot of people who follow local music are taking notice.
This interview is Part II of a two-part series. If you missed Part I, follow this handy link and give it a read so you are all caught up. Go ahead, it’s all good, we can wait…
Welcome back! Enjoy!
TFS: What is your songwriting process? Is it quite collaborative or do you write independently then present your ideas to each other?
Janaya: We usually write separately. One of us comes in with a pretty well-developed idea and the other elaborates/purifies it. That’s what has worked best for us, anyway. We both write an equal amount.
Jolissa: Preparing for recording Victory was the first time we did actively write together, ‘Victory’ and ‘Inscape’ being examples.
TFS: The lyrics throughout Victory come across as being very personal. When writing lyrics, do they tend to come from personal and introspective places, or are they more observances and interpretations?
Janaya: This album is definitely the most vulnerable thing we’ve put out. We left a lot of ourselves in the mix. For me, I’ve journaled for years, so that’s where a lot of lyrics start out. So, naturally, they’re pretty personal. But I think we both work hard, when translating our own thoughts and feelings into songs, to make sure that there’s a bit of a veil over things. Not to hide ourselves, but so that others can still see themselves in the art, you know?
Jolissa: For me, the creative process is a very personal one. I guess it’s just a result of being an introvert. However, I do think a personal experience is a relatable one if shared honestly, although maybe not for everyone — or not yet.
TFS: From front to back, the album is beautifully produced by Hal Shrenk using different song styles and varying instrumentation. Are song arrangements / instrumentation / production in mind as part of the initial songwriting process, or does that follow moreso in the studio?
Janaya: We can’t say enough about Hal! He’s been such a support from the very beginning and is a total master in the production process. We owe a lot of the instrumentation ideas and arrangements to him. Usually we’ll all three spend about two days together in the studio just hashing out ideas and recording demo after demo, trying different things until we get the mood we want with the song. Hal is a wiz at all that, and since he’s a percussionist, his musical interpretation of things is always a bit different than ours, so it’s fun to meet in the middle and create something really great.
Jolissa: It has been a great asset to work with someone with such a multi-disciplined individual in the music industry; he’s been a priceless help and guide to us.
TFS: Vocally, both of you have this tender, ethereal ease to your tone and timbre while still retaining a sense of strength, energy, and urgency. Who are your biggest influences when it comes to vocal styling and interpretation?
Janaya: Thanks for that! For me, vocally, my biggest influences would probably be Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, and Joni Mitchell. We’ve also been really inspired by other singer-songwriter duos like Penny & Sparrow, First Aid Kit, and Lowland Hum.
Jolissa: I’ve always been so interested by Chris Thile’s Lyric style; how his lyrics continue through where the melody would suggest a line to stop. I think that has had an influence on me, and tends to create interesting interpretations of folk melodies which also follow traditional structures and patterns.
TFS: I love the use of the single breath at the beginning of ‘Inscape’ to set the listener for the musical experience to follow. What was the inspiration to breathe life into the album?
Janaya: I can’t remember how that breath developed, but I remember really wanting the album to have a cold start. Like a whiff of cold morning air. On stage, we use that breath as a way to cue each other in so we start that first line totally in sync, but I remember intentionally leaving it in the take when we went to record. The “breath of life” note is fitting actually, since it’s at the genesis of the album.
TFS: Since we discussed the opening, we have this ambient, angelic choir closing the album creating these distinct sonic bookends to the record. Much like the last question, where did the ambient choir idea originate?
Janaya: When I wrote ‘Grand Canyon,’ I planned to add a choir in for the entire song, actually. I had a big plan to bring in a local cathedral choir to sing on that song and to close out the album, and then we were going to do a live video with them in a cathedral with a massive organ to release with the album as well, but Covid cancelled all that. Thankfully, I had recorded the choir parts on scratch tracks of my own voice just as a reference for the choir to use and learn their parts from, and that’s what we ended up using for the actual track. It’s not nearly as nice as a variety of voices that really know what they’re doing, but I still wanted to keep it in there. I actually wrote this song after visiting an incredible cathedral in St. Louis, Missouri, I believe (which is in the lyrics), so the choir seemed fitting.
TFS: I had an interesting mondegreen (mishearing song lyrics) experience listening to ‘Safe in the Waves.’ The lines in question where in the first verse where you sing:
a broken heart will sink you down
like an anchor to the ocean’s ground
shattered in the sand you’ll lay
that’s where the pearls are anyway
I did not hear the word “pearls” at all in the fourth line, and then listened to it three times in a row until I figure out the actual lyric! The word I heard I thought was a brave, yet odd choice. As a thought experiment, what word would you change in one of your songs that would change the context or intent of the line in a surprising way. (You can change “pearl” if you like, but I’ll let you have the option!)
Janaya: That’s an interesting question I’m not sure how to answer! Maybe instead of let’s “make something beautiful” in ‘Vineyard Man’ we could say “bake something beautiful” and it could be the intro song to a season of Cake Boss or something.
TFS: Ukulele or guitar: discuss.
Janaya: Guitar for me because my arms are stronger than Jo’s.
Jolissa: That’s absolutely right. Although I do play uke, I’d much rather listen to guitar. Although Ukulele does add an uplifting-ness to a song.
TFS: What is next in the works for Jay & Jo in the new year, and new projects of ideas you can share?
Jay & Jo: Well, we are currently up for a few SCMA Awards, so we are really excited about ‘Victory’ being a part of that this year! We also have a belated release show on May 1st at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre in Prince Albert that we are really, really looking forward to after 2020, the quietest, most lonely year in history.
TFS: Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions!
Jay & Jo: Thanks for asking them! Cheers!
Jay & Jo’s wonderful new album, Victory, is available now on iTunes, Spotify, Youtube,Youtube Music, and Deezer. Follow Jay &Jo in the digital universe at their website www.jayandjomusic.com/, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/JayandJoMusic)