Published on February 1st, 2021 | by The Riz0
Interview: Jay & Jo
The Riz sits down with talented Saskatchewan singer/songwriter duo, sisters Jay & Jo, to talk about their new album, Victory, Canadian folk greats, 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 will be released in two parts (look for part II later in the week). Enjoy Part I of my “virtual sit-down,” to use their words, with Jay & Jo!
TFS: First off, congratulations on releasing Victory, and wonderful, thoughtful, and empyreal follow-up to Grounded and Light!
Jay & Jo: Thanks so much! We’re happy for a virtual sit-down to talk about the album.
TFS: The title track ‘Victory’ is also the most upbeat / anthemic tune on the record. What does the idea or sense of victory mean to you?
Janaya: When sitting down to pin down what we really wanted to say in this album (and what we were already going through in our lives), the term “victorious youth” is one we kept coming back to. The term is borrowed from one of our favourite art pieces by Brian Kershishnik, which is a simple image of two young people side by side, dancing and running wildly. For us, this theme of overcoming disillusionment and adversity, loneliness and aimlessness, became paramount for the album. We couldn’t shake it. This upward movement from “alonement” (made that word up) to belonging.
Jo: Contrast, light and darkness, were also an underlying theme on the album. You can’t have victory without something to triumph over. For me, the greatest personal victory is to somehow reach out of your despair, heartbreak, trauma, the mean reds, into healing and freedom. It is a miracle if you have the strength to find your way. That is victory; a dance and a cry and a maniacal laugh in the face of life and death, finding the joy and gratitude that you’ve made it this far alive.
TFS: It is always good to make up your own vocabulary whenever possible! The opening single “Youth” effectively blends a song that is light in tone while being poignant and lyrically longing, much like the entire album. Is this duality between music style and lyrics a conscious decision or one that has developed organically through your songwriting process? Follow up question, aren’t you too young to be reflecting on the loss of youth?
Janaya: Our lyrics always tend to be a bit more serious, but we really are fun people, I swear! The lyrics in ‘Youth’ are a little heavy but it’s also about wanting to return to the innocence and freedom of childhood, so it’s a little sweet and salty. That’s reflected in the music video as well – somber reflection then we DANCE DANCE.
Jolissa: My new all-time favourite movie is Jojo Rabbit (also an inspiration to our ‘Youth’ video shoot). In the movie there is a scene of dance being a response to freedom. I think ‘Youth’ is like that. When you’ve conquered something, you celebrate, but you still feel the effects of going through the great ordeal. But that makes the dancing that much more joyful.
TFS: Jojo Rabbit has also made my all-time favourite movie list! The video for ‘Youth’ looks very familiar, being from Saskatchewan. Where was it filmed?
Jay & Jo: Cranberry Flats! Right outside of Saskatoon, SK.
TFS: In a draft of my forthcoming review, I say that, “Victory is an album that Joni Mitchell would be honoured to cover.” If you could choose any artist, band, or singer, if time and space were not an issue, to cover one of your songs or albums, who would you choose?
Janaya: Well, you might get shot for saying something like that, but we are honoured beyond mentioning. Joni is a legend and our #1 inspiration. As for the cover, I’d give my right arm to hear Joan Baez sing a haunting version of ‘Ought to be Loved.’ I think there are a lot of similarities in her voice and Jo’s.
Jolissa: I wish I could have a bit of an edge vocally, it be so cool to hear Nathanial Raitliff bring to life our bluesy R&B dreams.
TFS: Since we are already playing with the time and space continuum, what would be your favourite dream opening gig or collaboration, again if time and space were not an issue?
Janaya: 1962, opening for a young Joni Mitchell at her first playing gig ever, at the Louis Riel Coffee House in Saskatoon, SK. Fun fact, Jolissa used to work in that building (now a restaurant called Calories) as a cook!
Jolissa: Ditto to that. Our Canadian folk greats have hold of the most tender place of my heart. it would be magic to do a time traveling cross country tour of Gordon Lightfoot, Ian, Sylvia, Neil Young, and co.’s yearly shows.
TFS: To continue with the idea of diverse musical collaborations, if you could write or perform with any performer or group in a different musical genre, who would it be and why? Any particular modern performers come to mind?
Janaya: Dreaming big here, but I’d love to do a collaboration with Paul Simon’s band and choirs. Love the life-breathing groove and the unique rhythms and use of percussion, something really foreign to us. As some more contemporary folk, would love to do some three-part harms with Madison Cunningham — the queen. Check her out if you don’t know.
Jolissa: I’d absolutely agree with that. Lately however, I just want to jam with some of our musical friends we haven’t seen in a while. If Jay & Jo can attest to anything, it’s that sometimes the most beautiful music is made with the people you love the most.
TFS: If you wrote a Broadway musical based on your life, who would you cast to play your roles? Also, what you title your Broadway musical? (I think Honeymoon, SK would be an intriguing option!)
Janaya: Interesting. We’re not much for musicals, but I did see Come From Away in London, UK a couple years ago and wept until I was the last one standing in the theatre. Made me so proud to be Canadian! Anyway, if there were a musical about our weird lives I think it’d be about the time we lived on a train, travelling and performing on the VIA Rail across Canada in the summer of 2017. Would probably call it Off The Rails, would probably get a couple of the Jonas Brothers to play us.
TFS: How has being brought up from Honeymoon, Saskatchewan, shape your songwriting
choices? Is there a favourite memory from growing up in Honeymoon that has made its way into a song or lyric?
Janaya: If you want a good look into where we grew up, you can listen to ‘Home’ off our first album. For sure, growing up on the farm was magical. We learned how to see beauty in everything and to create out of nothing, and I hope that makes its way into our music.
Jolissa: Imagery and nature are a big part of our art, as a happy consequence of our home and province. ‘Cantaloupe Moon’ and ‘Wheat & Weeds’ are homages to it. However, ‘Victory’ introduces new landscapes that we have visited and/or wish to.
**For Part II of our exclusive interview with Jay & Jo, come back to the Feedback Society later this week. Bring a friend!**