Jann Arden has never been busier. With a hit television series, a popular podcast, bestselling books, and an array of philanthropic interests, the much acclaimed, multi award-winning singer/songwriter has just released her 13th full-length recording, Descendant. Recently Celtic Life International spoke with Arden about her past, present, and future.
How have you been coping with the current state of the world?
You know what? It’s been great for me actually. Now that I have been home for an extended period, I realize how lucky I am to have such a great home and how much I enjoy just being around the house. I was so busy for so long – writing, recording, touring, television, promotional junkets and all the other activities that support my work as an artist – that it has been nice just to sit still and take things slow for awhile and to enjoy the fruits of my labours. When you are so busy being busy, you often don’t realize how important it is to take the time to breathe and pause to reflect on where you are in your life. For me, it was long overdue, and it has been refreshing and rejuvenating. That said, I am getting a bit claustrophobic at this point, and I need a good reason to get out of my house!
You will be turning 60 soon.
Don’t remind me. Actually, after some challenging and worrisome years, I am in a really good place these days and quite happy with who I am. I feel like I have arrived, or landed, at a new phase of my life – a safe spot – and that I am quite comfortable in my own skin. I still feel younger than I am – in my head I will always be 30 – although some days my body tells me otherwise. But one of the perks of getting older, I suppose, is having a greater acceptance for everything. A lot of the stuff that used to get under my skin me just doesn’t rattle me anymore, and I simply can’t be bothered with things that don’t matter. My perspective has evolved, but I am always amazed that I still awake each day with that sense of childlike wonder and awe. I never lost that.
What is important to you now?
Many of the same things that matter to most people I guess – health, family, friends, feeling like I am making a difference in the world. And, for me, of course, staying creative is essential – maybe more than ever.
You really put yourself out there.
Do I? I never really saw it that way, but perhaps you are right. Between the album, the book, the TV show, guest appearances, the podcast, and everything else, I suppose that people are probably quite sick of me by now. The bad news for them is that I don’t have any plans to go away anytime soon.
How much of all that is Jann the person versus Jann the performer?
They are one and the same and, really, what you see is what you get. I am pretty open about my life and with my thoughts and feelings. That said, any artist will tell you that as much as you bring yourself to the studio or the concert stage or the page or the canvas, there is always a part of you that you keep to yourself, that you don’t give away. That is vital in a business that can sometimes suck the soul right out of you. It’s a bit of a balancing act.
How do you keep that balance?
Oh, I have great people around me that keep me in check. They are my eyes and my ears…my family, my friends, and a few folks in the entertainment business that I know and trust. Every once in a while, especially when I get one of my big, outrageous ideas, one of them will tap me on the shoulder and ask me “What the hell are you doing?” And they are usually right. Not always, but often enough that I pay attention. And then I just have to laugh at myself.
Humour has long been a hallmark of your work.
Well, without it I would be dead in the water. Life can sometimes be so…heavy. I mean, look at what the world has been going through in the last two years and think of how much more terrible things would have been without those little moments of laughter and joy here and there each day. Thankfully I was born with a big funny bone, and I can keep myself, and hopefully others, in the right kind of stiches.
With so much on the go, does your music ever get lost in the mix?
No. Never. That is, first and foremost, who I am and what I do. It always has been and always will be. I do enjoy being involved with the other things as they bring out different – and sometimes surprising – sides of me, but nothing comes close to writing, recording, and performing music. It is still the most satisfying and rewarding thing that I do, and I don’t believe that will ever change.
What went into the new recording?
Descendant was a joy to make. Looking back over the process, it was easy. And at this point in my life easy is good. I like easy. Those songs almost came together by themselves – a few of them had been floating around in one form or another, or in my head, for some time, while others just showed up at the door when I began writing. I have always been rather fortunate that way – sure, there have been times in the past when I have struggled with the process, wrestling with music and lyrics, but that wasn’t the case this time. It all flowed quite easily. And, like I said, at my age easy is good.
How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
That’s a good question, and if you had asked me that two years ago, I am not sure that I would have been able to answer it, or at least have answered it accurately. One of the benefits of this pandemic – and you always have to look for that silver lining, right? – has been the opportunity to turn inward and reflect. What a luxury that is, especially at a time when there are so many ways and means to be distracted. And one of the things that I have had the chance to reflect upon is how I have grown as a both a person and as an artist. And I have realized a few things about myself that, perhaps under “normal” circumstances, I might not have considered. First, I have learned to get out of the way and allow the songs to appear. All I have to do is suit up and show up and do what I do each day. Secondly was the realization that the message is always more important than the messenger. So, that allows me to take the work seriously without taking myself too seriously. And, lastly – as I mentioned earlier – my perspective on life has changed; I realize that the big picture is made up of the tiny details of my daily life – the simple joy of watching a hawk fly, a short stroll by a still lake, or the beauty found in a bouquet of flowers, or the pleasure of a few smiles and laughs with a family member or friend over a cup of tea.
Exactly. And what was so amazing about this album was that all the people involved – the musicians, Darcy Phillips, who wrote two songs with me and did some arranging, my producers Bob Rock and Russell Broom – we were all on the same page that way. You know, despite all the arguments about how technology is ruining our lives and taking us away from the things that really matter, there is something to be said for how it has improved our lives. For a musician, sketching and writing and recording and mixing songs has never been easier. We no longer have to be in the same space to work together. Sometimes, in the past, being at close creative quarters has been challenging, especially when you are working with deadlines. There was a lot of pressure to produce. That wasn’t the case with Descendant.
Do you have a favourite track on the new album?
All of them. I mean that – I love each and every piece. I’m not sure that the question is fair, though, as it is like asking a mother to pick out a favourite child – each are near and dear to her heart and the love for each is pure and true. That said, there are some songs from my previous recordings that I prefer over others, and even a few that I can’t listen to anymore. But I don’t feel that will be the case with the songs on Descendant.
What makes a good song?
Another good question. For me, there has to be a connection of some sort there. It could be an emotional connection, or even a spiritual connection, but there must be some sense of familiarity with the music or the melody or the lyric – something that speaks to me or perhaps resonates with some deeper part of me.
You can call it that for sure. Soul music really isn’t about colour or race or a particular genre of music, however – it can be found in any work of art that is honest and real and comes from a place of truth and love and beauty. There is a wealth of great music being produced these days, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves over the coming years.
Speaking of the future, what do have planned for the remainder of 2022?
Well, as much as I have enjoyed the downtime, I must get back to work- my bills aren’t going to pay themselves. So, we hit the road in May for a month of shows across Canada, and then there will likely be other dates through the summer and into the fall. I have really missed being on the road, and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to playing concerts again and sharing these new songs with people. If anything, it gives me a good reason to get out of my house!