Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Welcoming Storyteller: Mo Kenney at Casa del Popolo

Mo Kenney  |  Casa Del Popolo


Once I finished chatting with Mo Kenney before the show, I stepped outside to write down a few notes and gather my thoughts. When I had left the room moments before, the crowd was loud and restless. I was taken by surprise when I re-emerged into a complete motionless silence. Allison Lickley had begun her opening performance; she was explaining that she had recently taken time off from her music career to complete an MBA in Finance. Allison hadn’t performed for a year and a half, but what a treat it was for everyone.

Allison’s songs are delicate, complimented by her beautifully clear, haunting voice. I was continuously charmed by each song she played, and was more than ready to sing along when she asked the crowd to join in. I had gone into the evening with no expectations for Allison, she was added to the shows promotion about a week before and I hadn’t had the chance to look her up. I’m happy to report that her impressive performance was the perfect start to the night.  

When Allison finished, the room went back to its original state: people shuffled around to get drinks or, like me, worked their way up to the front of the stage.  Mo and I had talked about nerves and she explained that regardless of how often she does this, she still gets nervous before each show. To help out, she always starts with the same song – The Happy Song. With two cups of water at her feet, and her guitar in hand, Mo instantly had the room captivated. 

Comparable to the effect of listening to her debut album, released in September 2012, I stood entranced by her musical talent and storytelling. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wishing it could go on for hours. Standing on an old rug, Mo’s performance was stripped down to just the music. It felt as if we were all at a small kitchen party, where a friend was playing for anyone who would listen. But her unique voice has attracted more people than can fit into the kitchen. Mo’s self-titled album is nominated for the East Coast Music Association’s Rising Star Recording of the Year. She admits, “I still can’t believe I’m nominated for an ECMA. Every time someone brings it up I have to remind myself that it’s actually happening. I remember when I was a kid, when I first started taking guitar lessons, hearing about the ECMAs and thinking ‘I wonder if I’ll ever be nominated for one of those?’”

Her honesty and realism during the interview continued and resonated through her songs while on-stage. Finishing up she effortlessly tied together her emotionally hypnotizing ‘In My Lungs’ to the more bouncy ‘Déjà Vu’. She admitted that when she finishes her shows, she feels a sort of high from the experience. I believe it; her rich, intimate voice has the ability to evoke deep emotion. 

One of the most refreshing things about Mo Kenney is that her performance and stories are completely raw. There are no extravagancies to cover it up. Her talent is intensified by its simplicity, her stories are relatable yet mysterious.   When talking about her songs she explained, “They all seem pretty different to me when I’m writing them. When I write songs I like to try something new and get myself excited about what I’m doing, because I love song writing.”  Her inspiration for writing comes from her relationships and the way she thinks about things “They’re usually personal experiences, I find it hard to slip into a character and make stuff up. Maybe it won’t be 100% truthful, but usually it stems from something that is personal. I try to code it with words, and keep it a little bit cryptic so that people don’t know exactly what I’m talking about.” 

Mo started playing guitar when she was only 11 and started writing songs when she was 15, it was sparked by some bad behavior that led to her parents grounding her for two months, she added, “I had nothing to do because they took away all my stuff. I just started writing all the time, every day. I had nothing else to do. That’s when I discovered Elliot Smith too. It was like an awakening creatively.” I guess good things can come from being grounded.

When Mo was 15, East Coast rocker icon Joel Plaskett visited her school in Halifax to listen to songs that had been recorded in their small studio.   Incredibly, a couple years later Mo received a call from Joel’s manager, Sheri Jones. After all that time, Joel had remembered her name and recommended she be invited to the first year of the Gordie Sampson Songcamp in Cape Breton. Things took off from there. Her album is the result of a collaboration with Joel that started in April 2011. 

There’s no doubt that Mo Kenney is a Rising Star: she’s performing at The International Folk Alliance Conference in Toronto, the East Coast Music Week in her hometown of Halifax, all before going on tour out west with Ron Sexsmith at the end of March.  The buzz that has been building around Mo Kenney is completely warranted. If you haven’t yet, I suggest you check her out now: 

Eden - Mo Kenney 

Greg Jackson filmed this video for Mo’s track ‘Eden’. It won the 10x10 video contest at the Atlantic Film Festival and has been screened at various other film festivals around North America.

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