Music

Jenn Grant: Overcoming stage fright to receiving 6 ECMA nods

With a West Coast tour starting, Jenn Grant tells how she went from academics to art

Jenn Grant performing live
Jenn Grant performing live   Natacha Gagnon/Wikimedia

When musician Jenn Grant, 35, found out she was nominated for six East Coast Music Awards as a solo artist — and a seventh nod with her band Aqua Alta — she was in her kitchen.

Grant, who resides in Lake Echo, N.S., her husband and producer Dan Ledwell, and a smattering of other ECMA nominees had gathered together on Jan. 26 to hear the news and to celebrate.

Grant — who is also nominated for two Juno Awards this year — is up for, among others, album of the year for her fifth effort, Compostela, which was released Oct. 21, 2014.

As Grant gets ready to begin a West Coast Canadian tour, she spent a few minutes talking with The Signal about her musical inspirations, persistence and how the traditional university path alluded her.

The great divide

Originally from P.E.I., Grant moved to Halifax with her mother and brother after her parents divorced when she was 10 years old.

When it was time to go to university, Grant initially attended Saint Mary’s for a year.

“I really didn’t do very well at Saint Mary’s,” said Grant. “I did not know what I was doing with my life… I wasn’t performing or even making art. I was just going to a few classes.”

Grant said she felt the need to “buckle down” and earn a degree. Saint Mary’s was the school that accepted her… but it didn’t fulfil her.

So she decided to take a tour of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

“I was so overwhelmed by how much I wanted to go there, I cried in front of the school in a little corner, listening to Elton John on my headphones,” she said.

“I still had stage fright, so I wasn’t performing yet,” says Grant. “But being part of that artistic community was one of the things that led me to my real career in music.”

Grant graduated from NSCAD with a bachelor of fine arts in painting in 2006.

Finding her voice

Grant’s musical influences are constantly changing with every album.

“I love First Aid Kit, a Swedish sister duo whose music I first heard when we were mixing Compostela,” said Grant.

Other artists on her recently played list include: Jose Feliciano, Simon and Garfunkel, Donnie and Joe Emerson, Damien Jurado, Danger Mouse and Sharon Van Etten.

In terms of creating her own music, Grant said she’s never had any formal training as a musician, but when she first began performing, she wasn’t using her voice effectively.

“I went to see Antonia Pigot at the [Maritime] Conservatory [of Performing Arts] and she taught me how to breathe to sing, and how to better care for my voice,” says Grant. “I try to use these tools as often as I can.”

Performing art

Getting to create and send art out into the world sometimes trumped Grant’s more practical, everyday responsibilities.

“Sometimes I would miss classes [because] I’d write a song [instead],” she said.

“Many of the songs from my first album, Orchestra for the Moon made it out into the world because I didn’t get to school in time,” said Grant, who readily admits that writing a song was sometimes just too appealing to pass up.

Grant said she has never questioned her decision to pursue music.

“I don’t bother to worry about ‘the state of the music industry’ or let that change my focus, because.. I am doing what I do,” she said. “Things just fall into place.”

The ECMAs air on on April 14, 2016.

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