“It Means I Love You” booms through any stereo with the kind of hyper-brilliant anxiety that pops in and out of convulsive spontaneity; essentially transforming the air waves it travels on into a semblance of glimmering heart attacks. The face behind the high strung rhythmic track, as well as the ethereal voice shrouding it, is soft, sad, beautiful and earthly, almost mirroring its own songs. It seems that with these same elements the craftsmanship of its author is born.
Jessy Lanza, the mythical voice and creator behind 2013’s Pull My Hair Back, as well as the upcoming Oh No, is doing something different. Her songs have transcended above the usual R&B genre, and in its place, the strange and eclectic have morphed. As someone who grew up with the influences of Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey, it came natural to infuse the soulful, sexual airiness R&B is often associated with within her tunes.
The way that I work is, I’ll usually have like 5 or 6 different minute long ideas that I’m really into and it might be like half of a song.
However, look for any other heavily marked impressions within her records and you would probably not find many. The Ontario native is building her own brand and rhythmic clash, as vividly witnessed in “It Means I Love You.” Her latest track release, “VV Violence,” showcases the hyperactive melodies of a perfect kind of pop — one drenched in both classic soul and modern synth.
For whirling minds like Lanza, inspiration is pretty much everywhere, but that’s not really a difficult thing to picture coming from someone who considers music a main source of sanity. She spoke with us about her artistic process during a phone interview: “I’m always listening for things that might make a good sample in others people’s music, like a good sounding kick drum or anything that I could pull out of a recording, or somebody talking, or even ambiance noise or sound. Anything can make a good sample.”
However, it wasn’t hard to develop this astute ear for musical sounds. As a teenager surrounded by the late 90’s scene, Lanza devoured the pop, R&B songs America had to offer, citing Aaliyah and Missy Elliot as sources of early inspiration.
Within the singer’s own household, music was always present as well: “My dad was a musician and teacher. As a result, he had an entire collection of studio gear (which included synthesizers and drum machines) because he had a home studio in our basement. So, I definitely got a head start with that (equipment).” It’s the same gear that she would later use to rev up her music career and fabricate the sort of breathy fusion of sounds she is now known for today.
Oh No is Lanza’s sophomore studio album. In it, she once again collaborates with her musical partner Jeremy Greenspan of the Junior Boys, whom she met while growing up in Hamilton. This will be the second time since Pull My Hair Back, that he steps in as co-producer. It’s no doubt, then, that their musical partnership has influenced one another throughout the years. Greenspan’s electropop background has clearly made a noticeable impact on her records. As the singer herself states: “I’ve always really been a big fan of Junior Boys since I was a teenager because they come from the same town I do. I think that he (Jeremy) would say to you that he was working on the new Junior Boy’s record while he was working on our project. So there’s definitely some cross influence there.”
Throughout the creation of both albums, Greenspan has proved to be a valuable asset to the songwriting process. Saturated with the spontaneous outbursts of incomplete, fragmented ideas most creative minds are pained with while working on their projects, Lanza has stated Greenspan to be a great aid when it comes to completing songs –- often complementing her ideas with his own.
“The way that I work is, I’ll usually have like five or six different minute long ideas that I’m really into and it might be like half of a song. So I’ll bring them to Jeremy and which ever one he likes the most, he’ll take and flesh it out and then give it back to me to work on some more.”
This often proves to be one of the most exciting stages of the songwriting aspect — as well as of their collaborative process — and Lanza is all but quick to notice the differences in strengths and weaknesses.
It’s great having him to work with because he’s really good at finishing ideas, whereas I’m not. I start getting bored with things. I’m not good with finishing things.
There are several marked differences from this year’s project compared to 2013’s Pull My Hair Back. For starters there’s a newfound sense of confidence and self assuredness that came into making this album. As with anything in life, it all spurred from experience and the successful feedback of previous executions. With Oh No, Lanza was clear on her desires to make a full fledged pop album and moved firmly on this goal with purpose and intent, feeling more confident with her own voice and skills and leaving behind some of the insecurity felt while producing Pull My Hair Back.
However, as the album’s ambiguously worrisome title suggests, a lot of the energy put into creating it — as is the case with any creative endeavor — also bordered on anxiety and doubt. The name Oh No particularly stemmed from this contradiction between the fear and the passion for music — opposing feelings that many times have the power to either make or break you in such a volatile environment as is the music industry. As she spoke to us, it became evident music’s role in the singer’s life has been one of over powering proportions.
In her own words:
“Doing music is such a big part of my life and it always has been. It’s kind of the one thing I do that’s like a stress reliever for me- that makes me feel good. But at the same time, if you’re an anxious person, having music as your career is kind of one of the worst path you could take. It’s so unpredictable. I think I named the record Oh No as a reflection of that (contradiction)- that music is the one thing that makes me feel good but at the same time it’s a pretty big point of stress in my life as well”. She further commented on the conflicting side effects of anxiety: “Everybody is anxious to a degree. But definitely its hard for me sometimes to deal with the reality that being in music is so uncertain. You don’t know what’s going resonate with people-what’s going to hit and what’s not- and sometimes the factors that determine that seem so arbitrary. But its exciting at the same time so that’s always a tension I think you have to deal with if you want to do music.”
When asked what she’d like people to take away from this new chapter in her life, the Canadian songstress again falls back on the concepts that draw her to music in the first place “if you’re looking for an escape then I hope listening to the album does that for you.”