Taking the bleak landscape of the town as its setting, I am keen to find out if Hamilton has had an influence on a sound that, for all its breathiness, has some unashamedly cold, hard edges. She politely says that it hasn’t, though the two things work beautifully together. “I do all my listening in my house through the Internet,” she says, “but I grew up in Hamilton. Jer [Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, who’s responsible for a majority of the production on ‘Pull My Hair Back’] is from Hamilton as well. We both love the city for different reasons. I’m trying to think of some of the shots in the video. It’s one of those places that was a really great city but then in the 70s it totally went to shit. It has some hard-hit areas but it’s pretty amazing in some ways. Like, there are amazing buildings and neighbourhoods. It is pretty desolate in places but that makes it interesting.”
An interesting arc to Lanza’s narrative is that quite a bit of the equipment she uses to make her music was inherited from her father, who passed away when she was in her mid teens. “It’s weird,” she says. “He bought this 909 that my cousin swooped in on and got a long time ago. It sucks. There’s nothing I can do, but it’s fair and square. My dad passed away when I was 16, so I was just getting to the age where you start to get perspective on your parents as people. The Polymoog, I remember he used a bit. But my parents played in rock bands, so I’m not sure… I think that he’d heard the 909 and thought, ‘This is the best new drum machine.’ And he was a teacher as well so he had extra money to throw around. He had a studio in the basement and that was his place that was his get away from the family.”
Sadly, there was no overt passing of the baton from Mr Lanza to his daughter, but it’s a nice legacy for her father to leave to Jessy and the family. “For sure,” she says. “It definitely makes my mom happy. And me.”
Though Jessy’s music benefits from minimalist, butter-slick hip-hop percussion and textures lifted from modern electronica, her abilities are built upon a knowledge of the workings of jazz. She did her undergraduate degree in the art, and she believes this has allowed her to dismantle the songs she loves and work out how they’re put together before synthesising something entirely new. She says: “With studying jazz, a big thing is learning other people’s songs and having the ability to hear and lift chord progressions. I got really into learning other people’s stuff.” This led her to an understanding of RnB that permeates her recent work. “A lot of chords that are in RnB songs are jazz chords that are simplified and played on different instruments and synths,” she explains, naturally a teacher. “But it’s a lot of the same repertoire of chords. So it’s kind of easy for me to learn my favourite, I dunno, SWV song. So it was a natural progression.” Yet it wasn’t until a chance meeting between Jeremy Greenspan and Steve Goodman of Hyperdub that things began to get serious.
“The album definitely came first,” she says, “except that we added a couple of tracks at the end. Jeremy and Steve are friends from a long time ago, so they go back a long way. And they saw each other last year at a gig somewhere and Steve was asking him what he was working on and could he hear some tracks and he played him some of the stuff that we were working on and he actually liked it, which I was really blown away by. We sent him everything we had done to that point and there were a couple of tracks that he was just like, ‘I don’t want to use this so you guys need to come up with something else.’ So the majority of it was done and then we had to add a couple of tracks to fill out the album.”
As well as the transatlantic recognition that’s been bestowed upon her, the realisation of her sounds in a live forum is also a relatively recent development. Jessy’s been playing live sets for a little over 12 months, gradually mastering her simple set-up of a couple of synths, a laptop and a delay pedal for her voice. “I’ve done shows here in Canada but it’s only been a year that I’ve been playing live really. It’s just been in Hamilton and Toronto so far.”
The good news is that we’ll be able to see her enact her one woman show on British shores soon. “In late November I’m going to come to do a bunch of shows in Madrid, London, Amsterdam. We’re ironing things out but I’m definitely going to come over end of November, start of December.”
Before we say our goodbye’s, as with any emerging artist, I’m keen to find out what Jessy would view as success for her debut work to which she errs on the side of caution, beginning each of her desires with the word ‘just’. “Just the ability to tour and keep on making tracks,” she says. “That’s all I want. Just that people are interested. I want to be able to play and for people to be interested in what I’m doing.” With the depth of positivity that her music has been garnering of late, that already looks like a very modest request indeed.
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