Past Present: Jill Barber turns to the past for inspiration on her latest album


Canadian singer-songwriter Jill Barber was searching. In her early 20s, she would move from record store to record store digging through old records. She needed vinyl to satisfy her newfound appreciation for its sound. This was where she stumbled across the old classics, jazz musicians such as Edith Piaf and Ella Fitzgerald.

“Honestly, I would just look at the covers that seemed the most interesting and intriguing,” says the Vancouver-based musician. “That’s how I discovered jazz.”

Ten years later, it’s clear that these classics have found their way into Barber’s musical style, particularly with the release of her fourth album, Mischievous Moon on April 5. The album has been the number one selling jazz record in Canada since its release. Throughout the writing process, Barber found inspiration, love and voice.

Her musical journey began in her early teens while growing up in Port Credit, a town just outside of Toronto. When her older brother and fellow musician, Matthew, picked up the guitar, so did she.


“I began writing songs as soon as I could string a few chords together,” Barber says.


She reminisces about travelling to and from Toronto on the GO train—a necessity for any kid in the GTA without a driver’s license—whenever there was a show in the city. During these early years, Barber looked to musicians such as Sloan or Hayden for inspiration. Watching them perform their original music encouraged her to do the same.


Soon, those 30-minute distances from Port Credit to Toronto expanded as she moved further east to Queen’s University in Kingston for an undergraduate degree in Philosophy. Her next stop was further east still, to Halifax, drawn in to both continue a romance with an Albertan tree planter and discover a music scene where she could find her own voice.


“I’ve always been attracted to the East Coast music scene,” says Barber. “It’s this creative incubator where everyone is very supportive.”


These surroundings aided in the conception of Barber’s debut album, Oh Heart, in 2005, leading to two East Coast Music Awards nominations the following year. Barber has since won a couple of East Coast Music Awards and her third album, Chances, was long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize.


Mischievous Moon is the latest manifestation of her musical evolution. The 11-song album contains lyrics about love, accompanied by orchestral sounds and sweeping strings. Barber often describes Chances as the “courtship of [her] career,” while Mischievous Moon explores what happens after love is found. It’s deeper and more intimate.


Her musical journey parallels her personal one, as Barber recently found love in writer and radio personality, Grant Lawrence, prompting her to also find a new home in Vancouver. The couple married last summer.


The songs for Mischievous Moon were further inspired by Barber’s artist residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts against the backdrop of the Rockies and an ever-present moon.


“I spent a lot of time under this moon,” says Barber. “I began to think of it as this image of power and wonder about the presence it has. It’s both this romantic and mysterious part of the universe.”


As with Chances, Barber continued to collaborate with longtime producer Les Cooper on the album. Composer and violinist Drew Jurecka also helped with the writing process. After basic versions of these songs were written, Barber would present them to her six-piece band that would help with sound and further development.


“Even though it says ‘Jill Barber,’ it was really a band effort,” says Barber, who has also collaborated with Canadian legends Jim Cuddy and Ron Sexsmith in the past.


Mischievous Moon continues to explore her voice that Barber says she found in Chances.


Chances was a real turning point,” says Barber. “It was less mimicry where I emulated my favourite artists. The songs felt like Jill Barber songs. I began to find my voice.”

From her earlier searches and travels across the country, Barber has now found inspiration in the classics, love, and her voice. Still, she evolves constantly as a musician and pushes herself to attain new goals. This ambition led her to begin recording in French as well as English to connect to her growing French-speaking fan base.


For now, Barber is content with being on the road again and touring the country, attracted to the idea of meeting different people and visiting different places.


“I’m a bit of a road warrior in the sense,” she says.


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