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Photo: Rachel Pick

Gig Pick: Jill Barber at the NAC—09.28.18

By Shannon Ing on September 26, 2018

Jill Barber kicks off her national tour in Ottawa with a her new album, Metaphora. Jill is a respected artist, well known for her songwriting and ability to encompass a variety of musical genres. Metaphora is a contemporary pop exploration of topics ranging from female empowerment to mental health to love. Jill pours facets of her identity in this bold yet raw record.

We sat down with Jill to talk about working with Mother Mother’s lead singer, inspiration behind her songs, social media, and the time she dislocated her knee on stage. Note this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Apt613: Hi Jill, how is the tour going thus far?

Jill Barber: Good, we have had a few American shows but we are starting the first Canadian date in Ottawa. I’m really happy to be kicking off the national tour in the capital and at the NAC which is a spectacular venue.

I see you have two kids. How would you say motherhood has affected this album, Metaphora?

I didn’t write an album about being a mom but the album does speak to the power I feel as a woman. A lot of the power and empowerment I felt over the last few years is a result from becoming a mother. In this album, I wanted to express that I have tapped into my own power as a woman, with the hopes that I would also inspire other people.

I hear that female empowerment tone and think it reflects well in this album.

Thank you, as I get older and further into my career I feel I need to follow my own artistic instincts. I care more about what makes me feel good versus what other people think. All my records have been reflective of where I have been in my life. In this record I wanted to discuss matters that affect me in my mind and my spirit oppose to just matters of the heart.

In this album, I wanted to express that I have tapped into my own power as a woman, with the hopes that I would also inspire other people.

What inspired you to write a song about mental health?

My own personal experience and being touched by mental illness. Nobody’s immune to experiencing a lack of mental health in their day to day life, or having a loved one experience it. That song [Mercy] was inspired by spending a weekend with someone who was really suffering from untreated depression. It is very painful to see someone you love go through that. In that moment I felt powerless, and felt the only thing I could do was to write a song about it.

How would you say social media has changed your career?

When I started playing in coffee shops I was 16. My audience was literally who was in the coffee house. Now my audience is the entire world. The music industry likes to shit on the internet because people use to buy records and now they don’t as much. My inclination is to be optimistic about technology. I still support artists by seeing them live and buying merch. But I really believe in the transformative power of live music. I don’t know about you but when I go to live shows, my mind goes to such interesting places. It is like a soundtrack to whatever is going on in your mind and it’s all inspired by the music. Everyone has their own individual experience during a show and you cannot recreate that at home. I support giving yourself the gift of attending live shows. It feels like a break from life.

I saw you collaborated with Ryan Guldemond from Mother Mother. What was that process like?

It was amazing. I wrote “The Woman” with him. That was the first song we wrote together and the first song I wrote on this record. That song really set the tone for the album. I have always admired Ryan’s music and we ended up writing a dozen songs together. I sometimes joke that song writing sessions with Ryan was also like therapy. He was really into drawing out an angrier and darker side that I had not expressed in my music before. We did write some songs that were too angry and too dark for this album but I really trusted him. We actually live a few blocks down from one another. Yesterday he was running by my house and he stopped in for a bit to chat. He’s not only a musical colleague but a friend.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you while performing live?

The funniest thing I did was fall on my ass when I was opening for Ron Sexsmith in Calgary. I had bought cowboy boots and wasn’t use to them because they were brand new. I decided to walk backwards up the stairs while playing the guitar and singing. Then in the middle of the song, I fell right on my ass and dislocated my knee, my guitar hit the ground and rang out. There was a collective gasp from the audience. I had to pretend I was okay when really I was in searing pain. It was a very embarrassing moment.

Is there a particular place you’re going to visit when you’re in Ottawa?

I had a long time love affair with the Scone Witch. The very first time I played Ottawa, which was years ago, someone took me to the Scone Witch. Now that’s where I like to go in the morning after playing a show.

Thank you for talking with me this afternoon. I’m really excited for your show on September 28 at the NAC.

Thank you for the super thoughtful questions. It was nice to talk about things that matter to me. Afterall that’s why I created this record, to talk about things that matter to me.


Jill Barber will be performing on Friday September 28 at 7:30pm at the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin Street). Tickets start at $37.75 and are available online