The buzz around Nova Scotia’s Mo Kenney’s debut album hasn’t quieted down. Last week, Kenney was nominated for an East Coast Music Award for Rising Star Recording of the Year for her self-titled album.
“It was pretty crazy. I knew we applied for me to be nominated. My mom called me in the morning and told me [laughs],” said Kenney. “I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen with [the album] but it’s been great so far,” said Kenney about the response.
Kenney will now open for Juno-winner and Fredericton Shivering Song headliner Sarah Harmer. The two will play the festival’s main stage, The Wilmot Church, Friday. Kenney will return to the venue for a second show the next day.
Her self-titled album was released in September and produced by folk-rocker and fellow Nova Scotian, Joel Plaskett.
Her album was created under Toronto label Pheromone Recordings and Plaskett’s New Scotland Records.
After her album release, Kenney set out on a cross-Canada tour opening up for Plaskett and his band the Emergency.
Plaskett not only produced the album but also co-wrote two songs. Kenney and Plaskett’s guitars are the only two instruments on the album.
“I met him when I was 17 for the first time. I was doing makeshift recordings at a school in Halifax with local bands and he came into to listen to the music and liked my songs.”
Kenney said she was a fan of his and remembers hearing Plaskett and the Emergency’s “Come on, Teacher” from his 2003 album Truthfully Truthfully.
“I got a call from his manager [Sheri Jones] three years later and invited me to a song-writing camp with [singer/songwriter] Gordie Sampson.”
Jones invited Kenney to The Gordie Sampson Songcamp in Cape Breton which accepted only a handful of aspiring songwriters. Jones knew of Kenney through Plaskett and suggested they meet up.
Kenney is now under Jones’ management along with Sampson, Fredericton’s David Myles and Nova Scotia’s David Guthro.
Most songs on Kenney’s album sit around two and a half minutes and a few feature Plaskett’s guitar playing along.
Plaskett contributes to the catchy “Déja vu,” which has the duo strumming together.
Even though Mo Kenney can be seen as Joel Plaskett’s protégé, it’s easy to distinguish a style all her own.
There’s something honest in Kenney’s voice. It’s not dressed up with a backing of instruments or drastic changes in range. Plaskett’s voice compliments the honesty, but doesn’t overwhelm it.
Her stage presence is somewhat androgynous, not unlike one of her idols, David Bowie.
The only song on the album not written by Kenney is her cover of David Bowie’s “Five Years.” Kenney said her dad bought her 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars when she was 17.
She’d just moved out and listened to the song repeatedly in her apartment.
“I was a little nervous about doing it justice. I’m a huge fan of Bowie and I didn’t want to butcher his song, so hopefully I didn’t [laughs].”
Kenney said she was always a writer, but started writing songs when she was 15 years old.
“Well, I’ve always written as a kid like short stories in elementary school and I used to really enjoy that,” she said. “It makes me feel good to write my thoughts down on paper.”
Kenney started playing guitar when she was 11-years-old and said she couldn’t stop. She remembers staying up late in her room playing and her mom yelling at her to go to sleep.
Kenney talked about the late Elliott Smith as an influence.
“I really loved his music. I think he’s a great songwriter and comes up with memorable melodies and the way he plays guitar… he was the one that made me start finger picking.”
Now 22, she has moved out of the privacy of her bedroom and onto the stage. This wasn’t a particularly easy transition for Kenney, who admits to stage fright.
“I hated performing. I was scared to be in front of people. Anyone who does that for the first time would be scared unless you’re super outgoing which I’m not,” said Kenney. “But it got easier as I went on and now I love it.”
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