By ERIC SCHELKOPF for The Total Scene
When she is not captivating audiences as part of renowned folk group The Wailin’ Jennys, Ruth Moody is making beautiful music on her own.
Moody will perform at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25 in the SecondSpace Theatre at Elgin Community College, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin.
Tickets are $20/$25. More information is at www.ruthmoody.com.
I had the chance to talk to Moody about the tour and her other activities.
Q – How has the tour been going? What do you like about performing solo versus with The Wailin’ Jennys? What additional challenges are there? I love both a lot…obviously the main difference is that I’m fronting this show on my own. It takes a different kind of focus and energy to be the leader in that way.
That has been a really good challenge for me – anything like that forces you to draw on new and different aspects of yourself. You realize that you have abilities that perhaps you didn’t think you had because you never had to draw on them before.
Of course, I love performing with the Jennys as well – that collaborative experience is so much fun. I have that more and more with the boys too now, which is great.
This tour has been going amazingly well. I feel so lucky to be doing what I’m doing. It’s been hard work – I’ve been on the road for almost 5 months now. But I feel like I’m growing so much as a musician and performer, and that feels so rewarding.
Q – You grew up in a musical family. Was it inevitable that you would have a career in music? What do you think drew you to Irish and Scottish music, and then folk music?
Hard to say…I suppose it might have been inevitable…given that my brother and one of my sisters are professional musicians too.
My other sister is a doctor – she was probably the smart one…ha ha. My mother, who is a music teacher, is this incredible force of nature. We all grew up listening and singing and playing…it was such a normal part of life.
I studied classical voice starting in my early teens but somewhere in there I learned some Irish and Scottish folk songs and realized that that style of music really suited my voice, and also really resonated with me emotionally and spiritually.
From that point on I just starting building up a repertoire of folk and traditional songs. Around the same time I went to the Winnipeg Folk Festival for the first time and was exposed to all kinds of traditional music…as well as a lot of contemporary singer-songwriters. That changed my life.
Q – What goals did you have in sitting down to make “The Garden?” Did you intentionally want it to sound different from what you’ve done with The Wailin’ Jennys?
I don’t think so – whenever I record I basically just want to be true to the songs. The garden became what it is fairly organically – with the help of some brilliant musicians and of course the care of my amazing producer, David Travers-Smith.
Q – It’s been a couple of years since that album came out. Are you working on new songs and are you playing them on this tour? Yes! We’re playing new songs and it’s been really exciting. I think it’s fun for the guys to come up with parts on songs that haven’t been recorded before.
It’s nice to be in that stage now – getting to explore new creative ideas with each other. I’m definitely starting to think about recording a new record….not sure when it will happen exactly but I’ll likely record some demos in the next couple of months and take it from there.
Q – In forming The Wailin’ Jennys, what were your goals? What do you think makes the band work? Did you ever think the band would be received so well, by both critics and the public alike?
We didn’t really have any goals! We talked about doing one show together, the three of us original founding members (Nicky, Cara and I) just to have some fun and sing on each others’ songs.
I grew up singing with my two sisters and when my band at the time, Scruj MacDuhk, broke up, I decided I wanted to sing with women again. The female 3-part harmony thing was really calling me.
I knew Nicky and Cara were great singers so I asked if they’d be into doing some jamming and putting on a show. That show sold out quickly, so we added another one. The second show sold out and we started to get the feeling that we might have stumbled on something special.
Which we had, in terms of the musical chemistry and the vocal blend. We got really lucky there – and have always gotten lucky in that regard.
It’s evolved and blossomed every step of the way with our different incarnations, and we’ve all grown as singers, but we’ve always had a good vocal blend and that has been key. I think the other thing that makes the band work is that Nicky and I have always had a similar work ethic, right from the beginning.
You might even say we are both workaholics – we don’t stop until the work is finished. Which can be to our detriment if we don’t take care to stay balanced and take time off. But we really ‘get’ each other in that way, and know we can count on each other when there is work to be done.
We are really different too, but we complement each other, strengths-wise, I think. And Heather fits in so beautifully – personality-wise and musically. We knew she was a kindred spirit the minute we met her.
Q – The Wailin’ Jennys in 2010 performed as part of a tribute concert to Bruce Cockburn. Was that an especially high honor for you, especially since he is from Canada? What do you come away with when you perform with legendary performers like him?
It’s an incredible honor. There is nothing like it. You try and enjoy the moment but usually the whole time you’re thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’.
Especially with someone like Bruce, whose songs we grew up with, and who is such an incredible writer, player and singer, and who is such a special human being on top of that. It is a thrill and an honor.
Q – What’s on the horizon for both you and The Wailin’ Jennys?
The Jennys are taking time off the road right now, so that we all have time to do other things and/or spend some time at home, with our families. Every time we’ve done this we’ve come back recharged and ready to get creative with each other again.
I’m about to wrap up this tour and pretty soon I’ll have a month at home in Winnipeg. I can hardly believe it. I have some exciting things coming up though, lots of festivals over the summer, so I’ll be back on the road soon enough.
Q – Do you have any dream collaborations, either on your own or with The Wailin’ Jennys?
I feel like I just experienced my dream collaboration. I was lucky enough to be on this amazing tour called the Transatlantic Sessions, as part of Celtic Connections in Glasgow.
The ‘house band’ included Jerry Douglas, Ally Bain, Phil Cunningham, Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, John Doyle, John McCusker, Mike McGoldrick, and many more. Some of my favorite musicians of all time.
It was very surreal. Eddie Reader, who was also on the tour, described the band as ‘God’s band’, which was an apt description. Anyway, being able to collaborate with those folks was such an honor, and an experience I’ll never forget.
Aside from that, I have a number of friends that I’ve talked to recently about doing some recording when our schedules allow – and I’m looking forward to having a chance to follow up on that. But I can’t name names because I don’t want to spoil the surprise!