Life, love and art are all comprised of chance encounters. Some may call it a stroke of luck, a brush with fate or the charting of time, but Jill Barber knows better. It's all fated by chances. It was this sort of conviction that originally led the burgeoning romantic to Halifax over four years ago. The unrestrained organ in her chest relocated Barber to Vancouver this past spring. She returns to the Rebecca Cohn on Thursday, October 30.
"Just as I'm settling in I'm getting ready to head out on tour," says Barber, calling from her new home in English Bay. "It hasn't been all that long. I'm sort of used to being on the road. I've adopted a solid home base in myself, a kind of a mental space."
A change of scenery often evokes all sorts of emotions, inspirations and a sense of renewal. Barber might have set up house in the futuristic city of glass, but she certainly hasn't lost her old-world heart. Her recently released album Chances (on Outside Music) is a dip into the bygone era. With lush instrumentation, soaring orchestration and a fairytale-like narrative, Barber has created a true classic to soundtrack these modern times.
"We had a number of reference points going into record this album. Certainly Etta James, Patsy Cline and Ella Fitzgerald were influences, all of the old divas, really," says Barber. "I looked to the old classic romantic songs; they were delivered with such soul and sass. You could say I harnessed my own inner woman. All of those artists owned their songs; they were sexy, sensual and confident. That's what makes a singer and the song."
Last January, Barber fled to the mountains and spent the majority of the month at the Banff Centre---a learning centre dedicated to inspiring creativity. Without the distraction of daily living, Barber found herself writing furiously.
"It's easy for me to forget what is most important," she says. "I needed extreme measures and the opportunity came my way. I lived and breathed music. I shut out everything in my life and went deep into my own creative world. I went into it with the ambition to write an album. The program supervisor warned me about setting any sort of intention, but I didn't listen. I really just put my mind and heart into it."
At the peak of her artistic seclusion, she decided to invite producer Les Cooper and Ron Sexsmith along to try her hand at collaborative work---a first in Barber's musical career. (Her discography includes: 2002's A Note to Follow So, 2004's Oh Heart and 2006's For All Time.) Barber toured extensively in the past with Sexsmith, who helped pen the title track "Chances," "One More Time," as well as lending his vocals to "Old Flame."
"Ron is romantic like me, so I never have to feel shy when I am showing my romantic side with him. We've done two separate tours together. And there is nobody better at song writing. He has such a way with words. He's been a hero to me and I'm lucky enough to have become friends."
Barber has always been noted for her renowned romanticism and her hopeful heart. This was fully realized when the opportunity to perform with Symphony Nova Scotia for the Maritime Pops Series came her way last February. A little more than a month after her stint in Banff, Barber premiered some of what would later become the essence of Chances.
"It was a turning point for me, both professionally and personally. To have my songs lifted up on the wings of the symphony of Nova Scotia was something I only ever dreamed of. I don't think I would have had that kind opportunity anywhere else."
It was on that particular winter night last February when Barber, dressed to kill in a glittering dress (that had just been flown in from Paris after she left it on board her flight from Vancouver to Fredericton), performed much slower, skeletal versions of "Chances," "Never Quit Lovin' You," "Wishing Well," "Old Flame" and "Take It Off Your Mind."
Drawing on the experience of performing with the symphony, producer Les Cooper and Barber began toying with the songs and elaborating on their orchestration when recording at Toronto's Woodshed. Smoky ballads became jazzy, soulful old love songs bloomed, Vancouver trio The Sojourners kicked up the gospel and harmony flourished with back-up vocals by The Good Lovelies. Barber called upon all of the female voices before her and channelled her own inner diva.
On Chances, Barber shed her folk skin and became a prima donna of sorts. "I don't think I have the persona of a diva," she admits. The album could be the very antithesis of folk music, as it's more likely to be described as being struck by the Walt Disney effect. "We'd be in the studio and Les would ask me, 'Does this sound Disney enough? We need it to sound more Disney.'
"I feel really proud of the album and very confident about it, though I know it may not be everyone's cup of tea. It feels bigger than any of the albums I've done in the past. It's a very lush statement. I think back to when I made my first album. It's nice to look back on your own path and see what has brought you to this place. Now I need to squint further down the path.".