Though Jenn Bojm would describe herself as a newcomer to Vancouver’s music scene, she’s quickly becoming a fixture in the local independent indie-folk-country music scene at the China Cloud (at Main and Pender), a hub for emerging artists and a modern speakeasy by night and a communal recording/rehearsal space by day.
Her debut Nightingale, Diving Loon released in June of last year, showcases a less cathartic and confessional approach to her genre and a more reflective sonic tableau, like that of a drifter. Unlike the adrenaline charged debuts of her folk-esque peers, such as Laura Marling who adopt a more historical and aggressive sound, Bojm has a palpable modern approach and a delicacy, both lyrically and musically, at the mic. With its highly understated vocals and guitar one could compare it to the breakthrough “You Were Here,” released in the early 2000’s by Canada’s Sarah Harmer. But what one of the aspects that make this record unique to Jenn Bojm, besides her talented bandmates and collaborators, are her vocal inflections and lyrics. Like that of songwriter Gillian Welch, her vocal texture it gives her lullingly contemplative Nightingale, Diving Loon its subtle edge. Lyrically, she explores a philosophical landscape of the universal human experience without over sentimentality or naiveté an instead with a wanderlust; earthy imagery is buoyant throughout the record. In “Painted Town” she sings
“All those fallen leaves letting go, naturally. Looking up now from under, faded green and burnt with umber….heading back where I belong, city lights come on. Tail end of summers dream, vermillion and florentine.”
What you may not know about Bojm by listening to her is that though she is a newcomer in this genre, she’s no stranger to music. Vocally trained in classical music, she reminisces about the thrill of singing in boomy churches and working one-on-one with her vocal coach, insisting she owes that ‘therapeutic’ time to finding her voice and footing as a musician. Though Bojm has found a comfortable footing in her folk-esque voice, she reveals she’s also consistently supports other local songwriters singing backup for them because it allows her to be a vocal chameleon. Even singing “oohs” and “ahhs” she says can make all the difference to creating a memorable song.
When asked more about her recordings, Bojm beams about her highly talented collaborators and band members whom she can now call some of her most loyal friends, and all of whom alternate playing in each others bands, on each others records and venturing on tour together. Jenn impresses their music and support is the reason her debut came to be at all. Her collaborators are made up of drummer Richard Clements, bassist Colin Cowan, and guitarists Scott Smith and Rob Butterfield whom also all sing backup vocals on her record.
“I write a song and it is usually something of a skeleton” she says, “when I bring it to the band everybody’s knowledge and creativity becomes a part of the song, altering arrangements and adding dynamics.”
Though Clements, Cowell, Smith and Butterfield are musicians in their own right heading their own successful projects, they don’t dominate Bojm’s songwriting in the least, but instead contribute to the records orchestrated nuances, perfect for the more careful music listener as well as giving Bojm a cohesive musical sounding board to represent her lyrics and guitar.
It’s eminent from her recordings alone and only affirmed when meeting Bojm, she is more about the process than the product, she emphasizes a need for the musician to maintain their cultural importance as philosophers and performers, not merely entertainers as the mainstream might have it.
Amphibiously, Bojm is one who enjoys being an audience just as much she does being on a stage performing, and what (refreshingly) seems to elude her is the anxiety and pressure expressed by so many modern songwriters to constantly promote themselves, gig as often as possible and flood social media platforms with videos and status updates. Her focus is on the music and more specifically almost approaching her music as if she were a student. Not only is she disciplined in becoming a more well-versed guitar player, but she’s also learning the bass this year mentored by her very own, Colin Cowan.
Her other endeavors this year includes a unique tour of the gulf islands, picking up where her and her band left off a couple of years ago on a spontaneous tour of Pender Island.
“It continues to be, to merge our love of playing music with our love of exploring, swimming, and camping. It has also been a great excuse to get away from the city, relax and also share our music. It started with just Pender Island a couple years ago, then last year we went to Galiano, Mayne, and Pender. This year we are heading to Saturna and Pender.”
Much like the album cover for Nightingale, Diving Loon inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych painting “Ship of Fools”, Jenn Bojm could be considered the musical triptych in progress; the philosopher, the songwriter and the performer.
You can hear Jenn Bojm at: http://jennbojm.bandcamp.com/
By Jess Desaulniers-Lea
Photo: Shannyn Higgins