She has a new, radically different (again) album coming in June and Jill Barber will surprise many fans who have enjoyed folk pop, classic songbook, chanson and more already. As Wind Back Wednesday remembers though, she’s not ever really played as expected.
This 2008 interview, the first of a trilogy of games-inspired stories with her (watch out in coming months for the full set) sets the scene for a decade of wins, draws and fine, fine music.
OUR FIRST CONTESTANT IS FROM LOVELY NOVA SCOTIA ….
Canadian singer-songwriter Jill Barber had until recently been living in the remote Atlantic coast province of Nova Scotia. But how much attention had she been paying? We thought we’d test her out with some questions.
What is the population of Nova Scotia?
"Am I allowed to use Google?" asks Barber with a note of panic. Hell no, that's what we’re using.
"Um, let me think. 150,000," she says more in hope than certainty. "250,000?”
The correct answer is approximately 950,000. I'm afraid we will have to deduct $20.
Yes, you lose $20 for every incorrect answer. Did I not say that at the beginning? What is the highest point of Nova Scotia?
"I don't know, maybe somewhere on Cape Breton Island.”
Ok, she now owes $40. The correct answer is White Hill.
To spare her touring budget we will now conclude the quiz portion of this interview.
Anyway, Nova Scotia was old news, these days Barber lives in Vancouver - "and I know even less about this place" – and in the grand tradition of poets and songwriters, it is love which took her there.
"That's generally what motivates me to move any place," she chuckles.
Clearly romance matters. In all its forms. While her third album, 2006’s blend of country, folk and old-style swing pop, For All Time, has just been released in Australia, back home there is a newer one called Chances.
This time Barber’s taken the hint of pre-rock 'n' roll popular song that you hear on For All Time (think the 1940s, big microphones, small orchestras) and turned it into a full-blown affair.
"I'm a romantic person so I've always been attracted to a lot of the old classic romantic songs,” she says. “In a way I feel romance is lost on a lot of modern music. In a sense I'm nostalgic for a time that I never knew where it was acceptable to be unabashedly romantic."
That “golden period” would have seen Barber the singer performing songs written by professional songwriters but in returning to that style, Barber the writer has chosen to skip the standards and continue penning her own material.
"I think eventually somebody has to write new standards. We can't just sing the same old songs over and over again, as wonderful as they are" Barber says.
"As a songwriter I didn't want to take the easy way out, I wanted to challenge myself to write songs that had that timeless quality that I love about that old music and that's the challenge that I set myself not just on this new record but my old ones as well."
She shares a love of the past and an appreciation for the quality of new songwriting with another Canadian, Ron Sexsmith, with whom she wrote several songs for Chances (“Isn’t he wonderful?” she gushes. Yes, he is.) Closer to home, another of her collaborators is her older brother and rootsy singer-songwriter, Matthew, with whom she is touring Australia this month.
Siblings on the road? It must end in tears, right? However, if you're looking for some Noel vs Liam Gallagher-style family tussling here you’ll be disappointed. They don't call the tour the Sibling Revelry Tour for nothing.
“We understand each other and it's really wonderful. I'm so privileged to have such a close ally in this business and someone who is also my best friend."
Oh please, stop it. You are making every music journalist cry into their free drink.
"We get along, we always have. I've always been a troublemaker but try as I might to pick a fight he never falls for it. We're just very close. Sorry."
Sounds like a 1940s movie. Guess we know who could do the soundtrack.
Jill Barber’s Metaphora is out in June