A Q&A with Jill Barber

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A Q&A with Jill Barber

On her latest record, Metaphora, Jill Barber boldly bursts into the world of contemporary pop music. Ahead of her upcoming concert at the West End Cultural Centre, we caught up with Jill to talk about the new record, songwriting, and life on tour.

Where does the title of the new record come from?

Jill Barber: Metaphora is the original Greek word for metaphor, which is a word that I love and a tool that I use a lot as a songwriter. In the original Greek, metaphora actually translated to “to bear,” as in to bear meaning, or to carry something . . . To add an ‘A’ to the word metaphor is a taking back or refeminizing of the original version of the word. Women’s empowerment is a strong theme on this record, and metaphorically I thought it would be powerful to return it to its original feminine form.

What was the original inspiration for this record?

JB: I’ve been writing songs for this album for the last two years. I was really inspired. I guess I’ve had a lot to say over the last few years. I had a lot of issues that I wanted to address on this album. I feel like I’ve reached the point in my career where I’ve earned the right to make the album that I really needed to make for myself . . .  I didn’t think about what the album people were expecting from me or what ‘people’ wanted to hear from me, specifically. I needed to follow my own artistic instincts on this album, push myself out of my comfort zone and work with new people.

Can you describe the themes that are on this record?

JB: A lot of songs fall under the theme of women’s empowerment, or empowerment in general. I speak to mental health on this record, as well as reproductive health. It wouldn’t be a record of mine if there weren’t a couple songs that speak to the power of love, and the clumsiness and imperfection of my own heart. I think it also touches on some themes of love beyond lust, and long term love and commitment . . . I have to say it’s been way more interesting to do interviews about this record because I get to talk about things that are important to me like mental health, reproductive health, and the MeToo movement.

“In fact, one thing that’s happened since becoming a mother is that I feel I’ve really tapped into my true power as a woman. I found the experience incredibly empowering and I’ve developed a totally different relationship with my body. The experience has made me stronger, wiser, bolder, and more powerful. It’s been humbling too, and I feel in a lot of ways it’s propelled my creativity.”

It’s been four years since your last album, and this new record is notably different than your previous releases. What’s happened in your life between now and then?

JB: A lot has happened in the world, in terms of women and our place in the world. A lot has happened to me personally. The biggest shift is that I’ve become a mother of two kids. Even since the last record (Fool’s Gold, 2014), I wrote and recorded that before I had my first child. That’s been a total game changer. In fact, one thing that’s happened since becoming a mother is that I feel I’ve really tapped into my true power as a woman. I found the experience incredibly empowering and I’ve developed a totally different relationship with my body. The experience has made me stronger, wiser, bolder, and more powerful. It’s been humbling too, and I feel in a lot of ways it’s propelled my creativity.

What albums have you been listening to lately, new or old?

JB: I guess I’ve been listening to more mainstream pop music in the last couple years than I ever have before. Artists like Lorde, I’m very inspired by her. The rest of the world and I are Beyonce fans, and I’m a big fan of the Weeknd . . . I’m always quite loyal to my Canadian artists, and people that are friends of mine, like Jenn Grant, Royal Wood, the Good Lovelies, Sarah Slean, Serena Ryder, Whitehorse. My peers are a big influence on me.

Do you have a favourite venue to play in Canada?

JB: [Laughs] Obviously the WECC in Winnipeg . . . but truthfully, I do really love the WECC. Winnipeg is a very special place for me. Both my mom and dad were born and raised in Winnipeg. I’ve got some strong Manitoba roots on both sides, and I spent my childhood summers visiting Winnipeg. I’ve got really nostalgic and happy memories when I return to Winnipeg . . . however, I do have other venues that mean something to me across the country. I’m looking forward to playing the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, which is now my home city. This weekend I’m playing the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax, which is a theatre that means a lot to me because I spent six years living in Halifax. It’s where I started my career.

What is the song “Bigger than You” about?

JB: It’s about an experience I had about 10 years ago with someone who was manipulative, basically a bully, who was using power play to try to control me. It took me 10 years to write about that experience. It’s amazing because it’s a song that seems to be resonating with a lot of people these days in the era of MeToo, and a lot of women standing up to their bullies.

The great thing about writing music is that it allows me to relive that experience, but only this time I cast myself as the hero. That’s been an empowering way to process some things that happened in my past.

Jill Barber is performing with Justin Nozuka at the West End Cultural Centre (586 Ellice Ave) on Monday October 22. Tickets available online here.


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