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Artist Q+A: Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody of The Wailin' Jennys

Members of The Wailin' Jennys musical group - Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, and


Chandler Center for the Arts staff sent a number of questions to The Wailin' Jennys to learn more about their early musical influences, their create process, upcoming projects, and more. Starting as a happy accident of solo singer-songwriters getting together for a one-time-only performance in Winnipeg, The Wailin’ Jennys have grown over the years into one of today’s most beloved international folk acts. Founding members Moody and Mehta, along with New York-based Masse continue to create some of the most exciting and exquisite music on the folk-roots scene, stepping up their musical game with each critically-lauded recording and thrilling audiences with their renowned live performances. Don't miss out on your chance to see The Wailin' Jennys on Sunday, March 3, 2024 at 7:00 PM. Get your tickets today!

CCA Staff: How did you discover your passion for music and who were your early influences?

Nicky Mehta: I've loved music since I was a small child and probably started harmonizing around the age of four. There are Elton John albums I knew inside and out and when I hear tracks that I haven't heard since that time, I still remember harmonies I sang. As a seventies kid, AM radio was rich with incredible songwriters from Joni Mitchell to Paul McCartney and Wings, to Neil Young. My record collection grew, I started performing in school musicals and never stopped performing.

Ruth Moody: My mother is a music teacher, and my siblings and I were lucky enough to have her instill the love of music in us at an early age. We listened to a lot of music, and sang and played together as a family. So it was a normal part of life. I suppose my mother was my earliest and biggest influence. I took piano lessons growing up and classical voice lessons as a teenager, but around that time I realized that my voice was more suited to folk music. When I was 15, I went to the Winnipeg Folk Festival and saw music from all over the world over one weekend. It really blew my mind. I fell in love with Celtic music in particular, after seeing Loreena McKennitt perform, and started learning traditional Irish and Scottish folk songs. I joined a Celtic/Oldtime band that had started up in Winnipeg called Scrüj MacDuhk, and that’s how I got started doing music professionally. Later on I started writing my own songs. Some of the people that influenced me to write and want to find my own voice were Joni Mitchell, The Indigo Girls, Gillian Welch, Peter Gabriel, John Prine, Sinead O’Connor, Tracy Chapman, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Richard Thompson.

The Wailin’ Jennys have performed together as a group for over two decades. What do you see as the most significant challenges facing musicians in the industry today and how have you navigated them throughout your career?

Mehta: With streaming, musicians can no longer make a living from recorded music, which is challenging. So touring is a must and it's our living. We've toured extensively and we've taken breaks to have kids. I would say the current industry is not particularly friendly to parents, in that regard, as touring with kids is challenging and then impossible once they are school-age - in my case, my husband was our sound person, so we were able to tour with our twin boys til they were two. Ultimately, we have to figure out the balance between being a parent and an artist. As much as I love touring and appreciate that streaming introduces our music to an ever-widening audience, it's tricky to make a career out of music without touring. I feel very much for younger artists starting this journey without record sales to keep them afloat. Support musicians in any way you can! 

Moody: I feel like this has changed since we started as a group. Today, I feel like because of streaming and the reduced amount of income that musicians make from their recordings, it’s essential for them to tour in order to make a living, and touring becomes more difficult if you have a family. It’s not impossible, but it is definitely more challenging to have a balanced life when you are on the road a lot. The other thing I am seeing as a challenge is the amount of content that is expected of artists these days. Social media is such a big part of society and people’s lives now, and it is a helpful tool in a lot of ways, but the pressure to put content up on social media can take away from the time and space needed to be creative. It’s a great way to connect with fans, but the fact that the content and output needs to ideally be frequent and regular to reach fans is the challenging part, in my experience. 

Could you please tell us a bit about the group’s songwriting and creative process?

Mehta: Our band has always been made up of songwriters and we value everyone's contribution to the overall sound of the project - in fact, we feel that the success of the Jennys has a lot to do with the melding of our various influences, and of course, our varied vocal ranges. We are egalitarian and perform and record equal numbers of each other's songs. So far, our formula has been to bring songs each of us has written and arrange them collaboratively, a process which is deeply creative, mysterious in ways, and fulfilling. Very satisfying, all around. We have talked for a long time about co-writing but it hasn't happened much yet. With not living close to each other, it's a challenge. Someday!

You have collaborated with many outstanding artists on several live and recorded projects. Who was your favorite to work with and how did you adjust your creative process (if at all) to collaborate with this artist? 

Mehta: We have been so fortunate with the people we've shared the stage with and the people with whom we've sung. I would say collaborating in performance with Bruce Cockburn was a dream come true. In that case, we were lucky enough to sing backup for him at festivals and also took part in a tribute to him in Canada. He is a legend in Canada, so to have had that opportunity was incredible. Singing with Bruce Hornsby and Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings was also really special.

If you could record an album with any other artist or group, no matter when he or she lived, who would it be and why?

Mehta: That's a hard one to narrow down. For me, personally, I would love to work with Annie Lennox, her voice is incredible and it would be a joy to sing with her. Prince would have been great for his genius and production, Sinéad O'Connor for her songwriting and personal integrity, Bowie because well, it's Bowie. As for the band, we had a chance to tour with Steve Martin and at another time, Brandi Carlisle but we couldn't do either. Would love those opportunities again.

Moody: It’s hard to pick just one! John Lennon. Sinead O’Conner. Aretha Franklin. Peter Gabriel. Would just be a dream to be in a room with these humans, to feel the power of their voices and hearts. 

What can audience members expect from your 2024 tour performances? Are there any surprises in store that you can allude to?

Mehta: Well, we've always been a band that wants to bring comfort, light and peace to our audiences and the world needs that more than ever. We have a lot of fun on stage, and we also wade into some deeper waters. It's usually a real mix of laughter and tears. Ultimately, we'll just be doing what we've always done, which is to try and allow people the chance to connect to their own emotions and aspirations through our music and harmonies - we want our audiences to leave with a renewed hope. We'll have some new material and will be doing some of our older songs. It's always a mix and we hope it brings some light and joy into our fans' lives.

We'll also be holding raffles at all of our shows to raise money and awareness for an organization called Lives In The Balance, which is the brainchild of world-renowned child psychologist Dr. Ross Greene. His organization goes into schools to work with educators and eliminate punitive measures (corporal punishment, isolation, expulsion) in favour of collaborating with kids to help grow skills that will allow them to thrive. We very much believe in his mantra that there is no such thing as a bad kid, just kids that need support and assistance. Activism has always been an important part of what we do.

Could you give us a glimpse into any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re excited about?

Mehta: We have been working towards a new studio album of new originals, so hopefully we can carve some time and space for that. We're also looking at some symphony collaborations down the road. Stay tuned...

If we were to open your favorite music streaming app, which artists would we find on your most played list this year? (It will be interesting to see the differences between members of the group!)

Mehta: I have more of a pop background so my recent playlists include people like boygenius, The Japanese House, Radiohead. My 14-year-old has been getting me into hip-hop, so that's been interesting and surprisingly inspiring. And then I'll always throw in some old school tunes by The Smiths, New Order and The Police. 

Moody: My son loves Raffi and the Beatles, so those are played a lot in the house. Lately I've been on a real Bonnie Raitt kick. I also can never get enough of my friends Maya de Vitri and Anna Tivel. And the Wood Brothers made a record last year that both my husband and I have listened to on repeat. 

We have saved perhaps the hardest question for last. If you HAD to choose any career field other than music, what would it be and why?

Mehta: Easy, comedy. If I could be a great comedian, that would be an amazing alternative. As it is, I get to do a wee bit of that in Jennys' shows, so it's a pretty sweet combo for me.

Moody: There are other artistic things I love to do...I love to paint and I think at some point in my life I will take it up more seriously. But if I weren’t doing music I think I would want to find another way to help and try and make a difference in the world. Perhaps I would be a counselor, or a conservationist. 

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