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INTERVIEW: Stacey Kaniuk

Pic by Jen Squires

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Great, thanks! I’ve been keeping busy with the new EP and feeling good!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Baby Wants To Dance”?

Baby Wants to Dance is a 1970’s disco-meets-Daft-Punk dance song about letting loose and having a good time. It’s got this main repeating hook, a thick bass line, handclaps, and a driving dance beat – you can’t help but bop your head along with it.  Writing and recording this tune was the most fun I’ve had in the studio in a long time!

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

It wasn’t an event, but a feeling. That empowering feeling when you know exactly what you want from an evening, or even from another person, and not being shy to say it. It’s about losing yourself on the dance floor with somebody. It’s about being direct with your feelings, and not playing games.  It’s about not wasting time, and making the most of a moment.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

The video was a whirlwind and so much fun! I worked with Silent Partner Pictures and we had this concept to create a sort of “performance style” video where we would use a bunch of on-camera tricks instead of throwing some fancy visual effects on in post-production. We did 3 sections of the video in one long take each.  That meant rehearsing everything over and over — nailing the cues for the dancers, the camera placement, specific cues for lighting effects, the roller skaters had to hit certain marks where they would execute tricks, etc. Once we started filming a take we weren’t cutting the camera, so everything had to go off without a hitch. That intensity combined with the amazing energy and talent of the dancers and roller skaters made for one crazy, fun, but super long day!

The single comes off your new album Heartbeat – why taking so long on releasing this material?

Heartbeat was started in 2015 when I first received a FACTOR grant. I was insistent that I wasn’t going to rush the process and take the time to get the sound and vision right.  I was going through a change in my musical style and I wanted to honour that process by letting things formulate really naturally. I never wanted the writing phase of this record be stressful or deadline-driven because I find that’s when compromises start being made. So if things got hectic in the “real world” I took a break from the project to revisit it when the music could be the focus.  In that time I moved to a new place, I got married, and I travelled a little. I think the record feels right because of that time I spent growing during its creation, not in spite of it.  🙂

What’s the story behind the title?

“Heartbeat” symbolizes the feeling of being centred and strong, and not being afraid to move forward into uncharted territory. It’s I guess where I feel both musically and in my personal life right now – that I’ve got my finger on the pulse of who I am right now, if only in this moment, and using that self awareness as power. It’s about understanding how good things open up to you when you approach your life from a place of love.

How was the recording and writing process?

Very relaxed, very natural, with lots of dancing and high fives! I had a few melody and song ideas that I’d recorded rough versions of already, (some were just Voice Memos and sketches on my phone). There were a few song ideas that I definitely wanted to explore further, while other songs came to being completely organically with my producer Thom in his studio. For the tunes we wrote together, we’d often start with just a chord progression or a bass line that we’d have in our heads, and throw a beat on it that felt good. At the end of a session I’d just take that rough outline back to my home studio and put the pieces around it that felt right. Sometimes a vocal line would come first, other times the entire instrumentation was built up first and the lyrics and vocals were the finishing touches. I’d add in all the harmonies, and suggestions for instrumentation. When I went back to Exeter Studios, we’d re-record that demo in a more polished way, adding guitar parts and sketching out the additional instrumentation as a guide for the musicians for when it came time to lay down the actual recording. Some of these songs had demos that had been recorded at least 4 or 5 times!

We eventually built up a body of demos from which we could pick our favourites to record… We recorded the bed tracks at Revolution Recording in Toronto, and everything else – including all the vocals – were recorded at Thom’s studio, Exeter Sound.

What was it like to work with Thom McKay and how did that relationship develop?

Working with Thom was awesome. I met him when he came to a showcase of mine for CMW in 2012. We just talked about music, I realized right then that we had similar taste, but also the same approach to making music. I have wanted to work with him for a long time . When I knew I’d be applying for a FACTOR grant, I reached out to him first to talk on the phone and make sure it was the right fit.  We started working together in 2015, and have since become great friends as well as collaborators.

When making this record Thom listened intently to my ideas and my vision right off the top, he knew I was looking for a change and made sure the musical vision stayed on track. His whole vibe and the environment he’s created at Exeter Studios was just what I needed to nurture this new sound into being. It’s a safe space to explore musical ideas without pressure, and we felt very free to share crazy ideas. I can’t count the number of times we would both say  “OK, trust me for a second, what if we tried THIS?” and those ideas led to some of the most rewarding musical moments on the record.

How much did he get to influence the album?

Thom and I co-wrote half the album together, so it’s very much his project as well! He played bass and guitar on all the tracks. Thom was really helpful in crafting some of the instrumental parts into the style I wanted when I didn’t necessarily know how to get them there. I’d play him some musical references, or describe something to him in some crazy way, and he would help make that sound a reality. Thom speaks the language of music in everything he does, there’s no “on” of “off” mode for him, he pretty much lives and breathes it. I hired Thom for this project not just to record it, but also to help breath it into life with me. I think of it as a co-venture for sure!

Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with or covering someone else rather than in your own?

I never used to co-write very much, honestly. Everything I’d recorded before was borne at my piano, usually over a late night songwriting session with myself. So yes, when co-writing this time around the process was different, at least in the beginning stages. The beat and the bass lines (and therefore a jumping off point for the chord structure) were built from just experimenting at Exeter Studios. But the bulk of the song was often created the same way as I always have done – taking the bones that we’d laid out back to my home studio to get inspired. I’d light candles, pour some wine, or go for a walk and just sing, or sometimes just listen… Eventually I’d find the melody, phrasing, and lyrics that way and record a demo at my studio.

How do you go on balancing all your different influences together?

If my influences are balanced, it’s not by a conscious choice. I think the artists and styles that have influenced me over the years have just embedded themselves in my songwriting style and my voice, they have just morphed into who I am.  I don’t know that I’d be able to pick them out and say “oh that there is a Same Cooke thing” or “listen! Here’s a piece of Joni coming through…” it’s all just jumbled up in my musical DNA now 🙂

What is it about the 70s that you find so fascinating?

When I was a kid, I think 70’s music, and soul music in particular, was the first time I heard music that made me feel something. Like getting goose bumps hearing Otis Redding’s voice break in his cover of “Change is Gonna Come”, or the way certain a poignant lyric can stir your heart awake. There seemed to me to be a raw honesty and vulnerability in so much of the music then. There was pain and joy all mixed up together, and people were really saying something. Also, the singer-songwriters of the 70s were the first songs that I learned to sing because I was singing along with my parent’s records… we had Carol King, James Taylor, and Cat Stevens on repeat.

What role does Ontario play in your music?

I have had great local support from the Ontario music scene. I grew up in Aurora, Ontario and started my career there – I was playing bars, festivals, events… basically everywhere I could, and I’ve always felt supported and welcome no matter where I was in this province.  Whether it’s Toronto, Newmarket, Aurora, Markham or the Niagara region, I find there is an appetite for live music and more specifically, authentic music. I can’t wait to visit more Ontario cities with the new record.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Life is bonkers and inspiration is everywhere! Usually it comes from my own personal interactions ad experiences with other people, or through my own self-reflection. I often don’t realize a particular moment is a song waiting to happen until I’ve had some distance from it, but when I look back on my experiences (and especially relationships), that distance allows me to see particular moments through a different lens and I’m able to write about it.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes! I’m currently putting together an Ontario-based tour in the spring and will be playing the new record at festivals this summer. All the live dates will be announced on my website www.StaceyKaniuk.com!

What else is happening next in Stacey Kaniuk’s world?

The “Heartbeat” CD release show is this Thursday Feb 21 at the Piston in Toronto! I’ve lined up a killer 9-piece band and will be sharing the bill with the incredible songs of NEFE. There’s another music video in the works for “Heartbeat”, a stop-motion animation that’s is pretty crazy, and live dates are being added as we speak! Lots of fun stuff going on, and I’m having a blast. I’ll also be travelling to Portugal and taking some much needed time to relax!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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