On what was expected to be a pleasant spring day, Mo Kenney is wearing what we have collectively declared to be possibly the best cardigan ever. “Yeah, it’s great. I just got it,” Mo humbly acknowledges. In actuality, our Spring day is seeing the last lashes of one of the longest and most miserable New Brunswick winters in memory. There’s a chill wind steadily gnawing its way through my own heavy spring jacket as we stand shooting photos in front of Saint John’s Imperial Theatre, and I’m concerned that Mo’s most excellent cardigan might not be up to the task. “It’s a little cold,” Mo comments as the photographer begins to worry that he’s shaking too much to get the shot. Three hours later, she’s announcing to a sold-out house, “I have a bit of a cold. I don’t know if you can tell,” before launching into a song, and a bizarre story about Sandra, the foot-horse hybrid.
Mo seems a bit like that: she’s a tough nut to crack, tight-lipped with a stoic reserve. “I don’t think I’m shy. I just think I don’t really talk that much.” Where most rockers project an ego-fueled persona, Mo draws you in. Even on stage, where she really connects, she has a quiet awkward charm that hints at an underlying intense intimacy, but it comes as a light shining through the keyhole of a non-descript door.
If she’s being sparing with her words we can assume it’s to funnel that energy into song-writing like its her first language. Her 2014 album In My Dreams features some painfully poignant lyrics; the vague personal story-telling of a private journal with just enough clues to string you along, without giving away any details. “The reason I started writing in the first place was because it was helping me get through hard times. It’s kind of like I have to do it now to work through whatever I’m going through at the time. It’s therapeutic. That’s why it’s personal.”
The opening track to the album, ‘I Faked It’, is so convincingly hateful that in concert she prefaces it with the disclaimer, “This is the meanest song I’ve ever written… I’m not really like that”.
‘When I left you / you were stumbling in the dark / I’m not sorry that it hurt / when I took your heart apart’
“Everything starts from something personal. Some of them end up being entirely true, and some of them end up being an idea that I start with, and veer off somewhere else. Where this is my second record, all my songs are from one specific point in time. The first record was the span of five or six years of music that I got to choose from to put on a record. So I think that’s why this album has kind of a theme.” It plays out like a phone call from a friend ‘who doesn’t want to get into right now, but here’s what happened anyway’. At times it can be deeply confessional, for better or worse, or even vitriolic. It’s a laundry list of failed romances, difficult relationships, and longing. It is also immensely relatable.
“Yeah, so there’s a lot of relationship drama. I try not try to write about that. The whole record is kind of like that.”
Mo has proven herself as a talented song-writer and musician in this album. She’s recently picked up an ECMA for Pop Recording of the Year, and knocked some proverbial socks off with her music video for ‘Telephones’. She hasn’t done it alone though. There’s a distinct advantage in having East Coast rock veteran Joel Plaskett as your mentor and producer. She’s been working with Joel for the past five years and they’ve just embarked on a Canada-wide tour. “When I was working on my first record I was a little nervous, because I have an immense amount of respect for him and I really like his music. I was a big fan of his before we started working together. It was kind of nerve-wracking working with him at first, but he’s such a nice guy. He’s so down to earth, and easy to interact with that faded quickly. Me and all my friends, because he was a local guy it was just awesome for us to rock out to his music. We’d go to see him play all the time when I was a teenager. We’d try to sneak into the Seahorse to see him play, and Dave Marsh and the True Love Rules, when we were seventeen.”
While Joel is just breaking in his new album, ‘Park Avenue Sobriety Test’ on this tour, Mo has already been performing these songs to crowds for months. She’s polished her sounds and running at peak performance levels (give or take a cold). No doubt we’ll be seeing her playing sold-out shows as a headliner soon enough.
The tour will be wrapping up in early June, when they’ll return to Halifax for a bit of downtime and who knows else. “I’ve been kind of been writing self-deprecating music, which has been interesting, in a humorous way. Kind of writing dark humour songs lately. So it would probably be pretty weird if I had to release album right now. I’m just sort of having fun writing some weird stuff.”