When Mo Kenney performs, people take notice.
The Waverley-based singer-songwriter, who lived in West Gore and attended Rawdon District School as a child, is building a solid fan base, captivating audiences with the same undeniable originality that intrigued indie rock icon Joel Plaskett, and led to the Nova Scotia natives pairing up for the recording of Kenney’s debut, self-titled album.
“When I was a teenager I was doing these kind of makeshift recordings with some other bands in Halifax and we somehow managed to get Joel Plaskett to come in and listen to them and I played him my song Eden, which is the first track on my record, and he liked it, I guess, and remembered my name for a few years,” 22-year-old Kenney recalled in a phone interview.
Plaskett eventually recommended Kenney for a Gordie Sampson Songcamp, referred her to his manager, and produced the emerging artist’s debut album at his Dartmouth studio, Scotland Yard.
“I’ve been listening to Joel since I was a teenager… I was really, really nervous going in. I don’t think I said a whole lot the first couple of times going in there, but he’s such a nice guy, and he’s really friendly and easy to talk to, so I warmed up to him pretty quick.”
Plaskett co-wrote Déjà vu and Scene of the Crime, and added bass and drum lines to Kenney’s 10-track record, which has received rave reviews since it was released through Pheromone Recordings in Toronto, in conjunction with Plaskett’s New Scotland Records, Sept. 25.
“We wrote a couple songs together in the studio, so it was interesting to get to see his process and work with him writing a song. It was kind of a crazy experience,” Kenney said.
“I was just kind of showing him a song that I was working on and then all of a sudden we were writing it.”
Plaskett says the final product is a solid record that highlights Kenney’s impressive vocal range and intricate guitar work.
“I’m really happy with it… I think Mo really shines on it,” the Juno award-winning Plaskettsaid in a phone interview.
“She’s got a very distinctive voice and guitar approach.”
As a fellow musician, Plaskett says he admires Kenney’s authenticity.
“The intention is to play music. I think she finds a lot of joy and probably relief in it and I recognize that because I can relate to it,” he said.
“Some people, I think, play music because they want something other than music. They want success or an avenue to a public forum — and that’s OK, too — but the greatest thing is when you see something actually getting some attention just because it’s really, really good and there’s just a lot of heart behind it.”
For the tail end of 2012, Kenney teamed up with Plaskett for a cross-Canada tour launched to promote his newest record, Scrappy Happiness.
“She’s selling way more CDs to the audience than a lot of people who share the stage with me. She’s selling more CDs than I did when I opened for the Tragically Hip, and I think that’s because her music does strike a chord and there’s something really real about it,” Plaskett says.
As for Scrappy Happiness, Plaskett says people seem to be digging the sense of urgency created when he recorded and released one song per week for 10 weeks during the production of the record — a feat he’s proud of, but won’t attempt again.
“It was a way to kind of expedite (the recording process) and not get hung up on it and also to get back to what was happening in the 50s and 60s when people would make music and put it out really, really quickly.”
Plaskett and Kenney performed at the Mermaid Imperial Performing Arts Centre in Windsor Dec. 3. It was Kenney’s first show in Hants County.
“She’s selling way more CDs to the audience than a lot of people who share the stage with me. She’s selling more CDs than I did when I opened for the Tragically Hip, and I think that’s because her music does strike a chord and there’s something really real about it.” - Joel Plaskett
“When I was a kid I wouldn’t have thought that I’d ever be in Windsor playing a show, so it was pretty cool. I was happy to be in front of the Hants crowd,” Kenney said.
She jokes that audiences have been kind enough to refrain from chucking rotten tomatoes at her while she’s on stage, and she’s encouraged by the positive feedback she’s received so far.
“It’s nice to hear because then I know that I’m on the right track and that people actually want to listen to it and I’m not just playing for myself.”
An article published via the Reykjavik Boulevard magazine’s website following Kenney’s performance at the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival this fall speaks to the young artist’s ability to leave a lasting impression on an audience.
“Imagine that: Nova Scotia is (an) oyster, Mo Kenney can be its pearl. Here’s why: in her voice we found the colors of some little wooden houses in Halifax, in her figure on stage, holding an acoustic guitar we found a defensive attitude like if she was Fort Edward’s blockhouse moved to Reykjavik… But way more young and rich. Rich of talent, emotions, passion,” the article reads.
In addition to Plaskett, Kenney’s knack for creating songs that command attention has impressed the likes of such accomplished musicians as Ron Sexsmith, Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies) and Steve Poltz.
“I’m just hoping that I don’t run out of things to write about, that people keep liking my music, and that I can make a living off of it,” said Kenney, looking to the future.
“As long as I’m still happy doing this, then all is well.”