Jadea Kelly Charms With a Voice You’d Follow Into the Dark

By Chrissy Steinbock — Thu, 30/04/2015 - 15:34

I remember the first time I heard Jadea Kelly one summer afternoon at a small town festival. It was one of those special moments where you’re completely taken aback by a new musical discovery. The first thing that hits you is her voice. Some describe it as angelic. I would say it’s a voice glowing in its purity, a voice you’d follow into the dark. However you describe it, she has a sound you can’t help but be drawn to. Other artists have noticed too. She has appeared on albums by Catherine MacLellan and even Canadian metal band Protest the Hero. But the vocals are only part of her charm. She’s also a talented songwriter whose work is built on rich storytelling, beguiling turns of phrase and an overall earthy aesthetic. This Saturday you can hear for yourself when Jadea plays St. Alban’s church as part of Ontario Scene in a show that will also feature Matthew Barber.

Jadea is pretty busy these days, finishing up her new record around a busy touring schedule. She recently returned from a European tour and is gearing up for a string of dates closer to home. Somewhere in between, I got the chance to talk with her over the phone from Toronto to learn more about her songwriting, the upcoming album and her newest artistic outlet. Though you’ll have to wait till the fall to hear her new record she tells me she will be previewing some of the songs at Saturday’s show. Below is an excerpt from our conversation. 

Jadea Kelly Q&A 

CA: There’s a lot of people going through hardship in your lyrics and that’s a big part of country and folk music too. Do you know what draws you to this lyrical territory?

Jadea Kelly: It’s just what I’ve always gravitated towards. I like to tell stories but I really like to write from my own experiences and things that happen in my own life. It’s not that I have a sad life. I have a happy life, I love my life, but there is heartache and everyone goes through it so I write from that perspective because it’s such a beautiful, vulnerable place to write from and if done in the right way it can really help people. It can really move people and I know that it helps me to write from those sensitive places.

CA: And vocally that vulnerability and that honesty comes through. Does it ever feel dangerous to be so honest in a world where people are trying to be tough and guarded?

JK: It definitely feels like I’m gonna crumble on stage sometimes. We have this new song on the record that’s called “Mariah” and it was the name of a friend and it was the name of someone who was sort of like a Dolly Parton’s Jolene so when I perform that song it’s really very hard for me but it’s also so therapeutic. I think if you’re going to write a song it has to come from a place, it has to be honest because people are going to know. They’re going to know it’s bullshit. You have to be transparent. You can’t decorate it with things that aren’t true. You write songs so people can relate to them and they want to hear something they’ve felt before.

CA: Not something that rings hollow like partying all the time.

JK: (laughs) Yeah I don’t have any of those.

What’s your writing process like? I’m always curious to get a glimpse into how people write and where they find inspiration?

JK: For me, I can’t sit down with a guitar and wait for it to come to me. It’s usually when I’m touring or on the road or in the middle of sound check where a line will come to me or someone will say something. I just kind of wait for it to happen and have my ears open and then record it to voice memos in my phone. When it comes time to write a record I thumb my way through a couple hundred weird voice memos and try to build songs from them.

CA: Emmylou Harris had a similar thing with notebook of single lines she called spare parts. When you’re working with the voice memos do you put them together or is each one a leaping off point for its own song?
Sometimes the different voice memos feed into each other and I find that I’ll forget about certain melody lines or lyrics and they’ll kind of push themselves to the front of my mind while I’m walking to the park or walking to the coffee shop. It could be a melody line that’s five years that keeps pushing its way into my vision. It’s always the lyrics that come last. I kind of build my songs from mumbles. I listen to a voice memo over and over again and I try to pick out syllables. Eventually, I have an idea of what the song is about and I piece it together that way.

CA: Can you give us any hints about the new record?
I wrote it with my producer Stew Crookes and my guitarist Tom Juhas. A lot of the songs are co-writes with Canadian songwriters like Justin Rutledge, Peter Katz and Robyn Dell’Unto. It’s an emotional record but it’s definitely very honest. It was a difficult record to make but I feel so powerful when we play the songs live. It was very healing for me to make this record.

CA: What were some of the biggest difficulties making the record?
Well, it’s a breakup record. My partner was one of my band mates for about four years so that’s really where it came from.

CA: I’m sorry to hear that. At least there are songs that can come from it. You get the songs and we get the songs and there’s healing in this for us as listeners too.

JK: For sure and that’s really been the driving force for me. My parents, they’re going to be in Ottawa on Saturday and they’ve constantly reminded me of that, saying, ‘You know this isn’t about you. This is how this year has been. These songs will help people and it’s your job to write them.’ So these songs aren’t for me, they’re for everyone else to hear.

CA: What’s next for you? Obviously you’ll be finishing the record but is there anything else you’re working on these days?

JK: Mostly just (pause) stained glass. I’ve been making stained glass lamps and stained glass art. It’s kind of a nice new thing I’ve been doing on the side. I started up with it this past year and I sell these little clover trinkets at all my shows. I really am passionate about it. It’s kind of this side business now, making lamps for people.

CA: Wow, that’s completely unexpected. I never thought you’d say that.

JK: (laughs) I didn’t either but I do love it. It’s really been therapeutic just to have something separate from music.


Saturday night’s show is a great chance to hear Jadea Kelly’s one-of-a-kind voice and heartbreaking songs in a beautiful space where they’ll really shine. If you haven’t heard her music, take this chance. You won’t forget it.

Jadea Kelly opens for Matthew Barber as part of Ontario Scene
Saturday May 2, 2015 at 8pm
St. Alban’s Church

Tickets $25

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