B I R D C I T Y
For nearly two decades, singer/songwriter Jenny Mitchell has been regarded as one of the most original voices within the Canadian indie music scene, and her latest project, Bird City, is her most personal yet.
As a beloved fixture of the music community in and around Guelph, Ontario, Mitchell has been a member of the Barmitzvah Brothers, the Burning Hell, Richard Laviolette and the Oil Spills, as well as performing under her solo alter ego Jenny Omnichord. Bird City is in many ways an evolution of the last concept, with Mitchell trading her Omnichord for the banjo and tenor guitar. Focusing on these instruments finally allowed Mitchell’s songwriting talents to fully blossom, and the exposed and poetic songs of paranoia, heartbreak and self-examination on Winnowing, the debut Bird City album, encapsulate the last 15 years of Mitchell’s life.
“Bird City has kind of been around forever,” Mitchell says. “Every time I picked up a guitar or banjo I’d think about everybody who has ever played a guitar or banjo. That’s a lot of pressure. Then there came a time when, as I’d be driving, it seemed like every time I looked out the window I caught the silhouette of a bird of prey. After that, the idea of Bird City became my comfort in knowing that there can be millions of similar things, and a single one in any given moment can still strike you as the most unique and beautiful thing in the world.”
Mitchell crafted Winnowing over a three-year period with producer/engineer Scott Merritt at his Guelph studio, with a host of notable friends contributing. These included Bry Webb (Constantines), Nathan Lawr (Minotaurs), J.J. Ipsen (Jim Guthrie, Two-Minute Miracles), and Merritt himself on a multitude of instruments. Tying it all together is Mitchell’s musical vision of creating out-of-body experiences through stark fragility, no matter how many instruments are on a track.
In this respect, Merritt proved to be the ideal collaborator, as he was able to preserve the exposed roots of each song while helping Mitchell guide the players through the arrangements. It was a way of working that Mitchell had never experienced before, and in some ways a terrifying one, given that she had been carrying many of these songs with her since the early 2000s. Among them is the song “Bird City,” which for many years was just a set of lyrics that Mitchell found impossible to set to music. Then one day in 2012, Bry Webb asked Mitchell to open a show for him in Guelph, which in turn inspired her to pick up the banjo as soon as she got off the phone. By the end of that day Mitchell had finally found the song that had been eluding her and, by extension, her new persona.
Elsewhere, the subject matter of songs such as “Hours” date back to encounters she would regularly have with transient people passing through Guelph, chasing dreams or fleeing demons. Other songs such as “Ticket To The Show” celebrate the gatherings she would regularly hold at her father’s thrift store during the ‘00s, while “Salvage Diver” (another older song) pays tribute to her grandfather, known for finding several previously undiscovered Lake Ontario shipwrecks. But it’s the songs that touch on the struggles of relationships and motherhood, such as “Growing Too” and “It Wasn’t Easy” that make the deepest impressions on Winnowing, and firmly shed Mitchell’s image as a “quirky” songwriter.
“When I was a teenager, playing with my young friends, I shied away from love songs,” she says. “I still wrote them, but they got squirreled away. I think I was conscious of being a teenage girl singing about love, or heartbreak. When I started writing as ‘Jenny Omnichord’ in 2003, I found a space for autobiography and sincerity, but it was masked by an Omnichord. As much as that instrument acts as a perfect icebreaker, it also hides things, and is too often considered a novelty.
“So, I was building this deeply emotional body of work throughout my musical life that no one had really heard, and over the last five years I’ve been pulled more and more in that direction, and feeling compelled to share it. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt more in sync with my feelings as I do with the songs that are Bird City. And I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of an album.”
Indeed, Jenny Mitchell remains one of Canada’s great unsung musical treasures, and now as Bird City, the full range of her talent is on display. Although she likes to describe her work as “tiny songs,” Winnowing is a towering achievement for an artist just beginning to get the recognition she deserves.
“A Bit Part” (Attic Transmissions) http://youtu.be/K2_fM41-EvM
“Salvage Diver” Live at “Silence” Guelph http://youtu.be/cqWRAHk8hOg
“A Bit Part” Live at Next Summer Festival http://youtu.be/-T06dMPYN2c
ONTARIO WINNOWING TOUR DATES 2017:
November 18th: House Show (Meaford) w/Culture Reject (solo)
November 24th: Maxwells (Waterloo) w/ Rheostatics
November 25th: The Casbah (Hamilton) w/ Eiyn Sof & Mayor Mcca
December 9th: La Catalina, Peterborough w/ Joyful Joyful and Old Haunt
December 10th: Pressed, Ottawa
December 22ND: “Winter Spectacular”, London ON
December 23rd: Phog Lounge, Windsor ON
Past Tour dates fall/winter 2014/15
Tour 2014/15 * = shows w/ Shopkeeper
* = shows w/ Shopkeeper
*Nov. 8th: The Tranzac, Toronto , w/ Jose Contreras
*Nov. 9th: Wasted Space, Oshawa (Next Winter
Nov. 10th: Grumpy’s, Montreal QC
*Nov. 11th: House show, Rothesay NB
*Nov. 12th: Jazz Guys, Sackville, NB w/ Julie Doiron
*Nov. 13th: Gus’ Pub, Halifax NS, w/ Cactus Flower & Nap Eyes
*Nov. 14th: House Show, St. John’s, NL
*Nov. 15th: Fixed, St. John’s, NL
Nov. 16th: The Ship, St. John’s, NL
*Nov. 18th: The Levee, St. John’s NL
*Nov. 20th: The Capitol, Fredericton, NB w/ CFL Sessions (Henry Svec)
*Nov. 21st: Le Cagibi, Montreal, QC
*Nov. 22nd: Raw Sugar, Ottawa ON,
w/ Richard Laviolette
*Nov. 23rd 3pm: The Garnet, Peterborough, ON w/ Nick Ferrio
*Nov. 23rd 9pm: The Cornerstone,Guelph ON
Dec. 21st, Silence, Guelph w/ Jessy Bell Smith
*Jan. 3rd &4th: Fromagerie Elgin, Sudbury ON
*Jan. 23rd: The Station Coffee House
& Gallery, Brantford ON