Today we Spotlight – AV (Ann Vriend). We sit down to chat with AV about her music and just how she got where she is now. The new release Everybody Matters has a deeper story behind it and AV tells it wonderfully. Check out the conversation we had now.
What got you started in music?
Officially, at age 3 according to my folks it was that I was playing all these songs. Christmas songs, nursery rhymes, kids songs, etc, on the Fisher Price xylophone toy that lots of people have, the one with all the colors of the rainbow, one for each tone, and on red wheels that you could tow with a yellow string. I remember telling my folks matter-of-factly that the opening line of “Joy To The World” is simply playing the xylophone backwards, and demonstrated that. And they were kind of taken aback that I would just empirically know that, at age 3– as I was taken aback that they DIDN’T. So, by age 4 I started taking violin lessons (which I dropped out of at age 6). And then recorder lessons a little later, and by age 9, piano lessons. That was the one for me.
You have such an old soul sound to you. Who were some of the main influences on you growing up?
It started with my parents’ vinyl collection– I was ONLY listening to that growing up because I wasn’t allowed to listen to pop radio or watch TV. So you’re not wrong to hear the “old” sound lol. Their records were mainly ‘70s “folk” songwriters– or what was called “folk” back then– I realize that was quite a Eurocentric view of that definition: Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, etc. Later when I was a pre-teen and teen I could find my own music I got into blues, reggae, soul, RnB, African-American gospel.
You call Edmonton, AB home, specifically the Mcauley neighborhood. It is a lively burrow but socioeconomic low neighborhood. What makes Mcauley (which resides on Treaty 6 land) special to you?
Well, despite the notoriety and the viscerally obvious problems with addiction and homelessness and the opioid crisis there are also really positive things about living here. It’s as diverse as you could possibly imagine. It’s reflected not only in the population but in the types of food and stores there are around here. And it’s an incredibly tolerant neighborhood, you couldn’t last here if you were intolerant. And lively, yes. I always joke that you don’t need TV here. You have the crime channel, the comedy channel, the drama channel, the shopping channel, and the news channel. Just park yourself at any given intersection, its’s all in the form of non-curated reality TV. Not to mention the world’s most “interesting” parallel parking 🙂
In this pandemic year, instead of touring a whole bunch throughout the year, I was home, 100% of the time. I got to know a lot more neighbors than ever before. Also, I got more closely entwined and intimately familiar with some of the back stories and reasons behind the stigmatization and suffering that a lot of people go through over here.
I saw that there are a lot of hidden gems. It turns out a lot of people really want to give, instead of always be given to. Putting on these concerts on my front porch, a whole bunch of the neighborhood participated. People were extremely generous with their time to give in ways they could to make it a success. From cleaning up the street from garbage and needles, to actually participating as musicians, and everything in-between. Not once did anyone ask for or expect money for it. Everyone just wanted it to be successful. I learned a whole lot this year, from things like that.
You have been performing for quite some time now, what is it about music that keeps you going?
The power of music itself. To inspire, to heal, to connect people together. This year more than ever.
Your latest single; “Everybody Matters”, was written as a direct response to the world at large and the sweeping injustices that occur around us. Tell us a bit more about the track and what it means to you?
To me, I grew up privileged being born in a first-world country, into a stable family, visually assumed and accepted as part of main-stream culture. The “story” me and my community were told growing up is that this is a fair place, and that if you follow the rules, you will be treated fairly and therefore the unspoken assumption was that anyone who suffers somehow does because they screwed up along the way, and somehow didn’t follow “the rules”. It was never explained what Indigenous peoples in our country went and go through. They never explained what childhood trauma and abuse does to you. It was never explained how much of the world goes to bed hungry, or experiences vast number of injustices, all of which have zero to do with how well you did or didn’t follow the “rules”.
What no one said is the game is fixed. Some people get justice and a whole bunch, most people don’t. Finally, now even people “over here” are waking up to the fact that our culture is not nearly as fair and as just as it likes to think of itself as to many of its own members, and to the rest of the world. And at the same time, less and less of us have a seat at the table of privilege the elite 1% owns 99% of the world’s wealth, which means there will be an ever-increasing amount of instability and injustice on the planet.
We’re now at a crossroads in our culture, I think we either keep playing along and being an obedient soldier, or fight for the empowerment of everybody. The point of the song is: you can’t take both roads at the same time, and it tries to point out the impossibility of that.
You also recently filmed and released the music video. What was it like shooting during the pandemic, and tell us about the vision of the video?
Well to be honest the video didn’t go quite as planned not so much because of the pandemic, but because of some of the struggles of one of the participants, who I had cast as the main star who, in some major ways is a victim of a much longer pandemic about what I said, above. It’s kind of a long story, which I am working on trying to tell in a respectful, meaningful way, and am still working on. But for now, I can say: luckily when we had to switch gears the team, I had was very cool in how they quickly adapted, and luckily it kind of went with the theme of the video, anyway: which is that everybody matters, everybody is a star, and everybody is not a star.
The video is all about not knowing who in the video is the serving staff, who is the street person, who is the celebrity. Everybody changed costumes into all 3 of those characters throughout the course of the shoot– and had a blast doing so and by the end it was a blur who was what. We were just one big group having a party. Like the planet could be, I believe, if gross hoarding weren’t such a worshipped ideal.
Concurrently you have also been doing the porch sessions. For those not aware what it is, tell us a bit about how it came about?
Well, in a nutshell, I wasn’t touring like had been my 2020 plan, so instead I started singing on Sunday afternoons on my front porch and within a month or 2 that progressed to having many singers and guests every week, a professional sound engineer, sometimes catering, and a whole bunch of people coming out some just happenstance because they were walking by, and other people who made it a purposeful Sunday destination.
What is it like to do a show so intimately, and community driven?
The real meat of the story of the porch concerts was that it was very inclusive, and inadvertently, an empowerment of the neighborhood, like I mentioned, above. I made a point to not identify who was and who wasn’t from the neighborhood, or, within that, who was and who wasn’t “homed”, or who was or who wasn’t a “criminal,” or an “addict.” I thought, “would I want to be introduced by my biggest struggle, or worst attribute”? Hell, no!
The audience didn’t know, unless that person willingly, unprompted, decided to share. And as a result, people got a chance to be looked at as something else as a multi-dimensional person, instead of one stereotype. But also, it gave the crowd that came from other nicer places in the city, some with fancy cars, etc., a chance to show that they wanted to listen, and to receive that kind of a show. So, everybody had a chance to interact on this sort of neutral ground. They define who they wanted to be, beyond a stereotype, and there was a lot of uplifting positivity in that, somehow.
Sure, it was RIGHT on my front porch the opposite of being on tour, where you physically leave the show and the venue behind every night. It was a lesson in how to establish boundaries. Very seldomly did that really have to be laid down in any kind of forceful way. Mostly people were just glad that it was a kind of unique new endeavor by a real person trying to do a real thing. I think people intuitively knew that the vulnerability of it being right at my own house was not a thing to mess with, or it would have to end. People around here know how fast things can be taken away.
Your new album just recently dropped, and has been very well received, by both fans and critics alike. What were some of your personal favorite tracks and why?
Oh boy! First of all, only the 1st single is out so far, the whole thing won’t be out till January. UNLESS people buy it directly from my website. www.annvriend.com.
I know this sounds cliché, but I really do love all the tracks equally. I worked damn hard on some to make sure that was true. There are always some that come together more easily than others. So far, the fans that have the album are saying it’s my best one! And man does that make my heart glow!
What are you hoping that people walk away feeling after listening to the album?
Inspired, moved, and empowered. Empowered in a way that you can rock what you got (my now registered hashtag, #rockwhachagot ahem). The album is just 4 raw, real instruments, nothing fancy, that’s it. Sung from and about a poor place but that it’s not necessarily “poor” at all. That’s what all the music as a teen onward that I was listening to was about, and it inspired me: all this music coming from oppressed people that was more powerful and empowering than anything else I had ever heard. So, in the long line of “standing on the shoulders of giants” that’s my offering in the much larger “tower of song.”
While researching you, something I absolutely adored was how alive your Instagram and social media is. Its joyful, its unique, its you, and not curated. Is it important as an artist for you to represent yourself authentically like that?
Aw! That means a lot that you would say and feel that. In part because in the past I have worked with people who have criticized it for not being more…. “branded,” or giving a top-down, corporate-driven, one-dimensional identity. I feel like anyone who knows me knows that that is not me– and the times I’ve been pressured to veer off into that my peeps know it isn’t me lol. I care about what I care about, and if I feel inspired to post about it, I will.
If that doesn’t have a kind of “unity” that a corporate marketer could see in 30 seconds or less then so be it my fans are not corporate marketers they’re people, and they’re who I answer to. Whereas marketers just TAKE your money, and want artists to make their jobs easy, to boot. To my knowledge, so far, no fan of mine has had trouble with the fact that one day I’ll post a funny joke and another day a sad thing about the opioid crisis, and then, a song. It’s all part of life here, from my view. This neighborhood is not curated, so neither is my view. My job as an artist is to tell it how I see, feel, and hear it, to the best of my ability. I take THAT seriously.
Most live shows and concerts were moot last year. You did tons of online shows and it seems you have been quite busy. What has the online experience been like for you?
Well, much as we all try and would like it to be so, online shows aren’t the same as Live. Even if it’s live streamed in real time, you don’t feel the energy in the room performer and audience alike. Half of going to a show is not only seeing the performer but it’s a night out, you know. Everyone’s anticipation and expectation kind of rises to that occasion. So even if you know some other people that log in are also watching you don’t really feel and smell and hear that in the same way.
Most people aren’t hearing the music the way it would be at a live show with big speakers, where you feel the bass. The music is coming at you mixed by a live engineer making sure you hear all the frequencies as they are intended. Instead, you are hearing it through tiny, compressed speakers on your phone or laptop.
Sonically, on the performer side, it’s really like tying one of our hands behind our backs, while still asking for the same buzz and drug from the performance. It’s been a challenge to rise to that occasion, with performances that surpass all that. But, like so many, we have all had to adapt and rise to the occasion, and not lean on excuses. Having said that, I’m quite horrible at tech stuff. I’ve had some fails in that regard with trying to bolster the bass on my end. For example, only to have inadvertently shot myself in the foot and made it sound way more horrible than if I hadn’t tried that, sigh. I’ll be glad when I can simply play in the same room as the audience. Which again, is yet another reason I enjoyed the porch concerts!
I know things are still up in the air, but any big plans this summer?
Plans? Lol. I think so many people are just giving up on planning. My poor European booking agent has had to reschedule my EU 2020 tour THREE times. Each time for no pay! And it’s SO much work, all that planning and coordinating with so many moving parts, only to amount to nothing. So, I planted a garden, I plan to harvest it, I will do porch concerts again the second they are allowed and will release a few more singles before the year are through. The second I can do any gigs locally or otherwise I hope the phone starts to ring. That’s my “plan.” A whole lotta “wait and see.”
An interesting fun fact I read was that your brother involved in the bison renewal project. How proud of him were you, and what is your connection to the project?
Oh man, you really did your research! I’m very impressed. I am SO damn proud of him. My connection is just that I happen to be his sister 🙂 I have quite a few Indigenous friends, and that there are quite a few Indigenous people in my neighborhood and community. I guess it feels like a small but big, and certainly symbolic, win. The back of my new album has a photograph of a bison on it. It was pressed long before the project my brother was a part of happened, or that I knew it was even in the works.
But I put it on there because, not too long ago, 60 million bison roamed the prairies where I live and since the album inspiration comes from the neighborhood, it felt that that was the historic truth of what this place is, more than that it’s called “McCauley”, named after Edmonton’s first mayor. For tens of thousands of years running it was that: 60 MILLION bison, and the people that lived from them. That in 30 short years the bison became very nearly extinct tells a lot about the story of where we’re at now – in “McCauley” – on Treaty Six land and in the world at large. And that the bison is coming back that’s also part of the story.
You seem like the kind of person who just knows everyone and is friendly with everyone. The type that walks down the street and cannot help but talk to everyone. Is that true?
Lol. Maybe. Or they talk to me. Especially now. Gardening in my front yard = an endless stream of people walking by and stopping to chat. I always think I’ll have some me time to listen to a podcast, but nope :). But that’s ok. Now I know that’s just a part of it, of connecting here. It’s a real neighborhood. Not curated.
You have done multiple of these pressers at this point. What is one thing you wish that people knew about you that never seems to come up
I think I said so much so often, I feel like my life is an open book.
But maybe it is that some of the things that people think have come easy to me, have not. I was so terrified of performing in music school. Literally, I physically could not turn around to fully face the audience and open my eyes. I totally was bombing, and would have dropped out if it weren’t for the financial fact that I had paid for the whole year and couldn’t get my money back. As much as I love performing now, it’s because of sort of being able to channel giving music to people in the hear and now. It isn’t because I love PERFORMING in the sense of “look at me, I love being on stage”. I must do work to get into the mental space of remembering it’s about the music, and not about me. Then I can do it.
That’s what made that 1st year of music school turn things around for me, but really it is also why, if there’s a vibe, on stage or off, that isn’t about the music, and the drugs, it really is stressful, and throws me off– because really, I can tell it’s throwing everyone off, at least from the potential of what it can be. There are a lot of killjoys out there, people who, unknowingly or not, want to ruin things, and there’s a lot you must carefully brave yourself against, on stage and off, or it kills the sort of vulnerable, delicate thing that intimate performing– and living takes. I’ve had to learn those lessons the hard way, a lot of times in a row. More off-stage than on.
Lastly as our favorite independent and smaller businesses have been hit hard by Covid. What are some of your local favorite places to hype up and give a shout out to?
Oh! I love that question!
- My good friend, JoJo! Company: Mojojojopickles & Preserves (and faithful porch concert singer!). Organic, quality, tons of vegan stuff! She’s rockin it, of course.
- Tee Pee Treats– Curtis catered the Thanksgiving Day porch concert, and the food disappeared in record time, for good reason! Now he has a new place on Alberta Ave and is apparently killing it.
- Boualouang – the best Thai/Laotian food in the city, hands down, and family friends since Kindergarten. All the foodies know I ain’t lyin. Really the best.
- Gui Lin Noodle House– super friendly, huge Raptors fans, amazingly flavorful Chinese style broth, and cute place you could shoot a movie in
- Pho Hoa (Delicious Pho)- best pho broth around IMHO, and super calm, kind staff– and somehow manage to deal with being down the street from Hope Mission– not easy
- Newb Chef Cuisine– young guys working hard right down my street, super friendly porch concert fans, and great soup deals
- Otto’s – even the veggie sausage is good! Ed is an Edmonton legend and truly great guy in Norwood.
- The Aviary. 2 brothers running a super cool, inclusive music and visual art space in the hood. By sticking to their principles, meant they didn’t rake it in even before the pandemic, but they are creatively rocking it best they can anyway! 9. COLAB! New art space a couple blocks away! All about supporting the hood and artistic endeavors thereof and where we are dying to have concerts soon as we can! In the meantime, they have a coffee shop! And online stuff!
Spotlight – AV (Ann Vriend) is over. Big thanks to AV for chatting with us
Check out Everybody Matters now
Keep up with AV right here
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