Two Sides of Jane Siberry: Canada's Queen of Quirk Can Also Be Disarmingly Direct.

The Edmonton Journal, fall 1993(?).
by David Howell, Journal Music Writer.

[black and white photo: "Jane Siberry is more herself on new album."]

For the record, let's say right now that Jane Siberry is just as enigmatic on the telephone as she ever was in a song or on a concert stage.

Siberry has a reputation -- recently confirmed with a magazine headline -- as Canada's "Queen of Quirk."

Wacky, strange, eccentric, off in her own world -- these are the terms people use to describe Siberry, who first gained national attention with the single Mimi On the Beach back in 1984.

So just in case you thought it was an act, it should comfort you to know that it was the real Siberry after all.

In a recent interview that coincided with the release of her sixth album, Siberry let her thoughts flow like free-form poetry, the same way that has helped her write songs with titles like Everything Reminds Me of My Dog.

Here's Siberry on writing the new album, which has the curious, gender bending title When I Was a Boy: "For each song I returned to the same room in my mind, which was smoky blue, shadowy, dark and yet even though you couldn't see it, it felt like there was a gold light in it. That's the closest I can get to telling you what the template of the record felt like."

Or Siberry on what When I Was a Boy (on Reprise/Warner) reveals about her: "It reveals where I am now, which is questioning but strong. If I listened to it without knowing me, I would say she sounds like she's more anchored on the planet now. It sounds like her voice matches her eyes more."

But just when you're convinced the person you're talking to really is The Queen of Quirk, she hits you between the eyes with insight that's easily understood.

She tells you that she hit a creative rock bottom when she was trying to make this album. She tells you she twice recorded it, and tossed those efforts in the garbage because they didn't suit her. She tells you that her life has turned around since she quit drinking earlier this year.

You are surprised, and ask her more about this. She confides she was "a sly alcoholic" who never drank when she worked but used it in off-hours to deaden emotional pain. "I can't get all upset and go have a drink now, I just get all upset and have to feel it."

You ask her how she feels about love, since so many of her songs attempt to explore and define it. She tells you "I'm just getting a faint idea now of what it may be about."

When I Was a Boy is an extremely creative record that explores love from all kinds of angles and liberally uses religious imagery. It was a three-year project for Siberry. She mostly produced it herself, but brought in the legendary Brian Eno to produce the first single, Sail Across The Water.

Eno and Siberry together produced Temple, which has the feel of Eno's late `70s, early `80s work with David Bowie. Canadian Michael Brook produced the hauntingly beautiful Love is Everything.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but these three songs with outside production help are among the strongest of Siberry's career. Sensual and hypnotic, their brilliance overshadows the rest of the album, which drags towards the end with the nine-minute The Vigil and an alternate take of Love is Everything.

When I Was a Boy comes four years after Siberry's last album, Bound By The Beauty. She felt that record didn't represent her true personality, but getting a grasp on the next one proved nearly impossible.

She took a few stabs at the follow-up without satisfying herself or her record company.

"I hit a point where I felt I had nothing to lose, or that I'd lost everything. And then I said, well, since you don't have to worry about losing anything any more, what would you really like to do? And then very quickly, I said I'd like to be sweet and nasty.

"I mean, to be truly who I am, and not trapped. So that's where I feel like I'm coming from now, and it's a much more vital place to come from. It's not fear-based, it's faith-based -- if you are yourself, everything will be OK."

Only after she had written Sail Across The Water," a song she likens to "a good front door," did she feel she had a good start.

"This record revealed itself to me very slowly and I had to learn great patience," Siberry said. "I would only know sometimes that it wasn't right but not know how to fix it."