She's been called the Queen of Quirk and one of Canada's most innovative songwriters, but neither title really captures Jane Siberry's unique personality. An artist who can inspire as well as annoy, the 39-year-old Siberry is happy to remain an enigma. Catherine Bush brings the ethereal singer down to earth. Heidi Bassett captures the images.
People describe you and your work as quirky and spacey. How do you respond to that?
It's correct that I haven't been accepted by a lot of people, but now I feel different. I've changed. It wouldn't surprise me to be able to reach more people now. The human side of me exists now much more than it ever has, which is why it would make sense for my music to appeal to more people. Before I was too ethereal, struggling too much to see things from far away, so I wouldn't feel pain. Now I'm committed to being human and enjoying all the problems that that brings. The human side of me says, "Fuck you" to everyone who puts me down. It says "Fuck you" in no uncertain terms and agrees that everyone who doesn't like me is an asshole.
You were on the cover of Mondo 2000 recently, and you played at a multimedia awards ceremony in Toronto. Are you becoming the darling of the multimedia world?
I don't know, am I?
There is the feeling that you are.
I'm getting a lot of interesting offers that way. I'm not quite sure why. You wouldn't know from my records that I have any interest that way. But I do.
Tell me about your interest.
Every morning, I perform ritualistic ablutions in front of my computer. I put a plate of sardines and a bowl of milk on my mousepad. Then I wait for a sense of acceptance from my computer and then I start my day with two or three espressos.
Actually, I often don't have anything to do with my computer for weeks and months. And then I go through phases, where I use it for music sequencing or for graphic work or for writing lyrics or word processing or if, I'm doing a video, for storyboards or a budget.
A number of musicians, including Peter Gabriel and the artist formerly known as Prince, have put out interactive CD-ROMs. Are you planning to do the same?
No. People are curious about how I would use technology. They're interested in my organic brain. I'm not quite sure what the attraction is, but I think it makes sense - that I could be valuable. The question for me is whether I should be part of that, because I think that creativity is sacred, it's a gift. It's not for sale, it's not to be used to sell people things.
Why did you self-produce your last album, When I Was a Boy?
It felt right to take responsibility for decisions on all levels. That's totally in line with my life, which has been a slow [process] pulling of power back into myself. Finally, after a long period of hating your family, your upbringing, the fact that you grew up in the suburbs, finally you stand there to take full responsibility for yourself. I think it's called maturity.
This sense of self makes you hard to work with?
I think I'm easier to work with now because I'm extremely clear. That gray area of worrying about hurting people's feelings and sending mixed signals because you want something done but you don't know how to ask for it - when you have tantrums and become the "Ice Queen" - these messy things are now just a small part of working with me instead of a bigger part. So I would say that the opposite is true: I'll start a relationship with someone by saying that, when friction builds up, I'll have to leave the room and you will hear me break a few dishes. And then I'll come out, and the air will be totally clear, and you'll love working with me.
When you talk about the telling of stories at your concerts, I think about Laurie Anderson. Are you following in her footsteps?
Don't even suggest that, my goodness.
But do you feel there's a mood of change out there?
Yes, but let's leave Laurie Anderson out of this. I feel less and less original and more and more like an appropriate antenna of the times. That's what I want to be. Not in the future. Not in the past. People in the creative field have an instinct for what's appropriate for the times.
Are you getting away from music and into the new technology?
Whatever you need to get your vision across - that's all technology should ever be. A tool. People can smell a rat. They know when someone's being led by the technology as opposed to using it as a bridge to reach people from their heart. I have a lot of respect for people's instincts.
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