The Divine Miss S

New Zealand Herald 11 Feb 1994
Russell Baillie

Jane Siberry is decidedly different in most everything she does. And proof that the Canadian is no ordinary "singer-songwriter" - although already there on five {six + SitY} albums - is on its way with her appearance in Auckland on Monday.

After all, a show that reportedly "starts off with poetry, detours midway for some home movies, and ends with an audience-participation question-and-answer session" is obviously not your run-of-the-mill plug-the-record gig.

But that's exactly what she did last time she visited these shores, three years ago on a promotional tour, captivating a small crowd with her etherial voice and presence in an acoustic performance.

But "divinely different" is how the NME summed up her recent one- woman multimedia London shows, while the New York Times said her performance there "left open the question of what place she has in a pop world that has little tolerance of experimental work unless it can be shoehorned into a commercial niche" while dragging out the now habitual Joni Mitchell- meets-Lauri Anderson comparisions.

"There's a real common sense to it," says Siberry in a soft lilt, of the show's switch from songs to spoken-word material, "but it's a freedom to me because I can be more direct and I can actually over 20 minutes create something that repeats like a song and it's a spoken song in some ways. There's an element of repitition which I love about it.

"I can talk about other things that are real important to me in a different kind of deail than I normally can in a song and often it's funnier than I can be in songs.

"I can be a very funny person but it often doesn't show in the music I do," she laughs down the line from Toronto.

Well her last album, the amusingly titled When I Was A Boy, was many things. Deep but groovy, spiritual but sexy, but "funny"? Not quite.

Perhaps the punchlines got lost in its protracted three years of recording. Or in facing up to a record company still wondering how to match her modest sales with her much wider critical respect.

"It was a mixture of there not being a single and also it just not feeling right at a certain point. I agreed to write some more songs to see if there was anything I could write that they would be happy with for the radio and I also felt that the record company needed a front door.

"But the record company wasn't in a rush because they never know what to do with me anyway ... they weren't speeding into a brick wall or anything."

Prducer Brian Eno whoearlier had written to Warner Brothers praising her previous album, Bound by the Beauty, and wondering why it hadn't done better, came in to produce the single Sail Across the Water and collaborate on another track, Temple.

Good name to have on your credits, perhaps. But Brian Eno, hitmaker?

"That's when I realised how perverted he is ... he wanted to be the one to make Jane Siberry accessible. He thought it was a very funny idea because he's known to make people more themselves and more different.

"Really, Brian's most important contribution to the record has been his name, in a funny way. Even before people had heard it, they perked up their ears knowing that he had worked on it."

Siberry has enjoyed ther notable patronage in recent years, too. She was invited by Peter Gabriel to his annual songwriting workshop at his Real World studios in Bath, and that may have had its own effect on the rhyths of When I Was A Boy.

She sang a duet of her song Calling All Angels with labelmate k. d. lang {lower case?} for the star-studded soundtrack of Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World. "Someone said 'Wouldn't it be fun to hear k.d. and Jane together?' But the real reason was that I wasn't famous enough to be included [solo] on the soundtrack." Siberry also has a song on the sound-track to Wenders' next film, a sequel to his arthouse epic Wings of Desire.

"They have always been sorts of gifts from heaven," says Siberry of her famous fans, "because they have always come at times when I've been getting particularly negative feedback, record companies saying, 'You shouldn't trust yourself because you don't know.'"

That is "quite the worst thing you could ever say to someone because as soon as you start doubting yourself, you go into this downward spiral and then who do you trust? Nobody has the same opinion."

So it sounds like Siberry has fought some battles to remain decidedly and divinely different, commercial niche or not.

And a few within herself, too.

"I have so many ideas, I feel like I should give up sometimes because I feel that I can't keep up with myself. I have too much energy and not enough time," she laughs.

Siberry has created her own mailing list fan club to distribute her "side" projects.

"That's how I got started, then I got too big for myself and now I am back to that with a better spirit, no bitterness or anything, just because I love to do it. I'm totally happy cutting and pasting little covers to my videos. I can do that the rest of my life."

Not that it's likely.

"If I can harness myself, I have ideas for two new records - a record of hymns and songs of praise and another hypnotic sort of groove record. Oh, and a children's record, a children's book, an idea for a film and just lots of things.

"But it's quite agitating that I have too many ideas. I have more creative juice this year. I've done a lot of work on myself ... you have to learn how to handle it, you have to learn how to be grounded or you'll go flying round the room."

And come Monday, it seems Siberry will be doing just about everything but...