Pop eye: Do you get it?
The querulous tones and silken voice of Jane Siberry

eye WEEKLY - 31 Aug 1995
Toronto's arts newspaper - .....free every Thursday
by Cindy McGlynn


Some people magically add weight to the things they touch. What is too light for most people to notice leaves their hands heavy with attention and examination: it may be beautiful or cruel, but it is there and it has been noticed.

Keeping this in mind, you'll understand why you leave a conversation with Jane Siberry tasting the very air you breathe and examining with wonder the weight of your muscles as your body moves away.

She's like some kind of wired bird, at once electric and fragile. Speaking more in thoughts than complete sentences, she lands on a thought, flies away from it then looks up to see if her delicate charge of words has jolted you the way it has her. The look back quickly asks: "Did you get it?"

Getting it can be difficult, as Siberry talks her new-agey line about letting life and art just happen. The best thing is to "follow the path of most feeling and least resistance," Brian Eno advised in a 1992 letter. It's advice she still values.

"That's great guidance and I think that's what I do more now than ever before," she says during a conversation at MiMi's teeny area diner at Bathurst and Queen. Siberry could not be more at home in this colorful place. Her hair is twirled in tiny twists and lipstick, applied anti-glamor-style, covers as much of her skin as her lips, lending an air of oddness to everything.

If Siberry were to add anything to that philosophy of "least resistance," it would be that you've got to find that path for yourself. It's a point best illustrated by the lyrics of the opus that is the last song of her new record, Maria (Warner). The song called "Oh My My" is 20 minutes long ("I wanted it on a separate CD, but I'm not Michael Jackson...") so it says lots of things, but the most provocative is simple little point No. 5: "There will be no answer."

Just like that? "There will be no answer?" I suggested to her that most people spend entire lives trying to figure this out.

"To realize that answers are not going to come from without is a big conceptual leap. Because all the time you think they're without and you're just taking your power and pissing it away.

"I drift in and out of this knowledge and then I stumble and fumble," Siberry adds. "More and more often I catch hold of myself and say it's not just you're out of control and feeling worse. It's because you just don't understand why this is exactly the right thing that's supposed to happen to you right now."

It's the same sort of line Siberry talks when describing Maria, an album which essentially "happened" last fall.

"I faxed the record company and I said: `In creative overdrive. Stop. Must record now. Stop. Can't stop. Stop. Please send money.' So they sent me money.

"I wanted three days, nothing more, nothing less."

And what came out of those three days locked in a studio with jazz musicians (drummer Brian Blade, pianist Tim Ray, trumpeter David Travers-Smith and bassist Christopher Thomas), is, not surprisingly, a jazz record.

The songs boast Siberry's ponderous lyrics and endless love of metaphor and intimacy. Though, for me, it does not have the direct hit to the heart of 1993's When I Was A Boy, there is a musical insistence (these jazz guys can make a moment) and the 20-minute song is a beauty in form and content and length and everything. If it weren't so long, I'd have it tattooed on my thigh.

Siberry's voice is silken, lovelier than ever, which she says is "just 'cause I keep hearing harder songs in my head and then I have to learn how to sing them."

Her lyrics were the only part re-recorded after the sessions, but even those were recreated note for note.

"Whenever I tried to change it, something would start to rear its ugly head. There would be mutiny within the music."

It sounded to me so much like the kind of spiritual compulsion people describe after living through life-changing experiences.

Siberry says Maria was different from other experiences, but not necessarily more spiritual. "Everything to me is spiritual," she adds, "if there's love in it and if you care about it.

"I feel like this is precisely the exact best next record that I could have and that's all I know and that's all I need to know. In conclusion I would say that it's exactly the right next record."

Again that quick look up. Timid and daring at the same time. Once again, her glance asks: "Do you get it?"