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Pregnant Pause Only Piqued Fans’ Interest
When the Wailin’ Jennys are upset with their manager, they will have no one to blame but themselves. Band members Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody have taken the folk group’s matters into their own hands and are self-managing the band, which is back in a big way after a year-long hiatus.
"Ruth and I, we’ve always been the type of people that are very involved with the running of the band. We’ve always been at the helm anyway, so why not do it ourselves?" Mehta says with a laugh over coffee at a Corydon Avenue restaurant. "Nobody cares about what happens to our band more than us, and we’re both workaholics — no one would sacrifice their mental health for us the way we do."
Being their own boss is only one of several changes for the Jennys over the past few years.
The first was in 2007 when Annabelle Chvostek left the group to pursue a solo career, opening the door for New York’s Heather Masse to become the third Jenny.
As the new lineup was settling into a groove and recorded the Live at The Mauch Chunk Opera House album, Mehta discovered she was pregnant, and in July 2009 the 38 year-old and her partner Grant Johnson, a local musician who acts as the group’s soundman, had twin boys, Beck and Finn.
The pregnancy led to a break for most of 2009, giving Moody time to record a solo album, The Garden (being released Dec. 9 at the West End Cultural Centre), and work with Mehta behind the scenes, setting themselves up as their own administrators, essentially launching Wailin’ Jennys Version 3.0.
"We were touring so hard before the hiatus and we were just really tired. I think sometimes you need to step away from something to realize what we have," Mehta says. "The other thing we both found interesting is people really wanted us not to do that for our career: ‘You won’t be able to work again. People will lose interest if you step away for too long,’ and that hasn’t been true."
"If anything, people are more excited that we’re back again" Moody adds.
The sold-out shows across North America included participating in two different episodes of Garrison Keillor’s long-running public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, and appearing at Massey Hall in Toronto with artists such as Ron Sexsmith, Sylvia Tyson and the Barenaked Ladies as part of a tribute night to Bruce Cockburn.
Getting to that point didn’t come overnight. The group formed in Winnipeg in 2002 with Cara Luft and has circumnavigated the globe, making fans from Dublin, Ireland, to Sydney, Australia. They have released two studio albums, the live album and have a new studio set, tentatively titled Bright Morning Stars, recorded and ready for release early next year.
Winnipeggers will get to hear about half of the new album when the Jennys play their first local show in three years (with the exception of the Winnipeg Folk Festival) at the Burton Cummings Theatre Sunday.
The album was recorded at a cottage in Haliburton, Ont. last November with producer/engineer Mark Howard, who has worked on releases by the likes of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.
A new song that isn’t on the album but that’s become something of a live staple doesn’t have an official name, but is known as The Pants Song.
The track was written by Johnson for Beck and Finn — who travel with the group — and was "Jennified," by the trio with three-part harmonies. They performed it for fun a few times and the tune took on a life of its own, with fans requesting the song at concerts.
"We sang it at one show and we started laughing during one of our a cappella songs, which sometimes happens, and we couldn’t get it together, then someone yelled out, "Sing the pants song again," and everyone started yelling, ‘Pants! Pants! Pants! Pants!’ so we had to sing it again," Mehta says.