Jane Siberry and the true definition of ‘art rock’ » LIVING LIFE WITHOUT FEAR

Ok, so there are many who will challenge the credibility of Wikipedia. Yet nowadays, with the possibility that virtually anyone can publish their definitions, there are now a number of them, if not by “real” experts, then those who can be considered one.

Thus, whoever worked on the definition of art-rock seems to have tapped into the essence of what this term means:

“Art rock is a subgenre of rock music that generally reflects a provocative or avant-garde approach to rock, or employs modernist, experimental, or unconventional elements. Art rock aspires to elevate entertainment rock to an artistic statement, opting for a more experimental and conceptual view of music.Influences can come from genres such as experimental rock, avant-garde music, classical music and jazz.

Art Rock aspires to elevate rock from entertainment to artistic statement

It goes on, not all you could or should agree with, but what does it have to do with Canadian singer-songwriter (another extremely broad term) Jane Siberry?

Well, looking at her career since the late 70’s (when she first appeared on the scene), in many ways you can say that Siberry is one of the artists who has practically covered all the terrain defined in this definition of art-rock, and beyond. This ties into the fact that Siberry even covered up that “dreaded” category of dance music that some art-rock theorists try to exclude as art.

What is even more important is that Siberry at certain points in his career had not only critical acclaim but also some commercial success, while achieving that cult artist status that so many other musicians crave but don’t. ever reach.

From Stewart to Siberry

Siberry was actually born Jane Stewart and took the surname Siberry from the surname of her maternal aunt and uncle. Many years later, she would explain this choice by declaring: “this woman and her husband were the first couple I met where I could feel the love between them and I held it in front of me as a point reference”. This statement in many ways is an indicator of the direction in which Siberry was striving in his music and art.

As some of his biographers explain, Siberry learned the piano from the age of four, mostly teaching himself and developing his own concepts of notation and structure. In school, she learned conventional music theory (as well as the French horn) and learned to play the guitar while working on songs by Leonard Cohen. Her first song was completed when she was seventeen, although she had been developing song ideas since much earlier.

This woman and her husband were the first couple I met where I could feel the love between them

Speaking of which, Siberry says, “I started out with music, but moved on to science when I realized how much more interesting it was to study than music. I would leave classes ecstatic about little things.

She began her career in the so-called “royal city” of Guelph, Ontario, in a folk rock band Java-Jive. Upon leaving the band, Siberry also dropped out of college, supporting her work as a solo performer by working as a waitress, earning enough to fund and tour her debut album, The Folk Influence. Jane Siberry which was released in 1981 on Duke Street Records. The album was relatively successful for independent release, earning Siberry a three-album deal with A&M Records through the Windham Hill label.

For his second album No borders here(1984), Siberry respects the title of the album: it goes from folk to what some would call “electronic art-pop”. On the album, Siberry offered one of his true hits and iconic songs/compositions.

It was “Mimi On The Beach,” a seven-and-a-half-minute single, which fits that definition of art-rock perfectly. The song enjoyed art-friendly broadcast support at the time (and its video made by Siberry and friends). Both factors earned him extensive listening to MuchMusic and college radio.

At The spotless sky (1985) which followed, Sibbery continued to hone his craft, producing another critical and commercial favorite, “One More Colour”. Some critics have described his lyrics on this album (and other albums) as “unencumbered by reality (think Laurie Anderson on hallucinogens), but the album’s top-notch musicality helps Siberry keep at least down to earth, via AllMusic.

Become (increasingly) surreal

Switching to the big label Reprise, Siberry offered walking (1988), one of his defining albums. As some reviewers have noted, it contained a complexly structured set of songs, many of which were long and staggered between narrative viewpoints and characters. Of the six songs on the album, only one is under six minutes.


Although the album was certainly not commercial, critics at the time were unwelcoming to say the least, and broadcasters found it unsuitable for broadcast. These days, the album is considered one of his best, not the first instance where opinions have changed over time.

Lack of success of walking may have prompted Siberry to change direction to simpler, more straightforward song forms for his follow-up which was Bound by beauty (1989). There, Siberry explored quite a few pop forms, from country to Latin music.

Coming with another album, when i was a boy (1993), seems to have been an arduous process. Not only did the production take time, but it was also the first time that Siberry called on outside producers, in this case the duo of Michael Brook and Brian Eno. One of the reasons she took her time may have been because it was the time in her life when Siberry was trying to deal with her lifelong alcoholism.

Jane Siberry and the true definition of “art rock” |  Features |  LIVE LIFE WITHOUT FEAR


The album also signified another shift in musical direction. This time around, the influences were influenced by funk, dance and gospel music, and Siberry and its producers made extensive use of layering and sampler technology. It also featured what would become Siberry’s best-known song, “Calling All Angels” (a duet with kd lang who first appeared in the Wim Wenders soundtrack Until the end of the world and as a track on Summer in the Yukon (1992).

Before the release of when i was a boy, Siberry performed in Edinburgh as the opening act for Mike Oldfield’s premiere Tubular bells II. She was met with disastrous rejection from the public. Initially, Siberry was devastated (later describing herself as having “cried for two weeks”) and had to seriously reassess her views on her work. From that moment, she chooses to reclaim her art and decides “I took back all the power that I had put out of myself to please (others). The worst show of my life became the best because it gave me the ultimate freedom to only care about what I think is really good. The evolution of my career is secondary.

From Jane Siberry to Issa…

This could have been the reason for another musical change. At Married (1995) Siberry is oriented more towards jazz. Seeming to be inspired by Van Morrison’s masterpiece Astral weeks, Siberry employed a group of experienced jazz musicians, recording the album in three days, then editing and reworking the recorded material into fully realized songs, most of which featured various perspectives on innocence.

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Then another queue and another shift. Covering the iconic Beatles song “A Day in the Life”, she made it the title of her next album (1997), which included song excerpts, but was actually a sound collage, depicting her typical daily experience in New York. , where Siberry resided at the time.

It was certainly a recipe for business disaster, and Siberry’s indie label Sheeba was experiencing financial difficulties. She folded the tag in New York, returned to Toronto, and reinstated it as a one-woman operation. Everything from writing songs to licking envelopes.

When I put Jane away, I was silent for 24 hours. Not a word to anyone.

As the biographers note, to fund Sheeba she also began experimenting with what were then considered unorthodox promotional ideas, such as weekend-long “Siberry Salons” (a seminar concert featuring two more a workshop and a dinner, which were hosted in intimate and unusual places such as art galleries and lofts).

Through the label itself, Siberry released three books of poetry and a set of three live albums featuring previously unreleased songs and those recorded for film soundtracks.

In early 2006, Siberry closed its Sheeba office, then auctioned off and sold nearly all of its assets through eBay, including its Toronto home and musical instruments. She kept a travel guitar, but none of the other instruments featured on her albums and in her concerts.

At the beginning of June of the same year, during its European tour, Siberry changed its name to Issa. She said The Globe and Mail that she chose the name Issa as the female variant of Isaiah. She said her older music would remain available for sale as “Jane Siberry”, but her new material would be released as Issa. At the time, she also said, regarding the identity change, “I had to do it right. I had to be serious about it and I had to convey it. When I put Jane away, I was quiet for 24 hours. Not a word to anyone. And then Issa from then on.

…and back

In the fall of 2008, under the name Issa, she finalized the ideas for a trilogy of albums that will be called the “Three Queens” sequence, the first of which became dragon dreams.

In 2009, Issa released the second album of the “Three Queens” trilogy, What am I going to warm myself up with? However, it was clear that her identity was no longer fixed, as the two names she had used as a musician―“Issa” and “Jane Siberry”―appeared on the cover. In December 2009, she informed her fans that she had recently changed her name from Issa to Jane Siberry, believing that the process of working under a different name had run its course.

The last payment, What will I keep you warm with was released the same year, and three albums followed. Meshach dreams of return, was released later in 2011 and was the first album to be credited with “Jane Siberry” in eight years. Angels lean closer and Ulysses Scholarship appeared in 2016 and 2018 respectively, with Siberry currently hovering somewhere in the shadows, likely offering another change of direction, adding another line in the “art-rock” description.

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