Desperately in search of phone signal, a distorted Jessy Lanza fades in and out of reception. Currently on the road with her second album on Hyperdub, Oh No—three years after her debut album, Pull My Hair Back, was released—the Canadian native is prepping for her Amsterdam show. "We had a shit show last night," she says. "I could definitely hear people in the front row talking about how bad my voice sounded." Struggling to comprehend the mass affirmation which flooded in off the back of her iconic, self-coined songs "Kathy Lee", "Keep Moving", "You and Me" and now "It Means I Love You", the Polaris Prize nominee prefers to keep her ambitions introspective.
"I think while working on Oh No, there was pressure to do something that people would like just as much or more than Pull My Hair Back. But, to be honest, if everyone had hated the first record or not cared, I'm sure that would've made me feel even worse. I think a theme of my life is denying the fact that I'm anxious and music has helped me to confront it, or at least do something useful with my nervous energy."
Working on this nine-song compendium over the course of the years that followed PMHB, creativity came sporadically to the 31-year-old singer/songwriter. Jessy resolutely chose to not rush her own processes; instead, she busied herself collecting tropical plants to purify the air of her Ontario home. Chatting easily, the multi-instrumentalist's soft, airy and high-pitched voice is as ethereal in conversation as it feels in song. Expressing her feelings honestly, delicate insight into her character is tangible on record. Jessy pauses briefly after each question, thinking before answering and never leaking any hint of an ego: "I work in a studio which is about the same size as a wardrobe," she laughs. "It's just round the block, like 15 minutes from where I live. It's tiny! I tend to work more in the evenings. Some days I can go into the studio and just write; other days, I'll spend a lot of time looking at YouTube videos and that can lead into inspiration for the instrumentals so it's never time wasted. The lyrics aren't always decipherable, so I'll write as if the focus isn't really the word—it never has been—it's more about what the vocals add."
I think a theme of my life is denying the fact that I'm anxious and music has helped me to confront it, or at least do something useful with my nervous energy.
Impossible to define with genre specificity, Jessy's position leading the helm of leftfield electronic talent is strong; aligned snug to Hyperdub signings DVA, Cooly G, Laurel Halo and Burial, her musical prowess is just as pioneering. Championed by label boss Kode9, she represents a shining chink of originality in the typically male-dominated world of production. "Talents like Jessy make running the label worth it on a day-to-day basis by not feeling like were doing the same thing we've always done. It's evolving and musically changing. I'm excited about that," he recently told Exclaim.Ca. Defiant and unwilling to acknowledge any insecurities the music industry can typically antagonize, Jessy decided to work mainly with her boyfriend Jeremy Greenspan.
A member of The Junior Boys (a band Jessy previously toured with for many years), Greenspan has an instinctive understanding of Lanza, creating cohesive yet disjointed melodies that mesmerise in a heartbeat. He also helped craft the unique aesthetic of Pull My Hair Back. Both have a meticulous and wide-spanning appreciation for every kind of music, too. "Jeremy and I love working with field recordings in the music. There are a few on this new album, but it's mainly of samples from videos; there's some drum samples that we used on more than one track, which are pretty great. We'd actually like to produce on hip-hop albums in the future. Hyperdub sometimes puts out calls for instrumentals on a track. Me and Jeremy will work on them and send in what we make and either the artist thinks it's shit or they don't hear it because we don't hear back."
The wistful themes which interlink each track on Oh No have an evocative sense of memory. The smokey atmospheres which mist and billow through layered instrumentation underpin the feel of the album. Jessy's sound is that of a woman in love with a deep understanding of passion and peace. Discussing her sense of romanticism, Jessy explains that she's "more sentimental than romantic. I like living in my hometown of Hamilton being surrounded by family and friends and the people I love. In the past, I've worked with people all over the world, so I don't think chasing to live in Ontario is limiting. You don't have to be physically in the same to make music these days. I love Hamilton. I'm a big fan of Drake, too. I think he's really great. I love what he is doing for Toronto right now."
Commissioning every aspect of her brand, Jessy Lanza's vision for the sound and visual aspects is profound and progressive. Her search for new talent is constant. "I will definitely be cultivating a light show for the live show," she says. "I worked with Kyle Stewart and Mike Jerome on the artwork; he did the lettering by hand and the layout for the cover. John Smith, who directed the video for 'It Means I Love You', he gave us stills from the shoot which is where the album cover came from... I think Jeremy Greenspan actually took the photo that ended up on the back cover." Just one of many proudly flying the flag for a country repping some of the greatest new talent in electronic and hip-hop music, Jessy Lanza aims to keep her sound understated and this new material unparalleled.