Toronto-based indie band The Jessica Stuart Few are bringing their unique sound back to Revelstoke this weekend. Times Review freelancer Melissa Jameson spoke with Stuart about playing the koto, touring in Japan, and being nominated for Best Album by the 2014 Independent Music Awards.
Melissa Jameson: Your music incorporates the traditional Japanese koto (13-stringed harp) that’s not an instrument many North Americans are likely familiar with. Can you explain what it is and how you were introduced to the koto?
Jessica Stuart: The koto is usually used in the kind of ancient music you would picture coming out of Asia. It’s six feet long and the strings are strung horizontally. It works similar to a harp. Each string has a pitch.
For me I knew about the koto ever since I can remember because my mother is a koto player. My parents lived in Japan for four years before my older sister and I were born. I grew up with my mom playing koto around the house so I thought everyone’s mom played the koto.
MJ: Your mom, Wendy, is also a musician. What inspiration has she led in terms of your own musical abilities?
JS: As far as the koto, for some reason I never identified with it when I was in Vancouver, which is where I grew up. I went to Japan with my family for my grade four year of elementary school. . . It certainly wasn’t my mothers doing, it was just that it was around when I had an opportunity to study with my mother’s sensei.
As far as mom’s influence musically, it’s huge because she has a deep understanding of a lot of different type of music. She is a classically trained pianist. My father also plays piano. I just had a musical household.
MJ: You plan on ending your current tour with a collaborative performance with your mom at the Harbourfront Centre.
JS: This is so exciting because we’ve never had a chance to do our musical stuff together. I’ve done a lot of musical things which are her arena growing up, but this is really special. I wrote some special material and she’s going to join us on a few things.
MJ: The Jessica Stuart Few are also currently nominated for Best Album by the 2014 Independent Music Awards.
JS: That was a super honour because that’s an international award. That was hugely unexpected and made me very happy.
MJ: Jessica Stuart Few spent a considerable amount of time touring through Japan after releasing your 2013 album there. What struck you most about Japanese audiences versus North American audiences?
JS: It’s totally different. In Canada you may go to bar and there will be live music playing and you didn’t know about it. In Japan there is no music that happens without you knowing about it.
When we played our very first show in Japan it was in a venue that had a capacity for 200 people. There were 100 people who showed up and they were all shoved up against stage as if it were an arena show.
MJ: This is your second time performing at Music In the Plaza. Does performing at a venue more than once create expectations?
JS: After you’ve done a bunch of touring you learn that nothing is for certain. One thing we do know about that stage and gazebo is the sound is really good — often we play these one set feature shows when we play festivals. We play all of our ‘hit set’. When we play Grizzly Plaza it’s a three set gig so we get to pull out different material. It’s cool for us [Jessica, Dan Fortin on bass and Tony Nesbitt-Larking on guitar], because we get to play around with the music, stretch it out, improvise.”
The Jessica Stuart Few perform at Grizzly Plaza as part of the Summer Street Festival on Saturday, July 12.