One night in early October I went to Benoit’s Wine Bar for an intimate evening of music organized by Joanne Stacey. About 20 people were on hand, sipping glasses of wine and listening as Stacey and two friends – Matt Carter and Lindsay May – took turns playing songs and telling the stories behind them.
I’d seen Joanne play a number of times before as the lead singer and guitarist for Sister Girl. That band broke up recently and since then Stacey has been pursuing her solo career – writing her songs and trying to get them out there in the world.
Stacey has a classic old-time country voice, the result of a lifetime singing in country music bands. She started when she five, singing in her family’s band the Country Squires in Merritt, B.C. – the self-proclaimed country music capital of Canada, where Stacey has a star on the walk of fame. She wrote her first song when she was 11. It was called Free as an Eagle. “It is terrible now when I look at it,” she told me. “But I was 11.”
I met up with Stacey in her basement music space, where she plays her songs and teaches singing classes to local youth. There was a keyboard along the wall and an assortment of string instruments hanging from the wall – several guitars, a ukulele, banjo and mandolin.
“I was raised on Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn – all those old country people,” she said.
She wrote and sang throughout her youth, releasing her first CD when she was 28, and playing at the first Merritt Music Festival shortly after. It wasn’t until she turned 30 that she learned to play guitar.
At around this time her first marriage fell apart and she went to school to become a legal assistant. She worked in intellectual property in Kelowna, where she sang back-up in a folk group, but her music career took backseat to raising her children.
“In retrospect I needed to learn how to be a better business person so working in law and that environment I focused on developing that whole other side of my brain so I became a better businessperson while still being creative,” she said.
Joanne Stacey (right) plays with her friends Matt Carter and Lindsay May at Benoit’s Wine Bar.
Her career took her Calgary, where she helped found the Calgary Songwriter’s Association. She continued to work on her songwriting and performing while continuing to work.
During this time, her second husband Andrew got hired by CP Rail and they moved to Revelstoke, where she started the band Sister Girl. She started her own consulting business, while teaching singing lessons on the side. Slowly her work balance shifted to the point where she could focus on teaching and performing.
“That was a big deal for me because I could stop doing things I didn’t want to be doing and I could follow my heart and be through my hand,” she said.
Sister Girl enjoyed a modestly successful five-year run, releasing two albums and having their song It’s a Lonely Place reach number two on the country music charts in Austria of all places.
Sister Girl had an amicable break up recently so Stacey could focus on her music career. It was a decision she made knowing that her bandmates, with work and family commitments, weren’t able to pursue a music career as much as she wanted. “It just didn’t make sense any more. I needed to do what I needed to do and I didn’t want to have those things to hold me back,” she said. “I couldn’t ask them to quit their jobs and just do music.”
Returning to a solo career has allowed Stacey to focus on her songwriting and put herself out there in new ways. I met with her a few days after she returned from a trip to Nashville, where she met with agents and producers, and performed with other musicians and singers.
There, she got advice on what style of music to focus her songwriting on (Americana) and she was able to pitch some of her songs to different producers. One song – Zam Bam Zinger Bang Girl – will hopefully be recorded and released on an album and, if she’s lucky, released as a single. Before that, the song has to be chosen by the artist and producer, then it has to be recorded, then included on the album.
“It’s just such a huge process,” she said. “It’s mind blowing and you can’t get yourself too excited. Until you know your song is going to be released as a single, which is such a long pathway, then I will be doing the happy dance all over Revelstoke. Until then I’ll just play it cool, I won’t get too worked up.”
Stacey plans to continue teaching, writing and traveling to Nashville twice a year. She said she would move there if everything worked out, but for now she will continue to hone her craft in Revelstoke. She hopes to record a new solo album as soon as she lines up a producer.
“I’m always hoping for a door to open that will take me to a new place,” she said. “If things work out the way I want them to in my wildest dreams I will live in Nashville. And my husband, I’m not leaving him here, so he has to come too.”
Find out more about Joanne Stacey and listen to her music at www.joannestacey.com.
Joanne Stacey in her music room.
Here are the stories behind three of Stacey’s songs (click on the song titles to listen to them:
I wrote because that’s right when we moved back to B.C. We went through some hardtimes when we lived in Calgary, some real growth period I would call it. When we came back to B.C. I was so happy in my heart. I was so happy to be in the mountains and be where I belong. We moved here in June or July and that fall I wrote Beautiful B.C. I was so grateful to be where I belonged. I love the mountains, and being closer to my kids too.
I wrote it for my daughter. She had made a plan to go to Africa to work in Ghana as a volunteer… She was 20…. It was her focus for two years that she was going to do this. The day came when she was supposed to get on the plane and she couldn’t get on it… She was scared about leaving the country to a weird country where she didn’t know anybody. The whole fear thing stopped her. She went back to her dad’s house in Merritt and she holed herself in there and wouldn’t talk to anybody for about a month. She was in so much pain and so much growth. I think she was so disappointed in herself when she went through all that. It was a huge growing thing for her to realize she wasn’t infallible, she was scared. She wasn’t ready to do it … She ended up going later but during that time she was in her seclusion and mad at herself, I wrote Hold On and I wrote it for her. I don’t even know if she knows I wrote it for her.
That one is the one that’s being pitched to people in Nashville. I wrote it last fall with three other writers. It started out with the three girls and we were laughing because we were trying to epitomize what kind of woman is strong and viewed as a take charge kind of person. We came up with those whole concept of the Zam Bam Zinger Bang Girl, and she rules everywhere she goes. Everyone knows her, they love her, she’s charismatic and in control. She’s successful and doesn’t put up with crap. This song is about this woman who’s the ideal woman in a woman’s eyes. We all look up to that woman and say wouldn’t we love to be her. We wrote that and it’s getting quite a bit of attention in Nashville right now.
One of the writers came to us with that title. We looked at each other and thought that’s too much of a mouthful, that’s too weird. But you write the song that’s in the room and that’s how it came about. That came totally from a title and we all put our heads together and said she’s this kind of chick and she’s really sassy. And we love her and hopefully she’ll make us lots of money.