Mo Kenney on songs half written

Mo Kenney on songs half written

Dartmouth musician details her sound and process 

Mo Kenney, one of Can-rock’s rising stars, played the UC last week as part of a CSA Noon Hour Concert. The Ontarion asked her about her influences and process.

Alora Griffiths: Who’s your favourite songwriter?

Mo Kenney: That would have to be Elliott Smith. He actually passed away in 2003. 

When I first started playing music I started playing electric guitar. I switched over to acoustic because he primarily plays acoustic guitar. There’s something about his acoustic music that was a lot more interesting to me. He kind of got me into that sort of stuff.

AG: What kind of genre is that?

MK: Coffeehouse-esque. He’s kind of acoustic-punk. It’s pretty sad, but really interesting, melodically and lyrically. It’s really different than your stereotypical kind of style.

AG: Would you say you use his style of songwriting when you’re creating songs?

MK: I used to when I was first starting out. Now I gravitate towards more rock themes. The last record [2014’s In My Dreams] was a bit more production-heavy and more rock, and this record [2017’s The Details] was way more [into] the rock and roll thing.

AG: Do you prefer playing live or making a record?

MK: I think I prefer making records. I really enjoy the actual writing process and the creating, and recording is really exciting to me.

AG: What’s your process for writing a song? 

MK: It depends, sometimes I have a bit of music I’m working on that will spark an idea for a melody. Or I’ll have a phrase that pops into my head that I think is interesting, and I’ll try and and put music to it and see where it goes.

AG: How long would you say this process takes?

MK: I’m really bad for writing half a song, and leaving it, and coming back to it. There are definitely a lot of songs that I half finish. It could be a couple of years before I actually really finish something. Maybe I’m working on a record and I think that song doesn’t fit on that record, and I’ll save it for something else. But there’s definitely been some songs that have been kicking around for years, and I’m just too lazy to work on them.

AG: What’s your favourite song to play live?

MK: My favourite song to play live, if I’m playing with my band, is a song off my new record called “Maybe I Am.” There’s a guitar solo in it, and I love playing guitar solos.

That’s a song that I’m really proud of, so I really enjoy playing it live. The first part of the song is really dreamy and then halfway through it changes to a punk-rock feel, and I like the change —  it’s exciting.

AG: Do you have any advice or tips to a new artist starting out?

MK: Basically, write and perform as much as you possibly can. Try and meet other artists who share your same interests musically. I write all the time. Even before I was playing full-time, I was constantly writing and bettering myself. If you really believe in what you’re doing and you think you have something special, you should keep at it as much as possible. It’s definitely a tough job to sustain, but it’s so rewarding.

Photo by Alora Griffiths/The Ontarion