Sessions at West 54th Interview

Interviewer: Chris Douridas
September 1997 (aired Dec 1997)

Thanks to Stevik for the date details.

CD: Jane Siberry. Are you excited about the show tonight?

JS: Oh, yeah, I always feel excited to play. 'Cause you never know if you're going to succeed or fail. You never know if you're going to fly or crash. But, no, I was at Joe Jackson's taping last night, so I have an idea of what it's going to be like. And it was a great crew, and it was really fun. So, I think tonight'll be fun.

CD: It's kind of like diving off without a net. Giving into the experience...

JS: Are you talking about surrender?

CD: Surrendering, yeah.

JS: Ah. No, tonight there's a lot of things to control, actually. Control. As in, you're working with five cameras, and I can't do my walking thing necessarily the same way I would. There's a different awareness that will be there tonight. And then the surrender thing is, well, at a certain point you just let go and see.

CD: Is there any kind of preparation you do before the show to get yourself in the moment?

JS: What makes you think being in the moment is what you want? I'm sorry, but, Chris, you're speaking to someone who will inspect every single word you use with me.

CD: (laughs)

JS: I'm very literal. But you are right...

CD: Yeah, to approach it in a certain way, whatever that may be.

JS: Well, someone asked me yesterday, what's your advice for when you have the blues? And I said, I like to hang out with children. It's that children won't let you cast yourself forward and backwards into future troubles and past worries. You have to stay in the moment, and that's where you cheer up. And that's where you get energy. So, the goal tonight is to be in the moment. And so what do I do to keep in the moment, to be in the moment? Especially if you're worrying a little bit. I am a bit of a worry wart. I have some yoga background, so I stretch and I do some breathing, and I warm up my voice. And I don't let anybody look in my mirror once I start putting on my makeup, no one's face can move into my mirror.

CD: Like literally into your mirror?

JS: Yeah.

CD: Seriously? Wow.

JS: I learned that on tour with five women, that that's what I need. And I pray. I try to remember why I'm doing it, so that I don't get in my own way. And then I usually call my mom if there's a line out in my dressing room.

CD: She's in Toronto?

JS: She is sometimes.

CD: That's fantastic. It's sort of a grounding thing?

JS: That's exactly what it is. You try to ground yourself. I try to ground myself. Well, Chris, I can ask you now, since you've gone from behind the microphone to on screen, which is a very difficult thing to do...

CD: Yes...

JS: How do you ground yourself? I mean you must notice when you look at rushes how you look when you're un-grounded.

CD: I call my mom a lot, too. (laughs) Actually, that's kind of funny. That's one thing we have in common. Yeah, I'm still figuring it out. I mean you've got a lot of experience at the performance, the presentation thing, and it's just a different thing for me. I'm still finding it, I think. Figuring it out.

JS: Oh, yeah, it takes a long time. It took -- like when I wrote songs I was just a songwriter, and I only was a singer because I was writing songs, somebody had to sing it. And then ten years later I have to know how to read in still photographs, then I have to know how to let my energy read in the moving picture, I have to learn about my body so that I read movement-wise. So many things I never thought I'd have to learn, but all of it goes back to the pot of soup called moi, or trois, that ultimately works to your advantage on all levels, learning about these things through our career or whatever you want to call it. So I haven't seen the show yet, but do you read very well?

CD: I'm a bad judge of that. I'm not sure, I don't know.

JS: Well, when you see someone else on screen, like this is a double interview, you must have always a reference point. You look back and forth and ask "Why is her countenance reflecting more light than mine," or whatever?

CD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And for me it's interesting that we're presenting musicians in an environment that we don't necessarily get to see them in very often. You listen to them on record, you have them in your headphones, you have them in your homes, they become such an intimate part of your world, and then to see them presented on the show, you know, it's kind of an illuminating thing.

JS: Yeah, yeah.

CD: For me especially because I'm coming from a radio background. Anyway, you referred to praying before a performance...

JS: I prey on small children and helpless waiters is what I meant.

CD: (laughs)

JS: She said, backtracking, in case you're going to talk about something spiritual.

CD: I was going to head that way, yeah, because I know you said to me before that songs are like prayers for you. That there's a prayer aspect in the performance as well.

JS: Yeah. And prayer equals dialogue, right? Prayer is never a solitary thing, right? That's impossible.

CD: Right. I'm with you there.

JS: Always two. Yeah, so I always feel like I'm talking to somebody. I like that Hindu expression, "the guest is God." Or -- what is it? -- I honor the divine within you, and that's who you're speaking to is people's souls or whatever. Life's so short, I think that's a great idea. Do you?

CD: That's a rare gift, though, to be able to make that connection to other people's souls. You can do that with painting. There are painters that have that capacity. I guess it's true for any art form, I would think. A true art form. Maybe it's one of the definitions of true art.

JS: Uh-oh, you're getting awfully deep.

CD: Do you know what I mean, though? I say this 'cause I had a fascinating experience the other day. You know, it's kind of embarrassing to point out how simple it is. Just the other day, I had a day off from the studio and I went down to the Museum of Modern Art. Just walking through there, and I was stopped by a row of Picassos. And just seeing the power of the work, no matter what you think of Picasso, just the work itself, and the force that was in that room was so palpable.

JS: I sometimes think it would be great to have a job in an art gallery, late shift security. I mean, to be in the gallery and to actually experiment turning off the lights so that you're in the dark in the same room with these masterpieces, and see if you can still feel them. I'm sure you can. I'm sure it's super-charged, whether there's light reflecting from it or not. That's a good job, I think. Better than a toll booth, you know, outside of the tunnel or whatever, don't you think?

CD: But there's also another aspect of the experience. When you're there on a crowded Sunday afternoon and there's 40 people standing with you in front of one of these powerful works...

JS: Yeah. And that makes me feel a powerful anger.

CD: Powerful anger? Why?

JS: Well, it's harder to see. It's harder to see the painting if there's 40 people standing in front.

CD: (laughs)

JS: Whatever.

CD: All right, given the fact that everybody sort of finds their place, the tall ones are in the back, the short ones are in the front -- I was up front, of course, because I'm of lesser physical stature. But collective appreciation of the moment is what I'm talking about, which happens in live performance.

JS: Yeah, live. Or looking at a painting together. Yep, it's true. That when one or more are gathered, it exaggerates itself.

CD: Were you ever a painter?

JS: No.

CD: 'Cause people have described your work as sort of paintings.

JS: Yeah. Only painterly types say that. I mean no one can say that about my work unless they're visual, right?

CD: Yeah, I guess so.

JS: So they're describing themselves. But it's true, if I can't see something I can't do it, and that's not just music. If I can't see what I'm going to have for dinner I won't eat. I'm led by my nose. You know what I mean.

CD: You're losing me. (Laughs) If you can't see what you're going to have for dinner you don't want to eat?

JS: I can't do it. It's how I create. My eyes see it and then the rest of me goes along as an aside. Accidentally. As soon as I see it it's almost done.

CD: Wow.

JS: Which is why it's good I don't have a lot of money. I would be going like this the whole time, and I wouldn't get any work done. Isn't that a contradiction? Maybe it is.

CD: Yeah. (Laughs) I was just trying to imagine you as a little girl. What it must've been like -- a little Jane.

JS: Well, talk to me in 20 years, I feel like I'm getting younger all the time.

CD: Really?

JS: I do, yeah.

CD: In what way?

JS: I have way more energy, I'm way lighter, I don't know what I was carrying for so long. I don't know what it is. I just feel like that at 21 I was really old. When I was little, kids used to fantasize about fairies and stuff. I used to fantasize about cranes carrying me from place to place so I didn't have to move. But I think that might've been the sugar I ate. I ate a lot of sugar. I think a lot of kids eat sugar. We must've spent our childhood in a stupor, a depressed stupor most of our childhoods.

CD: But in your twenties you felt weighted down, you felt...?

JS: Yeah, heavy, heavy. But now I've done a lot of work on myself. You know, as simple as learning about diet. Starting to have self-knowledge has been an enlightening thing.

CD: Plus you've taken a lot of control over your life. Your own record label've sort of become, I don't know, empowered in a way, 'cause you're really doing it all yourself, for the most part, right?

JS: Yeah. That's a great thing. It's a lot of fun, too. To take responsibility for your nose dive or success or whatever. It's sort of interesting. I'm very happy to be where I am. Very happy.

CD: The stuff we're hearing tonight, is there some new music you're doing tonight?

JS: There's a couple of new songs. I'm about at the end of these songs, so I'm glad we're capturing them on your show, and then that's it. I feel I've repeated myself more than I normally do. With Rebecca Campbell and David Travers and Tim Wright, it's been a wonderful ride with them. I feel it's coming to an end.

CD: Hmm. So a change is in order?

JS: I think so. I think I'd like to go back to my bedroom and just write songs on guitar now for a while. I've been too expanded. I'm ready to simplify a bit more.

CD: Yeah. So it's time to sort of cocoon a little?

JS: Yeah, maybe.

CD: The songs seem to have a life span where you'll carry them around for a while and then let them go.

JS: No, it's more of the repetition factor. I feel like I'm repeating myself too much. But I'm touring more and playing to different people, so I'm not repeating myself to the same people, but within me I feel a bit fake. Which doesn't mean the songs won't be fresh and alive tonight. They will be like right to the end.

CD: Are you living in New York still?

JS: My belongings are in storage here. So I'm back in Toronto for a while until I can come back. Every now and then I sort of fondle my storage room key and feel homesick.

CD: Do you like living in New York?

JS: Yeah, I do.

CD: What kind of effect has it had on you?

JS: Well, I'm a bit nervous about tonight. I'm not the person who normally lives in New York and can argue back with checkout people. I can tell I feel a bit quiet tonight. But I got into so many fights the first couple months when I moved here because I think I was being called on my mumbling, or not being committed to what I said. There's a way of inhaling when you speak, which I do sometimes. So people have to lean forward. And then they say, what do you want? And I sort of burned off a bit of that kind of flab when I was living here.

CD: (laughs) Interesting, yeah.

JS: But New York is very vital, very sexy, sensuous. There's a reason that people have gravitated here from all over the world for years. And it's hard to put into words for anybody, I think, but I feel it, too. I think it's been a good teacher for me, a good place for me to be. What about you?

CD: I think it's great. You have to build some muscle. It's true. It's invigorating because of that. And it's almost like people are sort of elbowing in and trying to, you know -- it's like you're becoming part of machinery that makes this city work somehow. But you've probably learned a lot about Canadians by being in New York.

JS: Why?

CD: Well, because it gives you a reflection of yourself somehow.

JS: Well, you know, when I go back to Toronto, it feels very soft there. Like people have to burn off a bit of stuff.

CD: One more thing. How do you know when the music is where you want it to be in performance and on record? Is there a sensation?

JS: Oh, yeah, yeah. I think I, like a lot of other people, use my body like a tuning fork. And until it's right, your gut won't relax. It's that simple. And when it's right, your system, much beyond your conscious mind, will let you know. And a lot of people just listen to their bodies. Which is why, when you go to a studio to work, and they have M&M's and shit like that, it's like -- that's like stuffing toilet paper in the telephone.

CD: Or something like that. (Laughs) I get your point.

JS: People working hard, like even on your film set here, there's lots of sugar. When we work in a studio, when people's hands reach out we try to make sure it's vegetable juices Because if there's sugar there, everyone will take the sugar. 'Cause no one has any control when you're working hard. But then you'll mess your system up. Your tuning fork will get all covered with crap. (Laughs) Corroded.

CD: Well, when that tuning fork, to carry the analogy, when it's singing, when it's humming, when the gut is relaxed, as you say, is there a confidence that sets in that the audience is feeling too?

JS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I use the audience's bodies too when I'm playing. We all do. I think all musicians do. That's why it's important to stay open and why we have wild cards, so we stay unlocked. Because we get more out of it, too. I want to end with a quote that my singing teacher told me. A quote from my singing teacher. He said, "As soon as the opera singer starts to cry the audience stops crying." And that's what music's all about. To me that says it all. That's when music is on the common table and in its best, most miraculous form, you know?

CD: As soon as the...?

JS: When the music is on the common table, when it's not too personal, when it will sit in a neutral way on the common table to be partaken of. As soon as the opera singer starts crying she can't hear the audience anymore, the edge of the stage just moved way back, and the audience is far away.

CD: Cool. I'm glad I asked that question.

JS: Okay.

CD: Thanks, Jane.

JS: You're welcome.