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Five Questions With… Jenie Thai

The blues/soul pianist/songstress is turning ears with a new album, Night On Fire. Here she discusses her love of old-school soul and Steppenwolf, her growing confidence as a performer, and a wild gig at a Whistler party.

Five Questions With… Jenie Thai

By Jason Schneider

Jenie Thai is an artist with history, yet still fresh and joyful—and tough when she wants to be. Her new album, Night On Fire, is produced by Stew Crookes (Jason Collett, The Hidden Cameras), and contains 10 original tracks that showcase Thai’s classic blues piano chops while displaying her evolution as a contemporary R&B singer/songwriter.


Although Thai’s musical approach has drawn comparisons to Nina Simone and Bonnie Raitt, elements of the indie rock she also enjoys listening to are also present on Night On Fire, resulting in a hard-to-classify end result. However, what ties it all together is Thai’s distinctively soulful performances, which have wowed audiences both in Canada and abroad.

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Born in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and raised outside of Edmonton, Thai began studying music began at age five, taking private piano lessons for fifteen years. Throughout her classical training, she performed challenging pieces at workshops, music camps and festivals, which earned her many accolades.

By 2011 though, she was ready to make her own music, releasing an EP entitled Lady Flower, followed two years later by the full-length album, Only The Moon. Packing her keyboard into her Honda Civic, she has crisscrossed Canada several times, and also represented Alberta at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Now based in Toronto, Thai is broadening her scope with Night On Fire by moving beyond the blues into a sound that’s all her own. For more info go to jeniethai.ca

 

What makes Night On Fire stand apart from your previous work?

Over the last few years I've been listening to a lot of old school soul music, so my writing reflects the artists of that time that I love so much like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. This record has an introspective singer-songwriter quality to it, like my first one, but the songs have bigger arrangements that are fleshed out with horns, singers and percussion.

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How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?

Some days it feels like my evolution is non-existent, but I know that it's been a slow and steady growth over my whole life. My ultimate goal in music is always to continue improving because there's no end to how much one can learn in music. I started as a classical piano player, taught myself how to sing, began writing songs, and branched out to explore other genres of music that I could improvise over—blues, jazz and pop. I continue to evolve as my tastes change, in the way I listen to music, and the way I approach songwriting. I don't think that will ever stop.

What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year?

More confidence! This last year I've been consistently playing more high profile shows than in the past. Last fall, for instance, I was booked to play Massey Hall for the Toronto Women’s Blues Revue, and I completely lost my voice on the day of the show. It was unbelievably stressful. However, thanks to adrenaline and a shot of whiskey, my voice came back just for the performance, and after that, playing similar shows haven't worried me as much.

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What song by another artist do you wish you had written?

Oh man, there are so many! But off the top of my head... “Born To Be Wild.”

What's your best touring story?

One of them happened years ago on my very first tour. I had set up what I called my "Couch Concert Series" for which I contacted strangers online and asked them if I could play a house concert in exchange for a pay-what-you-can admission and a couch to sleep on. Halfway through the tour, one of the couch concerts fell through, so through a friend of a friend of someone I had contacted on the internet—it’s hard to believe I did that—I ended up putting on a concert in the house of Rush’s manager. He wasn't there but his kid took responsibility, and we threw a raging party for all the Whistler ski bums and had Whistler brewery sponsor it. It was nuts!

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