Missy first came to my attention when she sent us the beautifully powerful and heart-rending song “Two Sisters”. Well I was immediately hooked. The Canadian artist wears her heart on her sleeve, sings like an angel with a broken heart and writes some of the finest, edgy folk tunes I’ve heard in many a year so I was as happy as a sandboy when she answered some questions for us a few weeks back.
When did your music journey begin?
My grade 5 teacher, Mr Rapin, had a class set of ukuleles – I fell in love with making music, and my dad bought me my first guitar that Christmas! I started working professionally in my senior year of high school, where I was “discovered” by September Seventh Entertainment. I played with Feist, Sarah Harmer, Emmy Lou Harris, Gord Downie. I was on the morning news and I had a personal driver. My goals became very clear. I started school for Music Production and Songwriting, and the rest is history!
I’m blown away by “Two Sisters”, it’s obviously deeply personal and emotionally raw, was it a difficult song to write? Did you find it cathartic? How do feel about the critical response to the song?
I was very very fortunate to have received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council that supported me during the time I created that song. I kept it all inside for so many years, and had so much trouble reaching out for help when I needed it. I fought those battles alone. THAT was the difficult part. The song came very quickly and naturally (one of those rare moments). I needed to write it – I needed it to be real. The response has been very sweet. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to perform/submit/promote it, as it seemed too personal. I performed it at a songwriter’s circle for the first time, and I was approached by a stranger in the audience who told me that she had felt part of herself trapped, for her whole life, and hearing that song finally set her free. I knew I wanted to share it with the world, then, no matter how personal or awkward it can feel. I am very proud of it, and it has been such a big part of healing and growth for me.
How do you approach song-writing, does it come naturally to you?
I’m constantly writing songs– 99% of the time, they are goofy little tunes or jingles for whatever my partner and I are up to. It’s good practice for melody, meter, rhyme, etc. It makes it easier to form a structure when it’s time to get serious. Having said that, some days I’ll sit down and write something I like within an hour, other times I’ll be stumped with a piece for days until I abandon it. I try not to rely on inspiration alone, but it definitely makes it easier to bring an idea to life.
You have a fantastic singing voice, did you train professionally or is it all your own work?
I have had many teachers over the years! I took vocal music through high school in addition to private lessons, and had two vocal coaches in college. I studied anatomy and style as well (and still read my old textbooks because I’m a huge nerd). I’m not taking lessons now, but I’m lucky to have friends with some amazing singers and teachers who share constructive criticism and tips.
What was the first piece of music you loved, and why?
Tough one! I have to think WAY back. I think it may have been Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes. I was 5 or 6 when I heard it. It was my very first CD. I loved (and still love) that kooky, low-fi, alternative vibes. A taste-maker for sure!
What other acts, if any, would you regard as kindred spirits?
Said the Whale is my most favourite band, and they’ve influenced me SO much through their music, but also their approach to music. 3 of my most favourite humans. Also, The Lifers, Tragedy Ann, Annie Sumi, Jake Feeney… a handful of Ontario artists that I’ve grown up with whom I love to the bottom of my heart. The new generation of folk in Ontario is a big happy family, and we all love each other so much! And, of course, my beloved Andrew Nunno. He is the king of my heart, and his music makes me so incredibly happy.
What is your favourite song that you’ve written?
We see and hear a lot of the mayhem created by Trump and Republicans in the US. There appears to be a concerted backlash against the liberal/feminist/equality agenda there. I guess we are also seeing a counter-reaction and its become a cultural war. There are echoes of this across Europe as well. Is that reflected in Canada to any extent? (We don’t hear a lot about Canada!)
I don’t see a lot of conflict specifically where I live in Guelph, but I know it’s a big problem in Toronto and my hometown, Brantford. I educate myself enough to vote responsibly, but I don’t consider myself to be extremely political by any means. The thing that I feared most when Trump was elected was not the man himself (though, obviously, terrifying), but the kinds of people that would feel empowered by it. There are millions of sexist, racist, homophobic etc. people who are coming out of the woodwork because it’s their time to shine. It’s terrifying. The van attack in Toronto happened where I used to catch the bus for school. The shooting on the Danforth happened outside of my best friend’s house. It is hard to ignore, and hard for me to see the other side of the argument. I just don’t understand how people can defend that point of view at this stage. I don’t know what else it could possibly take.
Is it getting easier or harder for women in music do you think?
It’s hard. It’s very hard having a college education with almost 10 years of professional experience under my belt trying to convince someone I might know what I’m talking about. It’s hard fighting with sound techs who assume they know better. It’s hard trying to find a way to promote the show without alerting the man who has been stalking you where you’ll be that night. It’s hard trying to come up with a response to condescending bullshit. Music is already so challenging and taxing, and being a very timid, blonde, girl with an acoustic guitar makes it so much more incredibly hard. If I were to really dive into this question, I could write a novel. I hope everyone just talks to their non-men friends about this and listens.
We cover a lot of artists from Canada, have you got any hot tips?
Andrew Nunno, The Lifers, Tragedy Ann, Annie Sumi, Jake Feeney, Saffron A!! I am forgetting thousands of names, but that is a great place to start 🙂
If you could change one thing in the world right now what would it be?
I would make society more empathetic and sensitive as a whole.
When is the last time you cried?
Saturday – a small wedding ceremony at City Hall in Toronto. The bride and groom sang a call-response song as she walked down the aisle. So beautiful and pure and sweet. Not a dry eye in the house!
What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you recently?
I ran into the paramedic who took me to the hospital when I got my hand stuck in a blender.
What is your favourite painting or work of art?
Big question!! I am a big art history nerd. Mother and Child by Gustav Klimt. Not cropped.
What other artists have been your biggest influences?
Many different ones over the years! Said the Whale, Mother Mother, Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers, Regina Spektor, Joni Mitchell, Bahamas, the Beatles.
What colour is February?
I think it must be lavender.
What’s the best phrase you’ve picked up in another language?
I love the sign for soda-pop. Left hand is an almost-fist, right hand’s middle finger goes into the fist, then right open palm taps the top of the fist. I always follow it up with party, which is two “hang looses”. Soda-pop party!
What question would you like to be asked that you never are and what would your answer be?
What is the greatest adventure that music has taken you on? I have too many answers!! I started putting together a scrapbook about it! But the ultimate adventure was meeting and falling in love with my best friend, Andrew. We met at an audition for a music festival, we both got a slot, and fell in love over the festival weekend. That was almost 5 years ago. Best day ever!
How do feel about performing live?
I really enjoy it under perfect conditions. It’s almost never that.
Did your parents ever play golf?
My dad does.
Did you have any strange habits as a youngster?
I used to stand by the side of the road outside of church and flash passerbys as a toddler. My mom always dressed me and my sisters in matching frilly dresses, and I would just– WHOOOOSH! over my head as cars drove by.
Please tell us a joke.
Knock knock – who’s there – Dimitri – Dimitri who – Dimitri is where the hamburgers grow.
photos by Andrew Nunno