Ruth Moody

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By Jen Zoratti

When The Wailin’ Jennys went on hiatus in 2009, Ruth Moody could have given her soaring soprano a well-deserved rest. But the singer/songwriter saw the break as an opportunity to do something she’d always wanted to do: release a solo album. Little did she know that she’d be embarking on a full-fledged solo career.

The Garden — an intimate, affecting collection of Americana-flavoured songs — was released to great critical acclaim in 2010, and went on to be nominated for a Juno Award, a Western Canadian Music Award, and three Canadian Folk Music Awards. The title track was the fourth most-played song on North American Folk Radio in 2010.

And the accolades don’t stop there. Earlier this year, she received top honours in the International Songwriting Competition. “Storm Comin’”, off The Jennys’ album Bright Morning Stars, took the top spot in the gospel category, while “Cold Outside”, off The Garden, landed a semi-final spot in the folk category. That’s no small feat: this year’s competition received over 16,000 entries from 112 countries.

“It’s always an honour to be recognized for something you work hard at,” Moody says. “It’s a nice thing to be acknowledged for — and, of course, it’s not just me.

The song that won was on The Jennys’ record so it’s definitely a Jennys prize. It’s nice when someone says you’re doing a good job. It’s affirming.”

Doubly affirming is the fact that, barely a month prior to the ISC announcement, Bright Morning Stars was named Roots and Traditional Album of the Year at the Juno Awards in Ottawa. “We certainly weren’t expecting it,” Moody says.

Moody, meanwhile, has still found time to tour heavily in North American as well as through the U.K. and Ireland with the Transatlantic Sessions tour as part of the renowned Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Scotland — an experience Moody calls “life changing”.

With all these accomplishments — and kilometres — under her belt, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago, Moody was a green, wide-eyed solo performer.

“I guess it was pretty fresh,” she says with a laugh. “It’s been an amazing journey. I did my Canadian release tour, then The Jennys released Bright Morning Stars, and now we’re on another hiatus so I’m back to focusing on solo stuff more.”

It’s been a whirlwind to say the least. Still, Moody has been able to find balance between both gigs — as she puts it, one informs the other.

“I think it’s important for artists to vary their work,” she says. “With the Jennys, it’s this amazing collaboration with the girls and we get to sing off each other. In a case like that you just pool your strengths. With this, I’ve had to challenge myself in ways I haven’t before.”

One of the biggest challenges Moody had to face was singing in the spotlight without her beloved Jennys.

“Being a solo frontwoman was always something I’ve subconsciously avoided,” she says. “So, it’s been good for me to conquer that fear. A friend said to me, ‘Once you do it, you’ll know you can do it.’ Now, it’s very different.

I don’t have that fear anymore. I feel like I’ve learned so much as a performer.”

Success has brought new challenges, particularly when it comes to songwriting. Moody says she’s beginning to feel the weight of her estimable catalogue.

“I’m going to start a new record this fall,” she says, “but I’m finding more and more it’s hard; now that it’s a job, you have to set aside time for it. When I was younger and I hadn’t made a career out of it, it was easy to not let your brain get in the way. The further you go, the more you carry with it. The stakes get higher, so you avoid or procrastinate. I’m trying to let that go. Accept it, and let it go.”

Moody says that writing and recording The Garden, meanwhile, was a remarkably pressure-free project, despite the fact there were expectations built in by virtue of Moody being a Wailin’ Jenny.

“I think that’s because I wasn’t intentionally starting a solo career,” she says. “I had written most of these songs without thinking of what their purpose. I wasn’t

consciously writing a solo album, so the more analytical brain wasn’t getting in the way. It was a very creative time, and when you give yourself space, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. I didn’t have that self-consciousness— and I don’t really now.

“I think it’s just scary to release a second album,” she adds with a laugh.

It’s a challenge Moody is ready and willing to meet head on. It’s another chance to vary her work and push herself further and, while scary, this veteran would have it no other way.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” she says. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘Am I insane?’ But I feel like I’m a lifer. Not that I’m opposed to doing something else, but I feel like I still have songs to sing. To see something you’ve created out there in the world and know it’s affecting people — that’s very gratifying.”

Although Ruth Moody is a longtime member of a commercially and critically successful band, this Wailin’ Jenny felt a little lost and out of touch when it came to starting her solo career.

“With the Jennys, we’re a well-oiled machine,” she says. “With the solo stuff, I needed help. The music industry had changed so much in the past 10 years.”

Once again in the position of being an emerging artist, she started attending professional development workshops — in which experts from all areas of the business deliver timely and information sessions — to get reacquainted with the industry.

“It’s amazing to have access to people who have knowledgeable answers to your questions,” she says.

In 2009, Moody also participated in Manitoba Music and the Songwriters Association of Canada’s inaugural SongWorks session — an initiative designed to bring professional songwriters and artists together to create new Canadian songs for upcoming recording artists’ releases. “We Can Only Listen,” the tune she penned with Royal Canoe’s Matt Peters, was included on her 2010 JUNO nominated solo album, The Garden.

“That was an amazing experience,” she says. “It was my first co-writing experience. I got to know a bunch of people in the community that I hadn’t had the chance to meet.”

Post album release, Moody has made good use of Manitoba Music’s market development and Market Access Program, which is designed to assist Manitoba artists and music industry professionals in career development, and enhance their presence at professionally organized music industry conferences and showcases. Moody recently attended two Manitoba Music showcases in New York (September, 2011) and Los Angeles (May, 2012). Travel assistance is a big help, of course — otherwise many artists simply couldn’t afford the opportunity — but Moody says it’s also reassuring to know you have someone in your corner, especially if you’re going it alone.

“It allows you to do things you simply couldn’t do as a solo artist,” she says. “For example, in L.A., they were out there on the frontlines networking for us and with us — which is better than me calling up people and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to meet for coffee.’

“I love meeting people and I’m not afraid to put myself out there — but you can’t really do that if there’s no event to do that at,” she adds with a laugh.

Originally published in Manitoba Music’s newsletter vol. 21.2

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