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Mo Kenney Operates On a Lower Mood Level

Mo Kenney humbly talked to us about her new album and owning a pet goat.

Just a few half-melted ice cubes and a couple sips of watery Clamato were all that remained of her Caesar when I climbed the stairs to the hellishly hot rooftop patio where she was quietly sitting, looking at her iPhone. “I’m just nursing a hangover here,” she said, smiling with a pleasant, alluring sort of tiredness, straw-ing at the cold remnants of her cocktail. It was my first time sitting down with the award-winning, internationally recognized, singer-songwriter from small-town Nova Scotia – Morgan, known better as Mo Kenney.

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The 24-year old's sophomore record, In My Dreams, hits shelves on September 30th, and, for the last couple months, she’s been anticipating its release, keeping busy playing shows, moving in with her girlfriend and getting to know her new neighbourhood in Halifax’s “Darkside” – Dartmouth.

The humbly talented, approachable-yet-not, boyish, beautiful songstress usually doesn’t like to get too personal with what she divulges about her private life to complete strangers, but, whether it was the heat or the hangover, she let me inside of her world for one very sweaty afternoon.

What have you been up to lately?
I played a few festivals this summer, but other than that, ever since we finished the record I’ve kind of been taking it easy.

How much was Joel Plaskett involved in the new album?
A lot. Yeah, he played all the drums and bass, I played all the electric guitars. We kind of took turns. I forget who played Wurli and who played Rhodes, but we went back and forth on the organ stuff.

Did the rest of your band play on it as well, or was it just you guys?
It was just us. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what I wanted on it, so we just kinda experimented with stuff together, just him and I.

The new album – how is it different from your debut album?
The debut, I think, was more folky, you know? This one is just sort of more based around guitar and voice. I didn’t really play with a band on the first one, but I’ve been playing with the band a lot more lately and that’s kind of reflected in this record. It’s heavier and it’s more of a production.

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A lot of your songs, both old and new, detail some sort of sadness or discontent, even “The Happy Song,” which, lyrically, isn't really that happy. Do you find it easier to write songs that showcase a darker side of humans?
I find me, as a person in general, I’m not really super happy all the time. So, I think that’s why a lot of my songs are kind of more down I guess. It’s what I draw from – it’s the well.

Why do you think you’re not generally a happy type of person?
I don’t know. I’m not sad or anything, I just feel like some people operate on more of a lower mood level than other people do.

How did you meet Plaskett?
I met Joel when I was a teenager. I was recording at the Shambala School in Halifax. I didn’t go there but I knew some people who did, and there was a little recording studio. Joel came in to listen to some of the music we were working on and talk to us about music for a bit, and then he went on his way. I think I was 17 or 18, and then, on my 20th birthday I got a call from his manager, who’s my manager now, and she invited me to this song camp. I had no idea how she knew who I was, ‘cause I hadn’t been doing anything. I played the occasional open mic in town but I was making pizzas and working at the dollar store. I wasn’t doing anything, and I couldn’t believe he remembered me from like, three years before, but she said Joel recommended me.

And you got that phone call on your 20th birthday?
Yeah, it was just coincidence, they didn’t know.

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What was your biggest musical influence growing up?
I remember finding out about Death Cab for Cutie when I was like 13 or something and I fell in love with them. I think it’s ‘cause I used to watch the OC and their songs were on there. That was a big one, and then Elliott Smith was like, the biggest. I heard him for the first time in the Royal Tenenbaums. His song “Needle in the Hay” is in a really dark part where the tennis player, Richie, is like killing himself, and then the Elliott Smith song comes on. It’s awesome.

What’s one of the best live shows you’ve ever seen?
I got to see Paul McCartney when he came here, that was pretty badass. But, like, Joel puts on a fuckin’ kick-ass live show, he is so deadly. He’s perfected his live show I think.

You must’ve listened to him growing up?
Yeah.

Was that cool? To meet up after knowing all his music for so long?
Yeah, me and all my friends, we loved Joel. When we were teenagers, we all hopped in a car and went to go see him at the Marquee one New Years. There was an all-ages show and I remember puking. We were packed like sardines and I puked and everyone moved away from me and I was just alone with my puke on the floor.

And that was the moment that defined the rest of your life.
Yeah, I asked him later, “do you remember seeing me?" He said no.

”Untouchable” is a song on the new album, which kind of makes sense, because I’ve been to a handful of your shows and, off-stage you kind of have this really untouchable vibe you give off. Is that an intentional thing? It’s really sort of stoic and badass.
I don’t know. It’s good; it masks how anxious I am. That’s so funny. I feel like I’m super awkward and really the opposite of what you just said, so, that’s good I come off that way.

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The majority of your songs, if not all of them, are about love or it’s messy aftermath. Aside from your current relationship, since things seem to be good there, would you say you’re the heartbreaker or heartbroken, most often
Um… I guess, probably the heartbreaker, unfortunately. But who knows, that could change

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What is your main focus with your music right now?
I’m just trying to make my live show as good as it possibly can be. I think if you’re an artist and you’re creating, you should never be satisfied.

That seems to come part and parcel with making good music.
It’s a good thing, I think.

I was speaking to Matt Mays recently and he said he saw you at a party not long ago, walking around in some girls’ sparkly high heels. Is this something we'll be able to pay a bit more for at your upcoming shows, or?
That night, oh god. Yeah. We all went to a house party and I made some girl give me her high heels and I tried them on. I think Matt has pictures. There were many drinks involved prior.

I think he said they just had to put you in a cab after that.
Yeah. Pretty drunk.

What does the horizon look like for you right now?
I’m just gonna be on the road nonstop touring, so that’ll be my life.

In your first single off the new album, “Telephones,” you say "you listen to techno, I hate that stuff.” Do you really hate techno?
Yes, I really hate techno. But that’s not even my song, that’s a cover. It’s a Mardeen song. But, I do hate techno.

Hillary Windsor has been questionaing her sexuality and her musical preferences since she met Mo Kenney. She's on Twitter @hillarywindsor