As with her musical lineage of Catherine Durand, Les soeurs Boulay, and while we’re at it, Laurence Hélie, a gentle nature permeates Léa Jarry’s music; the four songs on her first EP, Entre-Temps, makes it very clear. Her voice is perfectly suited to her style of country-folk, where she plays the ukulele, piano, or guitar. Her style is the opposite of the type of country championed by the likes of Véronique Labbé or Guylaine Tanguay, artists much closer to the Nashville archetype.
“I don’t have a big, typical country voice, and I’ll never be a party girl like Shania Twain. Lyrics are very important to me,” she says when we meet, still excited that her first songs are being distributed by Rosemarie Records (Mara Tremblay, Pierre Guitard, Joseph Edgar, etc.).
Considering that Casey Musgraves’ calm, refined type of country music earned a 2019 Grammy Award, it’s clear that there are no longer any rules. Speaking of Nashville, at interview time, the native of Baie-Saint-Paul (a town of about 7,000 located about an hour’s drive northeast of Québec City) has just returned from a trip there. She spent a week at the SOCAN House in Music City, and dove head-first into this initiatial journey. She experienced no showcases or seminars, but got to measure the scope of her dream with humility and a sense of wonderment.
“I saw a ton of shows, spoke with a ton of people, I visited a few recording studios, and I took in the atmosphere – The Bluebird Café, the legendary Grand Ole Opry, etc.,” she says. “I would chat with musicians after their shows, asking them how they got to where they are. I realized that there’s room for everyone, even though one might get the impression that it’s a jungle. That reassured me. I felt like I’d finally found people like myself.”
The four songs she released on May 10, 2019, were co-produced with Kaïn’s newest member, multi-instrumentalist John-Anthony Gagnon-Robinette. Together, they refined everything in order to provide the perfect cocoon for Jarry’s voice, and her lyrics. The music is as rich as it is discreet. Two years of work during their free time, and the full-length album should be released in 2020.
“I’m a calm person, and we didn’t want to copy an existing formula, we wanted to produce our own flavour of country-folk,” says Jarry. “Inspiration isn’t rocket science. Sometimes I simply jot down titles as a starting point for a song. Sometimes I’m buying groceries, and I’ll look at a banana and get a flash of inspiration!”
The first single, “29, Saint-Adolphe” (a street in Baie-Saint-Paul) starts at a slow trot. She sings about her exile to Montréal, where she paid her dues as a backing vocalist for 10 years – alongside Gregory Charles and his Mondial Choral in Laval, which allowed her to share the stage with the likes of Louis-Jean Cormier and Isabelle Boulay. She also sang many times on the musical variety TV show En direct de l’univers. Meanwhile, she also graduated in singing from the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM).
“Montréal was a shock,” she says. “There were many shocks. Just seeing so many different faces every day seemed weird at first. I’d never seen any of these people before in my life, and the next day it was a whole other bunch of new faces! It was weird for someone like me, who’s used to knowing everyone. My first year there, I would take the bus back to Baie-Saint-Paul every weekend. I found it tough to find my place. Being outgoing and introducing myself didn’t come naturally to me.”
Then she talks about another song, “C’est mon tour” (“It’s My Turn”). “That’s me saying those words about the fact that I’m single, that it’s my turn to meet that special someone. I don’t know if it’s me or the guys, but it just wasn’t working!” she laughs. “Sometimes, there just isn’t the right applicant. Everyone around me was part of a couple. I was still in college, and I was searching for my own style, so “C’est mon tour” also became about my desire to make it in music.”
Now that she’s in her late 20s, does she feel like it’s going to be country music and nothing else? “It’s the music that’s been with me for my entire life,” she says. “I can’t see myself doing a 180, and starting to play electro-pop. I was truly going against the flow back in Baie-Saint-Paul. One might think country is popular there, but not at all! My parents listened to Jean Leloup or Lynda Lemay, so I didn’t have any references at home.”
Léa Jarry is an intriguing musician. Innovative? Only time will tell. Her next goal: small, intimate concerts in the fall of 2019.