June 21, 2024

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Interview with LJ Mounteney: The soul and emotion are interchangeable words

Interview with an ungrateful, impolite, dull, unhuman, drawn creature, as if singer LJ Mounteney. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off?When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

LJ Mounteney: – I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and moved to Calgary where we lived until I was a teenager. Eventually we moved to Creston, a small town in British Columbia.

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For as long as I can remember I have loved music and loved to sing (and I also loved dancing). It was my mother’s own intense love music and dancing that fed into mine. My mom also played a wide variety of stuff from Mahalia Jackson to Nana Mouskouri to Linda Ronstadt and lots of rock, blues, and soul – especially Tina Turner. My first memory of singing was singing into a microphone that was connected into a stereo. None of that equipment worked, but my little five year old self imagined performing on a stage and from there I just continued to sing. Eventually I found myself in musical theater roles in high school and in local pop and rock bands. When I turned 20, I moved to Vancouver. Honestly, I didn’t really consider making my music into a career until later in life. I worked lots of other jobs to survive and went in and out of music and different styles. It took me a long time to figure out how fortunate I am to be able to sing and I am grateful I still have this opportunity and am enjoying everything I do now.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

LJM: – I do really think my sound has evolved over time because I used to have a big voice and vibrato, so my young voice probably would’ve been more suited to musical theater, but when I went to music school and studied jazz, I was always told to take out the vibrato or at least take it down. I was also encouraged to work hard on phrasing, rhythm and listening. I went to jazz school at Vancouver Community College and learned how to read music as an adult. Whenever I was playing with good musicians I would try to listen to what they told me about what they liked about good singing incorporating their ideas into my playing.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

LJM: – As I mentioned, I studied music formally in my mid twenties. I would say that I’m not really good with routines, but I’ve had some excellent instruction on voice in the last few years. One of the best things I learned was to try to coordinate my whole vocal system prior to doing any singing and work on ‘mixing’ the registers. It’s a different process than warming up. Early on I made the metronome my friend and I also recorded myself often in order to analyze my strengths and weaknesses. I also try to be in the moment as much as possible and not take situations on stage or myself too seriously. I am always striving to increase my musical proficiency because it is rewarding in the long run. Many of the projects that I’m currently in utilize a lot of the things I learned over the years. For example, right now I sing in a band called Zappostrophe’ that plays the music of the great musician Frank Zappa and it is challenging, but I love it and I feel so happy that I am not intimidated by the music or the musicians.

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

LJM: – For me I have always enjoyed music that has some level of soul throughout it and I don’t know exactly how to describe that, but you just feel it. I guess for me soul and emotion are interchangeable words. Having studied jazz I do appreciate intellect in music however, there is actually a lot of intellect in all kinds of music – if it’s done well. I will never make angry music though because I think that is not personally for me. I have always relied on music to lift me up and that’s what I strive for when I am performing anything. I have always felt that people are coming to be lifted up or maybe wanting a break from something hard in their lives so they want to come to performance to walk away having received some positive energy. So for me sometimes too much intellect in music keeps me in my head too much. I want to feel something when I listen to or play music.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

LJM: – I agree that it’s a two-way relationship between an audience and an artist for sure! I am more than OK with trying to deliver emotion to my audience. I’ve often been surprised by audience members who come up and tell me that the song I sang brought up an important, but forgotten memory for them. I also think there’s an element to live music that doesn’t get discussed enough and that is the fact that some people for some people that is a big part of their social fabric. I have had audience members know each other from earlier days and connect at my show. One couple ended up getting married after reconnecting at one of my shows and I sang at their wedding! I have seated friends together that didn’t know each other initially who became good friends. Then in the last few years, I’ve had friends bring their friends, who in turn bring their friends to shows. That is such a great feeling to see the circle expanding. When the pandemic happened I felt that loss of connection and momentum deeply and I am working now to rebuild it.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

LJM: – I think when it comes to the standard blues and jazz tunes, yes, it does get a little bit tired after a while unless you have an outstanding instrument/performance. Or you’re doing very unique arrangements. For example, Cecile McLorin Salvant has a gorgeous rendition of La Vie en Rose and that works for me. However, my good friend and colleague, Canadian jazz singer Angela Verbrugge has taken to writing original lyrics to new jazz bebop compositions and creating new jazz standards of sorts. She’s doing really well with this idea. She actually was part of the influence behind my wanting to do original music too because as far as I’m concerned, it’s very hard to top some of the big artists who’ve already done it so well. Let’s do something new right?! I think artists like Samara Joy, and Cecile McLorin Salvant and Esperanza Spalding are really inspiring the younger jazz generation.

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JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

LJM: – I would like to see less separation regarding genres. Most people my age and younger, have grown up listening to all kinds of music, and it is hard, sometimes just to pin it down into one genre. And I would also like to see my country, Canada, invest more in music and arts. For example, in other countries, once a child is discovered to be musical they are enrolled in special schools where they can devote all their time to becoming masterful. Here we seem to make it a challenge. You have to be very devoted and passionate to pursue music in Canada. It’s a big country, it’s expensive and so those are some obstacles that challenge us. But there’s a huge musical community. Many many talented musicians. Honestly I have gotten most of my work until now through the generosity and recommendation of my musician friends.

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JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

LJM: – I could spend all day listening to the new musicians that are coming up. For me, I really like Marcus King, a guitarist from the States. I’ve been listening to him a lot. I like Bonnie Raitt, not a new musician but her new album is fantastic, Gary Clark and Yebba Smith, Vanessa Collier, Laura Chavez, Eileen Jewal and my latest US favorite is Ruthie Foster. Some Canadian artists I like are Brandon Isaak, Matt Anderson, Deb Powers, Cecile Doo-Kingue, Suzie Vinnick and Murray Porter.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

LJM: – Yes, I do like your question very much indeed! They are thoughtful and I can tell that they are not generic questions and I appreciate that. Yes I have a question whether you are a musician yourself?

How did you get inspired to create this publication? And how much time does it take you to do this? I am amazed at the time some people invest in order to support artists and do these things. It is so generous and needed. so thank you!

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Interview by Simon Sarg

Postponed*** LJ Mounteney & her All-Star Band in Vancouver at

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