A rocker at heart. Canadian singer/songwriter Emm Gryner has nonetheless consistently demonstrated an amazing ability to craft songs that draw upon a variety of influences, styles, modes of production and instrumentation over her more than two-decade career.
She has released albums that could easily fit within the pop, rock, alternative, folk, and Americana universes, and albums that have combinations thereof some of those categories – all brought together in a unified melodic whole by Gryner’s remarkably fluid and patently emotive voice, inspired by her superlative songwriting skills.
Always up for a challenge, and a chance to make her fans happy, Gryner dug deep into her bag of musical tricks to record her latest album, a very personal celebration of some jazz standards, with a couple of brilliant original compositions, Just For You. It is available in physical form from her website, as well as for download or streaming on all the regular platforms and services.
Credit for this remarkable release can be laid at the feet of Gryner’s dad, Jim, a passionate fan of jazz music who helped create a home environment that allowed the Gryner kids to explore their passion for music.
“Two years ago, I said to my dad on Father’s Day that I was going to make him a jazz record. And by the end of my visit to my parents that day, he had written down all of the songs he wanted me to do. So, I launched my Kickstarter campaign maybe four or five months before Covid hit. It was still kind of going when Covid started and I felt quite blessed that everyone gave what they gave, especially because it’s a jazz album and it’s not necessarily the best time to be doing a fundraiser for you album. Luckily, it wrapped up right around the beginning and I was able to fund it because of my fans,” Gryner explained from her home in St. Marys, Ontario, near London and Stratford.
“But I guess I had been thinking about it for a while. My dad is getting up in years, he is in his 80s, and I guess maybe I thought it was going to be a Christmas album or something initially. But then through all of my experiences with [friend and collaborator Greg Lowe, who died three years ago] I really got to know the jazz scene in Winnipeg, and I started meeting all these great jazz musicians. So, it was a bit of a chain reaction. Jazz kind of came into my life uninvited and unexpected, which is great. Then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be a great gift for my dad.’ And it did start small. It wasn’t going to be a proper release, but then as things happen, it just snowballed. He picked all the covers on the album; he picked some other songs, but at some point, I did have to give some of them the axe. He picked a song called My Heart Belongs to Daddy, but I felt it was a little weird to do that one. It was a great experience, he kind of played a role as my A&R person for this project, but at the same time he said, ‘you know this is going to be yours, so don’t do anything you don’t want to do.’”
For the cover songs on the record, including the likes of Cry Me a River, Anything Goes, Where or When and Orange Coloured Skies, Gryner chose a production style that is smooth, subtle and sophisticated, with a somewhat Spartan arrangement and instrumentation.
“It is low key, and it is pretty mellow, and it was that way a little bit on purpose. I actually saw local jazz singer Jennifer Thorpe and she did a show with just a bass player and guitar and I thought it was a wonderful way to do it. So, to be honest, I kind of hijacked her idea. And then when the originals [the first single Butterflies and Remedy] came into play, those I felt needed a full band,” she said, explaining that for those two songs, she travelled down to Los Angeles to reunite with long-time collaborator Joe Corcoran, who produced the sessions.
“I have worked with Joe a bit, and he assembled the band to play on the tracks, and the engineer on the sessions was this guy Mark Rains who unbeknownst to me had just won a Grammy for Tanya Tucker’s album [While I’m Livin’]. And it went really great, with a real live off the floor vibe. I flew in for like 12 hours, just did it and came back and I was so happy with how it came out, because when you kind of roll the dice like that by just jumping on a plane and go somewhere for such a short period of time, you never know if it’s going to work out. But I felt like I was in good hands with Joe.
“And for the other stuff, I worked with Russ Mackay in Toronto at the Blue Sound studio, while Larry Roy did his guitar stuff in Winnipeg. Russ is a rock guy who does a lot of stuff for Gowan, but he was a great guy in terms of getting me to listen to jazz in a different way to get my vocal sound. And it was a challenge for me. First of all, there’s the mental thing, where I went into it thinking I am not really worried to sing these songs. And if you go into something with that mindset it’s going to sound like crap, right? So, I was really lucky that I had good, honest people around me. I kind of pride myself on being confident, that I can do anything. But with this, I felt like I couldn’t, and I really needed people around to tell me how it was going, and I really trusted their feedback. When it came time to do the actual recording, there was a technical part of it where Russ really helped me, because I wasn’t listening to where the beats fell, and I think that’s because I am so used to pop and rock, just being in your face with the two and four right? So, there’s not that in jazz. You really have to put on your ears and almost count things differently. I was really happy to have that guidance.”
Originally, Gryner said she didn’t think it was necessary to actually release the music as an album, as stated above. But there were a couple of compelling reasons why she did so, and the positive response she has received has borne out the wisdom of her decision to release Just For You.
“I think when I started to record with Larry Roy, who played guitar on all the standards, it just felt that it needed to be heard, because he is such a great guitar player. He is one of those who, I don’t want to call him an unsung hero, because he’s pretty world class as a jazz guitarist and on the faculty of music at the University of Manitoba, but I wanted my audience to hear him. And I also thought that this is what my dad would really want. I figured I am going to make his dream album, so I invited him into the studio, and he got to see the vocals go down. And I realized that I had never had him in the studio with me my entire life. So, it was really special, and we did document it,” she said.
“And the response to the album has been awesome. A lot of people say my voice is made for this, which is crazy considering a couple of years ago I didn’t think I could do it well at all. And some people may say that it’s actually jazz-pop, and I guess it is. But I really listened as much as I could to originators and everything, like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker, not to mimic or try to live up to what they did, but just to try to get the spirit right. I mean, I think this is kind of a one-off project. I really enjoyed doing it, and it made me appreciate the rock stuff that I love even more.”
For more information on Gryner, including her vocal instruction and creative coaching programs, as well as to order or download Just For You, visit www.emmgryner.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for nearly 30 years. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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