Decorated Canadian Folk/Roots musician AV (Ann Vriend) is a two-time Maple Blues Awards “Cobalt Music Prize” recipient and is an Edmonton Music Award-winning artist, AV (Ann Vriend), unleashed her 3rd single, Anything I Know. Stay tuned for an album release as well!
My name is Deb, a 7-year award-winning volunteer photojournalist, columnist and now contributing Music Editor with Michael Bell’s The Wire MEGAzine. This entertainment source has been on the music scene, as a non-profit, since 1989, & is one of Canada’s longest-running entertainment tabloids. I am thrilled to forward you a few interview questions today, & welcome aboard.
Decorated Canadian Folk/Roots musician AV (Ann Vriend) is a two-time Maple Blues Awards “Cobalt Music Prize” recipient and is an Edmonton Music Award-winning artist. Celebrated for her vintage sounding, virtuosic, soaringly powerful vocals, & a soulful musical style influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse. Her award-winning songwriting abilities have garnered her significant attention in Canadian and international circles. The multi-instrumentalist seamlessly combines Folk, Roots, Blues, and Soul, and is well known for her musical dedication to social issues in Canadian society. Canadian artist AV (Ann Vriend) ain’t too bad at the piano, either. She has been delivering her undeniably unique brand of old-school, inner-city soul to audiences around Europe, Oceana, Asia, and North America throughout her under-the-radar but consistent award-winning, critically acclaimed career.
DEB: Q. 1. When did you realize music was going to be a huge part of your life?
Ann Vriend: “That is a good question! I think by the time I consciously decided it already had been for a long time– I was always fooling around on musical instruments from an early age and it never really stopped. I think deciding after high school to make music my major in university was really a bold move, because I had really good grades academically and I come from an academic family, so it was more assumed I would follow that kind of a path. Music around here is kind of understood as a non-serious side-hobby that you do like a non-athlete might have as an attitude about jogging– it’s not something you actually try to do for a job– and certainly not original music, and being a performer of that original music. That seemed pretty crazy– so it was definitely a scary choice to make. And I didn’t even really understand then just how scary it really is once you really seriously go for it and try to stick with it– which probably is a good thing, else maybe I would have chickened out and not done it lol.”
DEB: Q. 2. How would you describe your sound?
Ann Vriend: “That’s a weird one– it’s tempting to talk about genres or “sounds like” or influences– which really anyone can observe and say for themselves, based on their frames of reference. Over time though I think people do always know it’s me, no matter what genre I do or what production style– and in part, it’s because of my voice that apparently is quite identifiable, but also I think more metaphorically about what a “voice” is– what you believe in, fight for, or how you uniquely articulate what you’re trying to say. I’d like to think that’s also why people always know it’s me if they hear a song and don’t know for sure it’s me they’re hearing– that I have a “voice” in the more metaphorical way. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, though– you’d really have to ask them!”
DEB: Q. 3. Who would you say inspires your songwriting the most, then and now?
Ann Vriend: “It’s so all over the place. I can list who I listened to in different eras of my life and dissected and intimately know the most. But also tons of things outside of music and writing also are inspiring– my neighborhood, for example. Conversations. Important relationships. Traumatic events. Movies you watch. Thoughts you have on a bike ride. Really it’s endless. I’ve written songs while washing the dishes and in the middle of the night waking up with a melody stuck in my head– and honestly, those songs are often better than what I write at the piano. I think being a good writer isn’t so much what inspires you, but having the eye or the ear to notice that all of life has something to say if you look/listen closely enough. It’s all there– it’s your job to see and find it, and then put it in such a way that it grabs people’s attention and hearts.”
DEB: Q. 4. Growing up in a household that encouraged critical thinking and challenged the status quo, you have always written songs about confusion, searching, and questioning — of yourself, and the culture around you. The outcome is what you half-seriously, half-jokingly call “existentialist gospel” drawing musically from the emotionally intense and rhythmic gospel and soul styles of African American culture, as well as from your parents’ vinyl ‘70s folk/pop collection. It is with a huge, respectful nod to your influences that you address the social issues that face yourself and the community of your somewhat notorious inner-city Edmonton neighborhood of McCauley; in which there is a high concentration of people suffering from extreme forms of trauma and abuse; often resulting in addiction, mental illness, stigmatization, neglect, and further abuse. Your own self-examination in response to this is the subject matter of your newest album and its title track, “Everybody Matters.” Take us on a deep stroll through your song-writing process and how this album and its title track, Everybody Matters, and your newest tune, ‘Anything I Know‘, and how they truly came to be? You are a powerful vocalist with an undeniable passion for writing and performing music that you feel an undeniable connection to. Through your gospel and r&b inspired, old-school sound, your mission is to bring light to the social and economic issues she witnesses every day in your own community. Are there other hits you penned that focus on social and political issues?
Ann Vriend: “Yeah, the last few albums and singles have been inspired by living in this neighborhood for over a decade now. As I write this there is a lady down the street yelling and throwing things at the side of a drug house because they won’t open up the door and let her in. Earlier this evening the street was blocked off to both lanes of traffic by police for something– I didn’t even bother looking to see what– it happens every other week, usually with the ominous yellow police tape put up like a new fence. Ambulances and fire trucks are stopped on one or the other end of the street pretty much on the hour– none of us ever come out and look or even notice anymore. Yesterday I had to text my next-door neighbor to let him know 2 people were camped out and injecting needles on his front porch. My garbage bin was stolen last week, the week before the wheelbarrow I was borrowing from my neighbor was stolen. It goes on and on. There’s no way all that added up over 10 years doesn’t have an effect on what you think about. When you are surrounded by people in a society who are not coping well with living in that society you eventually start to wonder why it is that there are such a vast amount of people not managing our society at ALL. You start to ask yourself questions about what kind of society produces that. On the flip side, I’ve seen so many people saving lives- be it junkies or drug dealers or pimps or street nurses or moms pushing babies in strollers. I’ve had so many people help me with yardwork wanting nothing but just conversation in return. I’ve had people return stolen things and leave gifts on my front step afterward for weeks. I’ve had homeless people insist on overpaying for CDs, and cheers and applause from guys who’ve lost their limbs to frostbite. I’ve had neighbors who pay for their phone minutes with calling cards to make sure I’m ok, and endless amounts of mind-blowing conversations while I pull the endless dandelions from the dirt in my front yard, or clean up the endless garbage that drifts in. My faith in humanity gets shattered and destroyed constantly around here, often on the same day. There is a lot to mull over and a lot to unravel. I’m pretty sure this neighborhood will supply writing material for several lifetimes.”
DEB: Q. 5. Contrary to popular belief, making it in the art of music isn’t merely a game of luck, as it requires talent, strategy, dedication, and determination based on your vision and goals. Some artists seem reluctant to speak of just how frustrating and baffling the whole experience of navigating the general music realm is, let alone add in the restrictions that COVID-19 places on our lives, or how hard it is to still be ambitious about getting their art recorded, seen, or sold. Outside the releases of your current album and the title track – Everybody Matters, you also unleashed singles Mine, All Mine, and as of October 22nd, 2021, you unleashed your 3rd single “Anything I Know,” which is a vintage Soul and Gospel style love song inspired by her community and was co-produced by esteemed Canadian producer, Chris Birkett. which will be sure to delight current and soon-to-be fans, alike. What are some other ways you have kept your fans engaged throughout the last 18 months during COVID-19?
Ann Vriend: “The main way is that I had weekly free concerts on my front porch every Sunday the weather and pandemic restrictions would allow. In total, I had almost 60 concerts– some solo, but mostly with a bunch of singers and other musicians, and often special guests and/or an open stage afterward. I filmed most of the concerts and posted parts nearly every week so that fans not in my city could see what I was up to. It was a way of keeping up my performance chops when touring was suddenly off the table, but it rapidly also became a thing that meant a lot to people– including me– who really missed live music for more of a spiritual and/or social need. Over time it ended up a consistent ritual and a needed social and emotional outlet that helped keep us sane and connected in such a weird and isolated time. It also became clear pretty quickly that it meant a lot to the neighborhood that something positive was going on, HERE, in such a notorious place in the city, that people from other parts of the city were coming to. Lots of people are scared of coming to our neighborhood– or of some of the people here. But over time there was sort of this unspoken thing that developed that everyone wanted to kind of show to the suburban people that it’s not really that scary here; that people can be polite and respectful– and in all 50 + concerts there was not one violent or scary confrontation. There were people that passed out or shouted incoherent things– yes. But never did anyone threaten or harm a soul. There was an overdose– which was very disturbing to everyone not used to seeing that- and luckily the person was revived and walked away before the summoned ambulance could get here. But I think it made the neighborhood proud that there was something happy and positive here, that we could offer — not a handout that we got handed down to us– but that WE could give other people. I learned a lot about empowerment and a lot about the shame of handouts. People always want to trade a service for a thing rather than just getting the thing. The boulevard always got cleaned up, chairs always got offered– songs and spontaneous performances, too. Over the 50 concerts, we entertained thousands of people.”
DEB: Q. 6. What is the best thing about performing to a live audience? As well, after almost a 2-year hiatus due to the worldwide pandemic, how does it feel to return to live music once again?
Ann Vriend: “Well– that’s the thing– I feel like I didn’t really take a hiatus at all. In fact, because there were so fewer emails and logistics to plan for non-porch shows and tours, and marketing and admin thereof, I ironically had a chance to do MORE music than in the “before times”, and for no real “end goal” except that I really do love music and making it with people– and not just professional musicians, but a wide spectrum of people from all different levels of ability and experience. What I hope is that if things go back to “normal” that I somehow can find a way to keep that sort of “music for the sake of it” thing going in my life to some extent– because if I’m not careful I could see it being only sort of utilitarian and results-based only again, and I realize a part of me dies when I only do music for those reasons.”
DEB: Q. 7. What would you say has been your career highlight thus far? Also, what is next for AV (Ann Vriend)?
Ann Vriend: “Hmmm. I have some kind of name dropping or accolades that I feel would be the most unimaginative things to say as an answer, but really I think I could say that having certain people message me in the pandemic and say how much my music meant to them– live or recorded– and how it got them through a tough spot or uplifted them helped me feel like I have a purpose and a point for all the struggle and sacrifice it takes to try to be the musician that I strive to be. I have a lot of things next– releasing the full album early in 2022, a 6-week tour of Europe in the spring, festivals in the summer, more videos, more singles, blah blah– but really what’s next in a simpler way of saying it is that I will do my best to keep trying to be the musician that I strive to be, which means pushing hard to make a standard of quality art– in music, in videos, in interviews, in social media posts– whatever I do– that helps people think and feel and connect intensely with themselves and other people. That is the whole point to being a musician or artist of any sort–and so in the loud and distracting times we live in I have to always try to remember to not lose focus on that.”
Fans can stay in tune with Ann Vriend by visiting her social platforms below: