Edmonton Duo Faith Healer’s ‘Try ;-)’ Reimagines Classic Rock As Dream Pop

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Faith Healer’s new album opens with what might be considered an ancient sound in 2017 — a busy dial tone on a landline kicks off the lead track “Waiting.” It’s one of the many analogue references and vintage callbacks woven through the fuzzy psych-pop of Try ;-), the band’s second full-length album, which comes out in just a few weeks via the Vancouver-based label Mint Records. While Jessica Jalbert’s debut album as Faith Healer, Cosmic Troubles was helmed by her with input and contributions from fellow Edmonton-based musician Renny Wilson, Try ;-) sees the two moving into a full partnership. Their sound is a distinct reimagining of serious rock elements through the more carefree lens of pop, splitting serious guitar solos with gauzy synths, and layering Jalbert’s airy vocals above it all.

This second record moves farther from the ornate flourishes and prevalent psychedelic elements of Jalbert’s debut, and pushes into more concise, clearer rock songs. But that doesn’t mean they’ve lost any of the fantastic, rubbery ’60s rock influences, blissed out power-pop, or hypnotic, deadpan delivery that made Faith Healer’s debut an immediate standout. Try ;-) builds off all the first record’s initial sauntering and turns that momentum into a bluesy swagger. Somewhere between dream pop and classic rock, that’s where Faith Healer intercedes. It’s one of the most varied albums I’ve heard in 2017 when it comes to influences, and Jalbert cites everything from Big Star to Bonnie Tyler as inspirations for her own work. There are elements of cathedral-like stillness, like on “Sterling Silver,” and psychotic country breakdowns, like “Might As Well,” which we’re premiering below.

“Might As Well” follows up the debut track “Light Of Loving” as only two tastes of the forthcoming record, so listen below to get a preview of this great new album, and read my conversation with Jalbert, which covers everything from sneaking out of her house as a teen, to her relationship as a solo artist working with Renny to their full-fledged partnership, and creating personal art in a time of political tumult.

Before we get into other stuff, the song we’re premiering today off the record is “Might As Well.” Can you talk a little bit about writing that one and how it fits into the larger context of the record?

Yes, this is one of the song that we recorded several times. There are other versions — we didn’t bother mixing them or anything — but there are other versions of this song that are a lot softer and more, like how the opening track, “Waiting” turned out. More in the easy-listening style. But then, it wasn’t really getting the point of the song across, so we tried it out in a more rocky honky-tonk way. When I listen to this song, I think it’s like a honky-tonk bar song. I love it. I think it’s one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to perform it. To me, it just sounds like a country bar song, or something like that. Except for the vocals, obviously, which… I can’t really pull that twang off.

The song is about how I used to sneak out of the house all the time when I was a kid. Because I lived in rural area, I’d sneak out and just walk around smoking cigarettes surrounded by farmland. I didn’t really have any friends, and there was no store, there was nothing for me to do. But, the window was just small enough that I could shimmy out of it. I would sneak out all the time, and just kind of wander around. Sometimes I’d only be in my underwear or something like that, and it felt so salacious. So the song is about a young person who’s trying to figure themselves out, and finally just figures out that they are who they are, and they might as well keep going.

It’s funny, you comparing it to a country bar song, because I was trying to explain what your music sounded like to one of my friends, and I think of it as a cross between dream pop and classic rock. I think that’s sometimes what country is, in way too, which I didn’t really think of that before.
I work in a record shop and people come in, and drop their records off for us to sell all the time. And every time, I’m like ‘What genre would you like it filed under in?’ Every single time they say, ‘Well, you know, it’s a little bit of everything.’ And I roll my eyes because it’s like just pick a genre! But I totally understand it, because with Faith Healer, I don’t fucking know either. I mean, I know my genre. I would go with pop-rock because that’s the section that would go in, but I still understand why people would ask that question, and it should be a really obvious one to answer.

But I’m also always scared that if I cite influence, if I’m like ‘You know what, I love Jimi Hendrix,’ then people are going to be like, ‘You think you fucking sound like Jimi Hendrix? Come on.’ I’m always scared of that, too, because I just think, I’m going to say that and people are going to be like, “Wow, you’re pretty lofty here. Think you’re going to sound like so-and-so,” or whatever. But I do love him, and I’m always going back to my mainstay favorites for influences. So, I’m always listening to Lou Reed, I’m always listening to Big Star and classic acts like that. But, it really took me a while to start digging a little bit deeper than those obvious answers and starting to listen to more, especially female vocalists. Like, Linda Ronstadt is someone I’ve been listening to lately. Bonnie Tyler, that kind of thing. Definitely acts that border the pop-country area as well.

It was great to hear some of these new songs live at Sled Island. I became a fan of you on your last album, and I remember one of the themes you discussed was about being a woman as a songwriter, trying to explain to people that you’re the creative force and not defined by working alongside a man, in this case your frequent collaborations with Renny Wilson, clearly feeling such a strong partnership with him but not wanting to be defined by that. Now, on this record, he is a full-fledged part of the band, so can we start there with that dynamic?

We’ve always worked really closely together, but I was certainly involved in music well before I started working with Renny. I invited him to play in my band when I was performing, not as Faith Healer, but just as my own name, before. And then he had access to this studio and wanted to try recording out so I paid him to help me record. For my first record, I paid him $1,000 and every Bob Dylan record that he didn’t have — I got it on the cheap like that because I had these records he wanted. But since the beginning of my recording music, aside from demos I’d done on my own, we’ve both really grown while working on my records specifically. Ours, I guess I should say now.

But there has always been this confusion because he’s a really dominating person. Renny has big ideas and he really doesn’t feel like anything could get in his way. He knows that he can do whatever he wants to and I’ve always really admired that about him. I think I like a dominating person in my life because it’s easy for me to think that I suck. Throughout my relationship with Renny he’s always been like, ‘No, you know, go for it. Just do this.’ Because we see eye-to-eye so much, I think that I’ve never felt like he’s pushing me in a direction I don’t want to go. I feel like he just knows, and he can recognize what I want to do, and he’s usually quite right about it. If he’s not, I’ll tell him. And then, he’ll just push me to do what it is I’ve said I want to do. I could use that in my life, and he really fulfills that need.

I think a lot of songwriters or musicians have that kind of relationship with someone else, a producer or a mentor etc., but it seems like the problem was you didn’t feel it was being represented fairly.

Well, yeah, at the same time I’ve definitely felt that, sometimes because of the difference in our personalities — me being a little bit quieter, and not that domineering, and him being really loud and abrasive sometimes — it’s come across as these are his projects, and I’m not really the driving force behind them. So, we noticed that when we put out Cosmic Troubles that people kept calling it a duo. It was kind of perplexing, not because we didn’t work together, but because I had never branded it that way, you know? I was like, ‘Why would you guys just assume this is a duo? It’s not. It’s my record.’

It feels kind of stupid that I went through so much work to emphasize that last time, because then, this time we’re like, ‘Let’s just do this together.’ His influence and his involvement in Cosmic Troubles was huge, so of course. I love that he was so loud about it, and talked about it so much. And, of course, it seemed like a duo album. It was just, we had never established that, so I was kind of grouchy at people for assuming it right off the bat. But now, I’m like, ‘You guys were right, it is a duo.’

You’ve talked a little bit about how this album is more straightforward than ever, and personally, I’ve been taking a lot of comfort in it. America has been pretty tumultuous lately in a politic sense, and that narrative often feels jammed into every piece of art or arts criticism. If it’s not directly about that, then it’s shoehorned to fit into that. Listening to this album, it felt like such a relief that it’s not political at all. It’s just someone’s story.

Obviously I’m on social media, and I see how things in the world. I think about how going to talk about 2016 and 2017 in twenty years — and it’s going to be somber. And it already is somber. Every once in a while I’ll think about it, and then I’ll try to say something, but then I sort of think, ‘My voice is not important in that area.’ A lot of this is not for me to speak on, it’s for me to act on, for sure. I really admire those who have really strong social media voices about all the things that are going on. Trump’s America is one thing, Canada is no fucking walk in the park, either. It’s not going that well. I think that the best thing that I know how to do, is not try and shove my voice into there, and not try and absolve myself in any way. I’m not the right person to speak about the politics of what’s going on in another country that, obviously, still directly affects me and my friends. But here’s the bottom line: I think people need to feel just human feelings sometimes, in spite of everything that is going on. I think that everybody still craves connection most.

Here’s Faith Healer’s fall tour dates in support of Try ;-):

09/08 — Edmonton, AB @ 9910
09/09 — Calgary, AB @ Circle The Wagons Festival
09/10 — Saskatoon, SK @ The Capitol
09/11 — Winnipeg, MB @ Handsome Daughter
09/12 — Thunder Bay, ON @ The Apollo
09/13 — Sudbury, ON @ Speakeasy
09/14 — Ottawa, ON @ Record Centre
09/15 — Montreal, QC @ Brasserie Beaubien (Pop Montreal)
09/16 — Toronto, ON @ Baby G
09/17 — Guelph, ON @ Take Time Vintage
09/19 — Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry *
09/20 — Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall *
09/21 — Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop *
09/22 — Detroit, MI @ Marble Bar *
09/23 — Columbus, OH @ Ace Of Cups *
09/25 — Washington, DC @ DC9 *
09/26 — Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery *
09/27 — Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s *
09/29 — New York, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg *
09/30 — Boston, MA @ Great Scott

Try is out 9/8 via Mint Records. Pre-order it here.