Discovered by Joel Plaskett at the age of 15, Mo Kenney has been singing and songwriting since the age of 14. She recently released her first self-titled album, and has since been touring with artists like Joel Plaskett, Ron Sexsmith, and Gordie Sampson, spreading her nimble finger-picking and clever lyrics all over North America.
In a patch of shade by the media tent at the 2013 Vancouver Folk Music Festival, I’m feeling nervous as anything to meet to one of the youngest – not to mention one of the most prodigally talented – artists playing this year, and while I’m busy vaguely wondering how I could avoid clasping my sweaty palm to Mo Kenney’s regular one (because you sweat less when you’re naturally cool) she wraps up the wrap she’s eating, takes three limber strides over to where I’m sitting, and the interview begins.
Vancouver Weekly: How’s it going?
Mo Kenney: Very well.
Vancouver Weekly: How are you taking the heat, because you’ve been wearing pants the whole weekend?
MK: I know… Yeah. I just never wear shorts because I feel like I look too weird in shorts because my legs are so skinny.
Vancouver Weekly: Never?!
Vancouver Weekly: But it’s so hot out!
MK: I know! I just don’t like wearing shorts… I don’t know why. But no, it’s been alright. I love the heat. It was way hotter in Nova Scotia. So I’m pretty used to it.
Vancouver Weekly: How are you liking the West Coast?
MK: It’s cool. I’ve only been here a couple times and I’ve never been to Vancouver before. I wanna move here now.
Vancouver Weekly: Oh! Well, what’s living in Nova Scotia like?
MK: Nova Scotia is awesome too, but… I’ve been there all my life, so it’d be cool to move somewhere else.
Vancouver Weekly: How does it feel to be such a young musician and playing at such a huge festival with all these other folk artists?
MK: It’s pretty cool. When I found out I was gonna come play here, I was pretty excited obviously, and, having never been to Vancouver before, I was pretty excited to be able to come see this place and play here and stuff. There’s been a lot of awesome artists playing this festival, so it’s kind of surreal… I’ve only been here a couple of days and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
Vancouver Weekly: You’re here for all three days this weekend?
MK: Yeah. It’s awesome. I’ve been doing tons of folk festivals this summer, so it’s kind of my life now. Festival hopping. It’s wicked.
Vancouver Weekly: So you’ve been playing since you were 14. Have you noticed a particularly drastic change in your lyrics?
MK: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Big change in my lyrics, and my guitar-playing and stuff like that too. It’s like everything has kind of… changed, which is a good thing. I think all musicians kind of… change. I don’t think anybody really writes the same kind of music forever because it’s kind of part of being an artist: changing, and growing, and doing new stuff… Keeping it interesting for yourself. It’s definitely – well, I hope it’s a lot better than it was when I was 14 because some of that stuff was not great.
Vancouver Weekly: Have you re-listened to any of the stuff you wrote when you were 14?
MK: Yeah I have tons and tons of notebooks that I keep everything in so I have tons of notebooks that I had when I was 14 that have all my old stuff in it, like poetry, and sometimes I’ll flip through it and be like “ugh…”
Vancouver Weekly: Have you ever reworked any of it?
MK: Yeah, I think I have. I can’t really remember a specific example or anything, but I think I’ve looked through it before and seen like a line or an idea or something like that that I’ve probably reworked or that sparked something else. For sure. That’s why it’s important to keep everything – you never know.
Vancouver Weekly: I have a friend who was telling me that at some point he tossed everything he had ever written in order to start fresh [Mo Kenney’s eyes widen.] Do you think you would ever be able to do something like that?
MK: Never. No. I’d never be able to do that. I have to keep it all. I’m kind of weird like that anyway, because I like to keep stuff like that. It’s kind of like… yeah I would never be able to throw it out just in case there was something I’d wanna use sometime.
Vancouver Weekly: If you had to be something other than a musician – which is probably unfathomable because you’ve been doing this for so long – but something came up and you had to change and be something else, what would you do?
MK: That’s a good question. I think I would probably… well it’s not a job, but I think I would be a hermit.
Vancouver Weekly: That would be super fun.
MK: Yeah I’d be okay with that. I like being alone. I think it would be cool to like… have. Some day I want to buy a piece of land like out in the middle of the woods in Nova Scotia somewhere, and just have like a… kind of sustainable place with solar-powered panels and a wind turbine and a garden. Yeah, that’s kind of my plan for the future. If I could do that right now, it would be awesome to just kind of go off and hide away and be a hermit forever…
Vancouver Weekly: Any animals on your hermit farm?
MK: Yeah. I would definitely have animals. I had a goat when I was a kid.
Vancouver Weekly: Really?!
Vancouver Weekly: They’re kind of scary.
MK: No they’re not! Okay, some of them are. The ones with horns and stuff are scary, but I had Nubian goats… They had like floppy ears. They’re the little ones. They don’t get very big. That’s what I had.
Vancouver Weekly: What did you do with it? What do goats do?
MK: Well I was living in the country at the time, and then my family moved the city, I guess. It’s not really the city, it’s just out of the country. But you’re allowed to have farm animals in the suburbs, and she was pretty loud so I can understand why, but it sucked. I had to sell her to a farm. She’s frolicking somewhere. Not anymore, probably. That was a long time ago.
Vancouver Weekly: How long do goats live?
MK: I don’t know. They probably live a while. Maybe she’s still kicking. I haven’t seen her since I sold her. But yeah I would definitely have a goat, and some dogs and some cats and stuff. Maybe a bird.
Vancouver Weekly: So you have previously said that The Royal Tenenbaums was a huge inspiration for you. Is it all Wes Anderson movies that inspire you, because a lot of artists at this festival have mentioned his movies when talking about their influences?
MK: I love Wes Anderson. He’s awesome. He totally has. It was like the first time I had ever seen a movie like that in my life that was really, really cool and not like a stupid movie. I just remember watching it and being obsessed with it. Like I had a criteria collection, so it came with a little insert thing that you could flip through and there were little cartoons and stuff. It was awesome, so I was obsessed, and I looked at all that and watched all his movies. I still haven’t seen… one of his earlier movies. I’ve seen all of them except for one. I love him, and he always has such great soundtracks. I found that really inspiring, and it kind of opened a lot of doors for me.
Vancouver Weekly: Have you ever written anything specifically based off of that kind of movie?
MK: I haven’t really written anything based off his movies, per se, but I think it’s the soundtracks that really inspire me, and I can relate in some weird way to his movies. I’m not exactly sure how but… They’re so honest and quirky and awesome.
Vancouver Weekly: Do you have any other quirky inspirations that most artists probably wouldn’t?
MK: Well, I climb trees a lot. It’s a big thing that I do… all the time. So, I’m good at climbing trees. I’ve been climbing trees since I was a little kid and my mom would be like “when you’re older you’re not gonna want to climb trees anymore,” but I still do. So. I do that all the time. I like to sit in trees and listen to music and think about stuff. It’s kind of nice to get physically away from everything and just kind of think about stuff.
Vancouver Weekly: Climbed any trees here?
MK: I haven’t climbed any here yet. No. I don’t want to do that around all the people. I’m scared to like… start climbing a tree. That one looks cool though. I might climb that tree.
Vancouver Weekly: I don’t know how people would take that, but you are a performing artist here so…
MK: “Oh, it’s just part of my show!”
Vancouver Weekly: How has your past year been since you’ve released your debut album?
MK: It’s been pretty crazy. Before that came out, I was just doing scattered gigs here and there, not really touring, and I had my first real two-week tour out West with Joel Plaskett, opening for him, and that was awesome. And then I had a couple days off, and then we went back out for two more weeks, so I guess it was like a month, so I kind of got thrown into it but I love every second. I love travelling and I’ve always liked to not stay in one place very long. I get antsy, so I like travelling and doing stuff like this. I’ve met so many new people. It’s crazy.
Vancouver Weekly: Have you done much travelling aside from tours?
MK: No, not other than work, if you call this work. But no, I haven’t really been travelling. I’ve been down to the States a couple of times. I hadn’t even seen very much of Canada before I started doing music all the time.
Vancouver Weekly: Well, I mean, a lot of us haven’t.
MK: No, I know! It’s weird. It’s huge. I’d been as far as… Quebec I guess. I’d been as far as Ontario a couple times before doing this tour. But it’s like a few hours away.
Vancouver Weekly: Anything in particular you want Vancouver to know?
MK: Well I’ll probably be releasing a single in the fall. Joel’s gonna be producing my next record again.
Vancouver Weekly: Any idea when?
MK: No, I know we’re going to be in the studio together. Hopefully… if I can get my shit together and write enough songs for the record. I should be okay. I just want to make sure I like everything. It’s nicer to be able to choose from a giant collection of music. You want to be sure. Especially because this is going to be my second record, I want people to like it… obviously. Naw, I want people to hate it. If I feel too rushed and don’t feel like I have good enough material, I probably won’t go into the studio in November. Maybe release a few good ones…
Vancouver Weekly: Now what are you going to do?
MK: I was thinking of going to the beer garden. I have beer tickets.