Jenn Grant’s music is deeply empathetic and generous of heart, so of course one day she would invite the whole country to make it with her.
Champagne Problems, her eighth album and first in the producer’s chair alongside partner Daniel Ledwell, gathers 13 musicians from coast to territory to coast in a series of collaborative Canadian magic tricks spun into classic country, lost disco hits, and ruminative folk fables.
While at home in Lake Echo, Nova Scotia during the pandemic, Grant was struck by the idea that her musician friends were also sheltering in place. Determined to recognize this as a rare period of boundless creativity, she began reaching out. “There was this stillness, so I could access all these people,” she says. “It felt like a time capsule of this unique period of time where people were more still than usual—not on the road—and available.”
The record starts off close to home with a pair of Grant’s Halifax friends: “Judy,” written and performed with Kim Harris, is Harris’ parents’ love story reimagined inside a horn-laden 1960s rock ’n’ roll song. CBC Searchlight winner Aquakultre appears immediately after to dance the album into the 70s with “Nobody’s Fool,” which is crammed to bursting with claps, counter-vocal melodies, and deep grooves. “Easy Come, Easy Go,” written with Basia Bulat, was inspired by worn-out platitudes like “live, laugh, love” and “keep calm, carry on” juxtaposed with authentic contemporary feelings. Halifax transplant Bahamas aka Afie Jurvanen appears a third of the way through with the spare, gentle ballad “All of This Time.”
“Part of the fun game of it for me was to see how people were and to get to know the people better through how they write,” says Grant. “I feel like it was a real insight to them as artists. And it definitely opened me up— when I was a younger songwriter, I was very stream-of-consciousness. From Compostela on, I started to be more analytical about what am I actually saying, what are these lyrics? I was starting to think about what am I putting out? Talking about songs and figuring out what we were actually coming up with was eye-opening for me. And they were good writing exercises, I learned stuff.”
Dan Mangan represents the west coast on “How About Mine?,” a track he brought to the writing session that sets a pair of lovers inside a Montreal bar and watches what happens. The wistful and piano-driven “How I Loved You,” was written with Hannah Georgas and features Stars’ Amy Millan, a fruitful bit of happenstance (“she happened to text me saying, I’d love to sing something with you sometime,” says Grant) that became the dreamy, nostalgic centrepiece of Champagne Problems.
Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew was the impetus behind “Lion’s Mane,” a rather upbeat selection considering it’s Grant’s interrogation of her relationship with her father. “He was getting me to dig deeper,” she says of Drew. “He got this thing out of me. Kevin really opened up that part of me that made me feel like it was valuable. He was really integral to this record in a lot of ways.”
Another Halifax friend, pop star Ria Mae, brings the funk on “One Hit Wonders,” a slinky, beat-driven takedown of the music industry’s treatment of women. The languid, country-tinged “Catch The Wind,” with Iqaluit’s Joshua Quamariaq, was inspired by a trip to the territory a few years back. “We were only there for four or five days but it was amazing to have people embrace you in a tight community where it’s harsh outside but so beautiful—that juxtaposition of hard and soft,” says Grant. “Desolate but sacred.” “Under the Overpass,” written and sung with Slow Leaves, sounds like a 50s crooner showcase.
Grant’s one solitary performance is “Rattled By Your Love,” written with Joel Plaskett, which the artist considers a companion piece to her solo piano cover of “Eye of the Tiger”—it takes its time and leaves lots of space. The record closes with the bombast king of Newfoundland, Tim Baker, and “The Closing Down of the Summer,” on which the pair sings their hearts out as if the world might be ending (at the time, it felt like it).
Champagne Problems is a unique Canadian musical experience that could have only come out of extenuating circumstances, willing partners, and profound vulnerability. It could have only come out of Jenn Grant.
“It does feel like this weird world I’ve lived in the past few years that I’ve loved,” she says, “and having an album with a bunch of people who were also at home at that time feels like something something that I’ll look back on and be like, Oh yeah, that was a really strange, special moment in my life.”