I am supposed to meet Issa for an interview in 15 minutes. My phone rings. It’s Issa. She tells me she is still at the hair salon. She is running late. Could I do her a favour and get her a salad—something with protein, something vegetarian—and meet her at the Green Room at 7 instead. I’ll pay you back, she says.
It’s November in Montreal and it is pouring rain and dark. But because I’m about to interview the woman who sang the best song on my favorite mix tape from my first big love in high school, a little salad-fetching in the dark of the winter night seems totally reasonable. And, as I would later understand, Issa’s straightforwardness is just part of her agenda-free, free-thinking experiment. She lives her politics—and having sold all her belongings, including her house in Toronto—she lives everywhere. The night we spoke she made Montreal her home and I was determined to make it a place she would want to return to often.
I arrive at the Green Room, where she was to perform later that night. She is sitting at the piano, writing up her guest list. She wonders if perhaps there would be a venue better suited for her, somewhere else. The thought passes and we sit down to talk. She is at once intense and soothing, passionate, and present. She tells me she’s recently changed her name (back from Issa) to Jane Siberry.
A bit nervously, I dive right into the idea of ‘improvisation’ without much preparatory small talk. It seems to me improvisation is a core concept of self-determination, of adapting, and of what I would later understand from Jane as freethinking.
MH: Improvisation is certainly not something that is new for you, but would you say you have more creative freedom now that you are free from a major label?
JS: There was a certain point with Warner Brothers when I couldn’t do interesting side projects like when I did Maria, which was not a commercial record. I said no problem. I’ll do it the way I like it, but I will give you a companion EP of the most commercial versions of these songs you could ever want. I will do remixes for you. But they didn’t have a system that could handle that kind of thing. I said we could use the commercial versions for the videos, too.