SCENE wanted to find out more about Amber's connection to that other prairie girl:
1. How did this project come about?
Kelly Hughes, the owner of Aqua Books, put out a call last year for
musicians to do a concert of their arrangements of a well-known rock or pop
album. I immediately thought of doing "Blue", because I love the record, and I
love the challenge to do something radically different. So I called three of my
favorite musicians - Larry Roy (guitar), Steve Kirby (bass), and Scott Senior
(percussion) to play with me, and they were all excited to contribute to the
"Blue", Joni Mitchell, released in 1971
2. How did you first get introduced to Joni Mitchell's music? I only discovered Joni Mitchell a couple years ago (!). I was visiting my friend and guitarist Keith Price, and he played me some tracks from her record Blue, and I fell in love with her sound right away. I quickly got the album and wore it out in my car stereo!
3. What was it about her music that first attracted you? I was actually attracted to the MUSIC before the lyrics. In fact, it's only now that I'm preparing for the show on March 29 that I'm really seeing the depth of the lyrics. Joni has a way of making the music tell the same story as her lyrics.
I love the sound of the voice with only one other instrument, and Joni seems to have a 6th sense about which instrument would go best with each set of lyrics (i.e. she plays a dulcimer on on the more upbeat songs, and the piano on the darker songs). As someone who sings and plays other instruments, I love to hear how Joni accompanies herself, and knows the very best thing to play to compliment her voice.
4. What's YOUR approach to her music? Do you play it straight? Will we hear Latin or jazz influences? The idea behind this project is to play every song from her record Blue with my own arrangements. It's essential for me to keep the integrity of the melody, but to also put my own spin on it.
There will definitely be some Latin and jazz influences, because that's the kind of music that I really love. Joni played a lot with jazz musicians, and was just starting to explore some jazz concepts when she recorded Blue, so I'm finding it very exciting to see how her melodies fit with "jazz chords" and "Latin rhythms". It's not going to be salsa, but there will definitely be some lively moments!
5. Can you give us an example or two? Sure. When I heard the first song on Blue, called "All I Want", I immediately thought wow, this is a samba. There was an underlying pulse to the tune that is really similar to Brazilian music, so to create an arrangement in that style was a piece of cake.
One of my other methods is to try to make the rhythm of the song completely
different from the original, in a way that compliments the melody. I put her
song "California" into 7/8 meter, I'm giving "Carey" a bit of a reggae feel, and
"My Old Man" now has a middle-eastern/mysterious-desert-sands
Amber Epp gets all "blue" (Scott Senior)
6. Are you afraid of covering a Canadian icon?
No way! I think musicians are honored when others cover their music. Also,
I feel like I can relate to Joni in a way - we both grew up in small towns on
the prairies (I grew up in Steinbach, MB). Growing up, we both had little access
to the kind of music that we perform now, but still discovered the music we
really love and share it honestly.
Amber Epp sings Joni Mitchell's "Blue" on Thursday, March 29 at Aqua Books as part of the series Jazz Machine.