Mo Kenney makes money

Singer-songwriter has won multiple awards for her timeless folk rock

It was the last day of the Ottawa Folk Festival and Mo Kenney had wandered over to the merch tent. The 23-year-old Nova Scotian was expecting to depart with any unsold CDs and revenue from the day’s sales but while there she was informed that she’d won the Galaxie Supernova Award a $2000 prize given to performers for “outstanding live performance at the festival.” The organizers had been trying to call her all afternoon to invite her to the handshaking-and-oversized-cheque ceremony but Kenney had killed her iPhone in a water-related accident on the flight into the city. So it goes.

“It was pretty surreal” says Kenney. “It just feels like one awesome thing after another has been happening. This year’s been awesome. I love what I do so to have good things come from it is a good sign I think. It makes me feel really good.”

As Kenney mentions that surprise on September 8 was only the most recent moment in the performer’s already notable summer. In July Kenney snagged the SOCAN Songwriting Prize with her track “Sucker” beating out a stacked roster of competitors including Purity Ring and Whitehorse (past winners of the award have included Kathleen Edwards D-sisive Brasstronaut The Weakerthans and Propagandhi). She’s evidently turning heads.

It’s all for good reason; while her self-titled Joel Plaskett-produced album doesn’t offer a radically different approach to folk rock it’s terrifically executed. Kenney’s vocal delivery is confident and crisp wonderfully paired with Plaskett’s (as evidenced most strongly on “Deja Vu”). The album’s instrumentation is reserved in experimental qualities opting to excel in already explored territory. No shame in that. Every song on the album belongs — even the daring cover of David Bowie’s “Five Years.”

“I didn’t really even think about it actually” says Kenney describing the pressures of covering the legendary track. “I love that song. Joel and I were trying to think of a cover and we were having a hard go of listening to that record. I was like ‘hmm I wonder if I can pull that off.’ I came into the studio the next day and played it for him and he was like ‘we totally have to do that song.’ Covering a Bowie song is kind of something people don’t really do ’cause maybe they’re afraid to disgrace it or something.”

The upcoming tour with a backing band in tow will allow Kenney to continue playing around with the formula of the songs. She recently invested in a Gretsch Black Penguin ­— a guitar that she calls “pretty deadly” — and promises that the songs will feature an even-more-prominent rock vibe than what can be found on the record. But it hasn’t always been a simple task to transition from the acoustic sets that are suitable for folk fests (which she played over 10 of this summer) and what’s coming up on the tour.

“It was a little bit more difficult than I though it was going to be” Kenney admits. “I started playing guitar on electric and I’ve always been an electric guitar player but I kind of put that on the side for the solo stuff. Now I’m getting back into the world of playing with a band. Playing with an electric guitar took a little bit of practise but I’m back at it now and it feels more comfortable now after all these rehearsals.”

There’s much more to come beyond this tour. Kenney’s already plotting out her second record with hopes to re-enter Plaskett’s studio in November. Just as she hid in her room for days with her four-track cassette recorder as a teen Kenney’s now holing up with GarageBand and playing around with new ideas. If the self-titled record and last few months of constant touring and awards are any indicator whatever comes next should be packed with promise.