Canadian artist Jessy Lanza puts the jazz and soul into electro

Hamilton singer and producer on the rise thanks to a pair of releases that have earned her acclaim, Polaris Music Prize attention.

Jessy Lanza is in a vehicle heading west, just leaving the town where she and her travelling companions spent the evening.

North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

So. Um. How was the night life in North Battleford?

“Oh, Smitty’s was—” she stops and laughs.

“I actually don’t know. Jordan who does front of house for me, he went to Smitty’s and said it was pretty good. I didn’t go.”

She laughs again. “He said it was pretty cool.”

Well, presumably, things will be a little less Smitty’s and a whole lot more hopping (Denny’s?) when the Canadian electro singer and producer hits Calgary Wednesday night for a show at the Hifi Club.

The Hamilton-born star on the rise arrives in the city with an incredible buzz — thanks to a pair of Polaris Music Prize shortlisted releases, 2013’s Pull My Hair Back and 2016’s Oh No, and some acclaimed singles — making this hump night show a must for those who like some soul with their synths and samples.

Prior to the gig, Lanza spoke with theYYSCENE.

Q: What can people expect from your live show?

A: I bring a few synthesizers and I have my sampler, my delay pedals. I don’t what to say about it other than that. (Laughs)

Q: I have seen some performances by you performing with other musicians. Is this just you?

A: Oh, yeah, it’s just me this time around. I think you probably watched a video with my friend Tori Tizzard playing drums, but she’s not with me on this tour. So it’s just me this time around.

Q: You’ve made a remarkable name for yourself in what seems like a fairly short period of time. Do you see it that way or was there a great deal of buildup and now it’s just finally paying off?

A: I think since I started working on this project it has been a relatively short period of time. I started working on the first record with Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys) in 2011, I guess, and then the record came out in 2013. That being said I have been doing music my whole life, so it’s always been a dream for me to be able to tour. So it has been a long time, but if I look at it with perspective it really hasn’t been that long. I’m just thankful.

Q: The praise, the Polaris nominations, that has to show you that you’re on a pretty good path, though.

A: Yeah, those things are really pleasant surprises. And that it’s happened twice, it’s pretty amazing, I feel pretty lucky.

Q: When you talk about doing music all of your life, one of the things that people focus on is that you started down a path to jazz (she studied at Concordia) before making the switch. What was it about electronic music that got you going in that direction?

A: Well, the fact that I could get started on my computer on my own was a really big factor. Because up until that point I had always been into writing my own songs … but I had always gone to other people’s studios to record and relied on an engineer that I didn’t know to produce the record … You’re putting a lot of trust in the engineer to create the sound of the record. I just didn’t understand that when I was first trying to get my songs recorded. I just didn’t have the money to do that any more at a certain point, so I just turned to learning how to use Logic on my computer and using some instruments that I had around my house.

Q: This is probably a cheesy question, but do you still use parts of your jazz training in what it is you do now?

A: No, it’s not cheesy. Yeah, all the time. The most valuable thing that I learned from going to school for jazz is how to listen to other people’s music, just because so much of what I do is sample-based. So listening is a really big part of making music for me, whether it’s listening for samples or learning chord progressions — I don’t think I’d be as good at that if I hadn’t gone to school.

Q: In your live shows is there room for improv or is it pretty programmed in?

A: It’s pretty locked in. (Laughs) I hope I can get to that point but I’d say for the moment I’m not ripping any solos at this time. Maybe one day in the future.

Q: Because you have your equipment with you all the time are you constantly writing or do you need to be motivated, sit down and force yourself to write?

A: I definitely don’t have to be force it, but travelling, I’m too tired when the show is over to set anything up and start writing music. I don’t understand how people do that 24 hours a day. I hear people talking about it and I admire it, but I also don’t understand how it’s physically possible for some people. I need to just watch South Park, do something that’s not music for some part of my day when I’m touring.

Q: Is there anything new coming out that people need to be on the lookout for?

A: I have a song that I worked on with Ikonika, she has a record coming out in June. And I also have a monthly BBC show where I’m DJing music for an hour on the last Thursday of every month. So that’s something that people can always tune into if they want to hear what I’m listening to or what I’m playing.

Jessy Lanza performs Wednesday night at the HiFi Club.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.