After an ankle injury, Jen Lane is on her feet and moving on
MUSIC by Gregory Beatty
Imagine the bummer it must’ve been to go from playing shows in Toronto with the Tragically Hip’s Johnny Fay as your drummer to sitting at home nursing an ankle/foot injury that took multiple surgeries and tons of TLC to heal. But that’s the challenge Saskatoon country/roots musician Jen Lane faced.
The good news is that Lane’s better now and is poised to release her fifth studio album, This Life of Mine, with a full-band two-set show.
“My last album was released in 2010,” she says. “It’s been a long time coming, and I’m really excited to be back on the road and have a full album in hand. I really feel like I’m starting over, like this is my comeback.”
It’s not like Lane was totally idle during that time. She did record an album of duets with her husband, John Antoniuk, but for long periods during her convalescence she was musically unproductive.
“Some people might think, ‘Oh, she’s 18 months in rehab, so she’s going to have lots of time to write music.’ But it’s not easy to tap into that creative space in a situation like that. So it took me a while to get used to a new normal before I could feel creative again.”
Initially, Lane had hoped to record her new album with Georgia-based producer John Keane (R.E.M., Indigo Girls). “I’d still love to work with him, but there’s no funding that gets you outside of Canada so you’d be looking at securing private investment,” she says. “It felt like the harder I tried to get to the States the more odds were working against me.”
While touring the duets album with Antoniuk, fate finally smiled on Lane when they played Kelowna’s Streaming Café. “We love that venue, and they always put on a really good show for us. Our friend who books us said, ‘Why don’t you stay at the band house tonight? There’s nobody there.’
“So we showed up at this place, and it was a 13-acre property. They had to have farm status to build there, so they had alpacas, and my dream studio just happened to be sitting right there. I thought, ‘What would it take to record here?’ And the booker said, ‘What’s your budget? I’ll talk to the owner.’”
Once Bottega Studio was secured, Lane recruited Vancouver’s John MacArthur Ellis to produce the album and Nick Stecz (Leeroy Stagger) to play drums. “We literally finished the tour and went straight back to Kelowna and did the record. So after all this trying to do things one way, I think it’s proof of just following the path of least resistance.”
Lane brought around 20 songs into the studio and 11 ended up on the CD. Just as recording was starting, though, Lane received more bad news when her grandfather passed away.
“The title track was only partly written. I’d started it with another grandfather who had passed away years ago, and I said to John Ellis, ‘I need to finish this song.’ So we all sat outside and worked on it, and it ended up being the title track, so it’s fitting, as it’s about my grandfather and the life lessons he bestowed on me. He was an artist himself, and was always a huge supporter of my music.”
Another song with a strong autobiographical tie on This Life of Mine is “Shoe”, about the time Lane spent convalescing. “It’s a product of being stuck in the house and watching too much Orange Is the New Black where they refer to the solitary housing unit as the ‘Shu’. I thought, well, I kind of feel like I’m in the Shu.”
Ahead of the album launch, Lane has released two videos. The one for “Shoe” was shot in Saskatoon and shows Lane (in different guises from a 1950s era housewife to a 1970s and then ’90s era woman) waiting for her man to come home — her man being Antoniuk, when he was out touring with his own band, Smokekiller.
Like the album itself, the second video shoot for “Movin’ On” — a twangy, gently confident number about life after love — involved some serendipity.
“I had this idea: I really wanted feet walking to the beat to symbolize the idea of moving on,” says Lane. “But time gets away from you, and before I knew it it was snowing in Saskatoon.
“We were in Toronto in November,” she says. “My sister Megan is doing a residency there at Monarch Tavern. Her wife Taylor Leedahl does all kinds of graphic design and video, and she said, ‘Why don’t we just shoot some footage while you’re here?’ I was like, ‘Duh, why didn’t I think of that?’ We went out two afternoons and walked around Toronto and had a blast.”
For the show, says Lane, they’ll be flying in Ellis, who in addition to producing the album also sat in on pedal steel and other instruments, along with drummer Stecz. After that, Lane and her band will hit the road.
“We’ll do a release tour west to Vancouver and back in April, then in May we’ll return to Toronto for a residency at Cameron House and do a bunch of release shows around that,” she says. “They’ll all be full band, although we’ll probably have different players in the west and east. But that’s part of what I love about this job — you get to have these experiences with so many amazing musicians.”