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EXCLUSIVE: Interview With NXNE's Jessica Stuart

A musical mother, a year in Japan, and a tolerance for lugging around cumbersome objects led to the triumphant bonding between Jessica Stuart and the koto.

By: Anthony Marcusa
Published: June 13th, 2013 in Culture » Music » Interviews
Jessica StuartPic: www.jessicastuartmusic.com

A musical mother, a year in Japan, and a tolerance for lugging around cumbersome objects led to the triumphant bonding between Jessica Stuart and the koto.

A six-foot Japanese instrument (a floor harp, of sorts), became the object of a young girl’s heart, and while at times they parted, Stuart and her impressive instrument have become synonymous and inseparable. Jessica and her mother took lessons when Jessica was younger living in Japan, but it wasn’t until five years ago she decided to take it up once more.

A first attempt to earn a koto from her mother had proved unsuccessful. “I didn’t play it for a while, and when I moved out, I asked for a second koto,” said Stuart during a phone interview while preparing for a string of Toronto shows. “She said, ‘no, I’ve seen your place - no way can I trust it not to be broken in your place.’”

When she moved back to Toronto, however, and decided to pursue a career in music, she reconnected with the instrument, and it seemed the koto was ready to reunite as well. While on her lengthy way to the only koto dealership in Canada, one just outside Toronto, Stuart received a call.

“The minute I got off the bus, my parents are on the phone, and they said, ‘we decided are going to give you a long-term loan on koto. And it’s arriving tomorrow,’” explains Stuart. “I was like a kid in a candy store, jumping up and down in excitement.”


While there are some teachers of the koto, there are fewer who perform, and it would seem Stuart is the only person composing music for the koto in the city, and among likely only a handful in the country. Today, she is toting her instrument and performing with her band, The Jessica Stuart Few, promoting their second album Two Sides to Every Story. It’s been a considerable amount of performing, but it’s experience that shows on their latest release.

“I think the main reason this album is different than the last is that we were really new then. We had played about 20 shows total before that,” says Stuart. “We play a lot, a lot, probably a good 300 shows since we recorded the last album.”

The touring informs the creation of the album, and fans of the record will hear something similar, albeit with added energy, during a live performance. “We recorded live off the floor,” says Stuart. “We’re a very live band, we’re all real musicians, and playing live is where we shine the most.”

“We had been touring so much that when we went into the studio it was no big deal,” continues Stuart, adding that they recorded that first day and that was that.

It’s tricky to describe what exactly Stuart’s music sounds like, and promoters have had trouble defining the group as well. They are folk, they are rock, and they are jazz. They are a power trio, led by a woman on a koto. An inability to easily categorize the group was once limiting, but now their genre-bending styles have allowed them to play more shows and festivals.

While they are performing at North by Northeast, a predominantly rock festival, they will stick around in Toronto to play a week later at the Jazz festival. They will be, however, slightly different shows.

“We have sort of our A-List tunes that we like to play, maybe 15-20 in all,” explains Stuart. “For Jazz Fest, we play three sets, so we will take our time, open up the improvise section more, take more chances.”

On Friday, June 14th, The Jessica Stuart Few perform as a part of NXNE, playing at C’est What on Front Street in the 1am timeslot. Two weeks later they will be a part of the Toronto Jazz Fest, playing on Saturday, June 29th from 6-9pm in the Distillery District.

The show continues, as the trio crosses Canada and eventually across the Pacific. Stuart looks forward to something of a homecoming, as the group will play abroad for the first time, performing in Japan, koto and all.

http://www.jessicastuartmusic.com/

Related articles: NXNE, Music, Rock, Festival, Jazz, Koto, Jessica Stuart Few, Toronto, Japan, Two Sides to Every Story
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