Jill Zmud Q & A with
Jill Zmud

Interview by Ren Tomovcik
( Photo by Brian Goldschmied)

Ottawa singer-songwriter Jill Zmud has already captured many a heart with her whimsical, folksy, imaginative tunes. The Saskatchewan native has come a long way from the open mic night when she first took the stage to cover a Cowboy Junkies tune...

She's about to release her debut album, has filled it with some stunning original material, and has the capital's music scene buzzing with predictions of big things to come. A self-proclaimed 'late bloomer' musically, Jill has more than made up for lost time.  Ottawafocus chats with Jill about the past, the future, and her upcoming release entitled "as we quietly drive by."

Jill, you say you were a 'late bloomer' because you didn't start composing until you were into your twenties.  What finally inspired you to take up an instrument and begin to write your own songs?  Jill Zmud
I didn't take formal music lessons because I was more into dance, so my musical background is mainly singing and dancing along to all the music I loved when I was a kid! I have memories of choreographing dance pieces to the Cyndi Lauper "She's So Unusual" album. 

I pursued my love for dance and ended up going to the National Ballet School in Toronto for a few years. As a student there, you take music classes and are introduced to some of the basics.

When I was about 20, my brother gave me a guitar. I had stopped dancing at that point and there was a bit of a creative void in my life. I picked up the guitar and just started trying to figure it out (actually, I'm still trying to figure it out!)

As for songwriting, it was a good way for me to express myself after I stopped dancing. And a good way to keep on making things and creating.
  Some of your songs tell some pretty fantastical tales, yet they still have that personal touch.  How does autobiographical songwriting differ from (or blend in with) storytelling through song?In a way, my songs are a mixture of autobiography and storytelling. Some are very literal interpretations of things from my own life, like the people and places I'm describing in "East Of The Line," which is about my relatives in Saskatchewan. Sometimes, though, it's simply a mood I'm feeling that I'll then expand on. Like the song "Wish," for instance... I wrote it on a freezing cold night in Saskatchewan when I was feeling pretty lonely. The first line of the song came out:  "Wish someone were here to undress me on this cool windy evening."  And the storytelling began from that point on. 

Jill ZmudSome songs come out in big chunks right away. Sometimes, one line or melody can sit with you for a really long time until you figure out where it might fit in. Other songs take multiple kicks at the can. Some of the songs on this album look very different from when I first scribbled them on paper.

"Shark" began with me feeling betrayed... and somehow turned into a song about taking the fall for a bank robbery!  Which, I assure you, didn't actually happen. My only heists are metaphorical. Otherwise I'd be much wealthier.

You worked with a whole bunch of talented folks to bring your album together.  Who were all the collaborators?On the album, my main collaborator (and producer) was Dave Draves from Little Bullhorn Studios. He was great and really helped me get to know my songs.

(Photo by Jessica Ruano)

Other folks on the album include Jim Bryson, Safwan Javed, George Koller, John Carroll, Jenn Lee and Karla Combres. Also, Christine Mathenge and Jerusha Lewis from Voices of Praise gospel choir.  They all added their own flavour to the mix and always brought the music to a new level.

How did you choose the songs that made the album?
I keep drafts of songs in these boxes and files in my music room... some are just a few random lines and others are fully formed tunes. Dave and I sorted through them, trying to find the strongest material. There were some that I knew had to go on the album: "Wish," "By Your Side," and "East Of The Line," for instance. But others were surprises... I hadn't thought of "Reconcile" as one of my stronger ones, but Dave really liked it and pushed me and found a way to make it grow... and I'm really glad it made the cut. There are others that are still waiting in the wings for the next album.

Jill Zmud
(Photo by Jeremy Sills)

Do you like the recording process, or do you prefer the energy of a live show with an audience?Both are fantastic for different reasons. It was a lot of fun recording the album because Dave encouraged me to step outside the "purist folk" idea I had originally, using all sorts of crazy instruments that I never knew could work with my songs. So, in that respect, recording was a bit of a revelation. Performing is amazing too though. You never know what's going to happen.

Jill Zmud (Photo by Brian Goldschmied)

What can Ottawa do to help support independent music?
I think the best thing any community can do for their independent artists is to go out and see their live shows. As for Ottawa, there are a lot of really supportive people. The reality of being a musician though is that you definitely have to reach outward no matter where you are.

What are some of your favourite places to see/perform live music in the Ottawa area?Black Sheep Inn, Elmdale Tavern, Raw Sugar, NAC Fourth Stage...

Who else inspires you?One of my biggest inspirations is my late Uncle Eddy, who was in the band Witness Inc. I still use his guitar, and keep a copy of one of his band's 45 records on the wall of my music room.

Do you have plans for a 2010 tour?Yes!  Since I'm pretty new to this (and since I live I Ottawa), I want to concentrate on Ontario and Quebec. I also want to head home to Saskatchewan to do a bit of playing.

Expect big things from Jill in the new year and keep your eyes and ears open for upcoming Ottawa & area shows!


Check out Jill's tunes on MySpace...or come out to a live show!

Jill Zmud
NOV 15

CD Release "as we quietly drive by"
Black Sheep Inn, Wakefield QC

NOV 25
Feed the Homeless 5!
Zaphod Beeblebrox,  Ottawa ON 
Your cover ($5) will go toward Christmas dinners for the homeless.

Prior to her album launch at the Black Sheep Inn, Jill Zmud offers an in-store public performance on Thursday, November 12, 2009 from 12:30 to 1pm at Compact Music, 190 Bank Street (at Gloucester).
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