Jessy Lanza avoids being a conservative radio icon

Current radio tastes aren't where Lanza's music has its home, but she is OK with that.

Jessy Lanza, an R&B synth-pop artist from Hamilton, Ontario, released her first solo album Pull My Hair Back in 2013. Since then, she’s gone on to collaborate with musical groups including Caribou, Mezzanine, and Ikonika. On May 13, she released her second album, Oh No. Lanza clearly has talent, and with each new release she displays more and more solidity as a performer and artist.

The Peak had the pleasure of talking to Lanza, and got to ask her a few questions about school, and the nature of top 40 music.

The Peak: Did you always know that you wanted to study music formally, or was it something you chose from other competing options?

Jessy Lanza: I was always making music from the time when I was a little kid, but I think when it came time to choose if I was going to go to school — I just didn’t really know what else to do. I wasn’t really good at anything else [. . .] but I just decided to go for it. It seems like it made the most sense — at the time.

P: What would you say is the most valuable thing you gained from school, from your experience there?

JL: I think when I was at school for jazz piano especially, all the people who are teaching and all the people around you, they’re all just obsessed with music and a lot of obscure jazz music as well. So I got exposed to a lot of artists and records that I never would have heard before. So I think it gave me this appreciation for digging a bit deeper than what is on the radio or what is considered the canon of really great albums. It kind of pushes you to search a bit deeper.

P: I read another interview that you had where you said that you sort of aim to write radio hits, like “Umbrella” for example, but then what you end up producing maybe falls short of that and then that ends up being your record.

JL: Yeah, I mean, I think that both Jeremy [Greenspan, Lanza’s songwriting partner] and I think we both have too much of an interest in music that is just not quite straightforward enough to be on the radio — it wasn’t always like that. Maybe if Jeremy and I were releasing music in a different time maybe we could get our music on the radio. I feel like people’s limit for what can be radio music or top 40’s music is just something really conservative in the past 25 years. I think like 30 years ago it was a lot more open.

P: So is that, you think, a product of the people working for radio not wanting to take a risk and play music that isn’t successful right now, or is it more about the listeners not wanting variety? Is it more the actual radio employees or the listeners do you think that’s causing the restriction?

JL: It’s hard to say. I think it’s just a weird time for people working in media, whether you’re in TV or radio — I don’t mean hard — I mean it’s like transitional, things are changing and old methods that used to make people a lot of money . . . it’s just not the same anymore. So I think people are being a bit safer and less willing to take a risk if they don’t think it’s going to make money because everyone’s so afraid of becoming totally irrelevant and obsolete. But yeah, it is a very safe kind of time in a lot of ways unfortunately . . . but it always changes!  Things always cycle back.

Be sure to catch Lanza’s show on June 21 at Alexander Gastown.