Toronto based jazz-influenced art-folk trio, The Jessica Stuart Few, have a sound that’s both new and old, whimsical and sincere, and rooted in a rich tradition while jumping head-first towards the future. A uniquely gifted guitarist equally adept on KOTO (a 13-string traditional Japanese floor harp), Jessica formed The ‘Few in 2007 with Charlie Haden-inspired double bass ace Dan Fortin (Serena Ryder) and propulsive percussionist Nico Dann (Tune-Yards).
The Jessica Stuart Few play NXNE on Fri June 15 @ 1am at the Central – Of course, most of us will be out Thursday night at NXNE, so why not stay up late and head into work late the next day?
I had a chance to chat briefly at Canadian Music Fest, and with her busy schedule, we’ve finally managed time for a full all-out interview.
Ryan: Let’s start with NXNE: How many years have you played, and what can you bring that’s different this year to the stage?
Jessica: It’s our third consecutive year at NXNE and we’re so excited to bring our highest energy performance yet! We just finished a brand new album, Two Sides To Every Story, to be released later this year, and we’ll be playing lots of new material as well as brand new songs that will be on the NEXT album in 2014! The group has embraced it’s indie-ness more than ever without sacrificing our signature quirky koto laden sound.
Ryan: The Koto – does working with the Koto naturally work into the music or as a specific instrument or do you have to come at it from a specific angle of creativity?
Jessica: Although I’ve technically played the Koto for much longer than the guitar, I only recently started writing for the Koto, so have an almost more naive approach to writing for it – for instance, I might be playing around with some of the scales on Koto, and here a few notes together that really appeal to me and expand that idea into a song. With guitar, I usually play with much longer chord progressions or rhythmic ideas as the basis for songs.
I also approach writing for the Koto in terms of how it can match/play off of the double bass. I find the Koto & double bass sounds together to be amazing and made for each other in my ears. [:)]
Ryan: A few months ago we talked about festivals: if we could talk about non-traditional shows: living room or house concerts are a new way to bring artists into intimate spaces — how does the JSF fit into a living room / house concert show?
Jessica: I’d say we fit very well! One of the cool things about this band is that we get booked at everywhere from indie rock mainstages where we rock out with electric guitar and hard hitting drums to folk clubs, or house concerts where we focus on acoustic grooves between the Koto/guitar & double bass and vocal harmonies, with emphasis on the lyrics and story telling. As long as the living room has room for a 6′ long Koto and double bass, we’re in business!
We have a lot of original tunes, so can always find the perfect sets to match our environment.
Ryan: Speaking of different environments, you played 100+ shows last year – where would the Koto and double bass go on a night off ?
Jessica: Hahaha. A hooka bar with lots of comfy pillows and lounging room? theorectically speaking of course.. those are two big instruments. [:)]
Ryan: As we’ve run into each other on College St., you’re often off to teaching lessons (in additon to the band): What instrument levels are you teaching now, and how does it squeeze in everything else?
Jessica: I teach from advanced beginners to intermediate level guitar players. All of my students read music and at least half can improvise. I work on writing with some, and theory with others, based on their interests. I enjoy teaching, but it is of a lower priority than performing/writing/recording etc, so I rely on it to fund a portion of my other projects, but am lessening the hours per week every year. This school year i taught 16 private students a week. I’d ultimately like to get it down to the keenest most hyped up and talented 4-5.
Ryan: And does teaching give you any insights into your own music? How to bring ideas to audiences?
Jessica: Less about how to bring the ideas to audiences, but many unexpected song ideas come through teaching – for instance, I had one very young student (my youngest ever, and probably younger than I’ll ever take on again at 4 years old) and since his hands weren’t at the level of development yet to learn the basic finger technique, I’d tune his guitar to a cool 6-string chord and he would strum away (with impeccable time, i might add!). I used the inspiration of that random guitar tuning as the inspiration for “Walking The Line”, which is a tune on the album that’s coming out this year.
Also though, by taking my mind back to what it’s like to be a newish guitar player, it puts things into perspective – musicians are always striving to be better than what they are, you know the lifelong struggle, and sometimes it’s nice to remember that you have come a very far way.
I was thinking about that today!
Ryan: We’re nearing the end…: there was a story about a songwriter (Juno nominated) who told me at a show she was learning to play drums, and in class with “kids” (she was the only one who played in time) – from the experience she said, “never be afraid of (trying something) new” ? What’s still new out there for you to try ? Are there any fears to go with it?
Jessica: There’s plenty new to try! trying to write a tune where I play both guitar & Koto at once? Doing more arrangements of cover tunes for Koto to perform live? Everytime I write, I try to take a new approach and do something I haven’t before more collaborations?
I’m not that scared – I might have been a few years ago when I started out this new full time musical path, but I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, I can only be where I’m at right now, and am in no way perfect, so accept my shortcomings (with a grumble, but an accepting grumble…)
I stand behind my music, so I have nothing to fear!
For more info on the Jessica Stuart Few visit:
For the full NXNE schedule and venues visit:
Single event, one-day and 5-day passes available
The Central is located in Mirvish Village and fully licensed
603 Markham Street (close to the Bathurst Subway Station)
Phone: (416) 913-4586
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