Elizabeth Shepherd’s latest album, Three Things, is a reinvention. In 2020 she found herself not only on lockdown, with a curfew, but with “atrocious” rural internet. While everyone else connected online, she couldn’t.
“People would say, ‘let’s jam online’ or ‘let’s send ideas back and forth’ and I was like, ‘I can’t.’ It just wasn’t feasible. So after scratching my head for a while I threw my hands in the air, like ‘Fine! I’ll make music with what I have available.’”
She leaned into “found sound” like birds, garbage can lids, typewriters, skipping records – the noises around her family’s home north of Montreal.
She also started incorporating more technology: “looping and sampling and all kinds of fun gadgetry which is really cool for the sound,” she says.
It’s led to a whole new musical vibe. Described as a “jazz virtuouso with a pop sensibility” by the Real Detroit Press, Shepherd made her international debut in 2006 when her debut album was voted one of the best jazz albums of the year by listeners of an influential BBC music show.
Since then she’s racked up six JUNO nominations and two Polaris Prize nominations. Three Things is her seventh record. Trained as a classical pianist, Shepherd came to jazz by way of hip-hop, ultimately graduating with a degree in jazz piano from McGill University.
Now she’s on tour once more, with her new sound and new album. She hits the Jazz YYC stage in Calgary, Nov. 10, and artsPlace in Canmore on Nov. 12.
“The album is one that came out of a dark place,” Shepherd says. “It was not about translating that darkness but trying to share what got me through it. It wasn’t just the pandemic, there were all kinds of things going on for me during that time. What I wanted to share was, ‘How do we find joy? Where is joy in all of this?’”
It’s a fresh approach to music, for her, but one that remains accessible. “It always has to have this overarching aesthetic and personal mandate of connection. It’s gotta be groovy, it’s gotta make people feel good,” she says.
Her Alberta dates feature her as part of a quartet. “Me on keys and voice .. and knobs,” she laughs, referencing the more high-tech nature of her concerts now. “And then bass, drums, and guitar – also with lots of knobs.”
Otherwise, she’s balancing a touring schedule with raising two children with her husband, who has gone back to school and has a five-hour daily commute.
“We’re just paddling like crazy and trying to look like serene ducks,” she laughs.
Up next? First, participating in an “Electric Messiah” show in Toronto. Then, hopefully a rest.
“I think I need to just settle down for a bit and figure everything out. I need to recentre and refocus and that might take a while. I want to give myself that time.”