Normally, Jann Arden is a great interview. She’s chatty, surprising and always funny. But today, she can’t help but feel a little uneasy.
The Calgary-based singer-songwriter is in Toronto for a few days to promote her new book — which we’ll get to later — and has just returned to her hotel room to do this interview. So far, so good. Then, the hotel’s fire alarms start to blare.
"Maybe I should put on my housecoat and some slippers and wait outside the lobby," Arden says over the phone.
Arden guesses that the alarms are only being tested, but can’t be sure.
As she explains this, she sounds like she’s trying to remember the exit route posted on the back of her hotel room door.
“This could be my last interview,” she jokes. “Tell my family I loved them!”
In the end, there was no need. We’re happy to report that she survived the interview.
By now, every Canadian knows who Jann Arden is. After seven albums, Arden has established herself as a major homegrown talent, a radio mainstay known for her heartbreaking pop-rock hits.
She’s recently added the title of best-selling author to her list of accomplishments. Over the past few years, Arden has been publishing her personal journal entries on her website, JannArden.com. They’ve become such a successful feature that Canadian publisher Insomniac Press collected them for a book.
The first collection, If I Knew, Don’t You Think I’d Tell You?, sold 50,000 copies, spawning a sequel I’ll Tell You One Thing, and That’s All I Know which was released this September. In between fire alarms, we asked Arden about her journals, her music and other non-particulars.
How long have you been journal writing?
I’ve been journal writing ever since I was eight or nine years old. They’re all in crates somewhere. I think in my will I should put that upon my death they should all be destroyed.
They’re that embarrassing?
It’s like watching yourself in an old wedding video… But no, they’re not that bad. Some entries are insightful, others meandering. Still, journal writing is mostly done for the self.
Once you know they’re going to be observed, doesn’t that mean you’re going to censor some thoughts?
When I was approached to do the journals for my website, I thought, ‘Fuck, who’d want to read that?’ But I didn’t have any reservations [about my journals being published], I said, “Sure, I don’t care. Can I swear?” I haven’t had to censor myself yet.
Then where’s the celebrity dish and gossip?
Like everyone else, I think mean things. In my life, I’m fortunate to be privy to meeting celebrities. Some can be arseholes and others are OK. I could write this and that about them, but it’s not helping me, it’s not positive. That’s one thing I don’t write about on my site. That’s the one thing I do censor. Your journals are very personal and reflective.
Do you worry about being too confessional? How much is too much?
Some people would love to know about my sex life. I think that’s voyeuristic, behind the keyhole stuff. I don’t want to know, let alone tell anyone else! I think talking about my day-to-day relationships would be boring anyway. Who cares? My music is enough of a glimpse into that.
Canadians are fairly demure when it comes to fawning over their celebrities, what’s it like for you?
I can’t go out without talking to people. I can’t travel by myself without people saying “Hi.” Some days you feel social and some days you don’t feel social. But at the end of the day, they pay my way. I’ve been grumpy with people sometimes, and when I get home I kick myself, “Why couldn’t I deal with that?” For example, my mom was recently in the emergency with heart problems and they had to give her those two shock paddles [defibrillator]. Outside, in the waiting room, I’m a wreck and people are asking for autographs and pictures. I signed them, but I wasn’t happy about it. I was thinking, “Oh God, don’t they know what’s going on?” And I thought, “No, they don’t know.” I went in to see my mom afterwards and I told her about people wanting autographs. She said to me, “Did it kill you to sign their stuff?” and I said “No.” She said, “So you should appreciate it. I could’ve died but I’d still be dead if you didn’t sign their stuff.”
A lot of people consider your music to be very sad; yet, you’re so funny in concert and in interviews. It’s an odd combination, don’t you think?
It works though, doesn’t it? I mean if you listen to pop music, it’s all “She left me, he left me, I love you. In rap, you know, it’s about people getting shot, “Hey baby, hey nigga, hey bitch.” My music isn’t any of that. It’s rather stark, but I don’t see the sadness, I think my songs are eternally optimistic.
Speaking of your music, you received some bad press this April for an off-key performance of the national anthem at a Calgary Flames game. What are your thoughts on that incident now?
It was one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. The crowd was unbelievably loud. I didn’t have an ear monitor, they just handed me a mic and pushed me out there. I watched the tape after and there were a few sketchy moments, but it wasn’t that bad, but I got raked over the coals in the media the next day. I was mortified. There was a woman who wrote to the papers and asked for a public apology. I found her number in the phone book and called her back and left a message about how fuckin’ sorry I was and how I love Calgary and the people of Calgary. She called the paper and told them that I called her. It’s funny to me now. I mean, people know I can sing. I sang the national anthem for the Stones [in Toronto] in front of 500,000 people two years ago.
Would you go back and do the national anthem for the Flames again?
The Flames organization was great about it. They called my office and said I could come and redeem myself anytime. As a result of what happened, they now give ear monitors to every [national anthem] performer.
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star.