If you could visualize the music of Sheenah Ko, it would be a cascade of colour, full of bold strokes, the splattering vibrancy of Jackson Pollock, the haunting emotive power of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and a dose of Warholian pop.
Raised by parents who are both painters, it is no surprise that the music Sheenah creates evokes imagery as well as thoughts and emotions. Through her improvisational mastery and skill with melody, she has audiences enraptured through her presentation of dynamic musical canvases through the medium of her sophisticated synth pop stylings.
This is particularly evident on her forthcoming sophomore studio album, Nowhere In Time, which is being released April 26, featuring a collection of eight pieces, which run the gamut between effusive, upbeat, 1980s-inspired power pop, such as the singles See You and Wrap Me Up, to more atmospheric and trancey numbers instrumental numbers such as Nowhere In Time and Heartbeat.
“One thing that I wanted from this album was to make it a little less dark than my last one. My last one came at a time when I was going through a really tough part of my life and it was a difficult, but necessary, experience to make that album,” she said.
“For See You, I wanted a fun song, I wanted something that reflects how I am feeling now. I wanted a fun, dancey song that makes people feel good.”
Wrap Me Up has a more latent sensuality about it, with a message of resignation within the context of trying to have romantic relationships in the 21st century.
“It was a little more heartfelt. It’s kind of a love song in that it’s about somebody I met who really helped me out. Honestly, it’s a song about being single in your mid-30s and realizing that you just want life to give you something uncomplicated. I find a lot of times when you are dating, everybody’s damaged, everybody’s got shit and I am basically just saying, come on, let’s try something here,” she said, adding that this song in particular was lauded by a number of top industry producers, including electronica maven Pheek. These producers are creating re-mixes of songs from Nowhere In Time for simultaneous release with the album. Pheek will also be producing Sheenah’s next album.
After leaving her former profession in the humanitarian aid field, Sheenah uprooted from Saskatchewan, where she spent much of her 20s, moving to Montreal with the goal of more intensively exploring her creative side. After many years of day jobs, subbing in for other musicians and hosting a popular jam night, her incredible proficiency as an improviser and unflappable ability to adapt to any musical situation led to gigs as a side musician for a number of top acts, including the likes of Barenaked Ladies, Bedouin Soundclash, and full time gig with indie darlings Besnard Lakes and becoming friends with the legendary Lou Reed.
After nearly nine years of working for others and gleaning the benefits of seeing the world on tour, working alongside other top-flight musicians and seeing other songwriters at their craft, last year Sheenah decided it was time to uncork the wellspring of her own compositional creativity by releasing her own music in the EP FREE.
Gaining confidence from that experience, which has seen her earn a number of festival appearances and prestigious opening slots for the likes of Ex Eye and European avant garde popsters Liima/Eftertklang, she returned to the studio later in 2018 to record Nowhere In Time at Latraque Studios in Montreal alongside producer/engineer Navet Confit.
Her remarkable versatility, ability to learn on the fly and quickly improvise the sounds she needs to play on a record or play on a tour has not only made Sheenah one of Montreal’s most in-demand keyboard players but is one of the reasons why her songwriting technique is very much an improvised stream of consciousness, where she allows her latent talent, and the many years of performing a diverse array of music and genres to come to the fore.
“All of the songs I write come out of improvisation. What I do is I just sit there and play and record everything, and then go back and listen to it and find all the cool parts. I then develop songs from that. The lyrics are based on what I am thinking in the moment or what is coming out naturally during those jams and then I go back and try to make sense of them,” she explained.
The experience gained working with so many different bands and musical styles has given Sheenah a sense of fearlessness, which in turn has led to the development of a synth-pop sound that is an amalgam of many styles, but infused with a an enigmatic, sometimes cinematic drama and musical literacy that allows Nowhere In Time to rise above the pop music moniker into the realm of compelling art.
“When you look at a painting at a gallery, the message is not always clear: you don’t always know the artist’s intention. What I love about that and all the visual arts is that it’s up to the people seeing it to interpret it. That’s why I like to keep things a bit loose because I want my songs to touch somebody however it’s supposed to touch them – and it will be completely different for the next person. So, if there is a certain feeling that is coming across from a song and it takes you somewhere, then that’s amazing and I have done my job as an artist,” she said, adding that at many of her performances, audience members are often still and quiet, as if transfixed or bewitched by the immersive experience.
What makes a Sheenah Ko solo outing so memorable is the combination of the hauntingly hypnotic music and visual presentation that is truly one of a kind. Performing solo behind her keyboard array, she demonstrates a mastery of her instrument but also evokes an air of mystery and focus that draws the audience in. But it is her accompaniment that makes for the most striking addition to the show. Montreal professional dancer Brittney Canda has become an integral part of Sheenah’s gigs, with her bold, evocative movements marrying perfectly to the rhythms and emotions of the music, creating a dynamic visual presentation unlike any other.
Although the music is not written for Canda’s talents, Sheenah said her friend and performing partner is not far from her mind.
“It’s not necessarily that I am thinking about her all the time when I am writing. If am going through something I tend to write songs that are really deep and thought provoking because it’s something I have to get out of my head. But I am also thinking about dance and what she likes,” she explained.
“Brittney encourages me to be really bold and weird and out there. She is such a true artist and has been pushing me a lot. I don’t write songs specifically for her, but she does influence me. Onstage she really loves to utilize the space, and the show is different every night. We are both adaptable enough that we actually tailor every show for every audience and every venue. Between the music and the lighting and Brittney, the show is more elevated than just listening to the album itself.”
But even the experience of a deep, meaningful and mindful listening session with Nowhere In Time is one that is unforgettable. As the swirling analog keyboards and soaring synths wash over you, it will undoubtedly be an aural encounter that will stimulate the imagination, evoke powerful imagery, and leave one enriched by the experience.