Interview with Sheenah Ko

Sheenah Ko photo by Linus Ouellette

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Montreal Rocks exclusive interview with Sheenah Ko

Sheenah Ko photo by Linus Ouellette

Sheenah and I have something in common…we enjoy escaping the winter.  While I’ve historically escaped to Mexico, Sheenah would go to Maui to visit her family.  Sheenah is also a very visual person, who creates art without trying to fit into a mold or using formulas to create hits.

We talk about the meaning of the new video, what to expect at one of her concerts, deep dive into coping mechanisms for depression and the journey to find one’s voice.       

Wrap Me Up – Sheenah Ko

Montreal Rocks:  When I first watched your video, that is being released soon, my mouth dropped.  Wow.  I wasn’t expecting that!

Sheenah Ko:  Cool.

MR:  I wanted to get some context to the video, which is quite long, clocking in at 7 minutes 22 seconds.  

Sheenah:  It’s a short film.  I’ve been collaborating with an awesome contemporary dancer called Brittney Canda.  We’ve been performing together for the last few years.  I usually perform solo and she dances around the audience.  

MR:  Really?  In the audience?

Sheenah:  She starts in the audience.  No one is expecting her, so she freaks people out.  She will start with these small movements and the people around her will think:  “Who is this crazy person?”  

MR:  Like a one person Flash Mob.

Sheenah:  Exactly!  She plays with the audience by going up to people and interacting with them.  

MR:  That’s interesting.  We live in an age where people text each other, in the same room!  Interaction is very low.  To have someone in your face…

Sheenah:  Yes.  She tends to go to those that seem the most uncomfortable.  (laughs) Just to go: “Hey…it’s all good.”  She warms everyone up.  

We’ve been doing that for a while now.  We’ve opened for Colin Stetson’s band Ex Eye.  We’ve been to Sled Island (Music Festival) in Calgary and we’ve recently done a show for the Jazz Fest.  

We wanted to do a video that would showcase what we do live.  It’s a bigger piece because we have 12 phenomenal dancers.  We had over 100 dancers apply.  Brittney’s boyfriend Vincent René-Loitier is a director for his company Telescope Films.  We got the funding from Canada Council by saying we wanted to try something different with an interesting style of choreography.

In a sense, we are recreating the live experience with me at the podium of a self-help meeting.  Brittney starts to go a little crazy…just like she would live.  Then, it affects everyone else.  We then wanted all the dancers to morph into this big ball and at the end, consume me.     

They (Canada Council) loved the idea and we got almost all the budget we asked for.  

We shot it last December, so it’s been almost a year now.  We are so excited to release it.  

MR:  In the video, you are the one that triggers the individuals to break out into dance.  At the live show, who is the one that triggers dancing?

Sheenah:  It’s both of us, but Brittney helps encourage people to dance and many times people will join in a dance with her.  It’s a great audience because no one talks, they stand there and stare.

In Toronto, we were playing really late one night, and the audience was fairly inebriated.  Brittney just went with it.  It was amazing.  People starting dancing with her. 

In the film, I’m the one invoking it.  

MR:  In TV or films they will sometimes break the 4th wall, where the actor will talk to the audience.  For you, Brittney is the one breaking that wall between the audience and the performance.

Sheenah:  Yes!

MR:  I like the symbolism within the video.  Was this your vision or did you entrust this to your director?

Sheenah:  I was trusting in the director and choreographer.  Everything was choreographed, including the way that I looked and moved.  I would normally be more expressive, but Brittney choreographed me with no expression, like I’m out of it. We brainstormed together but it really came down to Vincent’s direction and her choreography for the whole concept.  

I find this choreography very interesting.  Brittney has gotten more work from this piece.  She was hired by (insert world famous artist here…it’s still hush hush) to shoot one of her new music videos, because of this film.  

MR:  I enjoyed the topic of coping mechanisms for when you are in a dark place.  It’s becoming more acceptable to openly talk about it.  

Sheenah:  I wrote this song as I was going through a lot of therapy.  I was attending a lot of Al-Anon meetings (for family members around alcoholics) that would take place in Church basements.

MR:  With the bad coffee and everything.

Sheenah:  Yeah!  This song was about the release that I was going through.  That’s why it’s a bit dark and heavy.  It’s not my lightest work ever…because I was releasing a lot of heaviness.   There is also a sense of hope in the music…a destination.

MR:  It’s a process.  The first part is for people to actually show up, in that room.  It could be a circle, but yours is more like a pulpit.  Even the people are separated by where they are located within the room.  They are not feeling closeness or comfort…yet.

They then have to move to the next process, which is acknowledgment.  That part where you say: “I’m an alcoholic.”  

Then you can start to listen to somebody, or one of your peers, which is another part of the process.  That still doesn’t get you to where you need to go.  

In the video, you unlocked the next level.  If people keep things locked up inside, they will never reach that next step.

Sheenah:  Yeah.  They are not going to heal or face their pains.  Everyone needs to face their demons.  You see that happening in the film because everyone starts losing it and express their anger and pain.  They start fighting, then I come down and get everyone to get in a circle and let it out.  You then see how people come together and start hugging.  

It’s ironic, because at the end, I’m not even willing to take my own advice.  

MR:  There was that dramatic part where they were behind the chairs, as if trapped and screaming.  I feel people can feel like that, trapped.  To scream by yourself, without someone to hear is pointless.  Is that part of the process as well?

Sheenah:  Yes!  When people are going through a really hard time, it’s very difficult to even want to talk to anybody.  Some people just lock it in, instead of having a way to express it.  

MR:  I’ve found, especially with artists that have gone through depression, that they have an outlet in music.

Sheenah:  Yes!  We are super fortunate that as artists, we have an outlet for letting go of that.  It’s a process when you are writing these songs.  You can take months, even years to finish these, but you are processing these feelings and letting them out.  It’s the same with any other form of art where you are creating everything.  

When I’m writing my music, I have a recorder at home, and I improvise.  It’s like I’m meditating almost.  What comes out is captured on the recordings.

MR:  Is that the lyrics?

Sheenah:  Everything.  The lyrics and the music.  It all comes simultaneously.  I then go back and find parts that could be a song.  Sometimes, I barely change the lyrics.  It always surprises me, what comes out.  I’m not worried about writing a song to fit a formula.  I’m not a good artist in the sense that I follow the way things should be done.  A seven-minute video is a really long video.  As a result, I’m having a hard time finding places that will showcase it, or even a category for it to fit into.  It’s not just a music video, dance video or short film.  I don’t like following a formula, I like things to come out naturally.

MR:  It’s very brave to put yourself on the edge, where it flows…capture it and leave it.  It’s as if your instinct is being put down on paper, without overthinking it.

Sheenah:  Exactly.  I work with a lot of musicians and some of the ways they write music is with a formula to make it a hit or do really well.  I come from a visual artist family; my parents were painters…a long line of painters from great grandmother and great great grandmother.  So, I come from an artist side where I’m not trying to fit a formula.  You are finding your true art and letting it come out.  Whether it works or not on the radio has never been my priority.  

MR:  It’s about finding your voice.  Your voice could be something visual.  It’s about finding your true self and trusting your instincts.

Sheenah:  Finding your voice goes along with finding yourself.  This is me…this is what I have to share.

I started music later in life.  I started in public speaking for a telecommunications company.  I dove into music seriously over the last 9 years.  Since then, I’ve been trying to explore who I am as an artist and as a result, I ended up learning way more about myself and finding who I am…my inner character.  It was such an interesting journey.  

I’ve been working with so many musicians over the last 9 years, but now I’m letting that inner voice come out.  

MR:  I’ve read this quote lately by Brené Brown: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”  I believe that is true.

Sheenah:  For sure.  There are many ways to be creative, but when you see an artist being vulnerable while performing, that’s what people get drawn to.  

I demonstrate a lot of vulnerability for my live performances.  I’m up on stage by myself and will often improvise live.  

Recently, at Shigawake Music Festival, the oldest Festival in Quebec organized by the Barr Brothers, I went around the room that day and asked musicians if they could play with me.  I built a band to play with me, on the fly.  We had never played together. I had Andrew Barr on drums, an amazing East coast violinist, guitars and I brought up 4 or 5 extra singers from Land of Talk & Blood and Glass.  It was this beautiful choir of female singers.  I was orchestrating this improvised performance.

MR:  Spontaneous even.

Sheenah:  Yes, this drony kind of song.  The organizer of the festival and a few others came up to me and said: “Wow…you had a lot of guts to do that live.”

But I love that!  Improvising live is something I want to do at every single show!  Improvising is vulnerability.  

“Improvising is vulnerability.” – Sheenah Ko

None of my shows are the same.  My music is still underground…different.  

MR:  This is just the beginning, you have the whole album coming out.

Sheenah:  Exactly.  Early 2020.  I’m actually hoping it will come out on 2/2/2020.  I’ve been seeing a lot of 2s lately.  Every time I look at the clock it’s 2:22!  

MR:  You can even wear a tutu when it’s released!  (laughs)

Our conversation continued about the upcoming tour, having her last EP on playlists, her other priority with Besnard Lakes and her acting career.

We could have continued for hours, such is the depth of Sheenah’s musical journey. Alas, the real world called, and L’Avenue was closing…so we parted ways in the cold streets of Montreal

You can catch Sheenah Ko play Live in Montreal at:

In Rainbow: Radiohead (Cover Supergroup)- Monday November 25 Verre Bouteille 2112 Mont-Royal Est, Montreal, Quebec H2H 1J8 (Get Tickets)

Solo – Sunday 6 PM December 1st, 2019 Le Cheval Blanc 809 Ontario est, Montreal, Quebec H2L 1P1

Interview: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube. His new Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their days jobs is coming soon. 

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