Jessy Lanza Embraces the Spotlight with 'Oh No'

Jessy Lanza Embraces the Spotlight with 'Oh No'
Photo: Hollie Pocsai
"I think if you're prone to anxiety, music can end up being one of the worst career choices you can make, given that it's not easy to make money, it's unpredictable and there are a lot of questions," Jessy Lanza tells Exclaim! "A lot of things fall through, so you have to be prepared to be easy about most things."
The Hamilton, ON-based singer-producer wasn't prepared for the breakthrough that occurred when she released her debut, Pull My Hair Back, in 2013. She was an unknown artist at the time who'd struck up a partnership with Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan and found a deal with the highly influential UK label Hyperdub, but she still had very low expectations. When the album began to get noticed by the music press — eventually resulting in a Polaris Music Prize shortlist nomination and an opening slot on Caribou's European tour — things changed.
"Since I was a kid I've been pretty nervous. I was one of those kids that cried at everything and anything. I've always felt that having music has really helped with being caught up in your own self-obsessed neuroses. Music has always been a great escape for me. When I released the first album I didn't really have any expectations. But when it actually went well and people liked it and I got to tour, it was weird because music became my career and that was kind of stressful."
This "constant nervousness" had a profound effect on the recording process of Oh No, her second full-length, out Friday (May 13) via Hyperdub. While Lanza has felt the pressure, she has a newfound confidence both as a vocalist and producer that provides added nuances to Oh No. The stripped-back, reticent production with which she struck a chord on Pull My Hair Back has been bolstered and reshaped on Oh No, resulting in an emphatic collection of contemporary R&B-pop.
"I definitely felt more confident [on this one]," she admits. "I think Jeremy and I both had a better understanding of what we were going to do. I felt more focused on this idea that we were going to make a poppier album. Pull My Hair Back came together over a period of time where there was a lot of trial and error. Jeremy and I were learning how to work best with one another. We did so many tracks before releasing that album and nobody gave a shit, which was fine. But it took a long time for us to find a sound for Pull My Hair Back, and this album just came together a bit easier."
Oh No was recorded during the same time frame as the recent Junior Boys album, Big Black Coat. Both Lanza and Greenspan have their own studios in downtown Hamilton just a few blocks apart, which meant there was a constant back-and-forth for both of them. But knowing not to mess with a good thing, they kept the whole process similar to that of making Pull My Hair Back.
"We definitely worked on tracks much in the same way as the first album," she explains. "Jeremy is really good at structuring the songs and sequencing, but also adding parts to finish the song and make it better. The way that we usually start is that I bring him ten different ideas, like a verse, chorus, verse and a drum pattern and chord structure, but not quite there yet. But we mostly work independently. I did all of my vocals in my own studio. That's one thing we learned from the first album — it doesn't work when we're doing vocals in the same room, because we get irritated with one another, so it's just better if I do it. But we mixed all of the tracks at Jer's studio with our friend David Psutka, who goes by the name of Egyptrixx."
You can find dates for Lanza's upcoming North American tour here and have a listen to Oh No below.