Ainsley McNeaney performs in Sackville tonight

The first Maritime tour for pop-jazz artist Ainsley McNeaney did not exactly get off to a smashing start.

Ainsley and her five-piece band left their Montreal home base this past Wednesday morning and expected a relatively smooth trip to their first tour stop in Halifax.

In Quebec City, the van they had rented broke down on the highway. Much to their dismay, the person from whom they had rented the van was less than enthusiastic about lending a hand to the group in order to get them back on the road. Thankfully, a kind tow truck driver took Ainsley and her bandmates into his care, helping the sextet find a new rental van and putting them back on their way to Halifax.

Such is life on the road. And some might argue experiences such as those, which Ainsley and crew have endured over the first 24 hours of their tour, build character.

Mind you, the pleasant and chatty Ainsley already has plenty of character. With one full-length album to her credit, 2008’s True Story Orchestra, Ainsley is carving out a unique name for herself. While she would definitely be at home in the world of jazz, there are classical undertones to her music.

Ainsley graduated from the University of Toronto, specializing in classical percussion. With the encouragement of her professors at the school, she began to spread her wings and began writing music for percussion and voice. Before long, she took up writing original material and by the time she wrapped up her studies at UofT, there was little doubt as to what she would do with her life.

With a population of more than 2.5 million, Toronto is Canada’s biggest city and can be a tough nut to crack when you’re trying to get your music career off the ground.

After calling the city home for 11-plus years, Ainsley packed her bags and moved to Montreal, a move that, two and a half years later, she is still thrilled about.

‘I called Toronto home for a long time and spent six years figuring out the music business, releasing my record and feeling out what the music scene was like,’ Ainsley says from the comfort of her rental van in Halifax. ‘There was just something with the city that didn’t jive with me. It is such a huge city that, looking back upon the time I was living there, the support that I receive as an artist in Montreal is heads and shoulders above what I received in Toronto. There is not a definitive sense of community in Toronto where Montreal seems to be much like Atlantic Canada in that, as big as the city is, it has the small-town vibe and mentality when it comes to the music and arts scene.

‘In Montreal, there is a better appreciation for the arts in general, as well as different kinds of music. Both the anglophone and francophone communities are so welcoming and if you can manage to bridge the gap between those two communities, you are wel comed with open arms.’ Ainsley’s relocation from Toronto to Montreal was partially responsible for the delay in following up her 2008 debut. It is not however, due to a lack of ideas.

‘Almost three years ago, I undertook a song-a-day project,’ Ainsley says.

‘After my record was released in 2008, I was not doing a lot of songwriting right off the bat but when I stepped back and realized that songwriting is a craft much like athletes work to perfect what they do, I began devoting a portion of my day every day to songwriting. Sometimes I’d spend 15 minutes writing and other times it would be two hours a day.

‘The idea of the project was to play with words, just to see what I could come up with. Looking back upon these bits and pieces of songs that are in this notebook, I have realized that many of these bits and pieces, even though they might not have been written at the exact same moment as others, actually work rather well together. I’m rather excited to start working on my next record.’

Ainsley and her band already have five or six new songs re gular ly included in their set and will be featuring songs both new and old when they perform at the Bridge Street Café Wednesday evening.

Boasting a line-up of upright bass, piano, percussion, flute, and guitar, Ainsley and her group might not have what is considered to be traditional jazz instrumentation in their group, however much like the very definition of jazz is open to interpretation, so are Ainsley and her remarkable group of backing musicians.

‘I am extremely lucky to have the band that I have,’ she says.

‘That has been another benefit about having relocated to Montreal. I have a regular band, something that probably wouldn’t have ever happened had I stayed in Toronto because there, musicians are after the high-paying gigs, not necessarily following their hearts.

‘With my band, we rehearse regularly and play shows together and perhaps most importantly, we all get along and like being together.
It’s a pretty great situation for sure.’

Article published in August 8, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript