Mo Kenney’s Star Is On The Rise

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Mo Kenney may only be 22 years old with one full-length album to her credit but the sky will truly be the limit for this talented Nova Scotian folk-pop singer.

Kenney’s star has been consistently rising over the course of the last two years and with good reason. She sings and writes songs with the insight and wisdom of a songwriter twice her age. She has earned praise from acclaimed songwriters including Ron Sexsmith, Steve Poltz and Crash Test Dummies vocalist Brad Roberts.

Kenney’s talent revealed itself relatively early in life. When she was just 17 years old, her talent managed to attract the attention of Halifax’s Joel Plaskett who ended up serving as a producer on Kenney’s debut album. Now, slowly but surely, the rest of Canada is awakening to Kenney’s talent.

Kenney’s most recent accomplishment comes courtesy of SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada). Her song “Sucker” has been nominated for the 2013 SOCAN Songwriting Prize and is up against the likes of Whitehorse, The Weather Station & Baby Eagle, Maylee Todd and Purity Ring.

Prior to the recognition from SOCAN, Kenney also earned a 2013 East Coast Music Award for Rising Star Recording of the Year.

Having recently returned from a three-week tour of the United Kingdom, yet another milestone in her already impressive career, you’ll have to forgive Mo if her head is spinning from the accolades coming her way.

In light of all of the attention, it’s a little hard to believe that Kenney once suffered from severe stage fright.

“I used to hate performing,” Mo says with a laugh. “I was never the type of person who wanted to be the centre of attention and so performing in front of people was a strange prospect. I am the type of person who would rather observe than participate and so I really had to push myself to sing for people. It is funny how it has changed though because I love singing for and entertaining people now. I feel like I can really be myself.”

Growing up, Mo says that she always had an affinity for music. She began playing guitar at age 11 and wrote her first song at age 15. Once she opened the songwriting gates, the songs flowed freely from there.

A relatively short two years after she wrote her first song, she had the good fortune of meeting fellow Haligonian Joel Plaskett. Impressed by her talent, Plaskett eventually secured Mo a spot in one of Gordie Sampson’s songwriting camps. When it came time to begin piecing together the songs that would comprise her self-titled debut, calling upon Plaskett to help her realize the record was a no-brainer.

“I learned so much working with Joel,” Mo says. “Prior to working with him, I hadn’t collaborated with anyone aside from people I worked with in one of Gordie Sampson’s songwriting camps.

“In some ways, I feel as though Joel has taken me under his wing and I am so grateful for that. I know that I can always call upon him, whether it is for career advice or songwriting advice. I always loved his music so to have the chance to work with him is still a bit surreal to me. It is definitely a count all of my blessings kind of situation.”

Mo and Joel would end up performing all of the instrumentation on Mo’s record. In fact, it was Plaskett who pushed Mo to record and include her remarkable cover of the David Bowie song “Five Years” on her album.

“My father gave me a copy of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album and I became completely obsessed with it, which is funny because he had always kind of scared me,” she laughs. “Joel and I were toying with the idea of including a cover song on the record and when I played Joel “Five Years,” he was determined to include that song on the album.”

Although there are few musical similarities between Mo and David Bowie, she says that she considers the legendary Bowie to be one of the most intriguing songwriters of the last 50 years.

“Bowie’s songs can be so bizarre but the lyrical content is so cool. The way that ‘Five Years’ unfolds is just so amazing and is a big reason why I’m so drawn to his work.”

Before her summer ramps up with a series of festival shows around the country, Mo will hit Parkindale Hall this Saturday for a show with a full band in tow. Like many other performers, Mo plays some shows solo and others with the backing of a full band. She says that performing with a full band gives her songs a kind of edge that just doesn’t come across when she plays solo.

“When I started playing shows, it was just me and an acoustic guitar. It’s nice to have a band behind me though. Plus, I absolutely love playing my electric guitar.”

Article published in the June 14, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript