Harsh or humorous, The LYNNeS aren’t afraid to tell it like it is
Who knew heartbreak could be so much fun?
That would be the Ottawa duo The LYNNeS, Lynn Miles and Lynne Hanson, whose debut disc Heartbreak Song For The Radio garnered five Canadian Folk Music Award nominations.
With acclaimed solo careers on both sides, the collaboration developed gradually after they met in 2005, with Miles sitting in as a backing singer, then an album producer, and finally a co-writer on several of Hanson’s projects. Performing together just over a year now, they co-wrote everything on their debut with results that lean as often to humour as heartbreak.
I caught up with The LYNNeS out on the west coast. When the current tour gets to their local debut Friday for New Moon Folk Club the duo becomes a band with bass and drums backing, but between them they can take on acoustic and electric guitars, piano and percussion, performing The LYNNeS repertoire and songs written individually by each singer.
Q: Was The LYNNeS inevitable since you were both part of Ottawa’s roots music scene?
LM: The first time we met, we were introduced by Sue Foley. I said, “you’re gonna have to move ’cause this town isn’t big enough for two Lynnes.” Once we became friends, we’d be walking around Ottawa and people would say, “oh, there’s the Lynnes.” That’s how we got the name and the idea solidified from there.
Q: Apart from that name, what else do you think you share?
LH: When I first met Lynn Miles she had just won a Juno, her career was very established and mine was just starting. Over the years the one thing I’ve always admired is her attention to the craft of songwriting and that’s certainly something I’ve aspired to, so regardless of our backgrounds or how we might hear something that’s the common thread.
LM: We approach songwriting with the same passion. It’s rare to find someone who will sit there for hours and dig away to try to find the right words for one line, to go the distance.
Q: One thing I like about this album, starting with the title, is that you can be unabashedly grim. You do wear your hearts on your sleeves.
LH: When you wander over into the Americana-singer-songwriter realm it’s about truth, what’s really going on with people, and part of the reason we connect with our audience is that we’re talking about real life, what people live through. Someone told me, “your sad songs make me happy,” and people need to hear their stories told in art. Sometimes they’re a little dark, but Buddhism says all of life is suffering, and when you accept that it all becomes so much easier.
LM: Part of our job as artists is to go into that darker stuff, and pull out some things and try to make them beautiful or universal, and music can help you find your way through it.
LH: One thing we try to do in our live shows is to balance that out, to make people laugh and make them cry. I’ve always had a desire to be a stand-up comedian and Lynn Miles is just funny. So we bring people up and then down and then up, and it’s a lot of fun to just come on the ride.
Q: It seems like the course of world events over the last couple of years has been hard to take in. Do you have any sense from touring that the world needs a little musical therapy at this point in time?
LH: Absolutely. The most common comment we get after shows is that “it’s so great to hear your music because you’re articulating what I don’t know how to say.” I think it’s that sense of connection that we desperately crave. When you have your earbuds in everywhere you go there’s a sense of isolation. We’re together but apart. It’s in our DNA to communicate through art and music.
Q: About half the songs on your album are about heartbreak or relationships. Is that still the first place for a songwriter to go?
LH: You know, our ratio is not bad in that only half our songs are about heartbreak. It’s one of the most common things in being human.
Q: Halfway To Happy is one of my favourites from the album. Where did that come from?
LH: That was a song I tried to write with three other writers before Lynn and I were able to do it. It’s about getting halfway there, and then you f*** it up. Inevitably something throws a wrench into it and you slip into old habits. No matter how much we try, we tend to like to trip ourselves up.
Q: There’s quite a broad spectrum of music here from rockers to quieter songs. Did you know what you wanted going into the studio?
LM: You can feel the groove when you’re writing the lyrics. We played most songs live off the floor with a rhythm section. Then we added Kevin Breit on guitar and he stepped it up a notch, but it was a pretty organic process.
LH: When you’re writing with someone who takes things differently, you can run the gamut because you’re not locked into the thing that you do. One plus one equals three.