Combine bedroom folk and a soaring indie pop sensibility and you have the 10th studio album from savvy Canadian songstress, Emm Gryner. Following the release of her “Best Of” collection and the debut of her new band, roots trio Trent Severn, Torrential recounts a tumultuous year-in-the-life of the struggling new mom. Throw in the skills of L.A.-based producer Joe Corcoran who put together the music for the viralvideo version of “Space Oddity”, and you have a landmark album from one of Canada's pioneers of indie pop.
Torrential features a myriad of instruments (vintage mandolins, ukuleles, parlour guitars, piano, synths and sometimes epic drums) woven together to create a mountain range of sonic storytelling, from the feel good duet “So Easy” (with Chris Hadfield) to the groove-centric farewell to old music industry pals, “Purge” to the twangy, energetic album opener “Pioneer” and to the epic, gothy “End Of Me”. There’s an underlying sorrow to the songwriting of Emm Gryner, which is often counterbalanced by her affair with big melodies; a delicate fusion that echoes the bittersweet murmur of legendary trail blazers, The Smiths.
The song “Sundown On Us” sees a return to the raw, uncensored lyric writing which drew thousands of followers to Gryner in the late 90’s. In her quest to reveal life's darker moments through words, she draws inspiration both from her contemporaries Great Northern, Tegan and Sara, Jake Bugg and Nick Cave and from the work of poets Cynthia Kraman and Arthur Rimbaud.
Gryner has been nominated 3 times for a Juno Award, twice for Best Pop Album. Her fiercely independent spirit has helped her weather the lows and the the highs - a brief and generally unfruitful stint on Mercury Records and a glamorous year-long sideman gig at the age of 24, playing keys and singing backing vocals in David Bowie’s band. One of the first artists in Canada to cultivate an independent label and stick to it, Gryner has never looked back, recording dozens of records funded out of her own pocket with the support of a small but loyal fan base.
2010 saw Gryner become a mother and a second child, a daughter, was born in 2012. “People don’t realize the loneliness of motherhood,” says Gryner. “When you care deeply it makes the job that much harder. Everyone hears about women losing themselves to motherhood but there is more at stake than I expected - mental health, the toll on your body, the separation from your love and art. The constant questioning. The album is about all of those struggles. Complicated by no sleep.”
Torrential was produced by Joe Corcoran, the engineer who recorded Gryner’s 2011 single, “Ciao Monday”. Gryner and Corcoran worked across the miles (he in L.A., she in St. Marys, Ontario) often starting with just one guitar part and Gryner’s vocal, usually etched out in the rare quiet of morning or nighttime. The pair worked diligently back and forth for over 10 months to ensure the raw sentiment behind the songs was nurtured and preserved. “Vocals needed to be the focus. Often I recorded them just after I wrote the songs. There’s something painfully honest about that,” remarks Gryner.
In May 2013, Gryner and Corcoran along with former astronaut Chris Hadfield made international headlines when their version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (recorded partially on Earth, partially on the International Space Station) became the first music video to be filmed in space. Gryner began with the stark piano arrangement, then enlisted Corcoran to “produce the track up” including Hadfield’s extraterrestrial vocal performance.
“So Easy”, a duet with Hadfield, (recorded on Earth, post-mission), is a hopeful four-on-the-floor semi-autobiographical duet. “Since I left, you sidestepped drowning in this life,” sings the now-retired astronaut. “Bright Spot” is another crack in the cloud cover of a trying year - a minor key ode to a lover which sonically owes more to Gryner’s peers Metric and The Cardigans than average singer-songwriter fare.
In “Torrential”, the album’s title track, Gryner pleads for a nocturnal saviour. Along with “Mammoth Ache” which pays tribute to an ex-manager (“It’s a heavy weight we carried through Times Square when we were one”), they balance out some of the collection’s outright pop anthems making Torrential the album, a wild but vulnerable trip through the sometimes melancholic life of a modern day mother and music maven. Hang on to yourself - it all might hit closer to home than you might expect.
Emm Gryner Singer/ Songwriter