Songstress With A Secretive Past

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From The Northern Star – 27th November 2008

ANN VRIEND is not called the secretive songstress for nothing.

This Canadian singer/songwriter and pianist once worked as a spy for a Western European agency. It’s hard to believe the sweet-sounding and affable musician in her ‘late 20s’ ever ventured into such career terrain, but further questioning about that period takes me nowhere. True to Espionage Training 101, she can’t say for who, where or what she was doing.

“I’d have to kill you,” she says – quite seriously.

She does, however, disclose how, while working as a spy, she met and fell in love with another spy. “It was quite passionate but the problem was, of course, we were spying on each other – he was from another agency.”

Speaking via Skyscape last week from the loft of her home in Edmonton, Canada – and before arriving in Australia this week for a national tour – Vriend recalls the romance being ‘a pretty tricky and dangerous situation’. “It was an emotional ride,” she says. “It was hard to know who and when to trust.”

The silver lining to that complex time of torn loyalties and clandestine passion is that it provided the inspiration for her latest album, When We Were Spies, the album she’ll be promoting on her Australian tour.

“The whole album is about that (experience),” she says. “It’s taken from my personal experiences and about relationships and the tension between protecting your own heart, sticking up a wall of distance and of self-interest versus the vulnerability you have when you really love someone.”

Vriend says the need for espionage is taking that whole issue to a political level, where people and countries and organisations feel the need to be treacherous to get the information they need. “So it’s a political album underneath it all, but on the surface it’s an album about love and knowing when to give in to love,” she says.

Vriend says she has always loved music and was encouraged by her parents to sing and play violin and piano from a young age.

But it wasn’t until she was older and volunteering at a music festival in her home town that she got her first big break into the industry.

“I had with me this demo I’d made and by chance I happened to meet a producer from New York and gave him a copy. I forgot all about it and then the next morning I get this call from him. He was a on a plane to Stockholm speaking from one of those plane phones. A few months later he had me down in New York City at the Sony Studios recording eight songs. I’d never been to New York. The very first night I got to go see Paul Simon in concert – he was someone I’d grown up listening to. I spent a lot of time in New York after that and ended up recording there and getting some interest from some really big name labels.”

Vriend has since performed around the world, including at various major big name music festivals, including the International Leonard Cohen Festival, Holzminden Jazz Festival (Germany) and the Port Fairy Folk Music Festival.

This current Aussie tour is Vriend’s fifth tour down under, but it is her first trip to Byron Bay. “I’ve never been but I hear it’s really great. I’ve heard it’s quite idyllic and a tourist destination…”

Her visit may coincide with the peak period of young partying ‘schoolies’ celebrating in town, but Vriend doesn’t expect to see any of them at her gig at the Byron Bay Community Centre tonight. “It’s not like a pub party band,” she says of her show. “It’s definitely a concert setting.” She says the songs she’ll perform, especially those from When We Were Spies, are very cinematic and epic in sound.

“It’s still pop, but with a lot of orchestration – and it’s very romantic,” she says.

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