Story by Ian Cuthbertson
March 15, 2010
PETITE Canadian songstress Ann Vriend says she has an affinity with Australia — even parts of the country where the pubs are not recognised for their acceptance of sensitive singer-songwriters.
“I’m from Edmonton, Alberta, which is an oil town in an oil province,” the singer, on a 10-week solo tour, said in Melbourne yesterday. “It’s pretty much the same.”
Vriend, who has been compared to everyone from Joni Mitchell to Regina Spektor and even the young Aretha Franklin, said she had developed skills to deal with trouble on the road.
“I spent enough time as a waitress while getting my career off the ground to know my way around drunks, ” she said.
But with a growing international following, independent record sales of about 15,000, and a string of reviews and accolades to her name that many more established artists would kill for, Vriend is hopeful that people who know her music will win out over potentially difficult elements.
Vriend said that after 10 years in the business she still preferred to distribute her music independently.
“When I won a songwriting competition at the beginning of my career (in 2000) I was shopped to a few majors,” she said. “But the deals they were offering were kind of anti-artistic.
“It was all `you have to be this and for the rest of your life you will write songs in this genre, and you must look like this, and be this personality’,” she said.
Vriend said that, due to contractions in the industry, it’s now worse than ever. “It’s no different now to the marketing of a brand of toilet paper, or cat food.
“That’s OK, that’s the way the world is, but I just don’t want that kind of a life. I think I would find that really depressing and in direct opposition to what I love about being a musician, which is the freedom.”
Vriend said she was now in a position where she could meet another artist and decide to record or tour together “without checking with our labels first”.
And meet people she does.
Almost an honorary Australian, Vriend stays with friends all over the country when she tours. “That’s partly because I’ve never had a huge budget, but you see so much more of a city — and a country — when you hang out with the locals, who can shepherd you to the really cool things and away from the tourist traps,” she said.
Following her extensive Australian tour, Vriend is due home in Alberta on May 4. “May the fourth be with you!” she tells friends back home, who can’t wait to hear her stories of the tour.