Descendant

Jann Arden

Descendant

“Music, to me, is like the easiest thing in the world,” Jann Arden tells Apple Music. That statement will come as a relief to fans who could be forgiven for thinking the veteran Canadian pop star had put singing on the back burner. Arden’s 15th studio album arrives four years after its predecessor (2018’s These Are the Days), and in the interim, the pride of Springbank, Alberta, has blossomed into a full-blown multimedia icon, having launched her own podcast, starred on her own Curb Your Enthusiasm-style comedy series for CTV (Jann) and crafted another memoir (2020’s If I Knew Then). However, by digging into her past for that book, she inadvertently planted the seeds for Descendant, which openly addresses the deaths of her parents, her history of dysfunctional romantic relationships and the spiritual connection she feels to her forebears. “I like the sentiment of celebrating ancestry in your life,” Arden says. “I knew in the early days that this record was going to encompass who I was now, who my ancestors were and what those people endured before us.”
To realise her vision, she surrounded herself (or at least collaborated over Zoom) with her second family—i.e., longtime collaborators Bob Rock, Russell Broom and Darcy Phillips, among others. Collectively, they conjure Arden’s roller-coaster life story by pushing her in myriad musical directions—spanning disco, glam rock, cosmic country music and poetry experiments—while still arming her with plenty of string-swept ballads to showcase her eternally powerful pipes. Here, Arden introduces us to some of Descendant’s musical offspring.
“Unbreakable” “Russ sent me a really great groove and a super-cool chord progression. And I thought, ‘I just want to write a pop song’. I really challenged myself to not be too esoteric, and to not overthink the chorus, but to kind of harken back to [1994 hit single] ‘Insensitive’—and I thought ‘unbreakable’ was a great word for that, just something really memorable. So, that was the task I set up for myself: to write a pop song. But it kind of took a turn because it’s a depressing pop song. ‘Unbreakable’ is that typical story where you’ve got yourself convinced that you’re going to do OK [after a relationship]. The key word here is ‘I have tried to be unbreakable’, but I didn’t quite succeed.”
“Descendant” “We’re all looking for a salve for our souls—whether it’s drinking or a drug or eating too much food. But you need to have that come-to-Jesus moment where you realise, ‘This is who I am, and this is why I’m doing the things that I’m doing.’ My mom and dad haven’t been gone very long. But I have all these people that have come before me that are picking me up now. And that’s what I tried to write about. My great-grandmother had 17 kids and passed away at 46, 47 years old from being tired of having children. I’ve thought about her so much over the years, and what she’d think of me: a single woman, living very comfortably among the trees in a house, and I have a condo in Toronto, and I have a dog, and I’ve got some money in my pocket, and I drive a car, and I’m not reliant on anybody. I think she’d be super glad.”
“Was I Ever 13” “I went to a really small school out here in Springbank—40 kids—and we’d have these massive bonfires where we’d all be drinking really shitty beer. It was just this blur of wanting to have a boyfriend and feeling like no one’s gonna like me. So, I ended up writing about that yearning of being a young person and living in a very turbulent household—my brother was huffing gasoline, and my older brother ended up incarcerated for a long time. But I love the sentiment of the song, and I love the progressive production. It feels like you’re in a movie somewhere on a Friday night, and you have this Tears for Fears interlude and these ’70s synth sounds that lift you out of the story and into hopefulness.”
“Moonbow” “Bob was on a Zoom call—he was in Maui, and it was, like, six o’clock in the morning. And he played me this lilting acoustic guitar pattern, and I felt like I was in Laurel Canyon in 1967 and I had just dropped acid and I’m staring across a heatwave in a backyard—drinking something and staring at some beautiful group of human beings, and I write them the most butterflying unicorn love song. I like this one because it seems so far away from who I am as a writer. It’s very wordy. It’s a lyric that just goes on and on about leaves shining like coins, and streams, and birds singing. It feels so drug-induced to me. It makes me smile.”
“Loving You Is Like a Job” “I wrote this about a relationship that I have not been in for six years now, but I was in it for 10, and it really seemed so laborious. I loved the sentiment of the song, and I didn’t want to take away too much from Darcy [Phillips]’s beautiful piano pattern, so I pictured this really lonesome version of myself back in my nightclub days where no one was listening to me. I said to Russ, ‘I’d love to have the sound of bottles clinking and conversation.’ So, we went through a catalogue of, like, 10,000 bar sounds on the internet, but oddly, the one sample that I really liked was taken from a pub owned by Russ’ wife’s father! So, her dad may well have been in the room behind the bar when that recording was made. Russell stuck his arm out and showed me his hair standing up on his forearm.”
“Love Will Be Waiting” “I love ABBA, to the point where it’s nauseating. Bob just kept building on this track. I sang so many backup parts, and then we had three brilliant singers come in—Camille [Henderson], Saffron [Henderson] and Alisia [Lyne], who I’ve used several times over the years on my records. They just added this whole other epic level of vocals. The song has that four-on-the-floor feel, and it’s got one of those choruses that doesn’t have a lyric, so you can just be yelling it out on the dance floor. It’s a really fun song to sing, but with a good degree of difficulty. It’s up in the rafters. It’s about as high as I ever want to sing.”
“Horse Country Girl” “With this one, I said to Bob, ‘Help me out here, because this is a really weird track.’ And he said, ‘Well, I was thinking about my wife. I travel a lot—I’m in LA and I’m in New York and Miami and Ireland—and my wife is home with the horses.’ So, I’m like, ‘OK, “Horse Country Girl”, here we go: You’re the astronaut and she’s at home.’ It’s certainly a hat-tip to David Bowie and Queen—those people who wrote epic rock songs with these crazy stories. This is as close to a glam-rock song as I’ve ever written, because it’s a completely made-up story that has nothing to do with my life.”
“Pink” “This is a poem written by my friend Wendy Williams Watt for her daughter. I saw it and I said, ‘Wendy, I think I want to try writing a song to this—it’s so fantastical.’ It’s about the universality of our humanness. ‘Bottom lip/Inner peony/Consenting Japanese orchid’—it seems sensual, but that’s what she’s saying about her daughter: This is what you are to me. It’s so clever: ‘Jump off the swing pink/Buy your own ring pink/It’s a boy pink.’ She’s trying to smash apart that whole gender attachment to pink. It was a difficult song to make—I had to figure out how to make a chorus where there wasn’t a chorus, so I just made up little vocal sounds to break up the verses. I’m the person making the choir, so it was fun to record 50 voices of me as a choir.”
“Glass Jar” “I remember my dad dying, and I just stood at the foot of his bed and thought, ‘Well, I guess that’s that’. We had a very contentious relationship. I know he loved me, but he was a hard guy to grow up with. I didn’t understand him, I didn’t know him. Alcoholism is terrible—for the person in it, for the kids that don’t understand it, for the wife that tries to hang in there. This is probably the most real story on the record. When we finished the record, I just put it on in my car and gave it a listen to see if I wanted to do any harmonies over myself. And as soon as I put it on, I just cried and cried and cried. So, I was like, ‘Oh, there it is’. I didn’t like my dad, but I loved him, and I think a lot of people understand that sentiment.”

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15