Aimee-Jo Benoit likes to mix it up. For her latest album Borjoner, the Calgary jazz artist joined forces with Trio Velocity to revamp a set of rock classics by the likes of Nirvana, Feist, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and more. Today, Benoit mixes it up with my dumbo questions. Let’s see if she can still reach nirvana by the end of the proceedings:
Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base, other details you’d like to share (height, weight, identifying marks, astrology sign, your choice).
My name is Aimee-Jo Benoit, I am 41 years young, and am a native Calgarian. Born and raised here, I spent 16 months in Vancouver after I graduated from university, but then quickly returned home to pursue my Master of Arts and get back to the sunshine. I still miss the jazz scene there, but am so happy I came back. Fun fact about my name: My maiden name was Giesbrecht, but Giesbrecht was not a great stage name, and for years I said I would change my stage name to Aimee Benoit, as my grandfather’s name was Benoit Aime and I was named after him. Shortly after, I met my husband, Kristoffer Benoit … and you know the rest! I am a Cancer, which makes me very complex. Just ask my husband. I have very curly hair which I keep short because I don’t have enough patience to grow it out. And, yes, it’s natural.
What is your musical origin story?
I think my love for music came from my mother, as she always had something very lively playing. Some regular groups on her playlist were Abba and Gipsy Kings. I learned to sing in church and school choir, and was an early inductee into musical theatre at school, getting my first solo in the 4th or 5th grade. I was hooked! From then on, it was a slow burn to jazz, but I had the privilege of being a touring member of Woodpigeon, doing backing vocals for various local groups, and finally recording my first studio album in 2020.
What do we need to know about your latest project?
Borjoner was released in June, and is a collaboration between myself and Trio Velocity — Simon Fisk on double bass, Robin Tufts on drums and Sheldon Zandboer on piano. We came together after the death of a good friend, mentor and colleague, guitarist Keith Smith. It was at his wake where we improvised Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and we knew we had to continue playing together. Borjoner is a collection of arrangements of tunes that have a sentimental value to me, and varies from songs by Feist, Daniel Lanois, Michael Feuerstack and Joni Mitchell. We loosely improvise the tunes, and let them breathe and come to life when we attack. Each performance has slight variations, and from season to season, we focus on listening to each other, rather than a strict arrangement to follow.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I think what sets us all apart is what we share with our audience. I am most adamant about a genuine experience for the listener, where it is raw, emotive and imperfect. I like to record live off the floor, while still ensuring the best audio quality possible. I am most certainly not a typical jazz artist (in the old traditional sense) as I don’t consider myself torchy or swingy or any one thing. I like to do it all, but not all at the same time. Don’t fence me in. Jazz is an attitude, an education, a learning of the rules and breaking them.
What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
Listeners have told me that Borjoner has had a positive effect on their mental health during Covid. It should make you feel lighter, it should help you release and feel grounded. That’s what I feel and that’s what I want the listener to feel as well.
Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
The first important gig I ever played, we got paid $60 or something ridiculous. I paid the band and left heartbroken.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
Most memorable performance was with Woodpigeon at the End of the Road Festival in Salisbury, U.K. They had a secret stage set in the middle of a forest, with a rickety old stage and piano. There will twinkly lights hanging everywhere, and peacocks roaming the grounds. We had just finished a day of partaking in the festival and crammed as many of us as we could (we were an eight-piece) on this tiny stage where we played our hearts out for 40 minutes. It was magic. After that, we were signed to End of the Road Records. I think if you took our picture, the caption would read Pure Joy Found Here.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
The most memorable performance was also at The End of the Road Festival. It was Jens Lekman, backed by an all-female band in support of the album Night Falls Over Kortedala. The tent was sweaty and packed, his music was lifting us all off the floor. I remember it to a T, and I don’t have a memory for much!
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
The same thing. But more, in different countries, with a real audience in front of me, rather than a computer.
What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
Blossom Dearie, Jeff Buckley, Janis Joplin, John Coltrane to name a few. I would love to collaborate with Amanda Tosoff, Laila Biali and Kenna Burima.
What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I’m not sure if it would be surprising, but I genuinely appreciate most forms of music, except pop-country and bass-heavy dance.
What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
I have not stopped listening to these albums during Covid: Matthew Halsall, Oneness; Busty and the Bass, Eddie; Rose Cousins, Bravado; Solveig Slettahjell, Antologie.
How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
Author: Michael Ondaatje. Movie: Amelie. Painter: Marigold Santos (she did the artwork for Borjoner).
Who would you be starstruck to meet?
What’s your favourite joke?
What’s brown and sticky? A stick.
What do you drive and why?
Minivan. Because three kids.
What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
Flying. I’d fly everywhere.
What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I can guess the exact amount of a bulk item needed to fill a jar at home.
What do you collect?
Flower petals from important events.
If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
*see Best of Bridge Cookbook for reference. Oh so unhealthy, oh so delish.
What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
Is twerking still a thing?
Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
We are now officially foster fail parents as we adopted our first foster pet two weeks after he came home with us. He is a Bombay cat, black hair as soft as mink, super affectionate and always hungry.
If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I have a Master of Arts in Religious Studies, and I consider myself a romantic when it comes to education. So I’d teach Philosophy of Religion at Oxford.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
Bloom where you’re planted. Seriously. Don’t wait for the perfect situation for anything, cause you will be waiting forever. It takes grit and talent to make it in life.