Jackson Hollow have plenty to say. And they’re just getting started. The Vancouver bluesgrass quartet recently released their latest single Look Who’s Talking Now, the third preview of their upcoming debut album. Penned by singer-songwriters Melba Montgomery (George Jones), Jerry Salley (Reba McEntire), and Leslie Satcher (Martina McBride), and produced by CCMA award winner Tom McKillip (Aaron Pritchett, Lisa Brokop), it seamlessly blends traditional country, folk, and Americana elements. And while we’re on the subject of talking, Jackson Hollow vocalist Tianna Lefebvre and fiddler / mandoliist Mike Sanyshyn — the married co-founders of the B.C. group — also decided to take a spin through my pointless questions. If that doesn’t make them wish they’d kept quiet, nothing will.
Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and any other details you’d care to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
Mike: Hi, I’m Mike Sanyshyn, a session and touring fiddler/mandolinist for the band Jackson Hollow. 5 ft 10 and Scorpio.
Tianna: I am Tianna Lefebvre, lead singer and co-founder of the Vancouver-based bluegrass band Jackson Hollow.
What is your musical origin story?
Mike: I’m a third-generation fiddler. My dad and grandfather both played, and I showed interest at an early age. I used to sit in my PJs strumming on an old mandolin without strings for hours at a time, jamming with my dad and his buddies until I’d fall asleep in that very spot.
Tianna: The first real recording session I ever did was at Studio 86 at Expo 86. I was super shy, and they ended up blasting it out front. Everyone was freaking out, I think, because I was so young. I did my first real demo session at 15, and just kept pursuing my solo career from there. I fell in love with Mike, We fell in love with bluegrass and in 2015, we started our own band.
What’s your latest project?
Mike: As a session musician, I’m always working on a lot of different projects and enjoying making Jackson Hollow my No. 1. It’s not easy saying no to work, being self-employed and all, but I have to put our career and family first and it’s been very freeing and rewarding! Our latest project is our debut Jackson Hollow album.
Tianna: Yes! The album is on its way later this year. So far, we’ve released our first three singles from it – Travelin’ Heart, Shallow Rivers, and our newest, Look Who’s Talking Now.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
Mike: What sets us apart is that we’re deliberately going in an opposite direction than what’s on contemporary country radio and staying true to a style of music that celebrates the use of traditional acoustic instruments.
Tianna: I believe what also sets us apart is that we have spent a lot of time in the music industry. We have done a lot, seen a lot, and have really put the time in and have learned from the best.
How will my life improve by listening to your music?
Mike: Your life will improve by appreciating the true and deceivingly simpler sound of bluegrass music, and you will become a fan of what bluegrass music sounds like today.
Tianna: I hope it will show you just how much you like bluegrass, when before, maybe just didn’t realize it. It will broaden your musical horizons!
Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played.
Mike: I was 15 years old and my first road gig was travelling to Yokohama, Japan for the 1989 Expo representing Canada as Vancouver’s sister city. I was a part of a Canadian troupe of singers, actors, and novelty performers like a yo-yo champion, a jump rope skipping team, and a magician. Actors Dennis Simpson and Linda Boyd were also on the gig. I was part of the house band and did two features for a 10-day run, three shows per day.
Tianna: I wrote a song called My Heart Won’t Wait and It was pressed on vinyl, and sent to Europe on Comstock Records. I was still in high school at the time. I think the school played it over the announcements speakers, so the whole school heard it. Oh geez, that seems embarrassing now!
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you have given?
Mike: The best performance experience was performing live in the house band on the Canadian Country Music Awards with many of my favourite musician friends and mentors of mine in this scene. Another milestone event was recording the fiddle for the segment introducing Vancouver/Whistler 2010 at Torino’s 2006 Winter Olympics and hearing that on a worldwide stage!
Tianna: The most memorable performance I have personally given was at Rogers Arena. I won a Show Us Your Shania radio contest and was chosen to sing a song at one of her concerts to a sold-out crowd. The worst was when I was younger, I would enter all these contests and showcases, and they would introduce me and I would just die inside. I always thought I sounded bad and I hated how scared it made me! My mom would usually find me crying somewhere behind the stage. One time, my dad gave all his workers the day off to come to the Arts Club Theatre to see me sing a solo for the choir and I got scared and never came out!
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen?
Mike: The strangest gigs have been from performing in lederhosen … to playing in a correctional facility for the criminally insane.
Tianna: I loved seeing Jessica Simpson. All her costumes were so pretty. Celine Dion was just stunning! Not only her vocals but her beauty and costumes were insane. I am a very visual person and I wasn’t expecting that! Dailey and Vincent. There are no words. The live performance is unreal. Also the first time we saw the Time Jumpers. I looked over and Mike has an actual tear rolling down his cheek! We had never really heard anyone fully embrace traditional music in that way before.
What living or dead artists would you like to collaborate with?
Mike: I wish I could transport myself back in time to the 1950s-1960s to collaborate with the greats of that classic country era.
Tianna: Jamie Dailey or Rhonda Vincent, maybe Pat Benatar, and of course, Freddie Mercury. I would love to write with Lady Gaga. I wonder if she likes bluegrass?
What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
Mike: Growing up playing the fiddle I love to play old-time dance music. Waltzes, foxtrots, polkas and square dance music.
What words do you hope people use when they describe you?
Mike: I hope that they don’t use four-letter words and keep it clean! On a serious note — dedicated, inspiring, and creative.
Tianna: Hopefully nice ones.
What useful (or useless) skills do you have outside of music?
Mike: My index fingers and both little pinkies are double jointed, so I use it as my party trick!
Tianna: I am a licensed cosmetologist and have also done floral design and wedding/party decor. I can colour match almost anything perfectly — not sure if this is useful or useless!
What do you collect?
Mike: I have collected a lot of sheet music and recorded music on CD, cassette, and LP.
Tianna: Things that are tiny. Makeup, beauty stuff (especially travel size), shoes, dishes.
If money was no object, where would you live?
Mike: We’re pretty fortunate to live in beautiful British Columbia, so we would stay in this province and upgrade to a bigger place. At the most, it would be great to get a second home in the U.S.
Tianna: I kinda like where we live, but I could definitely do it more extravagantly! I would move my family closer to me. And I desperately need a pool.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness / total misery?
Mike: My idea of perfect happiness is having quality time to be creative and the ability to do so.
Tianna: Perfect happiness would be having no worries. Total misery being dirty and unkempt.
What are your pet peeves?
Mike: Cigarette smoke or any other variety and inconsiderate people.
Tianna: Too much colour, too much clutter, people not doing what they say, and yes, I agree with Mike. SMOKE — cigarette or any type.
What’s your greatest regret?
Mike: Not being more tech savvy. I wish I started earlier in learning more about finance, administration and being more self-sufficient in technical world we live in.
Tianna: Being painfully shy for so long. I wish I would have stayed on top of playing guitar.
What are you afraid of?
Tianna Lefebvre: Car accidents, surgeries.
What would the title of your autobiography be?
Mike: The Fiddler.
Tianna: It’s Complicated.
Who should play you in the movie of your life?
Mike: I’m a fan of classic professional wrestling and when I used to have long hair in the mid ’90s, some people would say I looked like WWE champion Shawn Michaels. Perhaps he would play that role of me in that era, but not likely!
Tianna: Rebel Wilson.
What’s your motto?
Mike: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!
Tianna: If you stay ready, you won’t have to get ready.
What’s always in your refrigerator?
Mike: Cheese and Creamo for coffee.
Tianna: Eggs, almond milk, and ICE!
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Tianna: I wish I could do more and do it better in less time.
If you had one day to spend as you please without any consequences, what would you do?
Mike: I’ve spent many days without consequences so I thought, until I became older and wiser.
Tianna: Go everywhere without a mask, shake everyone’s hand and lick everything! Just kidding!
What was your favourite class in school and why?
Mike: Band class. I excelled in concert and jazz band playing the trumpet and had some great experiences. I was awarded the top musician award and a scholarship to attend the UBC Summer Jazz Camp under the direction of Tommy Banks. I wasn’t really fond of any other classes besides music.
Tianna: I had five music classes and English 12 in my last year of school. I was also in the PAPA Program, which was the program for artists, performers, and athletes, so I could leave school to record or perform and they would catch me up after. Kinda like a tutor or liaison. There were junior A hockey players in there, one of the dancers went on to dance for Paula Abdul, I think, and Lisa Brokop was in that class with me. Also we thought the teacher was hot stuff! Haha!
What world record would you like to break?
Mike: The most perogies eaten at one sitting!
Tianna: Kiss the most puppies in an hour.
What was the worst job you ever had?
Mike: Landscaping. I had a brief job as a landscaper after high school where I realized quickly that this wasn’t the job for me. It was back-breaking work and only lasted about three weeks, and the boss told my buddy who recommended me that I should stick to the music industry!
Tianna: Cleaning toilets at a truck manufacturing shop, and I was a roller-skating price checker at Real Canadian Superstore!
What’s the best and / or worst advice you were ever given?
Mike: Al Cherny was an iconic Canadian fiddler, artist and session musician. He was the house fiddler on The Tommy Hunter Show. He was the guest artist and judge at a fiddle contest in Creston, B.C. When I was around 11 years old, the best advice he gave me was “learn how to sing if you’re going to make it in the music business” and thankfully, I took his advice!
Tianna: I was watching Oprah one time and she was telling a girl on there that if you are shy and uncomfortable in front of an audience, you are projecting onto them, and that you make them feel awkward. You want to make them feel great that they came out and saw you and had a great night, so whatever I am feeling, I try to let the audience know that they are appreciated and I try to give them a good time!