Falcon Jane is a Toronto-based musician. Photo by Brendan George Ko.
Interview by Rebeccah Love
How did you first develop an interest in music making?
I got dumped when I was 16, and I was so sad about it, so for some reason I decided to write my first song. It was actually pretty dece, so I showed it to my ex bf on my iPod in our high school library, and he teared up a little. And then he said we should date again! I used to tell this story and joke about how I "use music to manipulate people" but now I realize that I use music to express my truest, most vulnerable feelings, which I typically have a really hard time doing. So maybe my ex wanted to date again because he finally got to hear a more honest side of who I am.
How did Falcon Jane come to be?
I was playing a lot of open mics in Toronto at The Free Times Cafe, The Painted Lady etc. and you always had to write your name down on a sign up list when you got there. My name (Sara May) is pretty common - there are multiple girls in the small town where I live with the exact. same. name. So I felt like I needed a moniker. I've always loved the name Jane (shoutout to Jane Goodall) and it's an interesting name because for years it was used as a name to represent the "everywoman", for example: Jane Doe, Plain Jane, Dick and Jane, etc. I remember walking down Queen Street and exclaiming "Falcon Jane!" and then started using that name thereafter.
Have you collaborated with others when making your music and music videos? Can you describe some of these collaborations? Who has helped you get to where you are today?
I love collaborating! It's really special to make things all on my own, of course, but Falcon Jane would not be what it is without the creative energy of various people over the years. I really love having a band - I almost never play solo because it's not even half as fun - so I'm incredibly grateful for all of the different people who have played in the band over the years, and brought their musical flair to my music. My main music collaborator is my partner, Andrew McArthur. He joined the band almost seven years ago and has been a huge part of Falcon Jane ever since. The album that is coming out on November 13 was performed and recorded almost exclusively by Andrew and I. We have such different musical skill sets, which makes it really fun (but sometimes difficult) to work together, because we approach songwriting and performing in completely different ways.
Most of my music videos involve Dominique van Olm, who I met while studying Film at Ryerson University. She's my bestie, so it's really easy to coax her into helping me with a shoot. There's nothing quite like creating something special with someone you love!
I like to see life as a series of stepping stones. One thing leads to another. I can clearly see all the people in my past who have helped me get to where I am today, and I feel incredibly blessed.
In the earlier part of the decade you studied at Ryerson University in their Film Production program. Can you tell me a little bit about that time in your life?
When I think about who I was when I was studying at Ryerson, the word "young" keeps coming to mind. I very much feel like I was still figuring it all out; who I was and who I wanted to be. Even though I'm not pursuing being a "filmmaker", I'm still grateful for the skills I learned during that time. I work as a videographer, and I make a lot of music videos and promo videos for Falcon Jane, so I'm still putting it all to use. I was playing music at the time, mostly small shows and open mics. I released a really angsty album that helped me deal with my parents' divorce. I guess that's where it all started. I really didn't know much about music at the time, other than how it made me feel. I'd like to think that I've grown - I feel like I have - but the more I learn about life, the more I realize that we are who we are from the moment we're born till the day we die... and beyond!
What is your favourite instrument?
Ah such a tricky question! My favourite instrument to play is piano - except if I'm playing a show I prefer to play guitar. But my favourite instrument to listen to is probably bass or pedal steel. I'm hoping to incorporate some pedal steel into my next album!
Who are you listening to these days?
I'm listening to a lot of country right now (hence the pedal steel obsession lol). Luke Combs (or the Luke Combs team) is just incredible - you can't deny! I've gotten right back into John Prine after releasing a cover of his song Long Monday earlier this year. Faye Webster has a new song out that I really love. A friend of mine, Larynx, just released an album and new music video for Lubie which literally blew my mind.
Can you tell me about the release of your upcoming album Faith? What do you see happening in this collection of songs?
Andrew and I recorded Faith in my living room throughout 2019. It was a very intimate experience. When we started I had three songs that I wanted to record and release, but as the year went on, more songs kept appearing! By appearing I mean I was writing them and recording them haha, but it truly feels like they came out of nowhere. Making this album helped me get through a really tough year. There were a series of deaths in my family last year, which meant I was attending a funeral roughly every two months. It was a lot to deal with emotionally. Plus I haven't spent that much time in a church since I was a kid. So a lot of deep emotions were coming to the surface. The only way I know how to deal with emotions like that is to write and play music. So these songs helped me say things I needed to say, ask questions I was afraid to ask, and ultimately cope with huge changes happening in my life. Once all the songs were recorded I noticed the word "Faith" was sprinkled everywhere throughout the lyrics of the album, so that's what I called it.
Can you tell me about the music video for 'The Other Moon'? What do the images of the moon and the astronaut mean to you?
The first person in my family to pass away last year was my Nonna. She had a habit of joking about her own death, and she would say to me in her broken English "When I die, I go to the other moon". This song was written about my relationship with her. The music video concept was sparked by Dominique van Olm, who co-directed the video with me. She was feeling ambitious and felt like we could really make it seem like I was going to space (even with essentially no budget or any kind of gear lol). Leave it to a Pisces to dream such big dreams. When I was editing the video it became apparent that I was going to space for a reason - I was searching for something, searching for The Other Moon; this concept that was told to me by my grandmother about where she would be once she wasn't on Earth anymore. Maybe in the video I'm gearing up to say goodbye to her, or to say hello again.
'Heaven' is a wistful and sweet track off your new album. What does 'Heaven' mean to you?
Heaven is one of the rare songs I've written while I was really happy! I really love it as a song, and it was one of the original three songs I had in mind when I started making the album, so I'm very grateful for it. To me it feels powerful, and I'm proud of the musical composition of it. Some of my songs are songs I need to play when I am really down and out, but Heaven is a song I want to play with a six-piece band on a huge stage, feeling sure of who I am and what I'm doing.
What is your favourite part of being a musician?
There's a very special scenario that I truly live for. There I am, with my band, either in our jam space or on stage, we're in the middle of playing a freshly written song, everyone is feeling really alive, I get to let my guard down, push my limits, we extend the chorus because it feels so damn good, the music surrounding us is so thick that we lose sense of time and place, there are newfound frequencies coming from an unknown source, harmonies abound, the song ends and it's like we've all just taken a collective deep breath, our bodies in tempo with each other, we laugh, we clap for ourselves, everyone has shown who they are, and we are all in love with each other!
How do you think COVID is affecting the music community in Toronto? How has it affected your own practice?
COVID has made it very difficult to be a musician. Like all artists, musicians have to convince themselves every single day that what they're doing is worthwhile and meaningful. With COVID, it has become even more tempting to give up. I'm lucky I had an album ready to be released before COVID hit, because I've been able to focus on the release this whole year, rather than trying to push myself to be creative. This has not been a very creative time. I've gotten rusty, insecure, self-deprecating. I hate live streams. I miss my band. I miss playing live. It was like a drug, a good one! The more you did it, the more you wanted to do it. It's been a whole year since I've played a Falcon Jane show. It's scary to think about getting back into it. It's scary to think that I might not. I haven't been writing much music this year at all, because COVID is taking up so much of my mental energy, and I can't write about COVID, because I hate COVID and I can only write about things I love.
What are you looking forward to?
This has been a weird year for the expression "looking forward" haha because there is so much uncertainty, and for someone who loves setting dates and making plans, I've been losing my mind a little bit. BUT I am printing my music to vinyl for the first time and I am very excited to hold one of the Faith Sunset Gold vinyls in my hands and play it on my record player. Even though I've heard the songs so many times that they don't even feel like music anymore, it'll be nice to have something tangible to hold. Our world has become even more digital and virtual; releasing this album without being able to play the songs live is essentially just sending out a code of 0's and 1's to the internet. So having a gorgeous hard copy is going to mean a lot more right now than it ever has.
Falcon Jane launches her new album 'Faith' on November 13th on @darlingrecordings: