Jessica Moss on learning to love music on her terms

Jessica Moss on learning to love music on her terms


On a call last Thursday I apologized to Montreal-based violinist and artist Jessica Moss for approaching the interview with a sense that Montreal is a magical city where spontaneous musical collaborations happen on every corner and everyone is a week away from releasing a masterpiece avant-garde alt-rock record. I followed that up with a question to do with Montreal’s  Big|Brave, a group she’s recorded with and who were set to play the Low Beat that night.

She laughed and apologized right back because she had to break the news to me that the band had posted to their Instagram page that they’d cancelled the gig due to a health emergency.

Moss has played for years in A Silver Mt. Zion and recorded violin on releases by Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and Vic Chesnutt. Her partner Efrim Menuck is a founding member of uber-influential Canadian instrumentalists Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band she will open for on August 9 at Basilica Hudson.

“Part of what makes Montreal so special is there are a lot of groups within small scenes within scenes,” says Moss “There are many bands I don’t know. It’s not like we all go to each others recording projects. What normally happens is I’m asked to come and play on something that already exists. After it is done I come up with my own thing. It really fits my specific type of playing. I can’t play in a normal way. It also helps that I’m close to the owner of Hotel2Tango studio.”

Hotel2Tango is now a fairly legendary Montreal studio that also functions as a venue, practice space and a home base of sorts to acts associated with Godspeed. Acts like Arcade Fire, Vic Chesnutt, and Wolf Parade have recorded there.

Moss is fairly blase about her contribution to Arcade Fire’s breakthrough album Funeral. “I definitely did not forsee their future. I didn’t think much about it. They are a band that started one place and moved somewhere else very quickly. It was a moment in time.”

Moss often finds herself asked to compose a violin part for albums being recorded at Hotel2Tango. And that process suits her musical background. “I love the challenge, I love putting my brain in different places, to try to match what is going on. Improvisation doesn’t scare me, written music does. And that stems from my failure to learn by the proper rules, and an utter rebellion against them. “

Moss began playing violin at age 5. She was pushed to do it for years by her mother.

“Mom said I’d play violin so I did. We were a musical family. But I never liked to practice, we used to fight constantly. I went to theory classes and it went in one ear and right out the other. I finally do some ear training and was even able to be somewhat successful. So I was just learning by ear. But the fighting between us got worse and when I was 12 I said, ‘Ok fine I just fucking quit if I’m so horrible!’”

Eventually, Moss says she realized she wasn’t giving up the instrument. “There was a reckoning and I realized that I really had fallen in love with it and I didn’t want to quit. But if I was going to do it I was going to do it on my terms.”

It was Melissa Auf der Maur, owner of Basilica Hudson and former bassist for Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, who recommended Moss for her first official band gig.

In 1999 Moss got involved in A Silver Mt. Zion featuring her current partner Menuck and Sophie Trudeau, also of Godspeed. The group became a prominent musical outlet for Menuck and Trudeau as Godspeed essentially went on hiatus.

However, as Godspeed returned from an extended hiatus in the last few years, A Silver Mt. Zion appears to be on hiatus.

“We had a member quit at a crucial time and we came to realize we’re not going to run out and replace them. And now Godspeed is a going concern so it didn’t leave a whole lot of room. It was cosmic in a way. And it is not permanent, final.”

Moss says she’s excited to visit Basilica and see her friend Melissa. “Basilica is a beautiful thing. I’ve known Melissa for more than half my life. She’s been instrumental in my career. I’ve watched her through so many iterations and she impresses me to no end.”

Moss says she’ll be bringing her son to play with Auf der Maur’s daughter. 

Moss will be touring in the coming year, but she also expects to spend time in Australia working with a dance troupe to score one of their new works.

Given the places her musical training has taken her, I ask Moss if she’s pushed her son toward music or an instrument in particular.

“If he finds it himself we’ll support it. But he’s got his own creative force and music is not his number one fascination. He loves theater, making strange constructions, sculptures, costumes. I can imagine that maybe later in life as a teenager being in a band might appeal to him. But we are being pretty freeform about it right now.”

Jessica Moss opens for Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Basilica Hudson on August 9 at 7 PM. 

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