Edmonton singer/songwriter Ann Vriend is known for her compelling voice and meaningful lyrics. She won Cobalt Music Prizes for her singles It’s Happening in 2019 and All That I Can in 2017. All That I Can also won R&B/Soul Recording of the Year in 2018 at the Edmonton Music Awards, and opened for Lisa Stansfield in Germany towards the end of 2019. Vriend’s music has been largely influenced by the McCauley neighbourhood in which she lives and her latest album and titular single, Everybody Matters, are set to release on March 20.
You live in the McCauley neighbourhood, tell me a little about that?
AV: Yeah, I’ve lived in the McCauley neighbourhood for the last, I guess, 13 years. It’s definitely been sort of the muse for my last few albums, and especially this one coming up. There are a whole bunch of agencies and organizations that try to address some of the needs of the homeless population and people with addiction and mental illnesses, too. So I see a lot of scenes from my window that are sad, and people that are really sick. I’ve gotten to know the neighbourhood and that’s made me think a lot about certain things in our society like how we treat mental illness.
You’re releasing the first single from your album this weekend. What’s the single about?
AV: That’s right. So that’s the title track of the album and it’s called Everybody Matters. It’s really kind of saying, you know if we’re a society that sort of supposedly believes in equality and human rights, then why are all these things happening. Like if we equally valued life what is that not reflected in reality basically. The song just points out ways in which we talk the talk, but we don’t walk the walk.
You said you wrote this song before the Black Lives Matter Movement last year, so what was the initial inspiration behind the lyrics?
AV: You know those things have been unequal and unjust for decades and centuries. And I mean, if you’re Indigenous in Canada, you know, right? My neighbourhood is just a reflection of that because it’s the people who are left behind and who get stepped on, on the way to the top. But very little is done to actually change those conditions in the first place.
I listened to Hurt People Hurt People and I found it so raw and serious. Has your music always been like that?
AV: I guess I realized that, you know, sometimes you kind of have to disguise the point of your music, because if it gets too dark or too sad, people will avoid it. Hurt People Hurt People was actually my most successful song to-date in my career, not in Canada but in Germany. They have a really large music market so maybe because it was in Germany, they didn’t fully understand, you know, the seriousness of it. What I’m trying to say is we’ve all gone through this hard year and it almost seems a little bit inappropriate or tone deaf to sing about bubblegum pop and bling bling.
You’ve also been doing concerts at home this past year.
AV: So on a whim, I went out on my balcony and played a few songs with a little sound system. A bunch of people actually showed up! I really needed that and I was like, “OK, I guess I’ll do it again.” I was persuaded to do it on the porch instead of the balcony. And, then, by the summer we had a sound man, and other bands and like a mini-festival with five or six acts. A couple times we had food vendors, too.
Who have been your biggest inspiration in music?
AV: I’ve sort of focused musically on old school soul and R&B a lot lately, and blues. It just seemed to be very applicable kind of struggles to this neighbourhood. I think civil-rights movements and soul music is all very intertwined with people like Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder.
I heard you will be performing at Glow this weekend, too.
AV: Yes. I think it’s going to be an outdoor festival because they have a courtyard in the back, and it’s kind of a venue that has an ability to sort open on to the street. But as far as I understand, there’s only a few performers inside but no audience allowed inside. So it will also be live-streamed.
Ann Vriend will be performing her single Everybody Matters at CO*LAB’s Glow Festival on March 20. The outdoor show will be live-streamed from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
*This article was edited for length and clarity.