Light, bright and fun – to start, anyway – Monika Wall’s song “One Step” soon veers into a tough and hearty blues. Coming from her new CD “One Step/Earth,” this song serves as a jazzy call to action; now, more than ever, we need to care for our Mother Earth. On the flip side of the emotional spectrum is the delicate “Slings and Arrows.” Stunning, original lyrics tell the story of a well-considered life, the brevity of the moment, the need to care for each other with tenderness. It’s a joy, too, to hear her amazingly well-cultured range when she sings into higher registers in “Moments.”
What was the inspiration behind “One Step/Earth”?
This song came to me as I was walking down the sidewalk from one coffeeshop to another. I didn’t really know what it meant until after the song was done. It’s about overcoming your fear and being willing to take the next step to move your life forward even when the direction is not always clear.
The album is called “Earth” because it’s about grounding yourself, finding your place on this Earth and thinking about the legacy you’d like to leave behind. The final song is about saving this beautiful planet.
Who were your earliest influences from a vocal standpoint?
My family watched a lot of old movies when I was growing up, so classic voices like Elvis, Barbara Streisand, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra were in my ears as a child growing up.
How do you describe your sound?
I struggle to describe myself. Other people have told me I sound like Norah Jones, Sarah Brightman, the witch of the bayou (when singing blues), Blossom Dearie…my son once thought it was me singing when I was playing a recording of China Forbes from Pink Martini.
I’ve sung so many musical styles, from opera to musical theater, jazz, folk, gospel, pop…it’s hard to pigeonhole it.
I think my sound is dependent on the song and lyric. I’m guided by the lyric and my voice changes accordingly.
How did your operatic training help you develop as a jazz vocalist?
As a classical singer you learn enormous breath control, you understand voice placement and you develop a large range. This provides the flexibility to understand what makes your voice work. I currently sing a song that’s as low as D below middle C but I also sing songs that pop up into a very high range; so it makes me an unusual jazz singer. Ella of coarse had a four-octave range so I’m definitely not the first to do this…
“We Will Rise” – is there a social conscience to this album?
Absolutely. We are living in difficult times where the air we breathe, the water we drink and the ground on which we stand is under attack. This is not something any one individual can change but if we all agree that our survival as a human race is dependent on caring for the Earth and caring for each other we will be able to look to the future with hope.
What was the most challenging or fun track and why?
“Moments.” I get to pop up into the stratosphere, vocally. The challenge was we had finished recording and it still didn’t feel right. I gave it to my friend Melinda (also a musician) to listen to and she said it felt like something was missing. I had felt that too. When I talked to my producer Murray Pulver, he said, “It needs something underlying to glue the whole thing together because it’s so rhythmic.” We added the organ and that just made it all come together!
How long has this CD been in the making?
Wow…it depends what you count. “We Will Rise” was written years ago. With all that’s happening in the world I felt it was very significant at this time and it was the final puzzle piece for the album.
We went into the studio for the first bed tracks about two years ago and it was a slow, carefully crafted piece of work. I hope my next album will be faster but I tend to be very particular in details….to have just the right combo of players, singers, the right studio, etc.
The personnel on the CD?
So much talent, so much care. Dear friends and professional singer Melanie on back vocals, Dave whose been my regular side player for years and has given me ideas on songwriting, Murray brought his positive spirit, his vocals and playing (from guitar to glockenspiel), reshaping some song forms and his remarkable ears. There are also so many other “cream of the crop” studio players. I’m really blessed to have worked with such a beautiful team of people.
How does this project differ from the earlier “Parallel Mondo” and do you see it as a different facet of your musical personality?
That album showed the broad range of music that has been part of my musical journey. It was fashioned like a two-sided LP with a big band feel on Part 1, “Green;” and an eclectic world feel on Part 2, “Blue,” with songs that range from Irish folk to rumba, to a Middle Eastern “Vocalise on a Magic Carpet.”
No question, this shows a different side of me. I still sing some of these in my shows and will do so in my upcoming tours.
What is your favorite instrumentation?
I have sung with groups as large as jazz orchestras and as small as one guitar. Each has its own remarkable charm. The power and energy of a large group is intoxicating but the intimacy of a duo allows such flexibility and exchange. That’s like asking me do you prefer Italian gelato or dark chocolate. I’d have to say both!
What is the jazz scene like in Manitoba? Is there the same affection for jazz throughout Canada?
It’s very strong. There is a lot of experimentation in crossover with other styles of music which I find very exciting. It enriches the music and opens a whole new world for jazz audiences.
Throughout Canada there are parts of the country where jazz is strong (Ontario, Quebec, BC) and other parts where it is not as popular but of course there are pockets of lovers everywhere.
The most interesting audience reaction?
I have had the comment many times that when I sang someone got goosebumps or they were crying during the show. To me that means what I’m communicating is touching people, and that is very important to me. This is a very challenging life at times but when I know I am affecting other lives it makes it worth all the effort.
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
This week is my “Earth” Western Canada Tour. I’ll be touring in Ontario in February 2019and plan to come to the US in the spring. Here at home I will be performing my Christmas show in December called “Handmaid of the Lord,” a 20-song original work with short narration. It tells the story of the nativity from Mary’s point of view with five soloists including myself, a choir and band. Stylistically it covers modern classical, jazz, Latin and pop. It’s a really fun show and has heart-warming moments that touch my heart every time I perform it.
How will you market the new CD?
Digitally of course, touring and I’ve started some discussions about TV sync. I keep being told my music sounds very cinematic so I think I’ll pursue film and see where that leads.
Where do you most look forward to debuting this music?
Every tour allows me the opportunity to connect to a live audience but online I can reach such a broad audience without having to jump on a plane. It’s all good.
I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions – they were really good questions. Thank you for your patience with me and the opportunity to be part of your series. All the best.
For more information, visit www.monikawall.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Monika Wall.
© Debbie Burke 2018