She cut a debut single under the name Jann Richards at 17. In her twenties, she worked the western Canada lounge circuit and busked on city street corners. "I kept quite drunk and didn't think," she told Saturday Night magazine. Former Ian Tyson manager Neil MacGonigill signed Arden in 1987 when she was making ends meet by managing her parents' video store in Springbank. He steered her onto the western Canadian folk festival circuit and circulated her demo tapes.
Arden signed with A&M/Island/Motown Records of Canada in 1991. Her debut album, the introspective and sombre Time for Mercy (1993), was produced by American Ed Cherney (Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel) with a group of veteran sidemen led by noted drummer Jim Keltner. In the hand-written notes that accompanied her A&M biography, she explained her penchant for downbeat material: "Music is truly the voice of despair and loneliness." She later told Network magazine's Maureen Littlejohn, "I think sadness and happiness are so intertwined they're almost the same thing."
The 11 songs on Time for Mercy included "I Just Don't Love You Anymore," written by Arden in 1982, but it was "I Would Die for You" that quickly earned national attention. While the ballad didn't crack the top 50 on Canadian radio, its video (directed by Albertan Jeth Weinrich) went into high rotation at MuchMusic. Responding to Arden's strong vocals and amusing stage patter, most critics echoed the words of Edmonton journalist Rod Campbell, who called her a "supremely confident and humourous performer." She earned her first of eight (as of 2010) Juno Awards in March 1994 as most promising solo performer.
Living Under June (1994), named in honour of the woman who lived above Arden when she was renting a basement apartment in downtown Calgary, was again produced by Cherney and featured a duet with Jackson Browne (whose Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica, California, hosted Arden's first four albums). Establishing Arden as a major star at home, the album sold more than a half-million copies and set the stage for three 1995 Juno Awards: songwriter, female vocalist and single of the year. The latter award honoured "Could I Be Your Girl," which along with "Insensitive" and "Unloved" were multi-format radio hits. In November 1994 Arden embarked on a first Canada-wide tour with her Alberta-based band: Russell Broom (guitars), Mike Lent (bass), Scott Anderson (drums) and Lin Elder (guitar, vocals). Among her extracurricular sessions, she covered the Neil Young song "Birds" for the tribute album Borrowed Tunes (1994) and Leonard Cohen's "If It Be Your Will" for Tower of Song (1995).
Arden's international prospects grew exponentially when the late Timothy White, editor-in-chief of US music industry magazine Billboard, wrote a glowing tribute to Living Under June in his "Music to My Ears" column; Arden later called it "one of the most influential things that had ever been written about me." "Insensitive," composed by Calgarian Anne Loree, went on to earn significant international airplay: first in Italy (where it was used in a television commercial for Coin, a retail clothing chain), then in Australia and, in April 1996, in the US, where it spent 40 weeks on the pop radio charts.
A Second Career
Arden's personable character and expert comic timing made her an ideal candidate to host the 1997 Juno Awards in Hamilton, Ont. The engagement marked the beginning of a second career for Arden as an MC and actor; she went on to host the Canadian music industry's annual Radio Music Awards, voiced a character on the Teletoon cartoon series Eddy the Eco Dog, and made cameo appearances in the David Steinberg-produced Global Television series Big Sound (2002) and the CBC-TV comedy programs This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Royal Canadian Air Farce. She also appeared in the Canadian feature film White Lies (2001), shot a television pilot based on her Calgary restaurant The Arden, and starred in the Canadian touring production of playwright Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues.
In September 1997, she released her third album, the ironically titled Happy?. Led by the single "The Sound Of," it sold 300 000 copies in Canada but failed to make an impact internationally. Around this time she launched her own short-lived record label, Big Hip Records, which released Arden-produced albums by Lin Elder (titled One Beautiful Wife) and Victoria, BC-based Mae Moore. Arden's song "You Don't Know Me" appeared on the soundtrack to the Julia Roberts movie My Best Friend's Wedding.
Continuing to tour in front of large crowds in Canada, Arden released Blood Red Cherry (2000), which included the single "Sleepless," the ballad "Mend" (a duet with Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy) and "Another Human Being" (based on her experiences in Ethiopia with the World Vision relief organization). Her recording of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" was released as a fundraising single in support of the North York General Hospital in metropolitan Toronto. The anthology Greatest Hurts: The Best of Jann Arden was released in October 2001 and was followed a year later by a live recording with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Producing herself for the first time, Arden recorded Love Is the Only Soldier (2003) in Vancouver.
As a measure of her continuing popularity, her eponymous sixth studio album debuted at number three on the SoundScan Canada album charts in April 2005. Mixed and engineered by her chief collaborator Russ Broom, Jann Arden was highlighted by the Canadian hit "Where No One Knows Me" and a remake of "I Would Die for You" featuring Sarah McLachlan.
An inveterate diarist all her life, Arden has published two Insomniac Press editions of her journal entries: if i knew, don't you think i'd tell you (covering Apr 2000-Jun 2002); and i'll tell you one damn thing, and that's all i know! (May 2002-Feb 2004). The first entry in the first book concludes: "Have a good day. Eat some vegetables. Talk one of your friends into buying my record. Please."
Although Arden is primarily known for her songwriting, in February 2007 she recorded an album of other artists' material titled Uncover Me. The disk featured one original, titled "Counterfeit Heart," and interpretations of such songs as Cat Stevens' "Peace Train," Janis Ian's "At Seventeen," The Carpenters' "Solitaire," Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" and Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man." Uncover Me peaked at number three on the Canadian sales chart and was certified platinum for selling 100 000 units.
Jann Arden sang with Olivia Newton-John on the Australian performer's 2008 duets album, A Celebration in Song. Their collaboration, "Angel in the Wings," was a minor Canadian hit.
The 11-song Free featured a number of co-writes and was released in September 2009. The album combined organic instrumentation - including dobro, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel and acoustic guitars - with electronic programming, mixed by past studio collaborator Ed Cherney. Free was certified gold for selling 40 000 copies, and helped earn Arden a 2010 Juno Award nomination (her 22nd in total) for artist of the year. The album's "A Million Miles Away" was featured on the Juno Awards 2010 compilation along with songs from other nominees. Arden released a live album and DVD titled Spotlight in 2010 and more interpretations of other people's material on Uncover Me 2 the next year, when she also published an autobiography titled Falling Backwards via Random House. A new album produced by Uncover Me 2 collaborator Bob Rock is expected in 2013.
In 2006 Jann Arden was honoured with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto.
See also The Canadian Encyclopedia
Author Jeff Bateman, Steve McLean
Links to Other Sites
Jann Arden's website features a bio, discography, music lyrics, video and audio clips, and her personal journals.
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