It’s always neat when someone from Maine goes national — or even international — with their musical career. Such is the case with Heather Masse, who grew up in the Western Maine area and is part of a Winnipeg, Manitoba-based group, The Wailin’ Jennys. In addition to her being one-third of this vocal trio (with Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta), she also has a thriving solo career as witnessed by the release of her latest solo venture with piano legend Dick Hyman “Lock My Heart” (on Red House Records). In a recent telephone interview, Masse talked about her two musical careers as well as the tour that will be bringing the Jennys to the State Theatre in Portland on Tuesday, April 28.

Q: To prepare for this chat, Red House sent over a copy of The Wailin’ Jennys’ “Bright Morning Stars” — that was a 2011 release so I have to ask: Are you and the Jennys working on something new album-wise?

Masse: We aren’t working on something right now but it is in the plan, we just haven’t had time yet to figure it out so there’s no estimated time of arrival. It will eventually happen but not at the moment.

Q: Do you do a lot of touring with them?

Masse: Well, we do. I had a baby two-and-a-half years ago and one of the other members, Nicky, has 5-year-old twin boys. So after I had August, my little boy, we really slowed down a lot, but we do between four and six gigs a month these days. We used to do three or four weeks at a time and then have two or three weeks off — that was steady through the year — but now that two of us have kids it’s much more balanced. What I personally love, it’s much more rewarding to be out a week out of a month rather than three weeks out of a month. We just have more balance in our lives, we can do our own solo things and be at home and have a real life.

Q: Oh, so you all have solo careers?

Masse: We do. Ruth Moody — the third member — she’s been touring mostly solo any time that she’s not on the road with the Jennys. She’s got her own group, the Ruth Moody Band. Nicky — who has the twins — is working on a solo record and then I also have a solo career, as you know. So, yeah, it’s a really good balance for everybody because we all have different needs and different wants and directions that artistically we want to go in. It’s nice, we all bring those flavors to the band but then we also have the freedom to do the other parts of our vision that we’re not getting to in the band.

Q: How long have you been with the Jennys?

Masse: Let’s see, I think it’s been about 80 years now — seven or eight years. The band itself is 13 years old — it just had its 13th birthday in January.

Q: Have Nicky and Ruth been with the group since the beginning?

Masse: Yup, they are two of the founding members.

Q: Do you three perform in Maine often?

Masse: We end up playing in Maine probably once a year — I think. We often do the Stone Mountain Arts Centre which, of course, is in my hometown — and we love that venue, it’s so much fun — and we’ve done lots of gigs in Maine but at least once a year, if not more.

Q: With your dual role as band-member as well as solo artist — when you write a song how do you determine with which part of your musical life it belongs?

Masse: That’s a good question. It’s funny because the three of us are all songwriters, of course, and we always know when a song is a good Jennys’ song. It’s always three-part harmony — the three of us sing — and so there’s something particular about a song that works for the Jennys that may or may not work as a solo thing — but we always have a pretty clear idea. We usually all write separately and then come together and the creative process for us as a group has been arranging a song and we all now pretty quickly whether it’s going to work or not. So it’s hard to say what that thing is but it’s somehow very clear when you’re writing and arranging what’s going to work with the Jennys and what’s going to work as a solo thing.

Q: I’m a huge fan of vocal harmonies and three-part harmony is really special.

Masse: It does have a very distinct way about it. It’s somehow very healing — a lot of the people have told us that and a lot of fans have said that it helped them through hard times.

Q: Do the Jennys travel with backing musicians?

Masse: We tour with a fiddle player and he happens to be Ruth Moody’s brother, Richard Moody, and he’s a great viola, fiddle and mandolin player — he tours with a band called The Bills and he also does some solo stuff. He’s a really great composer and player. But other than that, we all play instruments: I play bass; Nicky plays drums, ukulele and guitar; and Ruth plays guitar, banjo, the bodhran — the Celtic drum — and accordion.

Q: That, in itself, makes for a great show — everyone multitasking on musical instruments!

Masse: Yeah, definitely. I’m the only one who plays one instrument — it’s pretty amazing that Nicky and Ruth can switch over, and Richard, too. They all play multiple instruments, so it’s fun to watch.

Q: Is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the readers of this article about the Wailin’ Jennys’ State Theatre show coming up?

Masse: Well, maybe that we all really love what we do and we hope the people can relate to it and get something from it. We feel we’ve got really great fans and meeting people after the show who tell us what our music has done for them is always really rewarding. I hope we can shine some beauty and light, and maybe some happiness on anyone who feels they need it.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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