Born in the small town of Kent Bridge, Ontario, Jacqui Verellen knew from a young age that music was flowing through her veins. So much so that she taught herself how to play not one but FOUR instruments. Verellen has also accumulated an impressive resume of accolades, including runner up in the 2016 CBC Songwriting Competition, as well as a Top 12 contestant in CMT’s Songwriting Competition. Oh and did we mention she can sing Opera? But it’s in the world of country music that her heart lies, releasing her debut single “Home Is Home” earlier this year.
Check out our exclusive Q&A with Verellen below:
CN: You began writing and singing at the age of 5. At what moment did you realize that you had the passion and gift to do so? Did something specific spark your interest?
JV: I think just listening to music constantly on the radio must have inspired me, I don’t remember a pivotal moment, I just remember I always loved song and writing. By the time I noticed that this was something I could do, I had no second guesses due to the fact it was so natural. Knowing I loved it before I knew I did was an indicator that I was born to be a musician. That comforts me whenever I have doubtful phases, and keeps me working hard and going strong
CN: Of the four instruments that you taught yourself how to play – guitar, flute, ukulele and piano – did any of those come to you the easiest? Which is your favorite to play?
JV: I find piano the very easiest, but that being said I learned it first, so maybe that’s why. I know how to play any song by ear on piano (chording and transposing) so I think it makes it easiest for me to sing along with. There isn’t as much thought as I have to put in with guitar. However I love also playing ukulele and flute!
CN: Songwriters sometimes tend to choose either the guitar or piano as their instrument of choice when writing. Since you play both, do you have a preference?
JV: I love writing on both! That’s so tough. I tend to write to many slow songs on the piano because of its warm sound, so I try to pick up the guitar when I know I need to speed things up!
CN: You grew up in a family that was centered on country music. Who are some of the artists that you looked up to growing up? Are there any current artists that you are inspired by?
JV: I always loved Shania Twain, who didn’t!? Tim Mcgraw had SO many amazing songs I loved to hear too. Brad Paisley was another family favourite, and I’d listen to Patsy Cline records as well! I’m a big 90’s country fan and so I actually find it hard to write modern country now. I try now to listen to some newer country to stay updated with the sounds. I know country is becoming very cross pop in a lot of ways. Which I don’t mind being someone who loves Shania and has sang pop a lot in her life for fun too. I’m definitely a country girl but I like to explore the other parts of my voice within that.
CN: We took a peek at your YouTube Channel – love the covers! Among the videos are a variety of artists from Cam and Maddie & Tae to Ed Sheeran and Ingrid Michaelson. How do you decide which songs you want to cover?
JV: I used to try and force a lot of music to fit me, and to mold my voice a lot like whatever vocalist was big at the time. Now I try to be true to my voice colours, and go through songs I’d like to cover with that in mind. If I can sing something once, and the tunings great, the tone is great and I can make it my own, that’s the right song for me. If I’m struggling and can’t reach something or it doesn’t sound like the right fit, I’ve finally accepted that , that’s okay, and that it will help me learn something about myself and what my strengths are! I also try to find stuff that originally made me either cry like a baby, or have a ton of fun! That way I won’t have to fake expression to the audience. I’ll really feel it!
CN: You are operatically trained and have a degree in Opera Performance from the University of Western Ontario. When did you discover that you could sing opera? What is your voice type? Do you have a favorite piece to perform?
JV: When I was a little girl, my mom overheard me singing and I started lessons after that. Typically a lot of private music teachers start with classical, as a base for other music genres. Its a healthy way to start exploring your voice and a good foundation I think. So I started singing opera and classical music at age 5 in little competitions and recitals and I found that fun too! All year round I was doing opera, country at the bay, theatre somethings for fun, but at home when I was writing it was often country music. My voice type is a Soprano, and as for classical pieces, one of my favourites I’ve performed is “Le Colibri” composed by Chausson. The melody he wrote is so romantic! It always felt very open in my voice as well, and if I sing this piece before singing my favourite country, it helps me remember to start from a healthy open place. French music was always my favourite during university, although German and Italian are very interesting too. My studies were definitely useful in Opera, I just prefer to now use those skills to support what I’m doing with country music.
CN: While at University of Western Ontario, you also earned a Childhood Psychology degree and currently run a Children’s Music Business. Can you explain the program and how you involve the children with music?
JV: I minored in Childhood Psychology, as I really love learning about how the mind works, differences among people, and specifically I’ve always been great teaching children! I had many music jobs with children during university and I felt like I should understand disabilities, strengths, perceptions, so that I could be the best teacher to them possible. It really helped me identify with a few kids, challenges that they faced unknown, and helped me bring compassion into my life for people who are different than I am. There are so many different areas of the brain that change the way people live, and we honestly have no idea how many advantages, special talents, challenges, and view points people have everyday that pass us on the street. Its taught me its so important to try not to judge others. It blows my mind as well how many talents come with disabilities. Its amazing how something seen by our world as a “lac of ability,” should really be called “difference and special gifts.” I have taught private lessons, started my own kids group that I designed to make learning fun, and have done princess parties using business cards and websites I designed. So its definitely another passion that fortunately can help fund some of my country music.
CN: You recently released your wonderful debut single “Home is Home.” Can you talk about the inspiration and process that went into writing the song?
JV: I grew up in the country and my family was very, very close. We always had dinner together, made music together and took walks together. Looking back we weren’t well off, but were very rich in love in my opinion. I remember climbing trees, my dad build us a go-cart, and everything about my upbringing was beautiful because it was within so much nature and my family was so supportive of each other. So when I moved to Toronto last year to pursue my goals, I was very sad to leave that place. I visited home one day, was looking through old photos and I started to cry. I think I truly realized how lucky we were then. I started to write a song about it on my guitar at that point. It was very natural because unlike other songs I try and force, it just came from real emotion. Jeff Pardo, whom is a fantastic writer and producer, had a skype write with me, and he helped me revise that song and make it polished. He’s SO unbelievably talented and I’m so lucky to have gotten to work with him.
CN: As an up and coming artist into the country scene, do you have any specific goals in mind for your career?
JV: Yes! Its costly to be a musician so I have to take my time and save up, but I’m set to record another song in September, and I’m hoping to apply for grants to help with projects such as music videos, and getting more of my originals done. I’m sitting on hundreds of songs and my goal is to formulate an EP and then album over the next few years. I want to play bigger shows as my band grows, and get my name out there in the Canadian Country music scene! Its an ambitious goal, but I think anything happens with hard work.
CN: Lastly, what’s next on the horizon for you?
JV: I’ll be playing at Mackenzie Creek July 29th! I also have a music video about to be released for “Home is Home” that I’m so excited about! I also have a promising and exciting opportunity that I can’t spill now, but will release closer to September as it approaches. If anyone is interested in updates they can find my social medias under “Jacqui Verellen!” 😀