One-on-One with Jessica Jalbert (Faith Healer)

Credit: Randee Armstrong
Credit: Randee Armstrong

by Michael Thomas

A new name doesn’t necessarily mean a new method for Jessica Jalbert, who released the stunningly excellent Cosmic Troubles back in March.

Jalbert’s first album was a result of being a part of Edmonton’s fertile music scene (she names Jom Comyn, Betrayers, Switches and Strangled as some of her favourites). “You play in a bunch of people’s bands and so they feel obligated to be in yours,” she says over the phone.

Eventually she began to collaborate with Renny Wilson (who she’s played in other bands, like the Tee Tahs, with) and her music headed in a bit of a new direction, but Jalbert emphasizes that it’s not a complete about-face from what she’s done before.

“There wasn’t really a big shift between JJ stuff and Faith Healer stuff because it’s still my solo project,” she says. “I just decided to change my name and shift my focus just a little bit more to arrangements and a little more rock and roll and a little more pop than my earlier singer-songwriter-y stuff.”

The name change to Faith Healer came about mostly because Jalbert found she was often lumped in with the “singer-songwriter” crowd. And while she won’t deny there are some elements of that in her music, taking on the more “cryptic” name of Faith Healer opened doors.

“It didn’t feel like I had a lot of room to move around and maybe play around in and take different directions,” she says. “I just felt like I couldn’t too much and maybe it was just because I was called Jessica Jalbert.”

Cosmic Troubles is a breath of fresh air in the realm of guitar pop, occasionally dipping into the psychedelic and all anchored by Jalbert’s simple, understated delivery. Looking at it as a whole, there’s a lot of references to death and love gone wrong, even if the album didn’t come together as a union of thematic writing. But Jalbert noticed some trends.

“I definitely noticed certain themes that I tend to err towards. Not necessarily intentionally, but just the things I’m interested in,” she says. “I’m interested in…big questions, what we’re doing here, what the point is, in the broadest terms possible. With one or two bad love songs.”

The album is capped off by “Until the World Lets Me Go,” a cheery, poppy song with lying down in the snow and dying. Astonishingly, it began years ago as a Christmas song.

“Originally I wrote that because I was thinking about Christmas songs and whether or not it would ever make sense for a non-Christian to be writing a Christmas song. Just came out pretty bleak in an upbeat way,” she says. “So I was imagining what a perfect Christmas experience for me would be. Walking outside, not resigning myself in a bad way.”

Jalbert has very specific feelings on that act of “resignation”; it’s not always a horrible thing:

“Our own complete lack of control is a beautiful thing at the same time, and as heavy as it is, you shrug your shoulders because you don’t really have any control. So it’s sort of where my music comes from, it’s really shruggy but at the same time it’s a little bit nihilistic.”

The album also reflects her insecurities, but not with the music. The Cosmic Troubles album cover is a picture of her bottom teeth, while her first album was a picture of her hands. For the first album, she was considering having a photo of herself taken, but found after the shoot that she only liked the way her hands looked. So that became the cover. That’s when the idea struck for Cosmic Troubles.

“I was like ‘I liked the last album cover, what else am I super insecure about? How about my disgusting bottom teeth?'” she says. “So I had someone come in and take a million pictures of my bottom teeth and chose the grossest angle possible and did that.”

Faith Healer will bring their “shruggy” and “nihilistic” music to a bunch of shows and festivals this summer, including Sled Island in June and the band’s debut Toronto show on May 15.

Bonus round: Previous interviews with Edmonton musicians have almost uniformly brought up Jessica Jalbert as a favourite act, so I asked her to create a supergroup of Edmonton musicians. Jalbert created a four-piece with the following members:

  • Caity Fisher: “She’s an amazing songwriter and great guitar player. In terms of her serious songwriter stuff she’s incredible.”
  • Tasy Hudson: “A great drummer and she also leads a band called Consilience. She’s awesome.”
  • Lyle Bell: “Plays bass and fronts the band The Wet Secrets, he’s been playing music for 25 years and he’s just incredible. He also plays in Shout Out Out Out Out.”
  • Jom Comyn: “He’s the best guitar player. He’s such an awesome rock and roll player, he’s really laid back. Excellent songwriter as well.”
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