Sass Jordan is having a moment of pure enjoyment, laughing so hard it’s infectious. Before you know it, you have two gals laughing themselves silly over something that has already been forgotten. But this is Sass. She radiates with a fresh vivaciousness that inspires everyone around her to be happier. And not only does that make for a better life, it makes for a better working environment. Hence the fantastic new album by her band S.U.N. (which stands for Something Unto Nothing) that also features her good friend Brian Tichy on guitar. Together the partnership is electrically fruitful. Songs like “Burned,” the first single “I’m The One” and “Nomad” rock out with Sass never sounding ballsier and the band stomping like bulls blowing smoke. All the instruments are fired up and raging, thanks to Tichy, Michael Devin on bass and Tommy Stewart on drums.
For Jordan, this is another fountain of youth moment that she hopes to keep drinking from. Having been in the business over thirty years, her bluesy voice and kinetic energy has brought her many highlights: singing with Joe Cocker on The Bodyguard soundtrack, being a judge on Canadian Idol, doing some acting and most notably belting out songs from her heart and her gut.
With the S.U.N. album just hitting on February 12, Jordan was hanging out in California creating yet more music with Tichy while her home near Toronto was being pelted with snow. “Where I live,” Jordan explained with a laugh, “it’s like crazy snow right now. Holy mackerel, I’m just glad I’m not in town. It’s like, jeez, what a piece of luck.”
So what brought you out to California?
Well, me and my partner in the band S.U.N., we’ll often spend like a month just working, like writing songs and doing shows and just generally promoting the cause, advancing our cause. Stuff can happen overnight and when we’re in the same place, it’s much easier for us to do stuff, cause normally I’m on one side of the continent in another country and he’s on the other side of the continent. It’s a bit of a hassle (laughs) so we just do these like spurts of time where we can just hang and focus. So it’s really great. This time I’ve been here since, I think, the fifteenth of January, so like a month.
You have been performing for over thirty years. When was the hardest time in the business? In the beginning when you were first starting out or now since the music business has changed so much?
It’s so funny, it’s such a question of perspective, isn’t it. Because I could say that this is the hardest time but I could also say it’s the best time in so many ways. It’s financially not the best time at all but musically and just soul satisfying as far as music is concerned, this is the best time. The hardest time, funnily enough, for me was when I was the most successful, when I was most in the public eye and making a lot of money and all that kind of thing. That was the most difficult because I don’t think I was emotionally mature enough to deal with it. And I didn’t know how to sort of prioritize my time and how to say, “No, I don’t want to do that because I’m burnt out” or “Yes, I will do that.” I would just feel like I had to do everything because everybody was constantly clamoring at you every day needing something all the time and there was no personal time or time to yourself. It didn’t make any sense. You were just constantly on call and giving, giving, giving, giving all the time. And I think that I got so burned out I couldn’t deal with it anymore and I just kind of shut down, which shuts down everything. And then life went on and I went off in other directions. But I’ve always been playing music just not with the same intensity.
Then me and Brian Tichy hooked up again [they previously worked together on her album Rats] and I think it was the beginning of 2010 and that was the start of a really intense phase for me musically because he and I are such fantastic partners creatively. We just work together like a dream. I can’t think of anybody I’ve ever experienced this with. It’s just a constant flow of creativity when we’re together. We write songs like constantly and are able to immediately commit them to recording because we have the means, you know. He can play every instrument, but he can’t play keyboards or harp (laughs), but he plays a wicked guitar and he’s a fantastic drummer and he can play bass and I can sing. So as soon as we write a song, we can record it and that’s basically what we do. We just recorded a version of a Neil Young song that Frank Hannon has played on as well. He put guitars on it just the other night in Vegas at 4:30 in the morning in the hotel room. Oh my God, it is so righteous and it’s such an iconic song but we’ve got to put it on our live CD. It’s so killer. Oh my God, Leslie, I can’t believe it. I’ve been listening to it like twice today already and it’s like, wow, this really turned out good (laughs). It’s very exciting.
So yeah, the most difficult time, I think it was when I was more top of the pops, so to speak. The underdog thing, which you know we’re underdogs, which is what I was when I started, but that’s so bloody long ago I can barely remember it. It was the 70’s when I started. I started playing in bands when I was like fourteen or fifteen years old and it was the 70’s and some of the greatest records ever made were being made then.
I started out in Montreal, Canada, and I have no idea how I got here. I don’t know how I did that. It just sort of happened but there was a lot of focus and drive and determination and never swaying from the goal. Until I got the goal, or got it partly, and then I went, “What the hell was I thinking? This is not what I thought it was going to be.” (laughs) Oops. It’s like, I bet you anything, and I know this sounds crazy, but I bet you anything if we won the million dollar lottery, we’d be like YAY and then a year later we’d be like, wow, money don’t fix everything. So it’s the same old, same old. So that was a long-winded answer to that question, wasn’t it (laughs) I can talk.
You have said that you’ve never written a song that wasn’t personal to you. Do you ever get tired or burned out by being such an open book?
I don’t think so because truly it’s cathartic, it’s a way of getting stuff out of you, just off of your chest, so to speak. And the thing that never fails to amaze me is that not one single feeling that you have is unique. There’s always somebody who feels like that too. And that’s the beauty of being able to write songs and expressing yourself that way because people will say to you, “That song helped me so much. It helped me get through that period in my life because it was exactly what I was going through.” And even if what you were writing wasn’t exactly what they were going through, they interpreted it that way. And also, songs, when I write, they’ll often be metaphorical as opposed to directly about something that happened. It’s like painting, like fine arts, where you’re painting the impression, you paint your impression with words and then you imbue that with a feeling, the mood and the experience you are currently having. I often will write songs that are prophetic. In other words, I’m not experiencing that at that moment and then like a year later or a couple of months, I’m like, damn, what just happened is almost exactly like what I was writing about six months earlier. It’s the strangest thing and that’s happened to me on several occasions.
You better watch what you write about
I know (laughs) I’m like a little nervous over here
What was the hardest song for you to write because it was so personal to you?
I think actually the more personal it is to me, the easier it is to write cause it just flows out. You know, I honestly do not recall having a difficult time writing a song. Usually if it’s difficult in any way, I’ll end up abandoning it cause it just doesn’t interest me. Usually it just flows out within fifteen or twenty minutes to sometimes an hour and then I’ll go back the next day or two days later. Like when Brian and I are writing, we just wrote this unbelievable song, another song that I’m like, “Did we actually write this? It sounds like it came from God” (laughs) Half the time, to tell you the God’s honest truth, it feels like I downloaded the song. I don’t even write it. It’s like it’s coming from somewhere else and I’m the catalyst and it just flows through me and onto the paper. And I’ve said that to people before and other artists and musicians will say they know exactly what I’m talking about cause the same thing has happened to them. I don’t know, it just seems to flow. When it’s right it flows out. Like this new song that we wrote; it’s like an eight minute epic. It doesn’t feel like it’s eight minutes long when you listen to it. It’s called “Not A Good Day To Die” and it flowed out of us and it is brilliant. Thanks for letting me blow my own horn (laughs)
What is harder? Being an actress or being a singer?
Being an actress for me because it’s not something I really do. I’m not really an actor, I don’t know anything about acting at all other than it’s incredibly hard (laughs). I don’t know how long to wait after you’ve said your line until I say my line. It’s not natural. It’s not coming out of me like we’re talking, know what I mean. So what’s a natural amount of time to wait to answer that other person? Even though I knew what they were going to say before they said it. Oh my God, it’s so difficult. I don’t love that. I’m not really interested in acting, to tell you the truth. It’s not my favorite thing at all, because it’s hard and it’s the same thing over and over again. You could say that with music too but it’s never the same thing with music because it’s always a different audience or a different moment. It’s music and music is exciting. I love it.
I’m not a huge fan of movies or plays or acting. It’s all great and everything, it’s just not my thing. I do it when I’m asked to and I’m always intrigued at that moment when I finish anything and I go, “I’m never doing that again” (laughs)
You have worked with and toured with so many great musicians. Jeff Healey was such a talented young guitar player who died too soon from cancer. What do you remember most about him?
Oh my goodness, he was a lovely man, a really lovely man, and to me he was just really all about music. There are a lot of people like that. I have other interests besides music myself but I find, like Frank Hannon, he is the same way. He and Brian, they are consumed by music, and Jeff was very much like that. And he was a gracious man and I liked him a lot. He did that big huge SARS concert with the Rolling Stones with me. The Stones did this huge massive benefit concert in Toronto for the SARS epidemic, that respiratory illness, and there were only two female acts on the bill that day and I was one of them. It was me and the other one was Kathleen Edwards – she’s great, I love her and she’s from Ottawa – but Jeff played with me on one of my songs, or two of my songs, at that show. And I think that was the last time I saw him, to tell you the truth, because he was not doing too great then either. He’d had surgery or something because he had cancer. He wasn’t here long but what he did was fantastic.
Where did you grow up and when did you discover music?
I grew up in Montreal, Canada. My parents only ever listened to classical music so I wasn’t exposed to pop music or rock music until about the age nine when my brother and I discovered that we could change the dial on the radio (laughs) and this other music came out, this magical sound came out with like a beat and drums. And the very first song I ever heard that I remember was a song by The Band called “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and it changed my life. I was like, that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to do this, I’m going to make this kind of music, that’s what I’m going to do. My mom said she remembered me running to the front door. She’d come home from getting groceries and I ran to her and I said, “I know what I’m going to do. I know what I’m going to do in my life.” How’s that for like a dramatic statement from a nine or ten year old, or however old I was (laughs). But it was true and that’s what I did, I was right, which was a piece of luck because when you have a goal from that early on, every choice you make in your life is with that goal in mind, even unconsciously. So it makes your life ten million times easier to live than if you don’t know what you want. So many kids going to school are asked, “What do you want to do? What do you want to be?” And they’re just like, “I don’t know, I don’t know, oh the pressure.” It’s terrible. To know what you want to do is a grace, a gift.
Who was the first real rock star that you ever met?
I would say Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander from Cheap Trick. I was fifteen or sixteen years old and we were playing with our band Sweet Thunder, of all the silly names (laughs), in this downstairs bar on Crescent Street in Montreal, Canada, in this tiny little bar that we played in four nights a week, or something like that, six sets a night kind of thing. And there we were playing and we were doing cover songs, all covers all the time, and this bar must have held maximum sixty people, if that. You could see the front door. Like you could see people walk in and I’m singing away, doing whatever I’m doing, singing backup and playing flute and all that shit (laughs). I see somebody coming in the door and I look and there’s this vision of a guy with long blonde hair, the most intensely rock star looking person I have ever seen in my whole life ever. I’m freaking out, like, who the fuck is that? And my girlfriend is also on stage with me, we were the two girls in the band, and I’m like [squeals] (laughs). We were like sixteen and I swear to God, I did not even see Rick, all I saw was Robin. And he comes in and sits directly in front of us and I thought I was going to just pass out.
After we finish the freaking set, he comes up to me and Vicky, the other girl that was in the band, and he goes, “It was great to see you. I’m in a band too.” And we’re like, “What? No kidding?” (laughs) “Do you play around town?” And he said, “No, we just played at the Forum, the Montreal Forum,” which is like the biggest arena; it’s where the hockey players played, like where all the big, big shows were. “No, we just played at the Forum with KISS.” I’m like, “Who are you?” “Oh my band’s called Cheap Trick.” Hadn’t heard of them. This was right before Live At Budokan and within six months after us meeting them they became one of the biggest bands in the world. They were on the cover of every magazine. It was insane and we had no idea who in the hell they were when we met them. I didn’t meet them again until, that would have been 1978 or 1979, I don’t really know but sometime around there. It was KISS’ tenth anniversary, I think. I didn’t meet them again until 1988 and then they became like really, really good friends and we’ve been really great friends ever since.
Let’s talk about the new record you have out with S.U.N. It sounds great. Did you feel that vibe when you were recording it?
Oh yes, absolutely, right from the get go, right from the very first song we recorded and the very first song we recorded is “Burned,” which is the first song on the record and that’s the version we recorded. We never re-recorded any of it. It’s exactly as we wrote it and that was it. There’s an urgency and a rawness about it and I think that might have something to do with the fact that I don’t live here and we’re always in a rush to get it done. It demands that we put our best foot forward immediately. We don’t have time to mess around, redoing this or redoing that. It has to be done now. And I think you can sense that as well from the music. It’s exciting and there’s this intent behind it that, we love music and our favorite, favorite artists are all borrowed from in our music. It’s just completely an homage the whole time. Every song has like six different songs that we know in it or is inspired from songs that we know or artists that we’ve loved our whole lives. So I think all those things combined is what makes this record so accessible to people, because nothing on the record is something like you’ve never heard before. It’s all stuff that sounds familiar but new and fresh. It’s not a stretch to listen to it. It doesn’t require like intense listening cause you can sing along and sort of know it almost immediately. And we really pride ourselves on that too. We’re not reinventing the rock & roll wheel at all. What we’re doing is celebrating what’s already there. I mean, where else can you go? Like really? There’s only three great chords and four great guys.
You have variety on there, like with the more ballad-y song “If I Was You.”
Oh yeah, for sure, cause otherwise if you don’t break it up a bit it can get sort of monotonous. The ear needs a break. Cause if it’s full-frontal assault non-stop the ear just starts to get tired so you need to have little breaks and breathers, songs that are more softer or laid back instead of (let’s out a scream) all the time. If you play this record when you’re driving, you’ve got to be careful. It makes you speed; it does to me. And I can’t turn it down.
You sound like you’re having a great time with this band and this music.
I am and I am just so happy to be here. I think it’s a gift and it’s a gift to find somebody that I can work with in this way, with such a complicity of purpose and intent and such strong understanding of each other musically. We just get each other musically. It’s amazing because I have many other musical styles that I love and that I’m into. But I’m not particularly great at performing those styles. I can do them but the place where people most respond to me always seems to be bluesy rock. That’s where I get the most response. It’s just that bluesy type gruffy voice. Like I love, love, love listening to like flamenco music, classical. I was into all kinds of music, a lot of new age shit. I listen to that too. But what I perform and write is definitely more along this line. I mean, I love country music, I love Americana, I love folk music, I love world music; Brazilian Jazz is a huge big thing for me. And then you get Brian Tichy and he loves metal; Meshuggah and all that and I’m like, “Dude, I can’t listen to that crap.” (laughs)
So he and I both have divergent musical tastes but very similar musical influences. We like funk type stuff or like New Orleans musicians, New Orleans Jazz and blues type musicians are insanely great. Like Dr John. Mac Rebennack is one of my idols and I was listening to The Meters last night, a live bootleg of The Meters. I love that stuff and he loves that stuff too. That highly influences his drumming, which is why he is such a brilliant rock drummer, because he understands funk and he understands second line and all that stuff whereas ordinary rock drummers are just straight-ahead meat and potatoes, they don’t have all those subtle influences from these different forms and these different styles. Tichy gets all that. He’s a schooled musician.
What are your plans with S.U.N. this year? You said there was a live CD coming out.
That’s our plan. Really, what we’re trying to do, and we will eventually succeed, it’s just a matter of being relentless, persevering and hanging in there. What we want to do is tour. Touring is financially prohibitive. How the hell are you going to pay a band and crew, buses, fuel, accommodations, etc? How are you going to do that with a band that nobody has heard of so no one is buying any tickets? Do you see what I’m saying? It’s like a catch-22, for what you need. You need to find a way that you can with at least a minimum amount of money and a bigger band that has a built-in audience that will maybe come out to watch the opening act. And hopefully you’ll gain fans through that. It’s like we’re really focused on playing live as much as we possibly can, getting out our live CD, working on our next one and we have a couple more videos that we want to make from this first record. We’re just doing everything we can possibly do.
You already have the talent and the enthusiasm and as you said earlier, your music is not fake or processed.
You know, the best thing for me about this record besides the fact I think the songs are really well written, is the fact that you can really hear the joy and the fun that we’re having doing it. That’s what really stands out to me on this record. It just sounds like we’re having the best time, which indeed we are. But it really comes across, you know what I mean, because it doesn’t have any of that sort of robotic stuff that you hear in so much recorded music these days. It’s so raw. It’s like you’re there with the people.
We’ve been doing this for years and years so we’re actually really good at what we do. And it’s the real deal. There is nothing manufactured about it at all. We’re in the prime of our work. This is the prime years. All the rest of it is like learning the tools and learning the trade and learning the skills. Once musicians hit around this time of their lives, this is when they’re the richest, I think.