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Judge for Stacey Kaniuk

Aurora, Canada
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Portrait of Stacey Kaniuk
Young Toronto-based singer/songwriter Stacey Kaniuk is a vibrant new talent. She has just-released her self-titled debut EP, and its four songs mark her as a real contender. Stacey calls her sound “soulful pop,” and the combination of a powerful and soulful voice and a writing style that fuses strong melody and emotionally eloquent lyrics is a potent one.

The relaxed and intimate feel of the record reflects the method of its creation. That dates back to Stacey's fortuitous connection with Toronto producer Brent Bodrug (Alanis Morissette, Jenna Andrews). “I first met Brent at SonyBMG's songwriting camp for Canadian Idol,” Stacey recalls. “I was doing some demo vocal sessions there, and he was the first person I clicked with, instantly.”

This dynamic duo convened to Brent's home studio, Sly-Fi. “We rather locked ourselves away for a few months there,” says Stacey. “It's just a super-creative space, with keyboards and guitars lining all the walls. Every time I arrived at the studio, we would get into some in-depth discussion about the craziest thing. I think having that friendship helped to create an environment that allowed for total creative freedom.”

The resulting disc reflects an evolution beyond being, in her own words, “that girl singing sad songs at the piano.” “Lie To Myself” is a catchy mid-tempo tune with crisp grooves and “Love Me Or Leave Me” places the spotlight on Stacey's effortless soaring vocals. “Yellow Broken Line” possesses a mellow r 'n b vibe, while closing track, “Dirtiest Secret,” features searing funk-rock guitar and some seriously convincing vocal wailing. Complementing Bodrug's top-notch production quality was the instrumentation of some elite Toronto players. The cast list included bassist Drew Birston (Chantal Kreviazuk, Sarah Slean), drummer Roger Travassos (Remy Shand, Jacksoul), and guitarist Bruno Ierello. Kaniuk played all the piano and some Rhodes parts, with Bodrug contributing on organ and keyboards.

“They're amazing players and wonderful people,” enthuses Stacey. “At rehearsals we sussed out a lot of ideas together, and everybody brought something special to the record. It was just a great atmosphere for making music, and we definitely had a lot of fun.” The record's diversity reflects its creator's wide-ranging musical tastes. Classic soul and r 'n b has long been Stacey's primary passion, but her list of inspirations and influences ranges from Liszt and Chopin through to James Brown, Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin, Dave Matthews and the Beatles.

She turned to pop music in her teens, and her music-loving parents made that an easy transition. “My mom plays piano, and I remember listening to her doing Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens songs when I was little. My dad was in a Motown-style band in the '70s, so I'd hear him singing those songs all the time as I was growing up. There was no escaping music!”

Stacey wrote her first song at age 16, and her first recording experience came with “By All Means You,” an original song produced by Justin Hines when Stacey was in her first year at university. “That's when I fell in love with the studio experience and the whole recording process - the way it can really bring people together through the exchange of ideas. I realized that if you're lucky enough to have the right studio, the right people, and the right environment, the experience can be amazing and so rewarding.

Stacey's competing creative passion, film, then took precedence, as she completed a four year course in film at Ryerson, graduating with a BFA. “I loved studying and making film, but I came to realise I couldn't put my heart into it the way I can with music,” she reflects.

While still at school, her prodigious vocal talent shone in Take Three, a pop/r 'n b vocal trio signed to Universal Music and dedicated to giving classic Christmas tunes a fresh twist. In fact, Stacey is the proud owner of a gold record, thanks to their participation in the best-selling Canadian Christmas compilation (alongside the likes of Jann Arden and Barenaked Ladies). The group also released their own album, Home For Christmas, and two of its songs reached No. 1 on the BDS AC charts. They also grabbed extensive radio airplay in the U.S., and the group played some high-profile shows, all giving Kaniuk invaluable experience.

“It was tons of fun, and I'm so grateful I had those opportunities, but I always wanted to be making my own music,” she says. And that she has done on this compelling new record. It proves there's nothing formulaic or manufactured about Stacey Kaniuk, and marks her as an artist to keep a close eye on.
 
 
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