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The New Voice Of Rock And Roll: Colleen Rennison And No Sinner

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 Written by Simon Ramsay

Long before Big Ben chimed to kick start the New Year, Canadian blues rockers No Sinner were being tipped for big things in 2014.

Following an acclaimed showcase in London last November, Stereoboard spoke to frontwoman Colleen Rennison – a shit kickin' rock ‘n' soul singer with a refreshing, no prisoners attitude – about the band’s debut album, 'Boo Hoo Hoo', how she could have been Lindsay Lohan and the origins of her fortuitous surname.

I have to ask about the band's name, which is basically your surname backwards. It's a wonderful quirk of fate isn't it?

I wasn't even aware until my cousin told me about it. My great grandfather was a rector who ran a lot of churches around Ireland over the years, and so did his father. So it's kind of funny and I wonder if they knew.

Could you tell us how No Sinner came together?

Vancouver is a small town and once you enter into the music scene you meet everybody sooner or later. I had gotten a gig doing a jam night and ended up playing with our drummer Ian [Browne]. His friend Parker Bossley [bassist] was getting into songwriting and Ian suggested he write for me.

We ended up meeting up and writing a song on the album called That'd Be The Day. Eric [Campbell, guitarist] eventually fell into my lap at the jam night and I was really blown away by him. It took a while to track him down afterwards as he was pretty elusive, but it just clicked once we all got into a room and started doing what we do.

Tell me about the guys in the band and what they bring to No Sinner's music.

Eric's only 21 but he's got great style, great taste and he's an old soul. He brings a lot of 'fuck you' attitude which I really appreciate. Not in an actual 'fuck you' way, he's just very very rock and roll and totally born to do it. Parker is an amazing songwriter, loves Burt Bacharach and is a really big Bowie fan. He brings finesse, style and heart to the table. Ian's got a jazz background, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and brings a lot of maturity to the band as a musician.

Was there a plan for what kind of music you wanted to create or did it evolve naturally?

I just love the blues and I love old music with sort of a new twist. That's the direction I steered it towards, but that's a big umbrella, the blues, as there's a lot of different things you can do with it. I think you hear that on the album.

I've always been attracted to music that's all about the power of a human being, the instrument and being able to play live. It's got to be good, it's got to be true and there's nothing to hide behind when it's organic and all happening right there.

When it comes to songwriting, is it a collaborative process or do different members take responsibility for different parts?

A big chunk of the album was written by me and Parker, before we got Ian involved and before I even met Eric. We wrote the songs, but then Eric and Ian really brought them to life. Sometimes it will be Eric and I, sometimes Parker and I. Sometimes we'll write a song right there on the spot, all of us at the same time.

September Moon and Rise Up were written by a friend of mine named Ben Rogers and Devil On My back was written when a guy named Matt Camirand, who played in the band Black Mountain, was playing with us. That was a jam that Eric, Ian and Matt did when I wasn't there. They recorded it, sent it to me and I wrote over it.  

Some of the lyrics on the record are quite bleak, but there's a tenderness that informs some tracks too. Where does that come from?

I think the name of the band really set the tone and that's been a regular theme in country music, gospel, blues – the inner war between good and evil that you're fighting against. It's something that inspires me and that I deal with day after day and I'm sure most other people do. It's the human condition, man.

Do you find it cathartic to write like that?

Absolutely, and the songs take on new meaning the more you sing them. When I wrote Devil On My Back I didn't have a boyfriend, so was thinking of it like a character that this person was seeing. Now I do have a boyfriend I feel the devil on my back and I see what he has to deal with. Music heals and can exorcise a few demons too.

Are your lyrics autobiographical or are you inhabiting different characters and writing from their perspective?

What a song means to me is lyrics, the story - the beginning, middle and end - and the ride. It's amazing when you can channel that much into a song and it's a better performance on my part and better for the audience if it means something when you're on stage and not just singing words into a microphone.

The press like to label women with huge voices as divas.

Being a singer, it's because of who you are and sometimes the good comes with the bad and when you're essentially a dramatic person you can be difficult to deal with. I know I'm a pain in the ass. I feel bad for the guys in my band, what they have to put up with. I lose things all the time. I'm loud, I'm sensitive, I cry. I don't think I'm that bad. I certainly try to be aware.

I was interested to hear your reaction to a review of your album in Classic Rock, where you were labelled 'an early contender for ball-breaking warrior princess of 2014'.  

We're fans of a guy named Charles Bradley and his band is so cool. They do this thing where they introduce him as 'the screaming eagle of soul' and we're trying to figure out what to call me. We want to do a James Brown showmanship thing, so we're throwing around a couple of things, but we thought ball breaking warrior princess was a pretty good contender.

You had an interesting upbringing as a child actress.  Was there a pivotal moment when you had to decide between acting and music?

I just needed to perform and the reason I started acting as a kid is that you can't be in a rock ‘n' roll band when you're five! When I was a kid I was in the same room as Lindsay Lohan for auditions as we were up for the same roles, and my parents turned down a lot of big Disney gigs, which I'm grateful for because I'm here and I'm doing what I love and who knows what would have happened if I'd been Lizzie McGuire. But I always just wanted to be a singer. That's all I wanted.

You've been tipped to make a big splash in the future, are you ready for the possibility of fame?

It's a part of the deal and if I should be so lucky that success happens, then you just have to suck it up and deal with it. I've been lucky enough to grow up around people who are quite famous and see the way they dealt with it and that's been helpful.

What are your goals for 2014? To get out to as wide an audience as possible?

Just tour. We've got to pound the pavement and play as much as possible. I want to come back to Europe and do some festivals and just keep writing. We've tried to find a jam space when we've had days off because we've got another album’s worth of songs that are ready to get recorded.


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