Forget compasses, GPS, or helpful Sherpas. From June 13–19 this year, Torontoist is here to be your guide to everything NXNE.
We had a section in our NXNE preview talking about artists who (sometimes) do it all themselves. MJ Cyr is one of those artists. Though she’s happy to play with other musicians (we’ve seen her several times collaborating with as many as a dozen other artists at tribute nights to Neil Young and the Smashing Pumpkins at the Drake Hotel Underground), she’s just as comfortable when it’s just her, a guitar, a small keyboard, and a couple of looping pedals (for her NXNE gig tonight, “It’ll be me and Cam Britton, who’ll be playing sax, and looping a bunch of stuff, too”).
A busy traveller, she’s toured Canada (twice), New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and parts of the States; in New Orleans, she opened for Imogen Heap, an artist she considers an inspiration, and subsequently ended up recording at Heap’s home studio on a recent trip to London.
Recently, she’s undertaken a very personal project: “I’m working on a Bahá’í devotional record, taking writings from the Bahá’í faith and putting them to music.” Lately, some Bahá’í performers have been attempting to express their faith in more creative fashions than the hippie, folk-music stereotype; the faith’s most high-profile entertainer, comedian Rainn Wilson, opens some sets by strumming a few chords on an acoustic guitar before smashing it onstage, and Alden Penner and Jaime Thompson of seminal Montreal rock band the Unicorns have a new Bahá’í inspired band, called the Hidden Words.
“It’s only recently I’ve merged my Bahá’í world and music world,” says Cyr. “It came from the realization that I’m one person, so why try to create this dichotomy in my life? My way of bridging the gap was to create this record, which I hope will be accessible in a way that doesn’t exclude people who aren’t Bahá’í, and might open discussions on how to incorporate spirituality into our music.”
Torontoist: Tell us why we should see you at NXNE, in 10 words or less.
MJ Cyr: Because I’m going to be wearing a very pretty dress!
What’s your favourite Toronto venue, and why?
For my acoustic set, the Cameron House back room is amazing—I love the vibe there, and the stage is great. In terms of venues and their associated booker, I’ve played wonderful shows at the Piston—Randal Ball really cares about the acts there, and puts a lot of effort into the shows.
Does the NXNE beat the SXSW, and why?
I haven’t been to SXSW! But [NXNE] beats it in terms of of the cost of playing, since it’ll only cost me $3 on the TTC to get to my show at NXNE. I’d love to go to SXSW someday.
Who’s going to be the breakout act of NXNE this year?
Brett Caswell and the Marquee Rose will be awesome. I’ve seen them play a few times, and they put on a really dynamic show, have a lot of fun on stage, and are just great to see.
What’s up next for MJ Cyr?
Getting the devotional record out, and touring it—a lot. I’ve just come back from playing in the U.K., which was an incredible experience. I’ve toured Canada twice, and pockets in the States, but the devotional, I’m going to tour everywhere. One upside of this project is that the worldwide Bahá’í community is really tight. I’ve planned the record so that I can perform it pretty much anywhere.