Jane Siberry is checking in while the tour bus wends its way through the car wash.
"We're on a 2 1/2-month tour," she reports. "Twelve people in one bus. It's a whole different life style and you have to prepare for it. It's an organizational challenge, for one thing, just to keep the bus habitable."
Siberry is calling from somewhere in Pennsylvania, though she's not sure exactly where. This is new territory: After being acclaimed as one of the finest songwriters Canada has produced in the last decade, Siberry is introducing herself to America. She performs at the 9:30 club tonight.
Although her new album is titled "No Borders Here," there are subtle barriers that keep original artists like Siberry unknown in the United States. She's a star in Canada, but until now had performed only twice south of her border -- at a showcase in New York and at the Rhode Island School of Design. "No Borders" has also found stateside distribution through Windham Hill Records.
"I do a lot of music it's hard to get my own country to take seriously," Siberry notes, conceding that her music is not Top 40 material. "I've been very lucky, though. There's other people doing this sort of thing who've had great difficulty getting support, or getting deals, because they're a bit of an unknown quantity."
For points of reference, you could position the unknown Siberry somewhere between such better known artists as fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell and pop provocateur Laurie Anderson.
"I prefer it when that's all it is and not when it makes me sound like I'm a derivative of them," Siberry says. "I know how I feel about myself, and I just have to go with that. Sometimes people say I'm 'avant-garde' or 'really unique.' I feel like I draw from all sorts of things and it's coming through me as a vessel. There's always something special about the way each person is doing whatever they're doing. And I have a censor board in my head so that if a song reminds me of something else, I reject it."
Siberry's highly personal style swirls around wry observations and self-examination, conversational asides, a journalist's attention to detail, a painter's sense of the surreal and the real. She has a penchant for lyrical twists and subtle melodic and rhythmic expansions within individual songs. There is a depth of feeling and a hypnotic pulse to much of what she does, akin to the music of Ferron, whom she thinks of "as a peer more than an influence."
Of her finely crafted lyrics, Siberry says, "I see them as a line that must also stand on its own. When I work on a song I'll move back and forth through the lyrics and make sure everything running through them is balanced, and that there are also different things running through the music. That way everything is balanced."
Siberry adds that she is "always writing, putting things everywhere. A lot of the images come complete. My mind wanders off and I happen to have a pen . . ."
On one song on the new album, she sings, "I'd probably be famous now/ If I wasn't such a good waitress." Siberry, naturally, has been a waitress, and in fact used her earnings from that job to record and release her first album, a low-key folk effort, back in 1981. "The instrumentation is much more sparse," she points out. Her current band, sort of a folk-punk aggregation, includes five musicians and two singers.
"It's freed me up because I don't have to be able to play what I'm writing," she says.
Although she has been working as a musician for much of the last decade, Siberry can always fall back on a career in science. When she was at Guelph University in Toronto, she took a science degree "and as a second thought, got a second degree in microbiology. That was sort of to get a specialty in something in case I would want to use it."
"I've always loved music and that's always been me," she adds. "I took music at university but I didn't enjoy it because it wasn't new to me. I play by ear, so a lot of the things that I learned were describing what I already knew. But with the science course, I started to understand things in the physical world that I was blind about. The training, the discipline is really good for anybody."