Jenny Lea always looks both ways before she crosses the street. The charismatic personality and voice behind Vancouver’s indie sad-girl R&B trio I M U R is standing at a crosswalk near the band’s studio in North Vancouver, recalling a near death experience that sparked the conception of the band. “I was hit by an SUV in Vancouver and it forced me to stop everything I was doing and focus on the things that were important to me,” she says while taking us on a leisurely stroll with her bandmates through the quiet blossom-laden North Shore neighbourhood.
Continuing down what feels like a predetermined path since their visceral beginning, I M U R’s new album, My Molecules, is their most intimate yet. The first single from the album, “Sad Girls Club,” lays down the emo vibes extra thick. Its inception was part of a difficult early-pandemic journey for Lea. “It’s an articulation of how I was feeling at the time,” she says. “I’ve been over five years sober now, but being thrown into isolation was re-triggering depression and anxiety and all the things that would make somebody think pretty low of themselves. It helped me a lot to pen the track — just to get it out there.”
According to Lea, the collective experience of living through the pandemic has been intense and mercurial for the band. “It ended up being a blessing in disguise, because we were able to sit down and focus on this record,” she says. Another unprecedented blessing came when producer/guitarist Mikey J.Blige (who has produced and composed music for movies and TV, as well as a huge back-catalogue of R&B heavyweights) moved from East Van to the idyllic suburbia of North Vancouver that we are getting a tour of. Inadvertently, he acquired a property with a weird configuration that’s perfect for vocal recording. “I was able to just build the vocal booth into the basement,” he says.
Walking around the wholesome residential neighbourhood, talking with the bandmates, there is an energy of easy camaraderie that can be felt as we stroll past empty soccer fields, babbling streams and winding forest pathways. All three lean into one another and share laughs, constantly “taking the piss out of taking the piss out of each other,” an approach which producer and multi-instrumentalist Amine Bouzaher says translates into their music. I M U R is a solid unit and it’s clear they have a lot of fun together. “It feels luxurious to have this freedom and this space,” Bouzaher adds. He gestures to a winding pathway ahead, lined with mesmerizing Douglas Fir trees. “This space contributes to our creativity. We don’t feel pressured to utilize the time as fast as possible. If we’re tired, we take a break.”
This is perhaps surprising, coming from a band known for their smooth urban sound and sinewy lyrical topics. But all three East-Vancourites agree that the picturesque backdrop to our ramble is a world away from the chaotic bustle of the Downtown Eastside. Bouzaher and Blige are candid when talking about why they had to leave their last East Van studio behind. “You would actually have to step over human feces to get into the studio we had on Hastings and Main,” they recollect, shuddering at the memory.
Drawing on those external influences, I M U R’s second single from their new album, “Birdseye,” features a video that captures the fluctuation between destruction and regeneration, something Lea has become increasingly more aware of over the course of the last year. “Jenny had this concept of a piano being on fire and walking through the street lighting a trail of gasoline,” Blige says.
“It immediately fit with the themes of the record: love and loss, death and rebirth,” Lea says about her inspired vision that came while alone at home with her piano. The vision culminated in real-time with pyrotechnics near their old Strathcona stomping grounds, under the Georgia Viaduct. “It was directed by a whole film crew. We got to light a piano on fire over and over and over again. It was pretty crazy seeing something you’ve had in your head for months be realized.”
As we end our circular wander back at their new studio, the band are reminiscing about their mishaps at past shows – a mid-song guitar swap, solos with no sound, impromptu acapella singing – a nostalgic nod to experiences that feel a world away from our current reality. But when shows do come back, I M U R are ready with a bespoke set that will reconfigure the entire album with live instrumentals.
By Christine Leonard
The alt-country chanteuse takes the wheel and puts the past in the rearview mirror on new album.