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Ness Nöst Is A Modern Day Working-Class Folk Hero

The indie songwriter is ready to hang up her apron for good. 

by Ben Boddez

Photo Ian MacDougall

Anyone who has ever held a job in the service industry knows it will not only lead to inevitable burnout, but there’s also only so many times a person can say ‘Would you like fries with that’ before the brain spontaneously combusts.

For indie folk singer-songwriter Ness Nöst, the idea of literally serving the public comes with a whole mess of problems, but for an extroverted songwriter looking for inspiration – especially one who is inspired by musical storytellers like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon – being able to do so much people-watching while “on the job” certainly had its perks.

All of this is why Nöst compiled her past service industry experiences into her latest EP, Working Hours. Equipped with cover art of Nöst lounging in a classic old-timey diner, she calls it both a love letter and a fully relieved goodbye letter to the tumultuous industry.

“It’s a complex love, I guess,” Nöst says. “If you’re in a front-facing job, you’re meeting potentially 100 or more people a day, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities come from the people I’ve met. As a songwriter, it’s incredible because you’re just observing people all day. I mean, you’re slammed busy a lot of the time, but you have the ability to see people in scenarios that not everybody gets to see.”

When it comes to the negative aspects, however? “You’d have to write a whole novel,” she says. Nöst sometimes addresses her struggles with a touch of humour – “Who knew that serving food meant you’re a therapist at night,” she sings on “Maid 4 U” – but listening to a track like “The Regular” reveals the dangers that lurk. In the song, Nöst tells the story of a lonely customer who develops a one-sided relationship with a server, eventually overstepping boundaries and following her home.

“The particular story itself is not directly lifted from my life, but being a woman in restaurants in front-of-house, you’re kind of assumed to be this dangling bait in some people’s eyes, that just being there working and existing as a woman in that space means that you’re up for grabs – quite literally,” Nöst says. “There’s many women I know for sure who have gone through incidents like these.”

When it comes to tipping culture, Nöst calls for a raise in wages. She’s sympathetic towards those who find things have gotten completely out of hand, feeling guilt to tip money that they don’t have in what she calls “our polite Canadian society,” but she’s also tired after having heard false equivalencies between servers and more traditionally lucrative careers when critics don’t consider how unstable an income based on tips can truly be.

“Anyone that’s worked these jobs knows that they’re some of the toughest you can have other than being a doctor or scientist or something with a degree,” she says. “People count on these workers every day. The irony is that they have to do the grunt work that nobody wants to do, and get treated unfairly by not only customers, but also bad managers. There are so many personalities that you have to deal with that a lot of drama can occur.”


(Photo: Melissa Broersma)


To accompany the album, Nöst created a Spotify playlist featuring some of her inspirations, as well as songs that she felt fit the theme she was aiming for – it’s populated by some legendary working-class anthems like Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business” and The Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night,” as well as her own personal favourite song to cover – Sam Evian’s version of “Unknown Legend,” originally by Neil Young.

“It’s just a simple, beautiful, heartfelt portrait of this woman who he’s singing about. She works in a diner. She takes care of her kids, and to have fun she rides Harley Davidsons,” she says. Now that some of Nöst’s own songs have been added to the canon, she hopes that her listeners find that, like her inspirations, she speaks to them instead of at them musically.  

“A good working-class anthem needs to speak to people, so it can’t be shouting, talking down. That’s probably number one,” she says. “It’s about us, the collective we, and about tapping into the essence of the fight, the passion, the outrage, the anger that people face in working-class situations. And it can’t be afraid to be bold with the sound, the lyrics, and the message.”

In line with many of her heroes of folk, alt-country and poetic singer-songwriter tunes, Nöst certainly accepted her own challenge to be bold. Many of her tracks find her vocals mixed all the way up front, ready to deliver lyrics that are confessional and blunt, throwing the realities of the stories she tells in the listener’s faces and never masking anything in metaphor. Mixing in some elements of blues, grunge and rock to reflect her diverse musical upbringing, it should resonate with anyone who has found themselves in a similar situation – especially one who is chasing creative dreams at the same time, like Nöst and her narrators.



To finance Working Hours, Nöst actually accepted another challenge – fed up with waiting around for funding to come in after applying for a number of grants, Nöst quit her service job and launched a Kickstarter campaign with the aim of independently raising $7000 in order to spark the EP’s creation.

“When I put my mind to something real, I tend to go really hard. The idea that with Kickstarter it’s all or nothing, if you don’t reach your goal, you get nothing, is a bit of what got me excited, because I know I love a challenge,” she says. “So, I set it all up independently, marketed the hell out of it for 60 days, and a lot of folks from around the world were super generous – just nice strangers that liked the idea.”

Nöst’s next step is the EP’s official release show, taking place at The Heatley in Vancouver on April 4. Alongside being able to make some powerful statements in her music, Nöst is translating her experiences into advocacy as well by platforming not-for-profits Good Night Out and #NOTME at the show, both of which spread awareness about workplace safety and harm reduction.

“Good Night Out has something called a street team, which runs every weekend on Granville Street in Vancouver from midnight to 3 a.m. – you have these guardian angels walking the streets and basically taking care of people in nightlife, whether it’s harassment, workplace safety with clubs or venues, or just people that are dehydrated outside the club,” she says. “And #NOTME is what I wish I had all the years I worked in restaurants – it’s an anonymous reporting system so that management can tackle things as they happen. So many people don’t say anything at work and just suck it up, and that’s horrible. Both of them are going to be at the show supporting this project, and it made me really excited to pair music with advocacy.”

Catch Ness Nöst live at the Heatley (Vancouver) on April 4