Life’s a carnival

Photo: Shehab Illyas

In the week before the 2016 East Coast Music Awards, guitarist Jeff Jodrey was insanely busy, and that’s the way he wanted it. He dropped off his bags at the hotel and ran to the venue with his guitar. The Hammonds Plains-based fingerstyle guitarist’s second album, Carnival, was nominated for traditional instrumental recording of the year. Other nominees included Natalie McMaster and Donnell Leahy, Aaron Collis & Duane Andrews for The Mallard Cottage Sessions, DOC (DesRoches, Oullette Chaisson), and Nuallan, The EP.
He spent the week before getting ready for this moment. That included lot of rehearsing and writing an acceptance speech.
“I thought I have to be prepared because that’s the only way to calm my nerves,” he says. “To be nominated alongside Natalie McMaster was really awesome. I was really honoured and humbled, for sure.”
And while he didn’t win his category (Natalie McMaster and Donnell Leahy took the award), Jodrey says he met industry people, including managers, agents, and other musicians.
“What I was hoping to get out of it was the personal growth the whole week,” he says. “Those were all wonderful takeaways. But getting up and playing is always the best.”
His first ECMA nomination was a highlight in a solo career that started in the late ‘90s when he returned to Nova Scotia from Toronto where he played in the acoustic indie-rock band, Winebible. They wrote songs, recorded, and toured Ontario and the East Coast.
He released his first solo album, Instrumental Guitar for Folks with Good Taste, in 1997 and sold it mostly to friends and fans at shows he played locally.
Jodrey grew up in Hantsport and took up the guitar when he was 10 after hearing his cousin play a Mötley Crüe song. By 13, his musical tastes and guitar playing took another turn, this time to fingerstyle, which means using the fingers and not a pick to play. It was Rik Emmett’s playing on Triumph’s 1984 album Midummer’s Daydream that changed Jodrey’s tune in his guitar playing. His other influences include Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, Ron Sexsmith, Joe Satriani, and Don Ross.
After that first solo album, Jodrey took a several-year break to raise a family. He started working on Carnival in 2011. “I wasn’t sure what would come of this record,” he says. “I knew it would be kind of a diary for me, a sort of venting of ideas and I couldn’t let go of them.”
For Jodrey, its title doesn’t represent the literal meaning of a carnival. “When I think of a carnival, I think of a lot of different feelings,” Jodrey says. “The excitement, the anticipation of going there…and all the other feelings you may experience like impatience, anxiety, maybe some fear and even regret, such as you wish you hadn’t gone on that rollercoaster.”
Each song reflects some of those feelings. “Side By Side” talks about Jodrey’s combined lives as an artist and a family man. “Now,” meanwhile, was written during some quiet time in his day when everyone in his house was asleep. “I thought that’s a song about being present,” he says.
Cory Tetford met Jodrey when he was looking for a producer for Carnival. Tetford considers Jodrey a “virtuoso.”
“I’ve not heard a guy live, sit in front of me, play an acoustic guitar like that,” Tetford says. “And I’ve heard a lot of musicians.” Tetford has worked with Alan Doyle, Damhnait Doyle, Ron Hynes, The Irish Descendents and Big Sugar. He also played in the band Crush.
While producing Carnival, Tetford says he had one goal: stay out of Jodrey’s way.
“Like I told him, put up some mics and play your guitar,” Tetford says. “I will mix it for you, mix and master it. At the end of the day, when you have somebody with that amount of talent, you really want to stay out of their way and only add something to the song that is needed from a musical standpoint.”
Jodrey also teaches several students. He says he loves the challenges it presents to stay on your toes and answer a student’s questions. “It’s rewarding to see someone grab onto something and enjoy doing it,” Jodrey says. “I hope they find the guitar is something they feel they can go to, that it’s something they need in their lives. Because that’s certainly how I feel.”
Cheryl Ord has been a student of Jodrey’s since the spring. She had about eight months of lessons under her belt before she learned about Jodrey’s lessons via a website that promotes events in her community of White Hills Run in Hammonds Plains.
“He’s very laid back, but very positive and very encouraging,” Ord says. “He really listens, actually, because I am a little slow at taking stuff in. He encourages me to practice more.”
Ord’s goal is to play well enough to perform as a hobby, at campfires, for example. Jodrey, she says, is teaching her theory, too. “I’ve never done theory before and it makes a lot more sense.”
“He loves what he does and you can see that,” she says. “He’s very patient, which I need. He’s a down-to-earth guy. He doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, or anything.”
These days, Jodrey is still playing, usually at Stayner’s on the Halifax waterfront. He also played the stage this summer at the Hammonds Plains Heritage Day. He’s thinking about his next album. But this time he will include vocals. “I’ve got songs that just won’t have legs as instrumental pieces, but I feel really good about them as something else,” he says.
But he has other plans for his career, too, including building a bigger network, finding more local talent to work with, as well as touring again. “I am slowly starting to look at that and try to find ways to do that,” Jodrey says. “I have this vision of playing soft-seat theatres. That is something I have to figure out how to make happen.”
But his bigger goal is to accomplish this while still living in the Maritimes.
“I know when I played in a band years ago, it was all about getting out and touring and thrusting yourself into places and trying to meet people,” he says. “I feel, for me, that is just not organized enough. I have a family. My time away from them has got to be productive and well thought out. I thought if I focus on the Maritimes I am not too far away.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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