Stacey Kaniuk’s new EP, Heartbeat, is big, bright and boisterous pop, sometimes punctuated by horns, and in one instance disco. Yes disco, likely the only genre of music that has not had a comeback — yet.
The throwback music video for the single “Baby Wants To Dance” features all the classic visuals of a 1970s rollerskating dance party. Perhaps the retro sound of the song was subliminally influenced by the giant disco ball spinning in Joydrop bassist and producer Thom McKay’s recording studio. Proof enough. It’s ba-ack!
But Stacey’s six-song release has a range of other vibes too, including old-school funk and soul. There’s the pleading ballad “Make Your Move,” the funky jazzy swirl “Mercy,” playful peppy piano pop of “Follow Me Down,” and darker monster “Give Up The Ghost.” The title-track, “Heartbeat,” Stacey says, “epitomizes the whole process of making this record. It's just a joyful song about moving forward and looking ahead. It's essentially about finding love, about realizing you're on the verge of something good."
That could also apply to her career and new sound.
"Because I started out in the singer-songwriter scene, I was writing to figure out who I was,” says Stacey of the time following her career start while in her teens with the gold-selling girl group Take 3, signed to Universal Music Canada. “That has changed since I’ve been gigging a lot, playing in different cover bands and performing in front of audiences that want to dance and have a good time.
"I wanted to try something fresh; I wanted this record to feel bigger than anything I've ever done before. I had to get out of my own head and just have fun with it."
Stacey was born in London, Ontario, and raised in Aurora, part of the Greater Toronto Area. A piano player, she wrote her first original song at age 16, and a year later started playing covers in bars (yes, underage). Her first big break came when she and two other young singers formed the group Take 3, which lasted a few short years and gave her an education in the music business, until all three decided to pursue individual careers in music.
Stacey dove in headfirst. She started songwriting in earnest, attending workshops and gigging on her own, networking with fellow musicians she still counts as friends and colleagues today. In 2009, she made her first solo EP with producer Brent Bodrug (Alanis Morissette, Sarah Harmer). Two years later, she worked with former Jitters frontman/producer Blair Packham (The Jitters, Arlene Bishop) on her first full-length album, Hot Air Balloon, which was more singer-songwriter, less pop.
She met Thom McKay in 2012 at her Canadian Music Week showcase and the two had an engaging conversation about their influences — and her music. “I kept his card for years after that with a note scribbled, ‘Call him!’— all because of that one conversation,” she marvels. “When I received a FACTOR grant in 2015, I immediately contacted him. I knew he was the perfect fit for this project.”
The approval from FACTOR — a non-profit which provides financial support for Canadian recording artists — was validation for Stacey, who was starting to become disheartened following her dream. “Money is part of the reason I didn't make another album after my first one,” she admits. “Doing music full-time can be a tough grind at the best of times, but having that support suddenly made it possible to just create the way I've always wanted to.
"It also allowed those in the various creative fields around the project to put their best work forward,” she adds, “not just the musicians who played on the record, but the studio engineers, the photographer who captured the album art, the filmmakers and dancers in the music video.
"Getting this funding was a pretty big deal to me and that relief and freedom of expression flowed through everyone involved in the Heartbeat EP."
She and Thom took their time, making sure every part of the song and process felt good. They would often write together, trying out musical ideas, Stacey handling all the lyrics, and continuing to work on the song at home. “The whole process was rooted around good vibes. Whenever life got stressful, we took a break from it until the music could be the focus,” she says.
“It’s been five years in between my last record and this one. I've learned a lot in terms of reading a crowd, getting super comfy on stage, meeting tonnes of amazing musicians, constantly learning from them and from myself,” she says.
"I just wanted to infuse the energy and joy of a kickass live show into every aspect of this record.”