NO SINNER: Colleen Rennison (vocals), Eric Campbell (guitar), Ian Brown (drums), Matt Camirand (bass)
Every vocalist has a unique voice, and yet it is human nature to compare those voices to ones who have gained recognition in our culture. On one hand, performers want their voices to stand out in the crowd; on the other hand, to be compared to a world-renowned singer is a compliment like no other.
Twenty four year old Colleen Rennison is stuck in that in-between place right now. Not famous enough to be recognized on her own; however, her voice is powerful and reminiscent of so many greats, it's hard not to compare.
Rennison is the lead singer for No Sinner, a Vancouver based, rockin' bluesy type band that is distinctly Canadian with a worldly feel. The band is comprised of Ian Brown on drums, Eric Campbell on guitar and Matt Camirand on bass. Gonzo caught up with Rennison as she was taking some well-deserved time off at the beach.
"I was convinced I was going to be a singer long before anyone else thought I'd be good at it," said Rennison matter-of-factly. "The moment I realized that was what people could do for a living I wanted to do it. I think I was three. I loved the Supremes and Aretha Franklin and Etta James and the Temptations, lots of Motown. It was all I listened to for a really long time."
In the past, Rennison has been compared to Janice Joplin, Tina Marie, even Karen Dalton, a Cherokee singer from the 60s who was at the time compared to Billie Holiday. Personally I think Rennison sounds like a cross between an early 80s Bette Midler and Suzie Quatro (remember her?) with a hint of Adele thrown in for good measure. In other words, she sounds like Colleen Rennison. She is charmingly unaffected by today's music, which is probably why No Sinner sounds like a group of old souls who know the blues and love to rock out.
"I really don't listen to contemporary music today," said Rennison. "It's an overwhelming sea of things to discover. I am also reluctant to listen to the new music because I don't want my musical direction swayed." She pauses. "I remember when radio was cool, when you could hear the cool new songs from all genres. Now it seems everyone is over produced. It's homogenized. People are hungry for music that is more organic. Artists like the Black Keys are really making a dent in the modern music tapestry right now. It's a good indication that things are starting to move away from candy-coated crap."
Rennison has also noticed a slight shift in the live music scene. "The Indy music scene right now in Vancouver has a rootsy rock and roll revival happening," she said. "The climate is changing and people are a lot more attracted to simpler things. Now the style is long straight hair, no make up, innocent looking and the music is following suit. There's more acoustics and impressive writing and tender interpretation of feelings. We have this huge language – an amazing wealth of words we can use to describe things – why they aren't being used in modern music blows my mind."
Rennison and her band write their own music, as well as play some great covers. The band is incredibly tight considering they played their first gig together on June 30, 2011. "It's a funny little family," laugh Rennison. "Our guitarist lives with our drummer. Eric Campbell, our guitar player, he's 19 and absolutely amazing. He's going to be super famous in his own right. He has so many interesting things to say about music. Ian Brown is our drummer. He knows all the ins and out of the business. He works for live nation and has played drums for what seems like almost everyone in Vancouver at one time or another. Matt Camirand, our bass player has been playing in bands forever. He was in Black Mountain, Black Halos and also plays in a band with his significant other called the Highway Kind. Our rhythm section are in their 30s and Eric and I are the babies. It's a good combo of experience and naivety. We are on a pretty exciting cusp here and if I can just hang on and be professional, I think it will probably go well."
Their latest song, Boo Hoo Hoo, has over 35,000 hits on You Tube. Take a listen and you'll understand why.
As for being the 'face and voice' of the band, Rennison is a little reticent about it. "It's weird having a female artist being the lead singer of a band. I'm trying to discourage people just talking to me; it's not me and the band, WE are the band. We all write the songs. I feel like if there were a male lead singer there would be less of a separation. It is such a boys club. I don't know many girls my age that can relate to me, touring and playing shows. I am the carrot in front of the donkey."
Rennison admits she is more a performer than a musician. "My art lies in interpreting music and making them my own. If I want to write a song I will write it, but I like acting and singing and performing. I don't sit around and write music, it's not what I do, but my guitarist does that."
In the past year, No Sinner has developed quite a following. They are billed as an all ages band and Rennison loves seeing kids coming down with their parents to see them. "It isn't something that I strive for but it makes sense considering the type of music we're doing. We are just trying to make the kind of music we like while we can. People are getting tired of today's music. I think we are coming along at a very convenient time for us."
To date they've played gigs all over Canada including North by NorthEast in Toronto, Sled Island in Calgary and the jazz fest in Vancouver. Upcoming BC gigs for 2012 include:
July 27 - Music in the Park - Kamloops
Aug 6 - Tsawwassen Sun Festival - Tsawwassen
Aug 11 - Blues + Roots Festival - Burnaby
Aug 12 - Lions Park - Port Coquitlam
Aug 18-19 - Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival
Aug 24 - Live At Squamish
I almost forgot, the name of the band… No Sinner, is Colleen's last name, backwards.
You can follow them on twitter at @nosinnermusic or do a search on You Tube for No Sinner.
As an added treat, we found this gem online with Colleen Rennison, Vancouver's blues icon Jim Byrnes and guitarist Steve Dawson. Enjoy. And remember - you heard about No Sinner here first!
Photo Credit: Eric Cairns