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Music Jann Arden on her mother, TV Jann and launching her own sitcom

Jann Arden arrives on the red carpet at the Juno Awards in London, Ont., Sunday, March 17, 2019.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Jann Arden is on the phone, bashing a woman unmercifully, saying she’s terrible and narcissistic and “just so awful." To whom is the beloved singer-songwriter referring? Herself – sort of.

Arden is the star of Jann, a new CTV comedy very loosely based on her own life. But where the career of the fictionalized Arden-ish entertainer is nose-diving, Arden the real person thrives. Beside the television series, her 2018 album These Are the Days earned a pair of Juno nominations. On the personal side, Arden is single “for the first time in my life” and loving the freedom.

“I know people are going to think it’s my life when they see me in the show,” says Arden, 56, speaking from her home outside Calgary, “but I’m having a great time right now.”

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Arden’s winning streak was interrupted late last year with the death of her mother, a long-time sufferer of Alzheimer’s disease. She spoke to The Globe and Mail about the experience of caring for a deteriorating parent, her television show and how, after comforting fans with music for so long, she leaned on her followers for the empathy and support she’s melodically offered them over the course of a dozen albums.

On launching her own sitcom

Everything that’s happened over the last year is a culmination of the thousands of relationships I’ve forged over the last three decades. Like with Randy Lennox. He’s the president of Bell Media [which owns CTV, which carries Jann]. I worked with him for years when he was the head of Universal Music Canada. But there’s no magic button. Relationships can crack the door open, but then you have to deliver something that has some kind of monetary attraction. People who know me know I’m reliable and they know I’m going to work hard, and that goes a long way. But you have to put the work in. At the end of the day, it’s about making money.

When I was first approached to do the television show, I thought, “I don’t think so.” I didn’t know what I would do. But I sat down in my kitchen with Leah Gauthier, who would end up being the showrunner, and we came up with an outline. I didn’t think it would go anywhere, though. I didn’t think it would get past the point where I wanted to do the show in Calgary. I thought that would be the deal breaker. I thought CTV would move on, but they didn’t.

People who work in television tell me this show was fast-tracked. They ask me how I pushed it through. I tell them I don’t know. I just think a good idea is a good idea, plain and simple.

We’ve obviously finished taping the first season, but the television show is always on the move. I’m probably fielding 10 calls and 10 e-mails a day as we push forward. I have every intention of doing this for five or six seasons.

On her mother

I have a fan base, and I’ve been leaning on them for the last four or five years. I posted something about my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease in 2014. She had been diagnosed, and I was scared. She wasn’t remembering things and it was horrible to witness. The first time I wrote about it online, I had a million impressions in two or three days. I had no idea Alzheimer’s was so widespread. I had 7,000 comments. I obviously can’t comment back to all of them. But I read all of them, and some of them make me bawl my head off. The things people go through. I don’t know how some of them are getting their heads off the pillow every day.

My mother couldn’t navigate. She couldn’t remember and do simple things. She repeated herself constantly. I was so selfish about it. I was never mad at her, but I felt angry all the time. I was disappointed in myself, and frustrated. I didn’t think about what it must have been like for her, with her mind in chaos. I can’t imagine what people endure when they begin down that road – when you have the lucidity of knowing something is very wrong, and then it’s quickly gone from you. My mom knew something was happening, and then it was over, mentally. It’s such a fast-moving, brutal disease. My mother died in 2018.

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The mother in the television show has the beginnings of dementia. So, it’s going to be an important journey for me. It’s a comedy, but it’s also going to be helpful to people to be able to recognize their family and the frustrations of what they’re going through.

On creativity

I feel I’m more open now when it comes to how songs find their way to you. When I was in my 20s, I was obsessive. I lived in a dumpy apartment. I had no money. I was smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and writing 10 terrible songs a week. I was so driven and so determined. But now that I feel less angry about it, I sit with my guitar and I’m really enjoying it.

I’ve been working with an actress, Zoie Palmer, who plays my sister. Because we have a bit of music on the television show, I asked her if she had any interest in writing with me. She said “sure.” So, we’ve written three songs together. We wrote one 10 days ago that I think is one of the best that I’ve ever been involved in. It’s called The Moment. It will definitely be on my next record.

I have no pressure. I don’t worry about radio anymore. I have a record company, Universal Music, that tells me that as long as I want to keep writing songs, they’ll make records with me.

But my radio days are over. The kids should have their say. Now I can approach my song-writing and recording in a liberated sense. And I think I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done.

The lovingly insensitive Jann Arden

On TV Jann v. real-life Jann

My character in the show is loosely based on me. She dates more than I do. I don’t date at all. I’ve never really been single before, but I have been in the last three years. It’s been enlightening and beautiful and liberating.

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TV Jann’s career is really not doing well, whereas my career is better than it’s ever been. So, it’s going to be interesting to see where this knucklehead ends up going. It’s a fun romp, and I think it’s because my character is so flawed and the family is in peril. All hell’s breaking loose. But you know what? It’s just life going on.

Jann airs Wednesdays, at 8:30 p.m. on CTV. It’s also available on CTV.ca, Crave, CTV’s YouTube page and iTunes.

Jann Arden will be one of the presenters at the Canadian Screen Awards Broadcast Gala, March 31, at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, broadcast live on CBC.

Editor’s note: Leah Gauthier is the co-creator, writer and executive producer of Jann; Jennica Harper is the showrunner, co-creator and writer.

Junos 2019: Sarah McLachlan is here to spread love and joy, and she doesn’t care how corny that sounds

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