Vancouver’s Colleen Rennison is a blues shouter in the grand tradition of Etta James and Janis Joplin. The 28-year-old started out in film first though, as a preteen starring alongside the likes of Ray Liotta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis, before helming cover bands and then forming blues rockers No Sinner.
How did you discover music?
I was watching the film My Girl and I heard The Temptations song on the soundtrack and that was the first time music stopped me in my tracks. It really jumped out at me and moved me and made me want to discover more. Then soon after, I was sat in the back of my aunt and uncle’s car and I heard The Supremes, and it was the same thing, they blew me away. And I knew then I was going to be a singer.
And then from Motown, you went to the blues.
I started getting further into Motown and then I started looking back at their influences and that led me to the blues, Etta James, Aretha Franklin.
Your vocals are often compared to Etta James’ vocals.
She is a big influence. I remember going into a record shop looking for an album by her and not knowing where to look, if she was going to be in the jazz section or the soul section. I found her in blues and I thought, “Oh, that’s what the blues is!” I wasn’t from a musical family, there was no mentor for me at home – although I was encouraged in whatever I wanted to do – so it was all self-discovery.
And you’ve been likened to Janis Joplin too.
I’ve been living with the Janis Joplin comparisons since I was five, and I do really respect her, but it’s more a case of listening to the same music that influenced her, rather than listening to Janis herself. On this new album, I’m doing Robert Plant too. It’s a bit of an androgynous album – a rock’n’roll odyssey through heartbreak and debauchery, good times and bad.
Acting made me see that you should follow your dream.
The new album is called Old Habits Die Hard.
The old habit referred to in the title is music, because the album was four years in the making, and at times it was really hard work and I definitely thought about giving up, but we kept on going.
Why did it take so long?
We signed to Mascot and we were ready to go with an album straight away, but they wanted to issue an EP first to introduce us, so we’ve been living with the songs on the album a long, long time. The album is all peaks and valleys, it maps that journey from then to now.
Musically, it’s very diverse.
Its foundation is definitely in the blues, but it doesn’t run a steady musical course. There’s punk rock on Saturday Night, you can hear a Prince influence on Fading Away, there’s some Jerry Lee Lewis-styled rock’n’roll and Hollow is a classic blues ballad.
You played on tour with Beth Hart in 2013 – kindred spirits?
Oh yes, I think we have a lot in common, and she was so kind to us and it was great to have an example of a strong woman who has been through it all to learn from.
You started out in cover bands.
I was 18, singing Etta James, Motown, Led Zeppelin around my home city of Vancouver. I really wanted to find a band to write and sing originals with, but that took a while.
You then eventually formed No Sinner in 2011.
Yes, the music scene in Vancouver is really tight and so everyone knew everyone, and by that time, I really felt I had to write by any means possible. It was that desperate a situation, and I started writing with my friend Parker Bossley and formed the band with drummer Ian Browne and guitarist Eric Campbell.
You were both a singer and actor in your formative years.
I loved and still love singing and acting, but I was throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck and I never realised it would be so hard to do both. But it is pretty impossible.
So music won out, although you got your first exposure to fame as a nine-year-old, starring alongside Ray Liotta in the 1996 thriller Unforgettable then with Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis in 1999 romcom The Story Of Us. What did you learn from the experience?
I was exposed to so many cool people. I’d be on set with actors, directors, producers, costume designers, stylists, and exposed to so many alternative thought processes, instead of with my peers running around a school yard and eating lunch in a big hall. I got to see that you should always follow your dream, because you can find success doing it, whatever it is. You really can be artistic and succeed, and you should never be afraid to express yourself.
Old Habits Die Hard is out now on Provogue/Mascot Label Group.