Jen Schaffer and the Shiners hail from Toronto via Montreal, Hamburg, Calgary and the UK! They are purveyors of original soulful folkrock music with lush harmonies and heavy bass. Jen Schaffer is the lead singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist. She came to music via a stint as a public defender in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio, where she gained a love of alt-country music and a heightened social conscience. Her self-penned works, which have garnered praise from the likes of Ron Sexsmith, speak of love, struggle and injustice and are sharply focused through the lens of her own life journey.
The Shiners are Simon Law, the band’s drummer, keyboardist, background vocalist and producer, who is also a Grammy winning songwriter of Soul II Soul’s Back to Life and original member of that band; Astrid Foster on bass and sweet background harmonies; John Teshima plays guitar, both electric and acoustic – he also plays keyboards and adds background harmonies; Jonathan Marks contributes violin, viola and mandolin as well as background harmonies.
Highlights of the band’s ten year journey include playing the Mariposa Folk Festival, Jen being interviewed by CBC in her hometown of Montreal before a gig there, and gaining kudos from Fred Tackett of Little Feat for our version of Fool Yourself.
On February 10th 2018 Jen and the Shiners release their second full length album Games We Play. The album contains twelve original songs written by Jen Schaffer and arranged by the band. It was recorded over a period of one and a half years at Canterbury Music Company and their own studio, Studio Wolfrey. Produced by Simon Law, it was mixed by Jeremy Darby at Canterbury and mastered by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios in London, UK.
All the songs on Games We Play reflect on the manipulations and machinations of human behaviour – defiant, delusional, dysfunctional, contemplative, fearful or foolish in love! But always a hint towards redemption. Cases in point…
“Garnet Strand” – the opening track. A jeweller’s daughter’s take on transformative love.
“Lament” – one of the earliest tunes on the record, written in 2009, is the awakening plea of a mother to her distressed daughter.
“Blood of the Lamb” – This song explores the consequences of gun culture. I wrote it several years ago after hearing about the death of Christina Taylor Green, the 9 year old girl killed during the mass shooting that targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon, Arizona in 2011. That this young girl was born on 9/11 and died in this tragic way inspired the song. Musically it’s an homage to The Band featuring horn arrangement by Gary Barnacle reminiscent of Van Morrison’s St Dominic’s Preview/Moon Dance era.
“Gone” – The underlying story of this song is of a young girl’s rejection of the confines imposed by her extreme religious sect. The very struggles that inspired this song are those experienced, for example, by the “yotzes” or young ultra orthodox Jewish women in Israel. This phenomena was more recently explored in the documentary One Of Us and in Deborah Feldman’s book Unorthodox. Jen also drew inspiration from Linda Grant’s book about contemporary and contradictory Israeli life, People On The Street. She says, “At the very least, I had to write a song about those ‘awkward squads’!”
“Games We Play” – The essence of this tune is captured by the self-damning lyric “can I call your bluff, having never called your name.”
Special guest artists on Games We Play include: Lain Gray of UK bands Soul II Soul, Wookie and Nu Colours. He also starred in London’s West End hit musicals We Will Rock You and The Harder They Come. Lain is Simon’s longtime songwriting partner and is featured vocalist on the song “Jerusalem Fields.” The idea for this collaboration was born when Lain performed with Jen and Simon in the UK in the summer of 2017 (on Jazz FM and BBC Radio London) whilst promoting Simon’s solo album Look To The Sky ( a UK soul chart no 1 album)
We are also honoured to have Simon’s good friend and long time collaborator Gary Barnacle join us. Gary is one of the leading UK musicians of his generation and adds dazzling brass arrangements and his masterful playing to two tunes on the album: “Blood of the Lamb” and “Ominous Change.” This is the first time The Shiners have added horns to their music and its a thrill to hear how Gary’s powerful playing adds fuel to the fire! Toronto master musician
Denis Keldie joins us on accordion, Hammond and Lowrey Organ. The gorgeous accordion playing on “Lament” and “Games We Play” infuses new and beautiful flavours to the Shiner sound. The driving B3 part he plays on “We Had Our Time” injects the song with jubilant power. And on “Gone” he plays full on ska style Lowrey organ to this klezmer/ska mashup!
THE BACK STORY
Montreal-born and raised, Jen spent some time living in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio before finally settling in Toronto, where she now lives and performs. She discovered songwriting in the middle of a career focused on social justice and giving voice to the marginalized in society. As a state public defender in Ohio, she worked on a battered woman homicide case that not only changed self-defense law in that state but also her musical journey. This experience resulted years later in her first song, For Teresa, and the recording of a four-song EP released in 2009 called, Angel Ridge.
Her musical incarnation as a singer-songwriter came on swiftly and with great passion – in the last 10 years she’s been writing, performing and recording her own original roots music with her band The Shiners. Jen’s musical style evolved out of a childhood steeped music by the The Band, Jimmy Cliff and a later immersion into the world of bluegrass and alternative country. Her sound is alt-country/folkrock with lush harmonies, tough beats and deep bass. Collaborator and band mate Simon Law (a.k.a. The Funky Ginger and member of Soul II Soul) adds a soul/funk vibe to these original works and the band always contribute with love and skill to the arrangements.
The music has kept on flowing, with many more songs since For Teresa. The band’s first full-length recording, Fate Line was released in November of 2014. The 12 songs are all Jen Schaffer originals, showcasing depth and insight as a songwriter, as well as the band’s eclectic talents. There’s a duet on Fate Line with indie pop songstress and Juno nominee Emm Gryner, and contributions from Blair Packham, Arlene Bishop, Bob Foster and Sarah Foster.
Simon Law, the drummer and keyboardist in the Shiners (Grammy winning songwriter of Back to Life and a member of the UK’s Soul II Soul), production gives the album a warm soulful 70’s sound with rich harmonies, deep bass and funk fueled beats.
The Shiners, Woodford bourbon enthusiasts and friends one and all are: Simon Law on drums, keyboards and background vocals, Astrid Foster on bass and background vocals, John T on guitar, keyboard and bass, and Jonathan Marks, on violin, viola and background vocals.
Musical highlights to date
- Played the Mariposa Folk Festival in July of 2016.
- The successful launch and release in January 2016 of the single Sunday Morning, New York City, and its accompanying video. (NOW Toronto Magazine listed the release party as a “Critic’s Pick” music event).
- Jen and some Shiners played holiday tunes at the Riverdale Share Concert at the Danforth Music Festival in December 2015 and 2016. The Share is a wonderful local charitable event in Toronto. Jen did a bunch of media promotion for the concert on Toronto television and radio.
- Internationally-known Canadian songwriter Ron Sexmith says the material on Fate Line is “very strong” and counts himself “a fan of Jen’s songwriting.”
- Recording the band’s debut full length album at Jeremy Darby’s Canterbury Music Company with guest artists Emm Gryner , Blair Packham, Arlene Bishop and Bob Foster.
- Performing live on CFRB’s Rock Talk and Montreal’s CJAD and getting played on CBC! Opening for Blair Packham and The Jitters at The Rivoli. Performing this past year at the Mariposa Folk Festival Showcase in Orillia.
- Musical road tripping to Montreal, Tobermory, Kitchener and the outer regions of my mind with friend and inspiration Arlene Bishop. Sharing the stage at the Justice for Children and Youth Benefits with the likes of The Lowest of the Low, Dave Bidini, some Barenaked Ladies and Mia Sheard.
- Getting lovely kudos from Fred Tackett for our live rendition of his beautiful Little Feat tune, “Fool Yourself,” and singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” with Ron Sexsmith in memory of Levon Helm.
Jen and all the Shiners all play on Simon’s solo album, Look To The Sky out on Dome Records in the UK. The album was no 1 on the UK soul chart. Jen takes lead vocal and cowrites the song Heart Of The Beast on the album.
Jen’s other musical endeavour include composer and singer on a couple of tunes from Simon’s EMI Production Music recording, The Funky Ginger – Toronto Tapes. This production music project of eclectic and soulful grooves includes the song, Fille Vendredi, co-written and sung in French and English by Jen.