SASKATOON — When Jackie Kroczynski began work on her first full-length album, she wasn't sure what it would be about.
But when the idea came to her — that she should write an album celebrating women's lives and women's stories — "it felt absolutely right," she says.
"Sometimes, you're looking for a direction, and you're wandering or meandering and you're not really sure about things. And then I had this 'aha!' moment. I knew: 'Yes, this is it; this is the way.' "
Released today to celebrate International Women's Day, 'She's a story' features a wide range of styles and stories, going from funny, lighthearted tunes to heavier, darker pieces.
"I've been looking for a sense of balance within the album," said Kroczynski, who performs as 'Jackie K'.
"I didn't want it all to be heavy — and I don't think that would be a reasonable indicator of what we're talking about in the end.
"Women's stories aren't all hard and difficult and sad, because that's not the way people live their lives."
The music scene in the Battlefords, where Kroczynski lives and works, is tight-knit, so when she set out to write a song about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, she knew exactly whom she wanted to collaborate with.
Falynn Baptiste, a singer-songwriter from Red Pheasant First Nation, joined Kroczynski on 'Honour her spark,' adding spoken-word lyrics in Cree.
"This is my platform — bringing together Cree language and contemporary music," Baptiste said, adding that she spent a long time thinking about the message she wanted to convey after Kroczynski approached her about the project.
"I think this is an excellent example of how we can unite two worlds," Baptiste said. "I am an Indigenous, First Nations, Cree woman. And she's a non-Indigenous woman and artist. And here we are, bringing together our two worlds, as opposed to the 'them-and-us' dichotomy we often live in.
"And at the essence of it, this song is about remembering. So, the lyrics I wrote were to never forget women. And that is not just for MMIW, but for the importance of women in all societies."
All the proceeds from 'Honour her spark,' which was released as a single a few days before the album launch, will be donated to the Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre.
In 'Honour her spark,' and in the album as a whole, Kroczynski expects listeners will recognize stories of the women in their lives.
"I think when people listen to it, they will find connections to people," she said. "The music is certainly important, but it's the stories that guided the music. And if you listen to a track, you might recognize somebody you know."
For Kroczynski herself, many of the songs on the album are rooted in personal life stories — "probably more so than anything else that I've recorded before," she said.
The songs are inspired by people or issues she cares deeply about. One in particular, 'When you almost didn't love me,' recounts the early days of her relationship with her husband.
"It's a really fun, up-tempo, danceable song, but it's a really personal song for me because it's about me and my husband," she said. "It's an old story, but it's a good story."
Recording the album was a family affair, too: Kroczynski’s husband Tom Kroczynski and her son Connor Newton added their bass and saxophone talents.
They were joined by Kyle Krysa on drums and Randy Woods on guitar.
Woods, who also served as album producer, said the variety of songs on the album made this an exciting project to work on.
"It really does take you from some '50s and '60s kinds of styles to some jazzy-type tunes," he said. It’s a nice mix. And the songs are clever, in the lyrical sense and the musical sense."
Though Kroczynski has always been musical and works as a high school music teacher in North Battleford, her songwriting career started later in her life.
But she doesn't mind not "being 25 and having those worries about putting out music or living as a musician," she said; she knows this is her moment.
"Coming to it as an older person — as an older woman — there is a great sense of freedom that comes with it," she said. "I know I can do this, and it was just time to do it.
"I had always wanted to, and now I have the freedom and I have the time."