Guitar Amp Shopping With Jenny Banai

The indie songwriter takes us shopping for vintage amps while discussing her vulnerable new album, Couchwalker.

Jenny Banai is on the hunt for a guitar amp. But not just any old amp, it has to be the right one, of course. The songwriter is standing in the middle of Exile Guitars on Main Street in Vancouver—Exile On Main Street to anyone in the know. She’s tugging on the straps of her backpack while looking wide-eyed down the long aisle of vintage amps for sale. There’s one jutting out towards the front that seems to be calling her name; a cream-coloured Fender 65 Deluxe Reverb, known for its crystalline tone that has been immortalized in recording studios around the world from Abbey Road to Electric Ladyland.

“It’s got to look good too, right?” she says with a smile as she asks for permission from the shop owner to take it to the back room for a test drive. While the amp is warming up, Banai grabs a black Stratocaster guitar off the shelf, walks back into the tiny room, plugs it in and is immediately transformed.

Charismatic, yet somehow equally coy, the indie-pop musician wields a magnetic power of likeability both on and off the stage. With a guitar in her hands, there’s a clear and present energy that overtakes her. After a quick tuning, Banai breaks into the title track from her fantastic new album, Couchwalker. It’s a soaring pop serenade that rides heavy on her rich and beautiful voice. The song is as layered as its meaning. As with everything in her life, Banai has put a lot of thought into her songwriting, but struggles to find a concise synopsis to do it justice when pried on what the track is about. “The closeness I want to share, the comfort I want to give to people, comes naturally to me when there are no strings attached in the romantic sense,” she says. “I can be that safe and comfortable place for someone. I can be that—to stick with the metaphor—couch for someone. But as soon as friendship turns to romance or the lines begin to blur, I have to decide whether this person can also be that safe and comfortable place for me.”

Banai is an open-book. Her songs play out like diary entries written by a pure soul longing for connection and understanding, searching for a rare kind of love that requires a certain set of beliefs; a love that often requires making a few mistakes along the way in order to get there. While the 12-track album is only her second full-length offering, its warm tone, crisp production and talented artistry on display make this a full-bodied piece of work that anchors Banai as a master of her craft. For fans of Feist and Andy Shauf, Banai carves out a space that is entirely her own in the singer-songwriter sphere.

As the final notes of her song ring out in the backroom of Exile, there’s a stillness in the air. She pauses before looking down to further inspect the amp, not fully convinced that this is the one that will be going home with her today. Careful not to rush the process, Banai decides to pass on the amp but she’s got her eye on a couple others and she’ll be back to test them out when she has more time. Tonight however, she has to rush off to a band practice because in a couple days she will be playing her first show since the pandemic began, an outdoor album release show at Vancouver’s Hadden Park.

Banai thanks the store clerk and adjusts her face mask as she walks out the door. “I’m excited to finally get this album out and exhale about it,” she tells me. “I don’t know where it’s going to go, but It’s time to release it from myself.”

Jenny Banai’s Couchwalker will be available September 17 on all streaming platforms.