Animalia sits in a trendy Ossington and Bloor coffee bar drinking a soy latte. Organic espresso churns loudly in the background of the artfully distressed hangout, and Amos Milburn’s, “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer,” followed by Amy Winehouse’s, Back to Black, album play in the background.
Animalia is discussing her penchant for writing songs about everything and anything. Her most recent little tune is about the unique ways that all three of her cats are adorably annoying (one kitty has a fondness for fried mushrooms).
I ask if these songs can also be described as, “Smelly Cat” melodies.
“No, not ‘Smelly Cat’ songs,” insists Animalia light-heartily. “I walk around all day, every day, singing the most ridiculous things. I think when you’re inclined to sing you just end up singing about everything and sometimes that will lead up to an actual song.”
I ask if she ever pulls a “Taylor Swift,” (aka, writing cutesy biased songs about ex-lovers), Animalia pauses from sipping her coffee and looks incredulous.
“No, ‘Taylor Swifts,’” she replies, shaking her head. “I don’t think I’ve ever written a love song. Even if I have, I think I’m a little more cryptic than most songwriters.”
In a little over a year, Animalia (her given name is Jill Krasnicki), has released two thought provoking EP’s, the self-engineered, To the Waking, the Shaking & the Volatile, and her most recent, A Wave to Wash the World Away. Both are obscure strikingly haunting little gems.
As with many great artists, she draws from the world around her and is profoundly affected by things that barely register with others. Yet somehow Animalia and her music, avoid the “granola” Birkenstock image often associated with artists that share her ideas about life.
“My most personal songs tend to be written about world stuff. For me my song writing is extremely personal. When I’m writing I’m usually purging something. And it’s not always on a personal level. It can quite often be on a world social level.” Clutching her hands together as she speaks, her deep concern for the affairs of the world is evident. “It’s often about what I’m taking in from the world, things that really upset me and then I’ll sit with that horrible feeling for days and I need to just…,” she says, releasing her slender hands and gesturing to the spilling of pent up emotions.
This quality makes her one of the most engaging and sincere artists you will meet and it is this connection to, and inquisitiveness about, the world around her that has taken her from a small town in Australia, throughout Europe and now Toronto, Canada.
A large coffee mug, a curtain of hair slightly masking her face, her gaze turned sideways as she strums the guitar, photos of Animalia show an artist creating distance between herself and the world. In person, the slim delicately pretty blond looks like she can be the child of Joni Mitchell. She has a look of perspicacity in her eyes that at first glance makes her appear as aloof as her photos. However, minutes into speaking with her it dissolves, revealing a funny and exceptionally kind demeanor.
Animalia was raised in Hobart, Tasmania (the second oldest city in Australia). “Hobartian” kids grow up, get jobs, marry, and have children, and their children do the same. But even at an early age Animalia knew she would one day move beyond her small town life.
Her young mother enjoyed singing but there were no musicians in the family and music was not something she initially gravitated towards. “Since I could remember I was really into visual art,” recalls Animalia. “I thought that was actually where I was going to go with my life. But I find that music and visual arts go hand and hand. I would always be listening to music while I was drawing or what not.”
It was a music video that changed her course. “It’s not the best story,” she confesses almost apologetically, “But I was sort of sitting on my couch watching some Green Day video and there was just this tiny little bass line and I was like, ‘What is this instrument? I’m gonna play this!’ I was fifteen and it kind of just took over my life.”
Single-minded with a taste for experimentation, she figured out a clever way to learn how to play the bass guitar without actually having one.
“I didn’t have a bass at home but we had a very old acoustic guitar. I took the top high strings off of it so that it would be a four string and just tried to learn bass on an acoustic guitar. It worked!” she explains, still pleased with her ingenuity. “Then six months down the track, I think it was my birthday and my dad bought me a bass guitar. This was the first time ever experimenting and it was weird because it just came very naturally and took over. I started writing songs as soon as I learned the instrument. I sort of started falling out of writing when I joined my first serious original band, Dream Awake.”
Prior to Dream Awake, Animalia was part of a teenage cover band, performing good ol’ Jukebox songs that she’s now kind of reluctant to fess up too.
“Bad ones,” she says about the songs she cut her baby teeth on. “Very bad ones. It was mostly Top 40 sort of stuff. A lot of old classics. I come from a really small town in Australia so its got small town mentality, Saturday night you’d go out and you’d see a couple bands and they would play the hit songs from like the last couple decades, “My Sharona” and “Hey Mickey.” All those sorts of songs. It’s so embarrassing now that I’m older and wiser but it was definitely fun.”
After leaving the cover band Animalia moved to Melbourne with her then boyfriend and their band. Still not satisfied, the band picked up and headed for Ireland. Ten months in Ireland and tours throughout the U.K. and Europe and the band learned that the starving artists’ existence was not as glamorous as it appears to be in the movies. The falsely romantic label is one she balks at today. “I’ve been doing that for the better part of ten years already,” she says, looking completely over it. “It’s not cool”
It’s only romantic when you’ve passed that stage, I say.
“It’s true,” she says, nodding. “I totally agree.”
For five years the band forged on together, traveling and paying their dues but with minimal publicity, tight quarters (three to a bed at times), and little business savvy, the only tangible things they gained were experience and well-earned wisdom about what not to do the next time around.
“We did a lot of things but unfortunately we didn’t have a lot to show for it,” she concedes. “We didn’t have the knowledge for how to really place things at the right time.”
The band eventually broke up. Animalia randomly choose to move to Toronto. For a short time she joined a Toronto based band then left it.
She had no idea what her next move would be.
Google the word Animalia and you will find images of roaring lions, grinning piglets, yawning seals, and stern looking little owls. In the midst of this menagerie you will also find the wispy strawberry blond strumming her guitar.
During her music hiatus Animalia immersed herself in books for the first time. She discovered her stage name in a Margaret Atwood novel, and she felt an instant kinship with the word.
“I was reading Oryx and Crake and the name just sort of jumped out at me. On paper I thought it looked really nice and it is also an interesting sounding word. When I looked it up I realized that it is the kingdom that all animals fall under. For me that’s really interesting because I’m Vegan and I don’t really see a separation between humans and other animals. Going under the name Animalia just sort of reminds me of that. It’s also just a gorgeous name.” (She is also the creator of a newsletter, Hello Vegan, where she shares ways to foster a more ethical and organic lifestyle).
In late 2011, an acupuncture session for a sore back opened up more than blocked chi but a spiritual blockage as well. Animalia left the appointment knowing that it was time she pursue her solo career.
She locked herself away for months and started to experiment with music equipment she had never touched before. This experiment resulted in, To the Waking, the Shaking & the Volatile. What it lacked in technical polish, To the Waking made up with in absolute passion. The joy of creation that arose out of this solitude (and no rules) hooked Animalia instantly.
“I loved it. I loved the process,” she gushes, reflecting on those vital few months, a time where she rediscovered herself as an artist. “I’m not an engineer so I definitely learned a lot. I did everything and you can hear that I did everything. But I think for a first go, and the fact that I didn’t really have money to put into this project at the time that it was a great experience. We have all this technology on our hands now and the fact that I can spend a couple months at home recording something is amazing. You get up and create music all day. You go do bed and the next morning you get up and do it again. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, what a life to live.’ I can get really into. It’s like hours just disappear. So I definitely want to do that again.”
The Waking, the Shaking & the Volatile, did for Animalia’s career what passion projects often do, it put her on the map.
Fast-forward to a year-and-a-half later and the fruits of Animalia’s hard work is beginning to pay off. Brandon Cronenberg’s Canadian thriller, Antiviral, which premiered at Cannes and TIFF, included her song “Unity.” During 2012’s TIFF an impromptu performance brought her to the attention of many when Sook-Yin Lee invited her to sing during the opening of the, “We Are Light Rays,” exhibition.
Charging full speed ahead she debuted, A Wave to Wash the World Away, this past January. For the second EP she worked with, Remy Perrin, a producer who brought the technical polish to her murky lyrics and haunting vocals.
“It was a special experience because really I’m just going in there with the vocals and the guitar and being like, ‘This is sort of what I want and let’s put some beats in here.’ When he just jumped on and started doing those things it really is exactly how I imagined. We were constantly weirded out about it.”
For a willfully independent artist not interested in selling an image or making fluffy songs, finding musical connections is a treasured thing.
“I’ve gone to studios before and worked with professionals but it’s sometimes hard to really find people that you connect with and have a similar musical vision. He [Perrin] really took my music to another level. And I’m getting a lot of attention for them [the songs].”
With a intriguing EP and a performance style that can get surprisingly assertive (even aggressive), Animalia is garnering new fans who are eagerly anticipating a full length album.
Today online rules. More people are looking at YouTube videos than frequenting live shows at local haunts. Animalia, like 99 percent of the artists out there, realizes that she has to be her biggest champion and take her music to the world.
“The biggest thing is reaching out to people and not being afraid to promote yourself. I think musicians have this funny idea that the music will talk for itself. In the end you gotta be the one to say, ‘Hey! I’m making music over here. You gotta listen to it.’”
Does music have to speak for itself with the plethora of music sites that have popped up in the past five years? Haven’t sites like, Bandcamp, SoundCloud and Kickstarter (to name a few) made it easier for the independent artist? Animalia doesn’t have a definite answer for this.
“For how much we have that’s easier these days, it’s harder because that means you’ve got X amount more people doing the same thing as well. I would say, in the end, and this is coming from someone that’s definitely still struggling with it, in the end it’s definitely a good thing because you do end up with the creative power in your hand and you do have the option of getting that music out there.”
With the same determination that has marked her entire career, Animalia is now confidently tackling the business end of music not just the exhilarating creative side.
“If you’re good at what you do, if you really keep pushing…,” she says, pausing for a moment to consider the reality of being an indie artist. “I think of it as a full time job. That doesn’t mean that I get to play for eight hours a day. That means I get to sit on the computer for eight hours a day. People complain because they have this golden idea of what it was like thirty-years-ago when a record company would sign you and you started touring and traveling and making money.”
“You don’t make money off of your music anymore. Live shows, yes, once you start getting that audience. It’s hard but what’s not hard? Anything worth doing is going to be hard. Writing is bloody difficult. And the same goes for photography. It’s really hard and in a way it’s kind of interesting because it means you’ve really got to work towards your art. You’ve really got to create something that’s interesting. That people will want to read or listen to.”
For now Animalia is embracing the attention and welcoming success. “If it [success] comes my way, I’ll bloody take it. That’s for sure,” she says with a laugh. But what will not change is her focus on continuing to push her music further. Like the 49 sleeping Animalia’s on her EP cover, she is waking each one up one at a time, tapping into new sides of her music.
“I’m already starting to do some recordings at home. It’s not really instruments, it’s like timing effect delays, things get strange. I think it’s all going to start getting a little weird,” she laughs. “Yeah, I’m getting weirder. That’s for sure.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the creator of The Winehouse Mag.
Get cozy inside the Winehouse…in-depth and revealing interviews with the Winehouse Mag’s favourite artists. Singer-songwriter, Ester Rada, coming in May!