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Led by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Robin Dann, Bernice craft weightless experimental pop that is equally elegant and filled with wonder. Rounded out by some of Toronto's most in-demand musicians, the group's imaginative fusion of indie pop, jazz, and R&B came into its own with 2017's ornately produced EP Puff and the minimalist pop of 2018's Polaris Prize-nominated album Puff: In the Air Without a Shape. Bernice's music grew even more inventive and heartfelt in the 2020s, with 2021's Polaris-longlisted Eau de Bonjourno reflecting on the interconnected nature of existence and 2023's Cruisin' celebrating relationships of all kinds with buoyant, vulnerable sounds. The daughter of a symphony harpist and a former principal violist for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Dann studied voice at the University of Toronto and earned a master's degree in music. When she started writing her own songs, she took her grandmother's name as the project's moniker. Joined by guitarist/keyboardist Thom Gill, bassist Dan Fortin, percussionist Phil Melanson, and Felicia Williams -- who also play with Bahamas, DIANA, and Owen Pallett, among others -- Bernice issued their debut album, What Was That, in 2011. The members' other commitments meant the band didn't record much other than holiday singles for a few years; however, that changed when Bernice signed to Arts & Crafts in 2016. That year, they released their debut single for the label, "St. Lucia." Adding elements of R&B and dance to their music and named for Dann's great aunt, the single featured production by Grammy winner Shawn Everett, whom the band met at an artist's residency at the Banff Centre. The producer also worked on 2017's Puff, an EP whose title came from the writing of Italian author Elena Ferrante. Following Puff's release, Dann brushed up on her Ableton skills to write demos for Bernice's second album. Recorded at Montreal's Breakglass studio, Puff: In the Air Without a Shape took a more stripped-down approach to the group's playful sound and arrived in May 2018. The album's acclaim included a Polaris Prize nomination. Dann wrote Bernice's next album at an artists' center on the Toronto Islands, and, for the first time, invited the rest of the band into her songwriting process. Late in 2019, the group recorded in Brooklyn with producer Shahzad Ismaily and emphasized the instinctive nature of their playing. Appearing in March 2021 on Figure Eight Records, Eau de Bonjourno presented a tightly knit set of songs that told a larger story about life and relationships; like its predecessor, it appeared on the longlist for the Polaris Prize. Bernice expanded on the album with March 2022's Bonjourno My Friends, a set of remixes by artists such as Yves Jarvis, Sam Gendel, and Julsie. The group's time at a 2021 writing retreat provided the spark for Bernice's next album. Growing from love letters and messages to the band's nearest and dearest into focused, openhearted songs, April 2023's Cruisin' was recorded with Dann, Gill, and Melanson together in the studio, with producer Matthew Pencer and Fortin and Williams contributing remotely.
© Heather Phares /TiVo


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