Lucid Culture


The Jenifer Jackson Interview

One of the great songwriters of our time, Jenifer Jackson is arguably the prototypical multistylistic rock goddess. A seemingly perpetual traveler, originally from New Jersey, then Massachusetts, she made her mark in New York, releasing six superb albums over the last ten years. A cult artist who’s widely esteemed by her colleagues and owns a considerable European following, she was gracious to give Lucid Culture a few minutes to discuss her upcoming New York shows on March 10 and 24 at Rockwood Music Hall along with a few odds and ends:


Lucid Culture: You’re doing two shows at the Rockwood. You seem to like that place.


Jenifer Jackson: The Rockwood and Joe’s Pub are my two favorite venues in NYC. Ken Rockwood has created such a comfortable and great sounding room, and the atmosphere is attentive and friendly! It’s the perfect, intimate place to come home to. My shows there are always very emotional for me, in a good way! Heartwarming…


LC: Who are you playing with this time around?


JJ: Matt Kanelos will play piano on a few tunes with me and on the 24th, Oren Bloedow will be with me. I may also have another special guest!


LC: Do you miss New York?


JJ. Very much. I miss the musicians and the listeners and all my friends. However, I’m sitting on my porch, in a t-shirt and shorts right now, on February 11… I do not miss the COLD winters in NYC…..


LC: What’s the most striking difference between your new hometown and New York?


JJ: This is a trick question. Austin has better tacos. NYC has better pizza.


LC: Could you see yourself in Austin for awhile or are you feeling restless already?


JJ: Always restless. Searching for the place, or way, to feel settled! Perhaps it isn’t in my nature, though I seem to desire it. I am always seeking.


LC: Restlessness is a recurring theme in your writing – and you seem restless with any one particular style of music. Can you explain?


JJ: OH! I am not really restless with styles. I like a lot of styles, and many seep into my writing and composing. My staples are bossa nova, and that 60’s pop beat……


LC: Over the course of your career, you’ve played Beatlesque pop, trip-hop, pretty straight-up oldschool country, Nashville gothic, bossa nova, jazz, noir 60s rock and Philly soul. What other genres haven’t you written in yet? What intrigues you the most at this point?


JJ: I go with my emotions — my newest song is a bit of a raga! Perhaps remnants from my old block in New York, East Sixth Street [Indian restaurant row]….


LC: Your most recent cd The Outskirts of a Giant Town is actually a live album, recorded in the studio. Did you have any trepidation doing it oldschool like that, realizing that any imperfection would require a second or third take, etc.?


JJ: Absolutely not. It was my DREAM to record this way, with such excellent musicians, capturing all the spontaneity and working off each other, as we do live.


LC: How many takes did it typically take to get a song down, and did you cut and paste at all?


JJ: One or two. No real cutting and pasting.


LC: Would you want to take a risk like that again and do another live-in-the-studio album?


JJ: Yes. It is a luxury for me to work that way. The record I am making now is more bit by bit, since that is what is possible where I am now. It’s a more standard approach, which is fine.


LC: Can we go back in time a ways, to the roots of maybe where you got all those styles? Did you grow up in a musical family? Your dad Julian Jackson, for example, is a dj on WOMR-FM in Provincetown, MA, and also appears with you on the father-daughter collaboration Together in Time.


JJ: I listened and sang to my dad’s albums while growing up. Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and then I discovered Neil Young. Later, in college, I began singing and learning about jazz.


LC: You’re also a painter. Are there common elements to creating visual art and writing music?


JJ: I just paint for fun! But with both writing music and painting, I attempt to distill an object, a person, an emotion to its most essential element. I try to be as simple as I can, to find images that can evoke, and at the same time, remain simple.


LC: Which came first, the painting or the music?


JJ: It was simultaneous.


LC: One of your songs has the line “I made a lot of money from some paintings that I sold.” Done that lately?


JJ: No…I procrastinate…I have wanted to have a business of painting pet portraits.  I have painted many, many! For friends, as gifts. Once a guy did offer me a bunch of money for some landscapes, but I decided not to sell them, since I kind of got attached to them.


LC: You’ve been writing what seems like a ton of songs lately, and as usual, you’re all over the map. One of them is a really pretty, quiet 6/8 ballad called The Beauty in the Emptying. I understand that’s about cleaning the junk out of your apartment before you moved to Texas?


JJ: Hee hee, I did say that at a show, but that is a bit of an OVERsimplification! It was about the throwing away that lightens a voyage. Literal and metaphorical.


LC: There’s another one, a big hypnotic anthem with a chorus that goes “let the good times roll,” nothing like the blues song. Can you comment on that one?


JJ: It’s upbeat and has a hook! Again, all about the endless seeking, restlessness, need for love, overactive brain. Suggesting to “let the good times roll” as a release from all the thinking and worrying.


LC: I understand you’ve been doing some recording over email, for example, with another new one, Words.


JJ: I have been recording in Austin with Billy Doughty, my drummer. We have pretty much done everything ourselves, with the addition of John Abbey  – my old bassist! – on it. We are about halfway done with the record.


LC: Vocally, you’ve been through a couple of phases as well. For example, on your first cd Love Lane you were going for more of an electric rock feel, and you belted a lot more than you do now; then there was a point, I think about 5-6 years ago when you seemed to really want to wail and project with your voice. Lately you’ve been sticking with a quieter, softer vocal delivery, as you have throughout most of your career. Was that a conscious choice? Does it give you more leeway, to create dynamics?


JJ: I love dynamics, and I love sensitivity. It’s been an evolution for me, and my bandmates. I still try to have a few rockers even if they are now soft rockers!!!


LC: You’re a terrific guitar player. I can tell because you usually close your eyes when you sing and you never look at your fingers. You also like different tunings. Where first inspired you to do that, and do you have a favorite out of all of them?


JJ: Thanks – I just use a regular tuning, sometimes I drop my low E string to a D, then forget to retune it for the next song!


LC: Was guitar your first instrument? I know you also play keys…


JJ: Piano was first, guitar second, drums third.


LC: Any timetable for the new cd?


JJ: Do not know…


LC: Do you have a theme or a concept for it?


JJ: Something about the beauty being in the spaces in between.


LC: Who are some of the players you’re working with at the moment?


JJ: Here in Austin I work with Billy Doughty on drums and melodica and an upright player named Chris Jones. Back in New York I work with Oren Bloedow [from Elysian Fields], Greg Wieczorek [Joseph Arthur, the Autumn Defense], Matt Kanelos, and up in Boston with the wonderful Sonny Barbato [brilliant jazz accordionist and composer].


LC: You know, there’s still a big fan base for you here, every time I say “Jenifer Jackson” people go “OMG, she’s so good, I can’t believe she’s not famous.” And while you’re admired by your fellow musicians, somehow you’re still not famous. Does that bother you? I know you’re a Leo…


JJ: Yes, it bothers me. And yes, I am a Leo. I keep wishing a manager would discover me and help master-mind a career for me…..


LC: I was talking about you once with one of the great songwriters of our time, and she said, “I wish Jenifer Jackson would write an angry song.” There’s a lot of melancholy in your writing, but I think the most pissed-off you ever got was that line “for god’s sake close the bathroom door.” To what degree is that a reflection of your personality?


JJ: I generally don’t like angry, venting songs, so I don’t choose to write them.


LC: Like most musicians, you’ve been a big Obama supporter. Is the honeymoon over, or do you still have hope?


JJ: I still have hope. I am so relieved to have a President with a brain. Although I am very worried about what he’s thinking he’s doing in Afghanistan.


LC: What are you listening to these days? Here’s your chance to give some shout-outs to your favorite peeps…


KK: Chet Baker, compilations of Son Cubano, Tom Jobim and Elis Regina, Mason Jennings.


JJ: With the implosion of the major record labels, the struggles the indie labels are having – and not to mention how corporate most of the indies have become – what do you think the future holds for musicians like yourself who write in a style that used to rely on the radio to reach an audience? In other words, is there a future for pop music?


JJ: Oh god. I am the worst person to ask about this. I have always avoided the biz. And I am a terrible strategist.


LC: As a performer, you seem more carefree now than you were when I first saw you when you were first starting out. Is that true or are you just a better dissembler?


JJ: Just drinking more booze now. NO NOT REALLY, I guess I am just enjoying more and more and not concerned about anything but the music and the feeling!


LC: There’s a lot of solace and comfort in your writing, and your voice. Where do you find solace?


JJ: Nature, animals, the ocean, playing and singing, dancing….


LC: I understand you’ve become infatuated with those miniature horses they have down where you are. Is that true?


JJ: Yes. I recently met three mini-horses, and one fell in love with me. It’s very unconventional, I know.


LC: Going back to your time in Massachusetts, do you give a damn about what the Red Sox are doing or aren’t doing, or are you too much of an esthete to care about that kind of silly stuff?


JJ:  I don’t follow them! But my accordionist, Sonny Barbato, is a HUGE FAN. Shall I ask him for a comment?


LC: Definitely!! Sonny KNOWS the Sox!


Sonny Barbato: After trailing the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox won the next four games including the last two at Yankee Stadium. They eventually swept St. Louis to win the World Series. In 2007 they won again. They can do whatever they want from now on, I am content and completely satisfied.


Jenifer Jackson plays Rockwood Music Hall on March 10 at 8 PM and then again at 8 PM on March 24.

February 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/13/09 – Happy Birthday Gail!

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s is #530:

The Bongos – Numbers with Wings

The 1982 title track to the Hoboken band’s excellent ep, this is an uncharacteristically haunting if lyrically nonsensical janglerock anthem, Richard Barone’s watery guitar soaring over a brisk dance beat. Others – guess who – would say that this isn’t even the best track on the album, that it’s the atmospheric, melancholy Sweet Blue Cage that really hits the spot…

February 13, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If You See Something, Use Your Brain Before You Say Something

They’re all over the subway: those annoying posters from the MTA, encouraging citizens to get in the frame of mind to spy on each other and take us deeper into the Orwellian nightmare. “If you see something, say something…last year, 3456 people saw something and said something,” it taunts, as if we should all be narcing on our fellow passengers. But now that Bush is out of office, isn’t it about time we turned the page?

Case in point: rush hour, uptown train at Chambers Street, downtown.  A bunch of people get off, I get a seat. A couple of middleschool kids – brothers, from the looks of them – board the train behind me. One sits down across from me, the other stands since there’s what looks like an empty shoebox in a blue plastic bag on the seat next to his brother. Maybe he just doesn’t want to sit – he looks restless, like he’s been cooped up in school all day. I look up at the digital screen in the middle of the ceiling of the car to see what time it is. But the time doesn’t come up. And the train doesn’t move. It just sits in the station.

Waiting on the platform, I’d reflexively looked down the tracks to see if the signal was green, an indication that there hadn’t been a train in awhile. The size of the crowd on the platform had reconfirmed that. And the conductor wasn’t imploring or hollering over the PA to get whoever was holding up the train to get the hell out of the doorway. 

I looked around in frustration. There was an older woman to my right, past the doors. She pointed to the box in the bag. “That’s a suspicious package. Somebody called the conductor, he’s gonna come check it out.”

Calling in a bomb threat used to be against the law, but since the early days of the Bush regime it became mandatory behavior. Still, I’d never seen anyone actually be so stupid as to actually do it. I stood up, reached over and gingerly picked up the bag (you never know what kind of disgusting things people will leave behind in a box). It felt light. Obviously the box, one of the kind that has folding flaps to close it, didn’t have anything in it. I pried it open. Nothing.

I put it back on the seat.  The kid sitting there pushed it off and kicked it underneath so his brother could sit down. Then the conductor showed up, bemused expression on his face. Something told me he found this as absurd as I did. He looked around, puzzled. “It’s empty,” I said.

“Well,” he said noncomittally, “You gotta check these things out, I guess, a passenger called it in.”

“Who? What passenger?” I demanded. I knew it was the old lady.

“It was me,” she announced. Proudly.

I felt around for the right words. Obviously, I wasn’t dealing with the sharpest tool in the shed. How could I make my point in a way that would resonate so she wouldn’t do it again? An exercise in futility, I reckoned. Anger got the better of me. “You know, that was really stupid. All these hundreds of people on the train, they want to get home, they have places they have to be and so do I and you just held up the train because of an empty box!”

She muttered something about patience.

I’d been right: there was no use in talking to her. But now I had an audience. I had to redeem myself. “That’s George Bush thinking,” I said. “He wanted to make everybody so afraid of terrorists on the subway so he could fight his stupid war. There are no terrorists on the subway. Now that Barack Obama is President, do you hear anything about terrorists on the subway? No. That’s because he’s smart. You can’t let George Bush ideas make you afraid of everything.” 

It was all I could do to resist the urge to point out that if she’d really been afraid that the empty box had been a bomb, why hadn’t she left her seat, even left the station? Then it hit me a couple of stops later.

Maybe the box was hers.

Some people will do anything for attention.

February 13, 2009 Posted by | Culture, New York City, Rant | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment