Reviewer: Cheryl Burke at After Ellen on the web

Interview with Jenn Lindsay

Cheryl Burke, December 28, 2004 .

Jenn Lindsay is an indie singer-songwriter who weaves her sharp words with a transcendent voice and outstanding musicianship to deliver one mind-blowing entertainment experience. Her performances really suck you in and grab your attention.

At 26, Ms. Lindsay has five independently produced albums under her belt and has toured extensively throughout the U.S. Her most recent album The Last New York Horn is one of her best. Ever the evolving artist, this San Diego native is currently studying at the Yale School of Drama. I recently talked to her about inspiration, leaving New York, reading poetry and the orchestra in her brain. You have a great song on your latest album The Last New York Horn called ďUncle SamĒ about the Bush administration. How are you feeling post-election?

Jenn Lindsay: Dazed and confused, full of fear and loathing, rendered unoriginal by grief. Truthfully, I feel like I have a big turd in my heart. And I feel like itís important that we give ourselves plenty of space to feel angry and disillusioned. The morning after the election, I didnít want to get out of my bed and see the triumphant, smarmy headlines about Bush being legitimately coronated. But I did, and I survived, as did we all. I just pray that the Dems can come up with a strong and decisive candidate because the argument persists that our message ďwasnít clear enough.Ē

AE: Why did you leave NYC?

JL: In the short term, I felt that my most pressing goal in life was to miss the wintertime. I had an opportunity to go on a national tour and spend the winter in San Diego. So I jumped at it. Once out in the balmy west, I started thinking that I had hit a wall with my entrepreneurial prowess and, without money or connections, I didnít know how much further I could get on my own with music and playwriting. So I applied to grad school, and now Iím at Yale School of Drama learning how to build a home for my work.

AE: When did you start playing guitar/singing/writing songs?

JL: I was always very ambitious about music, and I started playing and writing songs concurrently, when I was 16. I really did love it, but I also wanted to be really famous for it. It took many years to realize that loving it was what would sustain me through the most depraved conditions of being a singer/songwriter in New York.

AE: Your songs always sound more like poetry than most folk music. Ever think of doing poetry readings instead of music?

JL: I tried once, at a GLBT Community Center poetry reading, to read the lyrics to my song ďGot My BabyĒ (from The Story of What Works). I was distracted by the sound of music in my head so I stopped reading and had to sing it a cappella. If I could get around the orchestra in my brain I would love to try it again. I tend to be very utilitarian about my work; if a phrase occurs to me that might be better-placed as a poem, I generally will wrest it into a more musical phrase so I can use it. Since I am not hooked up with the poetry circuit, I donít have a forum for writing that is meant to stay on a page and not progress into other peopleís brains and hearts as theater or music. I am very heavily influenced by poets; if it werenít for Mary Oliver, Christian Wiman, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, ee cummings and Adrienne Rich I may not have cleaved so willfully to the life of a writer. Damn them!!

AE: One of your earlier albums Fired! was a theme album about unemployment. Are you currently employed? How do you find the dichotomy of what you do for survival as compared to what you do for love?

JL: Well, Iím currently a student, so Iím racking up the student loan debt. Sometimes I think about leaving school to try New York again, but Iím not ready to piece together my survival on depressing day jobs and frustrated dreams. I guess part of growing up is figuring out how to balance pragmatism and fulfillment. But when I was 22 and new to New York, I took anything that came to me as long as it helped me make rent. I donít think I have that resilient, precocious expectation that Iíll be ďdiscoveredĒ anymore. Thereís always a chance, but in the meantime Iím trying to go slow and divest myself of goals and listen hard to my heart to discover what kind of job will not strip me of my sanity and sense of personal evolution. As much as a pain as grad school is, Iíve been grateful for a sabbatical from touring and promoting albums. That life can be so strenuous that itís easy to lose track of why you love it, or to feel super-negative about how slow progress can be. I got to the point where, after a show, if someone would say to me, ďThat was totally incredible. Your work really affects me,Ē I would only take them seriously if they also forked out dough for an album. Thatís a lame and ungenerous way to approach fans; and it helped me realize I needed a break.

AE: How do you find collaborating with other artists?

JL: I never write songs or lyrics with anyone. Maybe I should; but now it is a private process. In NYC I learned a ton about playing with other musicians, and at the School of Drama I get really excited about the notion of everybody involved in the collaborative process being expertly trained within their field. We have jujitsu stage managers, karate-chop directors, nun-chuck designers, tsunami playwrights, and gorgeous vapid actors. Itís pretty cool because everyone is a hot shot, and I donít know the first thing about designing scenery, so itís a relief to know that my collaborator is a specialist in his field.

AE: Tell us a little about your creative process i.e. What time of day do you write/practice etc.? Any rituals you follow?

JL: I probably should. I should be one of those writers who gets up at 4am and writes madly in the dim silence. But Iím not a morning person. So mostly I just write when I get an idea, or when I feel that itís time. Iím like a lemming who knows the right time to jump of the cliff. I must say that it is one of my artist-writer goals to be more regimented about writing. But for now, writing is a cathartic project that knocks quietly on the door when it needs attention.

AE: Where/Who/When do you find inspiration?

JL: By listening to other people talking about their lives. I can be a totally cretinous thief of conversations; if youíre talking to me, be careful, because it might be a scene in my new play. Or I might quote you and make fun of you in a song. And if youíre dating me, look out.

AE: What are you working on now?

JL: I have several specific creative goals that I want to pursue right now. In the most cursory terms, these include a play about Marshal South, the Robinson Crusoe of Southern California during the Depression, who became a national obsession because the Saturday Evening Post published monthly articles about his secluded mountaintop lifestyle. Another goal of mine is to create several performance pieces about being a lesbian or bisexual woman in America; there is a dearth of plays about queer women and I intend to address that. Ever the wistful solipsist, I care most about plays I see myself in: women, GLBT folks, and liberal twenty-somethings struggling to assert themselves.

AE: Who are your musical influences?

JL: Ani Difranco first excited me about the possibilities of confessional and political songwriting. The Beatles ALWAYS blow my mind. Iíve been influenced by Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, and Shawn Colvin. These days I listen obsessively to Frou Frou, Nick Drake, 80ís hits, Elliott Smith. Iím starting to really like Coldplay even though I donít want to. I wish I was influenced by Oingo Boingo because I LOVE Danny Elfmansí work, but itís hard to do with a guitar. Most of all I am influenced by the work of my friends in the NYC East Village Sidewalk Cafť scene: Casey Holford, Diane Cluck, Toby Goodshank, Regina Spektor, Dan Fishback, Linda Draper, Kimya Dawson, Danny Kelly. All of these people should be wildly famous. A few of them are getting there!

AE: Literary influences?

JL: All the poets above; and writers Lorrie Moore, Barbara Kingsolver, Jeanette Winterson, Isabel Allende, Tom Robbins. Iíve learned a lot from Hemingway. Playwrights: Tony Kushner (INCREDIBLE ALL THE TIME), Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Sherry Kramer, Marsha Norman. Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues, The Good Body) is particularly inspiring to me because of her socially relevant work, her performances and self-production, and willingness to enter communities with her work.

AE: Anything else youíd like to add?

JL: Thanks for the interview!