INTERVIEW WITH RADIO CRYSTAL BLUE DJ DAN HERMAN
Q. Jenn, I first encountered your artistry through another fine antifolkster
who also traveled many miles to NYC...Casey Holford. Are you two strictly
songwriting/performing partners? Can we look forward to more collective
works from you both?
A. Casey Holford and I haven’t yet written anything together, but we’ve been able to apply our strengths to each others’ music—his instrumental intuition adds a ton to songs of mine, “I Am Not Going Home Yet,” “Red Shirt,” and “Sidewalk Song;” and I sing backup on two of his songs that will be released on his new album “Bad Spell, Good Spell.” Overall Casey’s idiosyncratic brand of songwriting has compelled me to push myself further as an instrumentalist and as a craftsperson of rich songs. But our writing styles are HUGELY disparate. That said, I do hope that we’ll keep collaborating and performing together for years to come, because we have a rich creative relationship. He’s awesome.
Q. Your fans are aware, I am sure, of your political activism. Describe some of the achievements that you have helped contribute to with your work. How did these issues become important to you?
A. I have always had an acute sense of justice and injustice between people and between larger social groups. In early high school I was exposed to some feminist literature, Simone de Bouvoir and Gloria Stein em’s works primarily, that stoked a personal revolution for me. As I grew older and moved into college, and had more experience to personalize these political writings, it became very important to me to use what I felt was my skill—writing and performing—as a platform to speak out against the issues that applied to me personally, like body image stuff, homophobia, sexual violence, and classism. I try hard not to write didactic, accusatory material that points fingers at the behavior of the perpetrators of these issues. What I strive to do is write honestly, from the center of my personal experience with these issues, and to hope that this honesty calls to a community of people, of women, in the same situations. To create music that allows them to say, “Hey, me too,” and to meet each other on the incredibly cathartic, communal level that music offers. It’s not so much that I am geared solely toward a career in musical activism; rather that I’ve been through rough spots by the hand of others, and by my own hand, and I exercise my writing as a forum to discuss those experiences, work through them, and invite audience members to participate in a dialogue about them. I’ve been honored to play my sexual violence songs at Take Back the Night Rallies and Survivor Vigils, to direct my play “Body of Work” at a conference on women’s health, and to sing all over the place about food, women, men, weapons, sex, and money. What else would someone write about?
Q. Noticing your bio ('breath' on www.jennlindsay.com ) you actually started out in the UK. Did you not have your musical roots in San Diego before you traveled to the UK?
A. I had a few folk bands around San Diego when I was in high school, but never really focused on it. I didn’t start writing music seriously until I was living in Peru, however, ostensibly on an anthropology research trip through my university. I was researching “Andean women’s ethnoastronomy,” essentially a study of the myths and legends surrounding the constellations and celestial phenomena (like eclipses) in the North central Andes. I was living in a little hut and spent day after day working on plays and songs, and I really just got into the groove of being a focused, prolific writer. The performing part was yet to come. My family (although these days they are happily supportive of me) was a little skeptical of a career in the arts when I was younger—mostly a stability thing. When I went to school at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, I was surrounded by people who were insanely wholeheartedly driven to perform, to make their way by acting, dancing, and composing. To be caught in such a tsunami of drive and intent to live on one’s art—well, it changed my life really, and it really kicked up the stakes in terms of validating my own vague fantasies of being a working artist. So to answer your question, yes, music was always important to me, but it didn’t take shape as a serious pursuit until I had been in the UK for a while.
Q. Speaking of the UK ties...one notices on your 'other words' page that you are also a playwright. I like "The Gala" very much. How indicative of the plays you've written are they upon your life?
A. I draw from my life in every aspect of my work, from playwriting to songwriting, and (to the chagrin of my ole teachers) school writing. I do not, however, work from a purely autobiographical standpoint. I try to be a good listener with a good memory, and I am an adept eavesdropper in restaurants, which enables me to bring a lot of genuine human strangeness to my work! Consequently my plays are indicative of my life in that they reflect where I’ve been, who I’ve overheard, whether I’ve eaten, how much money I have, who fired me, and what I’ve been reading. And what I wish I could say.
Q. How did you first gain a reputation in NYC and first meet Lach (www.antifolk.net)?
A. I donno that I have a reputation here yet! Where can I get me one of those? I met Lach where most of us meet him, at the weekly open jam at the Sidewalk. He has been really generous with me, really supportive, and invited me to play some awesome shows! I got to play at the Central Park Naumberg Bandshell during the Antifolk fest and it was the JUICE. There is nothing like playing “I Am Not Going Home Yet” to a huge crowd at Central Park—because those are all the people I am actually singing about.
Q. I like the pic of you with guitar in hand, looking sideways, up against brick wall, on one leg (labeled bringiton_bcover). Is there a story behind that pic?
A. That was my first photo shoot ever. It takes a lot of time to get used to posing while people walk by and gape.
Q. We could spend lots of webspace about your lyrics. Let's examine just a few...."I Stayed Home Today" (Gotta Lotta CD) reads almost like a flipside to "Moth To the Flame (Bring It On CD) What say you?
A. It’s a puzzling comparison! I think the main progression between Bring It On and Gotta Lotta is a sense of positivity and optimism that is in Gotta Lotta. “Moth to the Flame” is a pretty dismal condemnation of domestic violence. But “I Stayed Home Today” is certainly a more positive reflection on everybody’s effort to make peace with their solitude.
Q. I'm sure many women could relate to "Salvation Army" Why was the decision made to let Robin Aigner sing this instead of yourself?
A. If you listen closely, we are both singing it. She takes the first verse and we alternate from there. We discovered in collaboration that we have nearly identical voices in recording, and that they are hard to tell apart! But she’s there. This is the first song I have ever written with another person and it was HARD work—about the fourth try after we bagged three other songs.
Q. I am reading the lyrics to "Athena" and I'm not sure it is about the goddess, or a woman you once knew. What is the story behind it?
A. At the Sidewalk there are some songwriters who make me want to write and write, and some who make me want to completely give up. I mean, who make me feel like I am just pretending. Sometimes you hear music that makes you feel like you are on another planet, and you completely forget who you are, and what you want, and you just become a brain trying to piece together the impossible sounds you hear. For me, that’s what “Athena” is about. But a friend listened to it and had a totally different take on it. And I’m really happy about that.
Q. Among my favorite moments in "Gotta Lotta" is the loose rhyming on "I Am Not Going Home Yet,” required listening for any musician who wants to make it on his/her own in NYC. What recordings of yours does your audience favor?
A. GOTTA LOTTA, my new CD, is not yet officially released—only now for online purchase at www.cdbaby.com/jennlindsay3. When we have our official CD release party at the Sidewalk on October 12 I will let you know! But my sense is that people really appreciate it when it is a fuller project, with Casey on 12-string and a bass player. It’s certainly more fun to play live if I am surrounded by a bigger sound, and I don’t feel so all alone up there!
Q. Another blindsider of a recording is 'retrospective: in out in out', followed by the title track. The moment I heard it I thought of the Beatles' "Revolution #9" and "Her Majesty." Musical license?
A. That whole track was the product of a late late night, too much coffee, and a big mistake. I was working at this rehearsal studio in Times Square, and stayed late to record some songs on four track for “The Story of What Works.” After a series of strange errors and experiments I found myself with this weird collage of sounds and phrases. I was pretty delirious by the time it was done, about 5am. When I heard it the next day I liked it enough to stick it on the new album.
Q. What is on your agenda for 2002-2003?
A. To keep pushing ahead, as ever! There are a number of festivals I have my eye on. I hope to up the stakes with who I am opening for, to keep doing interviews like this, and just generally keep gathering momentum so I can quit my day job forever! I have had some marvelous opportunities as recently as this month, and I just want to keep riding the same wave. Starting with the October release of GOTTA LOTTA, I’m also looking forward to continued appearances in New England, a West Coast tour, and perhaps a jaunt down south. And of course, I want to keep improving as a songwriter and a performer. Thanks a ton for the interview!