Thanks to everyone who participated in last week's Twitter contest. I thought it was a lot of fun. Also I'm going to have a nice big surprise for my street team members on Friday, so if you've been considering joining, now is the time :)
Of course, I do have one winner to announce today: eeeeeeee from MySpace is the winner of Jessica Hopper's book The Girls' Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom. Myspace message me to claim your prize!
This week I have a woman with an incredible voice, who definitely knows how to rock, musician Jennie DeVoe, whose amazing new album, Strange Sunshine, shares a release date with my new book, Ballads of Suburbia (pssst: that means it comes out July 21st and you should get on it and order them both :-) ) Jennie was another fabulous MySpace discovery of mine. Let's get to know her!
Q: Your voice is gorgeous and you are unbelievably talented. Clearly you were born with a gift, but I'm sure you trained hard too. Can you tell us about how you got your start singing and playing guitar? When did you discover your talent? Were you self taught or did you take lessons? Who are some of your influences and inspirations? Since it is Women Who Rock Wednesday, we are particularly interested in hearing about the women who influenced you.
Jennie: Secretly I always had hoped that I did have a voice but when you're young I think most kids go through that "I wanna be a singer" phase - maybe not, but I did. The only difference between thinking you can sing and dreaming about it is to actually start 'doing it'. I can't say I had any formal training. My voice was schooled and developed by simply singing to my favorite songs on the radio or my cds. I did sing in the church choir and my Mom and Dad both have musical talents in singing and piano. I had to take piano lessons but it seemed too "lessony" so it just seemed like work, as did choir. Looking back though, I'm grateful I was forced to sing in choir and take lessons. It's funny though, I never write on piano unless I'm writing the music with a collaborator because the song should be piano-based. I usually write on guitar and I have no idea the chords I'm playing most the time. I can't say I'm a great guitar player at all. I learn by writing songs and out of the necessity of wanting to communicate better with my band. But it's funny, I still love just coming up with a beat and melody in my head and singing it to them. I'll even sing guitar licks or piano runs to them but let them put themselves into it. I love my band because they've come so far with me. They show me so much respect and never make me feel inadequate as an artist just because I don't know their exact same musical language. They get my language and we all try to meet in the middle. It's so so important to work with players who "get you" and who strive to even if it's not always easy. That's key for me.
So, that's very long-winded. In short - I taught myself by how to sing and play by making myself learn how to sing to the absolute best there was. Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin. Those are the females who influenced me. Then when I began really writing, I found I loved the lyrics of songs, not just the style or soul vibe. I truly love a twisty clever phrase that only means something in a song. The type of words that you can't just say because they lose their steam. That's the great thing about songs. People ask you to explain them and then you start stuttering and stammering because you are a songwriter who writes because you maybe are a bit backward with directness ---- so you say things with metaphors and say things that evoke feelings and meanings for people, but spelling it out in normal conversation just blows it. Music makes it magic and that's all there is to that. When I started loving words I started listening to how people like Dylan and Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro and Patty Griffin spun things in songs. Then I fused my love of soul with my own style of word-smithing with my own simple abilities on guitar. Then, add my band and it's hopefully given me my own sound and style. I saw Ani DiFranco for the first time and just about died. I think she is a live experience that every songwriter should see. She inspires me to think outside the box. I have a couple of Ani-influenced songs on my second cd that my fans totally dig. I think she is one of the stand-out women who rock.
Q: Tell us about your new project, Strange Sunshine. How was this record different than stuff you've done in the past? Tell us a bit about your favorite songs on the album, those lyrics and riffs you are just extra proud of. Any tracks on your myspace player that readers should listen to first to get a sense of your sound? You've worked with John Parish twice now. I've always adored the work he's done with PJ Harvey. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to work with him, what you enjoy about it and what the recording process is like?
Jennie: Strange Sunshine makes me happy cuz it's simple and very 'un-showy' of me. I guess if I were aiming to be more famous I might have polished it up a bit more - and maybe I'll do that again in the future, nothing wrong with a bit of polish - but this record is , to me, the sister record to my 2004 release that I still want to release nationally and may just do that. Fireworks & Karate Supplies is the 1st cd I did in England with PJ Harvey producer - John Parish. I approached John's manager with the hopes he might hook us up. I liked John from the work he'd done with Polly. I also really dug his work with Tracy Chapman on her Let It Rain cd. I pictured my songs with some of his magic British production ideas and playing. What we did was build that cd in the studio. Just myself and one of my guitarists went over to record it in Bath, England at Moles. It was a blast. It was a lot of work. It was cool and scary to risk going and walking into a room and meeting John when we'd only spoken on the phone up to that point. I mean, what if we didn't hit it off, what if we weren't able to gel in the studio, all that stuff. The thing I knew going into the project about John though, was that he was kind, calm, patient and seemed a bit tough but in a productive way. You don't want stress in the studio. I knew he liked my songs and my voice. His manager had said John needed me to send him me singing alone with guitar in my living room so that's what I did. Then we were off. John played a ton of instruments on it and we even used the bass player from Portishead. He didn't talk a lot but he was a cool dude and played good stand-up bass on "Shallow Grave."
On my MySpace page, people can hear "Try Harder" and "Redeeming" from my Fireworks record. Lyrically, I'm super proud of the lyrics on that cd. On Strange Sunshine I'm just as proud but for different reasons. I kept it less clever and made it more simple. How the Motown singers used to do it was hit you over the head over and over with the hook line. Well, the songs have simple messages and the messages are in your face so I had to sell the feeling with.....real feeling when I was driving the hook-line home on stuff like "I Break Down" and "No Damn Man". Totally simple lyrics but to me, deep feeling stuff, I hope it affects people like it does the live audiences we've been playing them for. "Butterfly" and "I Break Down" are special tracks for me. They just happened so fast while I wrote them and both started out of my head and mouth with no instrument. I was literally scampering around the house looking for my guitar and recorder to get it down so I didn't lose them. The melodies were complete when they arrived in my head. Weird and wonderful moments. That makes them good memories for me but moreover, the melodies seem sturdy and old-school, like they've always been here, it was just my job to put them to record.
Q: As a female musician, have you ever had to deal with sexism either at your gigs or from people in the industry who were judging you based on your gender? If so, how did you deal with these situations?
Jennie: The question about sexism eludes my life a bit and I'll explain. I know it's there and I just have found that by not acknowledging it if it's happening, then you give it no power. Just like with race, if you verbally acknowledge that you think this thing is happening, you suddenly have everyone focusing on that and not whatever real problem is at hand. I say 'fuck it', walk around it if it's there, give it no power with words and you've already won. In music, there are battles that have nothing to do with gender. Is the sound system competent, is the sound man caring, are you being clear and kind and forthright and business-like in your demands, enough to garner respect. I do believe if you keep level and know what you clearly need and clearly want as an artist, your battles become much more manageable and much smaller. But with every show or every recording project, there are mountains. If they do have to do with sexism, I'm a bit oblivious hopefully because I'm majorly focused. Not to say that communicating with men is like it is with women. It's completely different. Who is more sensitive? Oddly, sometimes guys can be so I've learned my lessons along the way. I've learned that I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to my music. I've learned too, that 'players' are also artists and have feelings and may not all necessarily have the same thick skin you do. Any relationship worth having, like my husband or with my band, takes time and bumps and endurance and love to get through and apply. No one likes to be taken for granted or talked down to, so man or woman, I try to show respect. I hope by the way I act in my professional settings that I garner that with the way I treat others. There's no time really for tantrums or stomping antics about 'you're only saying that because I'm a woman' - I just don't go there, even if it's in my face - I go around it and try to win whomever it is that needs won over. Life's a big 'ol challenge and that's just one of the many.
Q: I imagine you put on an amazing live performance. Can you tell us a bit about performing live? Do you enjoy it? Fear it? Any favorite concerts you've done?
Jennie: My most recent concerts have been my favorites I think because after 10 years with the same band, oddly we are still growing and have had some major vibey breakthroughs on stage recently. The feeling of being 'at home' with your band on stage is priceless. As a performer, I seem to thrive in a listening environment - even though I can rock it like a Janis Joplin wanna-be. At the end of the day, I find I love telling stories and going off and getting a laugh as much as delivering a song that brings the house down. It's the whole energy that flows from you to a recieving audience that turns you on. It's impressive to yourself when things to say start just popping into your head. I think that's the gift I recognize as coming from God. My voice but also my humor. And honestly, if I try planning it, it's just ridiculous - it really only works if you walk on stage in a vulnerable state of mind, a focused state of mind and a willing to kill state of mind and you have listeners and not cocktail mumbling half-assed listeners. That's almost self-abuse to continue to put yourself in certain bar situations when you know it's not your scene. Although every show and venue is different, you have to sort of build your world the way you know you will perform and thrive best. It's all up to you. It's endless, the possibilities you have if you're a writer/performer. It's exciting. So, I don't fear it. I suppose there is a really healthy nervousness or anxiety before most shows but the best description is 'chomping at the bit'. I hate to arrive so early that you just wait and wait. I like to get on with it and begin getting the high from the audience
Q: I have two standard questions for my Women Who Rock. The first is a two-parter: What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge.
Jennie: haha - you won't judge? ok, that's funny. Well, I was too young to go to concerts and I wanted to go see Ted Nugent, AC/DC and The Scorpions. I was told no by my Dad. He didn't like Ted's album cover or the title Stranglehold. I lied and went anyway. I got totally busted with my lie and then I worsened it by wearing the Ted t-shirt I'd bought in front of my parents. I was in 7th grade and now I think how stupid I was. I was definitely a wild child and really pushed it with my parents. Out of that concert I realized what amazing hit songs that AC/DC had. I still love old Bon Scott AC/DC. The first album I bought was REO Speedwagon's You Get What You Play For ----- then shortly after "You Can Tuna Piano but you can't Tuna fish"....something like that. My older sister had albums that I coveted and listened to in secret in her room when she was gone - those were Fleetwood Mac, Rumors and Chaka Kahn with Rags to Rufus. That began my influences.
Q: Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.
Jennie: I remember going to concerts and thinking that I wasn't quite enthralled with concerts and that they weren't quite as fulfilling as I'd like. My best friends were in love with the band and I did sort of love them too but I had a very nagging feeling that I wanted to be one of the boys on stage instead. I hated the claustrophobic feeling of being in an audience too. The whole thing made sense eventually and worked for me. My rockstar moment for real was probably at Lilith Fair in '99. I was literally on stage with Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, every Dixie Chick, sharing a mic with Natalie and then Liz Phair and Liz's background singer Janet Rains. Susan Tedeschi was playing guitar on stage, Nelly Furtado and there were more. I remember Sarah walking over to me during the finale song on stage - it was slow motion sort of during "I Shall be Released" the Dylan song. I didn't know the song at all but we all had lyric sheets. She came over and whispered in my ear "Do you want to take a verse?" and I said "hell yeh". I sang the shit out of that verse and got giant crowd cheers from 20,000 people. It was a validating moment and one of my favorite. After the show in the green room I remember Marty from the Dixie Chicks just giving me the warmest smile and saying I had a rocking voice. Not everyone does that but she impressed me with her sweetness and I did rock it and you do appreciate when your peers give you props. Even if they don't know you from shit that you actually are peers, hahha. It was a good bit of fuel and I've had great moments since and I hope my little career just keeps going. I love what I do and I'm grateful grateful grateful for anyone who buys my music or comes to see me.
What a great interview! Loved what Jennie had to say about sexism and what a cool rock star moment! The lucky winner who comments about Jennie's interview this week will get both her Strange Sunshine and her Fireworks and Karate Supplies CDs! She was nice enough to send me copies of them too and I have been completely addicted. So go check out Jennie's music and comment away! Check back next Wednesday for the winner!