*Today’s Musician’s Journal comes from Jenny Gillespie who has recorded several albums acting as both producer and artist. She blends folk, electronica, jazz, and pop into a constantly regenerating style but one anchored by her smoky, far-ranging voice, and searching, imaginative lyrics. Her last album Chamma which she recorded entirely in her house in Chicago was named one of the top 25 albums of 2014 by Billboard Magazine. Her newest album, Cure for Dreaming, out January 29th on Narooma Records was recorded in Los Angeles, CA, engineered by Paul Bryan and arranged by Jenny and Paul which blends an earnest folk sensibility with experimental flavorings of progressive jazz and sunny sixties and seventies R&B flavored pop. Today Jenny shares a postcard from her time recording the album as a new mother, a transitional time any new parent can understand as they try to continue their job.
Listen to Jenny Gillespie’s newest single, “No Stone”, from her upcoming record, Cure for Dreaming, and read her Heady Joy Postcard:
“It’s pretty unbelievable to me even now that I was able to go and write and record an album in a different city than my own, bringing along a very young infant. Remembering that period of time, between July and October 2014, fills me with heady joy, but also amnesia on the actual stamina I must have been operating on. How on earth did I find that level of energy??? How does any mother continue to be a musician? I try to think of Kim Gordon, Bjork, the McGarrigle Sisters, Emmylou Harris, and I take a deep breath, and hope maybe I can keep going.
Now, with a two year old running around, I understand that the infant phase is a much easier time during which to create something substantial, because while your kid is needing you, of course, and it’s very intense with breastfeeding and another human’s bodily functions and screaming and sleeplessness, the personality has not really emerged, the new family member is not a true force yet, a hyper, affectionate, maddening, creative player in your house. It’s almost like with toddlerhood, the new band member has finally arrived, and I have to make way more space for his compositions, maybe even foregoing my own for the time being because he’s just so damned brilliant. Okay, I know in the previous paragraph there’s an incantation of rock mom goddesses, but I’m really unsure how I’ll ever write music again, given my level of daily exhaustion trying to keep up with everything, but I’m glad I have something (this current album I’m releasing, Cure for Dreaming) in my pocket to show for that time, because I was so wildly awake to the essentials of my existence: I was in a space of primal power from having given birth, but also kind of wandering around celestial territory with this new incredible being by my side.
The only way I could really write was very late at night, and on the piano, and very softly! I had a kind of loose deadline with Paul Bryan, the producer I worked with on Cure for Dreaming. After the almost debilitating work of producing my last album Chamma all by myself, I welcomed the chance to give someone else most of the reins so I could focus on songwriting, vocals, and co-arrangements. I worked so hard, so deep, and so alone on Chamma, that to have someone on the receiving end motivated me to write during a time when I could have very well sighed, “Fuck this, I’m way too tired to make another album right now, or maybe ever again.” This deadline aspect, as well as the reciprocal aspect of working with Paul, plus the very limited time I had to write each night, I think this all made me write in a new way. It made me turn back to older melodies of older songs I’d never recorded. One melody, for the song “Last Mystery Train,” was from a song I wrote at fifteen! (Although I think I reworked it towards a more sophisticated place…) Two other songs, “Evening Loving” and “Part Potawatomi,” I didn’t have to write from scratch, but drew from older demos I’d made around 2009 that I’d previously written off as not experimental enough.
Most of these songs I think are very pop for my overall oeuvre. I have tended to veer more experimental, out of general restlessness. The musician friends I admired, the tastes I was cultivating stemming from such admiration. Also, out of the feeling I’ve never quite known what I’m doing so I just let the music take me where it goes, without too much control. I think that the pop/folk direction on this album (which truly surprised me, honestly) came from having a child, singing lullabies and older songs, and wanting to hear folk songs on acoustic guitar and piano, really stripped down things like Neil Young live at Massey Hall, or older stuff like Fairport Convention, or, more currently, Susanna. I had absolutely no desire to do anything electronica, or to listen to electronica (my last album Chamma went down that path, with a lot of work I did on an instrument called Maschine). I think birth, new motherhood, made me yearn for universals, bare essentials, the shared experience, which folk and pop are so good at creating.
The experience of recording in Los Angeles with Paul was heady and wonderful, especially the sessions at the Village Recorder where Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Bob Dylan had recorded. The light in Los Angeles is always so golden and intoxicating, like with a brush of it you can just revise yourself each morning to your own whims; I fear if I lived there it would make me less grounded, or just too blissful—my Chicago roots, I guess, needing that edge of miserable reality so I don’t lose touch with normalcy. But oh, what fun to be there for two weeks! Paul’s production is so clean, sparkling, funky and the sessions directed by him just went so seamlessly, with a real sense of collaboration, friendliness, and fun. The most beautiful part of the experience was watching the drummer on the record, Jay Bellerose, work in the studio. I have only seen one other musician work with such a sense of presence, confidence, total artistic freedom while maintaining respect for the artist and passion for the song—that was with bassist/multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, who coproduced my EP Belita. The way Jay records drums is like watching a painter in the studio experiment, revise, adapt, build, but all within mere moments; the craftsmanship, like a good children’s book, is so well hidden by the parts. He gave the record an understated, yet rich and invaluable, drum presence, and without it it wouldn’t have found a higher octave.
I hope you enjoy this postcard from a very rich, confusing, blissful time in my life, and I hope other mothers who are musicians will take heart from it and keep working.”
/- Jenny Gillespie
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* Musician’s Journal: This is a new series we will be publishing from different young musicians as they work through the exciting times of a young, up and coming band trying to make it, whether it’s going on a big tour, trying to put out a record, etc. This is from the musicians mouth to you. It’s meant to give an inside, behind the scenes look at the good, the bad, the struggles, the exhilarating happenings of being a musician in today’s world and the hard work that it takes to “make it.”