Sunday, January 13, 2008

INTERVIEW: Jessie Evans

I've been playing close attention to what Jessie's been up to for quite a while now, starting with that first Subtonix single. It was through her next band, the very influential Vanishing that I came to know her, and Hungry Eye was lucky enough to be able to release some Vanishing material. In fact, a few of the bands we've worked with on Hungry Eye came about through Jessie's introduction or intervention. And yet, according to this interview, it's only been recently that she's reached something like an artistic maturity, so one can conjecture that great as her previous work was, the best is still in store. She's finishing up a new album currently which is sure to be a treat and have some surprises in store.

Jessie Evans on myspace



Augenmusik:First off, you've been out of the public eye for the past few months as far as releasing new material and playing a lot of shows, but from the looks of things, that is about to change again. Can you elaborate for us a bit as to what you've got up your sleeve musically?

Jessie: I’m almost finished with a new album- it’s my first solo record! It’s really rhythm oriented with lots of bass, saxophone, brass. I just wanted to make music I can dance to. The feeling of it is so much more light than anything I’ve done. A lot of it is about desire - in the flesh and beyond. I guess in a way I’m explaining where I’m at in my life, in cold Berlin, lusting for the sun…ha ha.

I’ve also got a new drummer, Toby Dammit, who I started working with last year. He’s really great and has helped me out so much with this recording. I started out last spring locked in my room with the drum machine then in the summer we went into the studio to record the live drums with Toby Dammit & Budgie (The Creatures, the Banshees). Then in August Toby & I went to Mexico for two months and recorded vocals and sax all over the place- in a laundry room on a rooftop in Mexico City, a hotel room in Tijuana, and even John Wayne’s old bedroom in Acapulco. We played 6 shows while we were there and it was an incredible time. I wanted to go somewhere different to make it and see what influences would come out of that. We’d been listening to the Nortec Collective from Tijuana and really loved what they were doing. Their mixture of electronic with the Nortena style brass and accordians is so original and I got the idea that it would be great to have them mix my record ‘cos I really wanted somebody who had an understanding of electronic dance music but who also understood horns. We’re going back there next week to finish it with Pepe Mogt from Nortec.


Augenmusik: There seems to be a pattern to your work habits; a period of what appears to be creative gestation, followed by a flurry of live and recorded activity. Is this an accurate assessment of your creative
process? Where are you at now in your work now?


Jessie: Yea, that’s pretty normal I think. This last year I only played 22 shows, so I’m really looking forward to getting out there and touring again.

Augenmusik: You've been in Berlin for a few years now-- is Berlin now a permanent home? What drew you from San Francisco to Berlin in the first place, and is there any other place that's now beckoning you for a possible relocation?

Jessie: Berlin is an ideal place right now ‘cos the cost of living is so cheap. I have a beautiful apartment in Neukoln, and I’m living alone for the first time in my life. I moved here with Vanishing 3 1/2 years ago. We’d toured Europe and realized it was way easier for us to support ourselves doing music here. There’s still a respect in Europe for artists whereas in the States it was hard to survive. I was sick of working stupid jobs to make ends meet and wanted to dedicate my time to what I love. There’s so many places I would like to live- especially after visiting Mexico I know I’m gonna spend more time there.

Augenmusik: Berlin nowadays has a reputation as being more of a club town, and not very supportive of live music. Is this the case and how does one work with that as a musician? How does your work fit in with what is going in Berlin at the moment?

Jessie: It’s a huge city that’s really under populated and you have the feeling that it’s still at the very beginning of being rebuilt and becoming something. Some great music has come out of Berlin in the past but at the moment the scene feels a bit detached. It IS a challenge to work with the crowds here. I’ve only played 3 shows so far, but it’s gone over pretty good. I guess I fit in here because my job is to wake people up and throw cold water in their face. It’s not always the funnest job but I’m good at it & its what I studied to be, so it’s really all I know.

I’ve never understood dj culture. When the audience stands there with a blank expression for the live show but as soon as the dj comes on THEN they go crazy dancing- what is that? It doesn’t make any sense except that their sense of entertainment has become so consumeristic -its like they just want to be entertained without realizing that they have a key part in that ritual. That it IS still a ritual for the performers.

Have you seen the movie “The Divine Horseman”? It’s a documentary made out of footage of Vodou rituals shot by Maya Deren in Haiti between 1947-1952. It was the first time I’ve seen footage of people becoming possessed. The rituals take some care and preparation but once they begin it’s interesting to watch the different roles assumed by everybody involved in the community. About half are dancing wildly as invitation for the gods to enter, some lead the ceremony, and the rest are watching everything go down, not as voyeurs but as caretakers, to help and ‘hold back’ the possessed, and to make sure that everything runs smoothly and no one gets hurt. The role of music is in the drums- to provide a heart beat on which everything is built, a common thread that connects everyone involved. It is so simple to see that music provides this role, spiritually, to take the listener, the dancer, the singer, the spectator, OUT Of his/her body and to transcend into another space. Modern times & white culture have pretty much lost the point though it still must be why we exist and I think anybody who remembers feels the need to do whatever it takes to bring it back there.

Augenmusik:The Vanishing is often referred to as a "darkwave" band and certainly has its share of supporters from that scene, but the Vanishing material got progressively less "goth" as time went on, and your subsequent work has gone even farther from that direction. Are you satisfied with the Vanishing being thought of as a goth band-- do you feel a connection to that scene at all?

Jessie: Yea, sure it was darkwave. Pretty much everything I’ve done up till this point has always turned out much darker than I imagined it. I guess you cant help what comes out –I did grow up in the 80's afterall, just 'cos I was just a kid- whatever- I was still there. The first music I really got into when I was 12 was reggae, then came punk, jazz new wave etc. When I got into new wave I was like 14 or so and it was such a revelation. I felt like I finally belonged somewhere. I felt this feeling for the first time in a long time the other day from finding out the Sun Ra Arkestra is still together, now directed by Marshall Allen who’s been playing with them since 1958! Music is like religion and I think it’s important to people to stick together.



Augenmusik: As mentioned in the previous question, there's definitely been a pronounced progression in your work from the Subtonix and early Vanishing to your stuff now. How would you describe the continuity in your work in the past 10 years? Are there any themes you've been consistently experimenting with, or anything you've been actively looking for or exploring in your work?

Jessie: Themes have changed a lot but I feel like I’ve always had a similar vision of what I wanted to do, it's just taking me awhile to get there. I’ve outgrown my own skin so many times, it’s totally humiliating but I had to realize that my life reflects the process that I’m in. I didn’t come into the world fully formed. In the beginning it was like I was trying to write a novel in every song. Eventually I reached a point where I felt like I wasn’t really connected to what I was saying, even though I truly believed in the words, it was too longwinded and I was over intellectualizing everything. The first real revolution for me with song writing came from “Lovesick.” I was going through a breakup and this song came to express the sort of heartbreak mixed with repulsion that you feel toward somebody who you used to love. The feeling was also transparent, as I couldn’t quite tell who I was applying it to, the old or the new love, as the feeling was similar toward both somehow, and it was actually just a feeling I had that didn’t necessarily belong or need to be attached to anybody. With this song I truly felt like I had arrived at myself.

I just want my lyrics to be simple & direct. It also has to do with phonetics, with the words being like a toy in your mouth, if you’re in the right state of mind the right words will come and feel good there. So I try not to worry too much about what I’m saying or to preach too much about anything. My last album was also different because it was mostly love songs and this was a new thing for me. Maybe some may find it typical to focus on love, but I really relate to Anais Nin. Her life was totally dedicated to understanding the connection between people and the sympathy she possessed in observing how it all works was so clear.

Augenmusik: Since you moved to Berlin and the Vanishing slimmed down to a 2 piece, you've had rather minimal line-ups. Autonervous was a 2-piece and it seems your new project is a 2 piece as well. Is there any reason for putting together projects with 2 musicians? Do you find any limitations to these line-ups when it comes to performing live, and
how do you deal with them?


Jessie: I really like working with just one other person because its much quicker to get things done. The limitation is having to play along to a backing, that you’re stuck to this and can’t improvise so much. Eventually I want more musicians on stage but this year its gonna be just the two of us.

Augenmusik: Even though you've been gone for a few years now, you seem to maintain close ties to the San Francisco & greater California music scenes. Do you still feel connected to what is going on there, and are there any other localities that you feel a particular kinship with as far as the bands and music is concerned?

Jessie: This past year I’ve become friends with the Extra Action Marching Band. We’ve done some shows with them in Berlin this last summer (with more to come this spring) and they did a cover of one of my new songs which we recorded in San Francisco. I’ve known about them for a long time and actually got to see one of their first live shows about 9 years ago in a friends basement in East Oakland. At that time they were about 10 people, and it was a total mess! To see how they’ve progressed since then is so inspiring to me as I’ve always wanted to create something like that too.

Also, my little brother, Otto Nervous. He’s 12 and plays everything himself-drums, singing, keyboards, guitar. He’s so talented – we’re gonna play a show with him Feb 3 at Gilman St. He’s played drums with The Vanishing a couple times but this will be his first solo show.

Augenmusik: A lot of time has been spent musing on the changes in the music industry over the past 5 years or so. You are someone who has made a career in that time and had to deal pragmatically with the changes to online media and changes brought about by downloading. You also seem very pro-active in managing your own career. How do you deal with
navigating the current industry? What kind of technology has made it easier for you, and what's made things more difficult? Has it had any effect on your music; if my impression is correct, your past music takes at best an ambivalent attitude towards media.


Jessie: I’m really grateful for the internet- especially myspace because through that I can promote my own stuff and its out there & people can find it. It’s a real revolution for musicians that you can do most things for yourself now.

As far as downloading goes – great, go for it. It doesn’t make much sense to fight people's ability to get stuff for free now, so the money can come from playing live then. I’m not very hip with it – though it seems cool to me that there’s access to so much more – it must open peoples minds to be able to discover so much new music so easily. The sad thing about that seems to be the lack of interest in the actual albums, with the artwork and the vinyl and everything beautiful about that, but because the cost of buying new cd’s and records has become so expensive I haven’t been able to afford it for years and actually I don’t even have a stereo at the moment, I just listen to music through my shitty computer speakers. Somehow the computer has become like an artificial heart that connects a person to everything. It’s pretty sick, yet somehow inescapable. I wish I could find a way out, but so many great things have come from it already. This is the second record I’ve recorded with Pro Tools. It’s been amazing that it’s allowed me to work on my own but at the same time it’s created a real isolation. Because I can do all the stuff myself I just do it in my house and the past 4 years I really haven’t had a practice space. So the whole rehearsal thing, sweating it out with other people, this is really gone at the moment. I just think that you’ve got to be aware of the limitations of technology. Where there are improvements being made all the time to make things easier it actually takes away common sense and real psychic ability in the other ways.

Things getting “easier” can also lead to gluttony & excess which makes bad art. Something like this happened to me when I first got a digital camera. It was so easy to just take tons of shots of everything that I totally forgot the point of taking a picture. With film you have a respect for each shot because there’s a limit and it cost money and time to develop. There is a deliberation which comes with this knowledge, and you tend to pay more attention to what you’re doing and what you’re looking at. Do you really want to capture that image? Is it really necessary? But now it’s like there’s no limit and it really changes the game. Like what are you even hunting for? All these images, all these sounds, you can have as many as you like, but what do they even mean? It’s the same with recording. With digital recording people can just do as many takes as they like then if it still sucks they can edit it. There’s no need to even know how to play your instrument. And if you can't sing just use autotune. The quest for perfection has led to some pretty dumb inventions.

It’s also strange, because of the internet we’re all connected to this ‘world’ community, but is it real? It really begins to feel like we’re living in a sci fi horror film, a virtual reality where we’re all stuck in our voyeuristic little cubicles with our little pictures and wallpaper and little statements and music representing us. Its like at any moment they could pull the plug and everybody would be locked in here for good.

Augenmusik: Any thoughts or announcements you'd like to leave us with?

Jessie: Yea, I hope to see everybody soon. Goodnight.

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6 Comments:

Blogger smashedchair said...

Great Interview.
Could you give me photo credit by using this one instead?

http://www.smashedchair.com/jessie_evans_at_bordello.jpg

here are some more photos from the same night.
http://www.smashedchair.com/photos/jessie_evans_100307/je_td.html

thanks

12:21 PM  
Blogger Fon said...

Nice blog. I will keep reading. Please take the time to visit my blog about Guitar Lesson

7:30 AM  
Blogger danscheme said...

Yes, I will definitely change the photo. Thanks!

3:34 PM  
Blogger Teep said...

great interview, thanks!

6:23 PM  
Blogger RETURN TO THE EAST said...

Jessie is a constant source of positive inspiration. I am totally in accord with her observations about 'world technology'. I used to like feeling isolated, and now I hate it more and more. But touch is just one more nice new button away, makes me think of the Regan trigger finger during my terminal childhood. It is a horror reeked in nostalgia, and cross-pollinating allergies / cash tie in pharmaceutical must have, death stuff.

horrible and creepy.

1:34 AM  
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