20 julio, 2007

Jessica Bailiff Interview

When did you start to play music and why? Why did you get into it?

I started to play music when I was very young, not sure how old I was. I would play at my grandmother's piano when visiting. I can't explain why, but it seems I've always been interested in and drawn to music.

Why did you decide to send a demo to Kranky? What did you expect? In what way has their response changed your life?
The demo was sent to Kranky because my friend, Alan, suggested it. I had been writing my own material for about 3 years at that point, and really wanted to see if someone was interested in it. I knew that sending out twenty demos was the wrong way to go, so I wanted to narrow it down to 3 labels. Kranky was the first and only one I sent a tape to, and they happened to be interested. I did not expect this to happen. Their response gave me enough confidence to continue music on a larger scale, and the opportunity to do things like make better recordings and tour. And I've also gained some very dear friendships with the people involved.

It's been almost ten years since your debut album, what holds your interest in music?
I don't really know. Oftentimes I prefer silence to music. And having been somewhat involved in the business, I'm less interested. I usually just rely on that base level of emotion, that something inside that is triggered by experiences, to stir my musical interest.

Well, let's talk about the present, i don't want to make you feel old (because you aren't). You've recently released Old Songs on Morc Records, I think it's more than a b-sides album, in fact, it's the perfect first approach to those who don't know your music. How did this project come up?
Yes, actually, I'm old (or getting old)! The "Old Things" collection is something that began maybe in 2001 or 2002. It started as a cd-r for friends and family who didn't have record players (some of those songs were 7" or 10" vinyl only). Jon at brainwashed.com is one of my biggest motivators, and suggested I make an official release out of it, both for the fans and as a means to try to earn some money. It took a lot of time for me to accept the idea that people I don't know might actually be interested. Jon finally convinced me to release it, and when I had mentioned the idea to my friends Wim and Annelies, Wim expressed interest in releasing it for me (he has the label in Belgium, Morc). I really don't have a mind for business, or the motivation to do my own release, and I'm really happy that he ended up taking on the project. Jesse Edwards did the artwork and design, and I'm really happy with that part of it, too.

The songs on that album (Old Songs) were years before your s/t album; there was a period of change in your music from the more drone-y/psychedelic focus of your first two albums to the more songwriter/folk-oriented feel of your last two albums. Were you aware of that at the time? It was planned? Which were your main influences on that time?
Many of those songs were before the untitled third album, but some came during or after ("Let Time Breathe," "Figure 8," "Nicholson Square 2," "For April"). Any evolution in my music really wasn't planned, it kind of just happened. The taste in my own music definitely mirrored a lot of what I'd been listening to. "Old Things" really does demonstrate that there was a gradual evolution, from the noisy guitars being up front, to then being more of a background texture. People always seem to comment on how "Feels Like Home" is such a drastic change, and mostly how they don't like it. But anyone who has followed the music all along will know that it's been a completely logical step. Quite honestly, I began with the noisy guitars and the buried vocals because I had no confidence in my abilities. I couldn't sing, I was too shy to let people hear my "real" voice, which wasn't very good at the time. I didn't know how to play guitar properly (and still don't!), so I hid behind effects and whatnot. I grew up listening to pop music, mostly, and have always appreciated really good songwriting. So what I was doing - making noise - always felt like fumbling around. But in that, I did begin to gain some confidence, to find my own voice, and I did feel comfortable in writing this way. And there happened to be a call for it, people were into that. But I don't really feel comfortable being lumped in with the "folk" category now. I mean, just because I've been writing more with an acoustic guitar doesn't mean I make folk music. Those words have been completely misused lately, "folk music." When I think "folk music," I think Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, maybe even the Carter Family. There was a tradition of songs telling stories, of love songs, of political songs, and they would be passed around. Sometimes the origins of these songs would be lost, but everyone knew them. It's a different spirit than what's going on now with music, but it is interesting that more and more, younger people are learning the songs of those that came before - and even becoming friendly with those that made music back in the sixties and seventies (take Vashti Bunyan, for example -she is now well-embraced by all the "folk hipsters" of today).

There definitely was a shift for me in taste, back in 2001. I was at a point where I was completely bored with music, unmotivated both as a listener and a participant. Iker, a friend of Jesse Edwards and me, exposed us to the likes of Vashti Bunyan, Bridget St John, United States of America, Jackson C Frank, Spyrogyra (the UK folk-rock band), Mellow Candle, Trees, Incredible String Band, etc. I regained an interest in music, there was so much to discover, and Jesse and I fell deep into exploration and discovery of music that was old, but new & exciting for us (Forest, C.O.B., Stone Angel, etc). I had already known and loved Nick Drake, Syd Barrett/early Pink Floyd and Donovan, so it only made sense that I would eventually expand my knowledge of music from that era, of the folk and psychedelic genres.

The fact of you recording at home is important in all these changes? Why did you decide to do the process yourself? Do you still do it?
It all began with recording at home, with a 4-track cassette recorder, in 1994-95. I never intended to record in a studio, but when the offer came, I decided to take the chance. It was easy, really, as Alan & Mimi's studio was in their home. It was really still home recording, just not in my own home. They made me feel very comfortable, as I was unbelievably shy and scared to play in front of people. I could never have done music like I do now back then, especially in front of Alan, or anyone else. I decided to continue recording in my own home, because Jesse and I had gotten some equipment together, and it just made sense. I could write as I went, and spend more time. When you book time in a studio, there's more pressure, and more cost. These things do not really go well with being creative, at least for me. Recording is also a songwriting tool, and having someone else at the helm can make it more difficult. But it can also be more inspiring. Al and I really had fun trying out ideas, many of which I never would have thought of on my own. I have a home studio still, a different one, but do not really use it enough. I don't have the time, and my current living situation doesn't really inspire me to create.

In your last album, Feels Like Home, you continue with this more folk/songwriter oriented side of your music, it's a definitive change or just coincidence? It seems that your solo career may continue on that way and your colaborations by the other way.
I feel most comfortable writing with the acoustic guitar, and if I had a piano, I'd probably write more than half of my songs that way. I've always used the acoustic guitar, at least since 1997 when I bought my first one. But I became more reliant on it in 2004, when my electric guitar mysteriously stopped working, and I could not afford to fix it. I bonded even more with the Martin, because it was all I really had. I have an electric 12-string, but it's really best only for big sounds with delay & distortion. And I guess I've become tired of that, at least as a main element.
But using that sort of thing with other people's music is logical, because I'm accenting something they have already done. It doesn't make sense to play acoustic guitar with someone like Annelies Monseré or Rivulets, as that job is already taken.

I've read that you consider yourself more of a creator than a player, is this accurate? What do you want to express through music?
Yes, probably. I'd rather spend time recording new material or adding to other people's material than rehearsing the same songs over and over to play live. I have more of an artistic point of view - more of a painter rather than an actress. I'm not really good at playing in front of people, at performing. Some people are really meant for that, and I realised somewhere down the line that it's not really my strong point, nor do I have a big desire to be good at it. I like the occasional challenge of setting up a tour, and playing live, but what I love more about that is meeting old friends, as well as new ones, and having the chance to play with people I enjoy playing with. Plus I really love traveling, so it's hard to say "no" when an opportunity to tour comes around.
I don't really know what I want to express through music, other than pure emotion.

Your sound is a nice mix between digital and analog. Do you still use the 4-track?
Thanks :-) The 4-track was used on "Feels Like Home," and is still a part of my home studio.

How is a Jessica Bailiff song conceived? Do you have a particular method? Are you self-disciplined?
I'm not as self-disciplined at I'd like to be, or as I used to be. There is no real method other than getting to that state of mind where things just begin to flow, whether lyrically or musically.

What inspires your lyrics? What do you think about the world around you? Does it influence you in some way?
Mostly the lyrics are inspired by love, or loss of it; by longings, by dreams; by regrets, by mistakes. They are all very introverted and personal, hence a little selfish. I do have a lot of concern for the world around me, but I have not found a way to voice that through music or lyrics. I suppose I use everyday actions and conversations more for that.

Do you feel that you expose yourself in some way with your lyrics?
Yes, and no. Most people don't pay attention to the words, anyway - so I could tell the most intimate parts of my life through song (as I often do) and no one would really know or care.

You've had to combine your day job with making music -- do you still have a day job? Is it difficult to juggle both?
Yes, I still have a day job. I don't do music much at all anymore, because I have little energy for it when I'm finished working. I do not profit monetarily from making music, in fact I have lost huge amounts of money doing it. So my youthful abandon has turned into careful consideration and caution as I have become older. I can lo longer afford to spend money I don't have in order to tour or to play other people's music. I need to work to survive, we all need money to survive, to eat, to have shelter, to pay medical expenses, etc. This is reality. I never entered into life as a musician thinking I'd get rich, but I never considered that it would make me poor. But on the other hand, I've had many great experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything, and have made some very dear friendships through music, which is priceless.

This year you took part in several recordings as a guest (Red Morning Chorus, His Name is Alive, Rivulets, Landerim, Odd Nosdam...)This is a constant throughout your career; how do you manage to work with all these artists and keep your solo career and side projects?
These projects have spanned a lot of time, years in fact. But lately, I don't really create my own music anymore; this is how it works. It's been nearly 2 years since I've written or recorded anything solo. But usually I am incredibly inspired by the people who have asked me to contribute to their recordings, so it's really fun for me. It also has been the main thing keeping me interested in recording at all, so it's been a blessing.

All these collaborations make it possible for you to work with artists that you really admire. What is the best and worst thing about working with other people? What are some of your most favourable experiences?
The best thing about working with other people is that it's a very selfless thing. I'm doing something for that person, I want to contribute in a way that makes that person happy, in a way that adds positively to his or her music. The worst thing is when I feel I am not up to the task, when I really want to contribute something good, and am not able to do it. I've had many favorable experiences, never a really bad one. Working with Dave Pearce has been great, as I was always a fan of Flying Saucer Attack. Going through the creative process with him was amazing. And working with Odd Nosdam was fascinating, because his music was so far away from what I was doing - but at the same time we were coming from a very similar place, so it has worked rather well, I think. I can't possibly write about all of them, really there has been something good about every project I've been involved in, and looking back, there have been many.

Do you listen to more modern bands or do you prefer older ones? What have you been listening to lately?
I haven't been listening to music much at all lately. But I do listen to whatever sounds good at the moment, old or new. I was listening only to the "New Moon" album by Elliott Smith, for at least a month straight, every day. Yesterday I bought the Nick Drake "Family Tree" cd. My friend Laurent sent me a compilation with some really great modern music on it, much of it French, and I'm really liking it. Music affects my mood too much to just play anything at any time. Silence is often better for me.

I've read some time ago that you thought about giving up? Do you still think about it?
Every day, but now I think of it more as moving on rather than giving up. Music will always be a part of me, I cannot imagine that I would get rid of all of my musical equipment. But I have other priorities, and survival is one of them. Being happy, or happier, is another, as well as my health. So I'm trying to find what it is in life that will make me happier, what situation will that be, or where will it be. I'm not getting the same fulfillment from making music that I once did. I'm at a very strange crossroads in life, not really knowing where to go or what to do. When the albums aren't selling, it's kind of a meter for demand. If there isn't really much of a demand for what I do, then my priorities need to shift. Mainly, the music will likely become strictly personal, and not for mass release. There is no point in spending time, money, and resources on something that ultimately ends up in a landfill. And if it's more stressful for me to continue on this path, why continue? Why not do my own thing in my own time? I have no desire to impress critics or to sell myself. I guess I'm in the process of trying to figure out what music means to me and where it should be in my life.

You've played in Detroit two months ago and there's no plans for touring, do you like touring? Do you feel comfortable on stage or do you prefer recording?
There will be a small tour of the Benelux region this fall. I really enjoy touring in Europe. We are treated well and appreciated. We always have a place to sleep and are fed well. We are able to cover expenses. I don't much enjoy playing shows in America, as the pay is awful, if we are paid at all. There are a lot of really great people out there organising shows and doing all they can to make them successful. But most of my experiences have been playing for virtually nothing for people who can't be quiet. Also, it's much easier for me to play for people I don't know. Playing locally, in my home town, is nearly impossible for 2 reasons: I become too nervous and can't perform well, and generally there is not a proper venue for the sort of music I do. I'm not the sort that can handle well playing a house show or a record store, I usually need a proper P.A. system, as I cannot sing very loudly (yet another reason I don't make a good performer!). The last time we played in Paris, there was no P.A. system, so we had to play very quietly so I could sing, and by the end, I couldn't finish the last song because I'd begun to lose my voice. I definitely prefer recording, but under the right circumstances, I really do enjoy performing.

Have you ever visited Spain? Can we see you here sometime soon?
I have never been to Spain, but I have heard really great things about it. I have no plans to go there, but would love to one day, if possible.

What are you working on right now? What are your plans in the near future?And finally, what is the actual status of your side projects (Eau Claire, Clear Horizon, Northern Song Dynasty)?
Last month I finished some contributions to Annelies Monseré's new album. Lately, I am working on songs for performing on tour in the fall, and have managed to write a couple of new songs along the way. Eau Claire has been on hiatus - Rachel and I have had too much going on, both musically and personally, to continue. But we still write, and we are trying to make plans for me to come to Austin (where she lives) as soon as possible. Clear Horizon 2 is practically finished - but it's been put on hold, indefinitely. And there has been some talk of starting another NSD album, but nothing's happening yet.

Photos: Laurent Orseau

Big thanks to Charina. You're really awesome.

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