Frank Gutch Jr: The Anatomy of a Masterpiece, Part Two: Jess Pillmore, Plus Notes…..

Frank Gutch young

Like I said last week, you don’t have to sell millions of albums to get my vote.  The quality just has to be evident, and in 2005, Jess Pillmore‘s Reveal earned my pick as the best album I heard that year.  It surprised myself as much as anyone, to be sure, for Pillmore was a somewhat unknown quantity to me, outside of one previous album I had received a few weeks before titled Slightly Skewed, an album leaning much more toward folk and pop than the new one.

She was not a stranger to me.  I knew her as daughter of Bill Pillmore, original member of Florida country-rockers Cowboy.  In fact, it was during my research regarding Bill’s own album, Look In, Look Out, his first recorded project since leaving Cowboy back in the early seventies, that I even found out that Bill had a daughter.  There were two, in fact, Jess the elder, Rose the younger.  To my knowledge, though, Jess is the one to have recorded and it is Jess I interviewed, along with producer/sideman Dan Phelps (if you missed his interview— and I think it a really good one— you can access it by clicking here), regarding that recording.


I could go into detail as to why the album impresses me but I have done so in the past and there is no reason to repeat myself.  Suffice it to say that it was an overwhelming choice, so much so that I set about interviewing both Pillmore and Phelps right away.  Both had revealing insights regarding the music business at the time, the making of the album, the process and the result.  I chose to post the entire Phelps interview last week.  I shall now do so with that of Jess Pillmore.  Parts of both interviews stray here and there from the subject of the album, but I chose to include the complete body to give their thoughts a proper setting with very little editing and to give their thought processes full rein.

Pick out of this what you will, but keep in mind that the interview is ten years old, that the immediate task was to make a commercial album— one which might vault Jess into the public eye and ear, and Dan, too.

Dan, as I mentioned last week, has taken his work deeper into the mysterious world of recording and now produces, works as sideman, and creates his own works (as well as test driving new equipment).  Jess and her clown husband (Yes, he is an actual clown, or plays one on TV) have expanded their ideas regarding the arts into an interactive group they call Creatively Independent, a ‘school’ set up to allow the arts room to  grow (to learn more, click here).


Also keep in mind that this was one of only a few interviews I had conducted at this point.  I was working my way through a kelp forest.  It shows.  No apology, just a fact.

What you need to know to understand the first section:  Jess had just completed two tours— one on the East Coast with Ron Morris (and a couple of shows with father Bill, too)— and one on the West Coast with Bill (I stopped by for a show at a small coffeehouse in SE Portland).  It was Jess’s first real attempt at booking shows outside of her immediate area and gives a view of what it must be like to book shows into venues blind.

 The Jess Pillmore Interview….

Q:       What did you think about your Northwest tour?

Jess:   It’s what Dad said.  Dad called it chalk.  We chalked it up.  We chalked it up to more work.  It was a bit lower than my expectations, but that’s what you get with expectations.

Q:       How was it set up?  Did you do it all yourself?

Jess:   Yes.  I booked it all.

Q:       So you went into the majority of the venues blind?

Jess:   Yes.  You know, I love the Internet and most of the time I won’t book things unless I have friends who have gone through it or a venue has a really detailed website, because that tells me that they are booking savvy too.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have as much time to put the Northwest tour together as the East Coast tour I put together.  I put that one together six months in advance.  Because that is what you really need to do, I found out.  For the Northwest tour, I had maybe two and a half months, closer to two, to put it together and, going through the tour, I saw the difference.  I saw the difference in what you can book eight weeks out and  what you need to book six months out.

(An aside:  Jess sent me these notes after seeing the interview on paper— Dad helped with the follow-through of the tour.  I did the major research and booking and he was extremely instrumental in the final steps.  And Ron and I both booked the East Coast tour— sorry about the confusion.) 

Q:       So you’re looking at this as a learning experience?

Jess:   Completely.  It is both a business and an art.  And I would like the art to kind of feed my mouth so I have to treat it like a business.  I’m a spreadsheet girl, pros and billpillmorecon.  No matter what, I had never played the Northwest except for Humboldt County and a bit of Northern California, so it was a positive step.  That’s the first time Dad had gone on a long tour like that since the seventies, so, needless to say, that was a big thing too.

Q:       How did he handle it?

Jess:   Good.  I was really lucky to be joined with him and with Ron Morris on my tour on the East Coast with him because, and maybe it’s the Capricorn in me, I have a tendency to be really hard on myself.  I have really high expectations.  And since it was their first time doing extensive tours also, they kept it really light.  Like, this is just a roaming classroom.

Q:       So the tour you did with Ron, the Apples and Oranges tour, was the first time for him?

Jess:   Yes.

Q:       He had basically just played New York to that point?

Jess:   He was strictly a New Yorker.  And that’s such a different beast, all and of itself.  It was really great to see him outside of those venues because the people were so different.  I mean, people are different everywhere, but in New York there is so much to do and so much going on.  You are basically renting a room and promising that you will bring people there.  There is not necessarily a crowd which will show up every Friday or Saturday whether you’re playing or not, so there is really no way to get a cross section of your fan base and someone who accidentally stumbles into the venue.

Q:       Your first show was New York City.  And that’s Ron’s home turf.

ron morrisJess:   It is.

Q:       So the vast majority of people who showed probably knew or knew of Ron.

Jess:   Oh, yes.  We packed the place and it was probably 70% Ron and 30% me, sort of.  Because I hadn’t played NYC in three, almost four years.  You have to reinvent the wheel if you don’t play a venue more often.  That is another thing I learned.

Q:       So going back was kind of starting from scratch?

Jess:   Yes,. Which isn’t bad, considering that the music has changed a little and advanced.  And it’s nice to see people who saw promise in you four years ago are still around and want to see what’s going on.  You know.  More of the hardcore, true and steady fans.  So that was cool.  It was interesting to start off in Ron’s neck of the woods and and start slowly working our way, literally, further and further from his comfort zone.

Q:       What process did he go through?  When he got away from that packed house and began to play before people who didn’t know who he was.

Jess:   You know what?  He thrives on that stuff.  I watched and tried to take notes.  He can work a room, and I don’t mean it like he’s not sincere because he is totally sincere.  I think it is the playwright in him.  He loves people’s stories.  And people love talking about themselves, so it is a good combo.  He just goes out there and asks them about themselves and that endears him to them.

Q:       During the show?

Jess:   Sometimes during the show.  Sometimes he will go out into the audience during the show, but mostly during breaks.  I get really shy.  I tend to focus on setup and what I need to do as a distraction because I am socially not very out there, but Ron is a total opposite.  By the end of the tour, I started picking up some of that from him, which is really cool.  I guess he’s making honest connections— he was on that tour— which is pretty neat.

Q:       Have you noticed the changes happening toward the end of the tour— do you still have them?  Or are you falling back into your old patterns?

Jess:   There is always that pull, but I’m trying to force myself to keep it in perspective and to keep reminding myself of that.  Honestly, the momentum and the repetition of the tour, in that manner, helps kick out the bad habits, but we’ll see.

Q:       Where were you when you posted the message on MySpace when you said, remind me why I do this?

Jess:   I don’t know.

Q:       You must have been in an opposite spectrum at that time.

Jess:   Probably.  I can’t remember exactly when that was, but I go through spells of not quite understanding why it’s so hard.  Sometimes I think I’ve figured it out.  You know, it’s kind of like reading someone’s bluff at a poker game?  It’s okay, I’ve got your tell, I’ve figured it out.  As soon as I begin to make adjustments that way, I’m totally off.  I think it was part of that.

I am trying to do a bunch of things, not necessarily live shows, either.  And people want to book what they know, which is understandable.  And then again, people want to…  I don’t know.  It’s a bunch of things, I guess.  It’s just the racket of trying to sell yourself, and it is such a personal thing you’re putting out there, that when people say no a lot, it’s hard not to take it personally.

Q:       Do you find having to do the business side of things detracts from the music?  Is it positive or negative?

Jess:   I think it’s positive.  I’m a get-my-fingers-in-the-dirt kind of a girl.  I think that learning all the aspects of the art— part of the art is getting other people to hear it.  I mean, if I was just doing it for myself, it would be like being agoraphobic.  Like not leaving your home.  So I have to get out there and I think these things help me to solidify what I am trying to say.  I mean, if people want to know about your music in five words, I really have to know it.  I can’t flim-flam and say it’s kind of like this, or take the easy way out and say it is not definable. 

Q:       How do you do it in five words?  How to you do it in five sentences or even five paragraphs?

Jess:   It’s hard.  When I’m talking with a person, one-on-one, I usually try to find out about them.  Because it’s all relative anyway, right?  Soulful to you might be totally different to you than to me.  So that’s the first barrier.  Trying to see what is their glossary of terms.  Once I do that, I can start to go, okay, it’s a little of this and a little of that and then use my imagination.  Obviously, it is not a hardcore combination of this particular period of music or these particular artists or this particular texture, but it at least fences them in a little bit.

Q:       Do you find that because your music is your music that it is harder to explain?  I mean, if you were going to talk about your dad’s album, wouldn’t you find talking about that a completely different thing?  Or possibly somebody who you don’t know who like…  I don’t know if your dad’s album is a good example because of your connection to it.

Jess:   Well, anything that you’re personally connected to.  I mean, if I described Joni Mitchell‘s Court and Spark, it would be different than someone else’s description because I have memory moments connected to a lot of those songs.  I think it might be easier to describe other people’s music only in the sense that I more than likely will do it on a shallow level.  But the deeper you go, the more gray you get.  Then, you get black & white.  I think.

Q:       So let’s go back to memory moments.  Are you talking in terms of things that happened to you when the music happened to be there?  Or are you talking about the fact that the music just overwhelmed you at a certain point?

Jess:   Probably a little of both.  I think we all have those albums that we put on loops which pretty much crystallizes a certain period of time, whether it’s the ninth grade or a particular relationship.  You know.  You get over a breakup and all you did was play this album for a week and it becomes ingrained in your psyche, so the next time you break up with someone, you immediately think of that album.  Things like that are interesting that way and that’s what I meant about the Mitchell album.  But there are tons of albums which can be like that.

Q:       Pertaining to your label.  Why Road Worm?

Jess:   It was Dad’s old touring mobile.  As far as the name.  They toured in a hearse.

cowboy1bQ:       Cowboy?

Jess:   Yeah.  Cowboy toured in a hearse for a little while, way back when.  Way back when.  So it was named that and the way the name came to be used was out of necessity.  I had songs we were going to put down so we thought…

Q:       For your Demo CD?

Jess:   Yeah, that’s Promo.  Little Baby Jess.  So we were putting that down and we just decided, let’s do this.  If we’re going to do it, why not do it right out of the gate instead of just making this little demo, which was saying that it’s not really anything and we’re not committed to doing any more.  So we said, let’s start it up and see what happens.  Then I did Slightly Skewed, which was the second project.  And I think Mark Williams and Ron’s records happened about that time too.  They went into the studio about that time.  And then Dad.  So it kind of grew out of that.  The label grew out of necessity.

Q:       So what was Bill doing when this whole Road Worm thing came to life?  Did he have equipment in his house at that point?

Jess:   Yeah.  Dad was always into the music.

Q:       Did he have actual recording equipment, though?

Jess:   You know, I really can’t remember.  We lived in Ponte Vedra, Florida, and I was maybe twelve or thirteen then.  And he had a little room where he played his music and stuff.

Q:       How weird was that?

Jess:   We were used to it.  We always had a piano— a piano-piano in the house.  And Dad had all his guitars.  Before he started to put stuff down, he was always playing or improvising.  It just became part of the house landscape.  Dad’s sitting there and you’re telling him something and he’s playing.  But listening.

Q:       Did you ever say to your friends, oh God, Dad’s playing again?  Let’s get out of the house?

Jess:   No.  I just remember that sometimes when he was working something out, he would repeat the same two bars over and over again until he got past it.  (laughs)  It was like a stutter.  A musical stutter.  It makes sense to me now that I play music.  He would get obsessed with it.  Why can’t I just do this one little pull-off or why can’t I do this one little chord change.  You do it for as long as it takes, but for anybody else it was like Chinese water torture.

Q:       I’ve never heard it expressed quite that way, but it makes sense.  I think I will send him a copy of this interview so he can see what he did to you.

Jess:   Oh, no.  He knows.  (laughs)  I mean, that’s the thing.  I talked to a friend of mine who is a psychiatrist and she said that she thought that, sometimes, all artists may have OCD sensibilities about them.  And we do.  We become obsessed.

Q:       Singer/songwriters to a large degree, I think.  The talented ones.

Jess:   Well, all.  You think about painters, if you look at the layers on a canvas, how many times they have actually repainted it.  I don’t know, but you get into the minutiae of it sometimes.  You forget everything else that is out there.

Q:       Do you think all of the successful ones are…

Jess:   I don’t know.  I think anybody who is into it, is that’s what successful means.  I think they allow themselves to delve into that completely.  It is a scary place.  You keep going and it’s like, I am going to find this out.  So, yeah, I guess the success in that is that they do, because really what it is is something that they’re trying to work out in themselves.  Ourselves.  And you keep at it until something gives.  You know?

Q:       When did you notice this in yourself?

Jess:   The obsessive craziness?

Q:       Yeah.

Jess:   Well, I was always in the arts.  In the family folklore, I was dancing before I could stand.  Like I would hold onto things to dance.  I think that was partly because of the whole idea that music was around our house all the time.  My mom’s a huge music fan.  She had a really eclectic listening station kind of a thing.  And my dad was always playing and he has a wide range of music tastes too.  So music was everywhere.  I was dancing at three and then started taking classes and stuff like that.

Q:       Because you wanted to?

Jess:   Oh, yeah.  I was a dance major in high school.  I did it all the way through.  And I started doing choreography…

Q:       What high school was that?


Jess:   It’s a performing arts high school in Jacksonville, Florida called Douglas Anderson— DASOTA.  Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.  I got my dance major there.  I was mostly between the dance school and the theater department because I would choreograph shows for the theater department and for a lot of the community theaters in the area.  Since I was fourteen, I was choreographing community theater, which was weird because it was a small community— just the artist community in a small community in general— and I would be choreographing my teachers.  Not at school.  You see what I’m saying?  They were all artists outside of the school and that was their venue, so I was telling them what to do and Monday morning they would be asking me if my papers were ready.  So it got a little weird.

Q:       Did it work?

Jess:   Yes.  The thing I think is so neat about the theater community is how accepting it is.  I mean, everybody has their little cliques and stuff like that, but I was completely accepted.  Which was really wonderful.  And it got me hooked into music on a totally different level.  I never experienced the garage band kind of thing.  I was friends with people in the music department at the school, people who had their own rock bands and stuff like that.  Some of them have gone on to amazing things.  I would go see their shows, so I had contacts and memories that way.  But really, I was a musical theater geek and that is pretty much what I did, 24/7.  Looking back, I can see that I’ve been doing it for a long time.  I guess that’s why I went to New York.  And I majored in theater in college.

Q:       At?

Jess:   Florida State.  Another Pillmore at Florida State.  (laughs)

Q:       So, basically, you were doing choreography.  That was your first real delving into the Arts?

Jess:   That was my first job.  I got paid as a choreographer.

Q:       At what point did it turn into Theater?

Jess:   It turn into strictly theater in college.  I was still choreographing strictly dance pieces as well as theater and musical theater pieces.  They are all their own little world.  Movement for actors as opposed to movement for musical theater gypsies as opposed to the dance world, in and of itself.  But I got more into theater theater in college.  That’s when I started picking up things like stage combat as other forms of movement on stage.  I was totally drawn to the idea of it because I’m such a pacifist.  I thought that that was the best way for me to understand violence.  Or it was at least “a” way because I am such a physical person.  It is still really hard for me to get my brain wrapped around, but I like to think that maybe there is a way to change the violence in the world by putting it up on stage and letting people draw their own conclusions on why people do what they do.

Q:       Was it difficult for you to do?

Jess:   It was when I started getting into the acting part of it.  When it was just steps, it was rad.  I loved it.  It was just an extension of dance.  It was a neat form of partnering, too.  And prop study.  Because the sword and the quarterstaff— you know, the big long poles— and the knives— all that kind of stuff is just an extension of you.  And that was awesome to me.  I immediately befriended, my freshman year in college, the teacher because we were both choreographing one of the main plays for the season.  I was the dance choreographer and he was the fight choreographer.  We started to trade.  We started to barter.  So I was taking, like, one-on-one sword classes with him and would teach him dance moves to alter his choreography.  It was neat.  I got hooked.

Q:       You were bleeding each other for information?

Jess:   You know that it’s the artists form of payment, don’t you?  I can do this and I will teach you how if you teach me how to do that. 

thatclownguyMy husband just got back from the circus world.

Q:       The clown guy?

Jess:   The clown guy.  That’s right.  And they were bartering up a storm because he was teaching combat because of all the slapstick possibilities and the prop study in that.  When he came home he was juggling clubs and he’d gotten up on  the wire and stuff like that.  Because it’s a neat way to learn.  It’s a bit like cooking somebody your favorite dish.  It’s like, here’s how you get to know me a little better and now we have something in common to talk about.  And the other person goes, cool, now here is something of me.

Q:       Is that how you developed your relationship with your husband initially?

Jess:   Yeah.  (laughs)  It was quick, though.  It was quicker than that.  He and I went to a month-long combat school thing in Vegas.  It was intense.

Q:       Bill called it fight school.

Jess:   Yeah.  Fight School.  It was.  It was with a union for Fight Directors.  The founder of it was there as a guest for a week.  He paired us up on the second day. And he wouldn’t let us partner with anybody else for that week.

Q:       Why was that?

Jess:   Because we were perfect together.  So we got to know one another really, really fast and realized that we really were perfect together.

Q:       So it continued from there?

Jess:   It did.  We got to know each other extremely well.  It’s one thing, too, when you’re with a small group of people who were together almost 24/7 for a month.  In this really surreal world of fighting with multiple weapons and this physical exhaustion of doing it in the Vegas heat.  And it was all so cool because when you find people like that— who dig this really small thing that most people do not even understand— you get an immediate kind of camaraderie.  So that was working for us and that clicked too.  I think about a month later, I was in New York and was releasing Skewed and we saw each other again.  And a month after that, he drove down to Florida with his life in his car.

Q:       He came down to get you?

Jess:   To stay with me.  Because that’s where I was at the time.  I had left New York maybe eight months before.  And we got married the year after that, in Vegas.

Q:       Did it shock you when he came down?

Jess:   I knew he was coming.  It was one of those things like— I don’t think it’s just me, but it might be— but a lot of times people have a fear of getting what they want.  And to put it out there and say, why don’t you come down to Florida and we’ll see if this works…..  And he did.

Q:       So you weren’t sure if he would even come.

Jess:   No.

Q:       I’m not getting too personal here, am I?

Jess:   No.

Q:       I mean, I’m not going to ask you any questions about your sex life or anything, so I think I’m pretty safe, but some people don’t like answering questions like this.  Maybe because they separate their musical and private lives.

Jess:   Right.  Which is true.

Q:       I don’t think it is true in your case.  And maybe not in his.  I don’t know.  You talk so much of your private life in your art.

Jess:   I think because we teach each other…  We have a business together.  I think that is one reason it is natural for me to talk about him in that sense.

Q:       What do you teach?

Jess:   Performing Arts.  We travel, mostly up and down the East Coast, but we’re starting to branch out.  We have a business called Creatively Independent (click here).  We book ourselves out.  We’re starting to bring on more artists who do things we don’t.  We’re trying to bring Arts back into education, from elementary all the way to college.  We also do at-risk and community centers.  We have some artists who want to bring in more retirement home aspects and we want to do some corporate.  But we feel that the Arts are being tapped out, being kicked out of everything as an option.  Not as a career, necessarily, but as a tool for communication.  And we think we’re going to feel the repercussions of that.

Q:       You mean, of taking the Arts out of the education system?

Jess:   Yes.

Q:       Don’t you think we are already feeling the repercussions?

Jess:   I do, but I think it is going to be stronger than we can imagine.  Just in the sense of what is not going to be invented.  Because no one’s being taught to shake the boat.  And what they are going to get away with because we are taught we shouldn’t shake the boat.

Q:       How the hell do you think Bush got voted in the second time?

Jess:   I can’t imagine why he’s still in.  And I think it’s a hard thing that when we start to teach people that things are either black or white, or it’s either yes or no, or that you’re either with me or against me.  There is no rational thought in that.  There is no ability to communicate, no understanding of someone else’s point of view and not being afraid that it threatens your own.

Q:       Don’t you find that attitude in the Arts too?

Jess:   That it’s either black or white?

Q:       Yes.  Not speaking of artists, but I’m finding that the consuming public does not want to hear or see things they are not into at all.

Jess:   I don’t know.  The hopeful part of me makes me want to think that it’s the chicken and the egg thing.  It is do they feel that way because they are told to feel that way, by advertisers and marketers and the like?

Q:       How much effect do you think that kind of stuff has on the masses?

Jess:   For the amount of money being put into it, I would think a lot.  I mean, a month or two ago there was…  and I don’t know the details of it, though I need to look it up again.  Because it is such an amazing thing.  I read about how a State was suing a major record label for fraud because they were hiring people to call into radio shows…..

Q:       I remember that.

Jess:   In fact, they even put in a memo that they wanted it 18-24 year old male, this is the time they normally call and this is what we want you to do…  all this to make it seem as if the public wanted that song number 1.

Q:       Okay, let me ask you this.  In terms of the Arts, when you have a business setup, and in stocks and bonds what they would call the way we do business, when you slough it over to the Art side, where do you draw the line?

Jess:   Draw the line on what?

Q:       Let’s say music.  Music is an industry.  It is not just an Art.  So now you’re talking about something like selling stocks and bonds where it is perfectly okay to do certain things (of course, you have to fall within SEC regulations so that you are not profiting unethically, though who knows how far ethics go in such things).  But now you’re talking about music.  You are talking about ‘public airwaves’.  Don’t you think that a certain amount of the business which sloughs over onto the music side, where the State is saying you can’t do this on the ‘public airwaves’ the way that you can do individual business trades.  What I’m asking is, how much does that affect the music industry itself?  Is it as prevalent as some people believe?

Jess:   Yeah.  I think it all stems from…  I think it’s a problem people have with politics today, too.  All of it stems from the same place, which is that a group of people think that, as a whole, we are like cattle and can’t make up our own minds and that they need to make up our minds for us.  And whether that’s through playing the same songs so much that you just can’t get it out of your head.  It’s not because you like a song, but because they wear you down.  Have you ever hummed a song that you don’t like but you’ve heard every day at least five or six times a day?

Q:       Yeah.  The Letter (The Box Tops).  I hated that song but now, like you said, it is a moment in time.

Jess:   Right.  And they made that moment for you whether you wanted it or not.  You know, it takes a really strong-willed person to cut off that line of communication.  I don’t think we would buy as many things as we do if we didn’t have a television to tell us what to buy.  I swear to God, I’ll be sitting there at 11:30 at night after finishing doing something and Chris and I are just sitting watching television and by midnight, we’re hungry.  It’s not because we are hungry.  It is because we’ve seen a hundred pizza and cereal commercials and fast food commercials.  I mean, all of a sudden, we’re hungry.

Q:       This is why brain studies are so fascinating.  I’ve watched all of the brain study programs I can find on TV and I wonder.  Corporations say that you won’t buy what they are selling unless you want it yet they put tons and tons of money into their advertising.  And I’m thinking, if it really is as simple as a matter of choice, why are they putting all of that money into it.  There is a dichotomy there.  But the Arts.  That’s a whole other issue.  And when business comes over to the Art side, I’m wondering how much of an effect it has on the Art itself.

Jess:   I think that’s what a lot of artists are afraid of.  That is part of the reason that Chris and I developed Creatively Independent, and that is a lot of what Dad and I are talking about with Road Worm.  The idea to help educate the artists in not just that person’s Art, but other art forms that could influence their art.  Because it is not just music.  It is the visualization and the inspiration of it.  There are so many things that can bleed into an art form.  But it is also how to be independent financially and to really know what you want to shoot for.  I don’t know where it stems from and I don’t know if it is kind of the chicken and the egg thing too— a lot of the artists I talk to feel that.  If you start talking money to them, even if it’s something as innocuous as we want to put on this play and this is what we want—  and we’re talking all art here— and then I will ask, okay, where are you going to rehearse?  They’ll go, we have this rental space.  Okay, how much is it and how many nights are you going to need to rehearse and what is your budget and are you going to do costumes and, if so, how much?  All of that stuff.  And as soon as you start talking numbers, a lot of times the artists will either shut down or get defensive.  Really, really defensive.  Like I’m talking about their art form as if I’m saying they can’t do it.  I mean, I’m not saying they can’t do it, I’m just asking how are they going to do it.  Because that is going to affect your art.

Q:       I am sure there are a lot of people whose art is totally unknown because of that.  Because they basically shut down and refuse to go to that place.

Jess:   That, or possibly thinking in steps they can’t afford yet.  And so, instead of getting to those steps, they shut down.  Or they blow it on one thing and then don’t have money to promote the thing.  Or to rent the venue to play the music or put the show on.  Or to get the tickets to the people so they can get their money back.  So that they can actually start to do another one.

Q:       So let’s apply this to Road Worm.  What did you have when you started other than a handful of equipment?

Jess:   As far as Road Worm?  We had no money to buy the CD art.  My dad and I did the artwork for the CD on a computer.  Promo is the only one of the three albums that I still— and it’s because I like it— that I still burn and print out and put together the CD from scratch.  Whenever anybody buys Promo.  It grounds me.  It is how I started.  I kind of had the ability to do the math on this is how many I can sell, this is what the cut is if I buy in bulk.

Q:       So Promo was always commercial?  The way your dad described it, it was only done as a demo so you could get gigs.

Jess:   It was, but people started wanting it.

Q:       So it was a demo to begin with.

Jess:   Yeah.  The thing Dad says is that part of the reason we called it Promo is that then we wouldn’t have to worry whether people wanted to buy it or not.  Because, technically, it’s a promo.

Q:       Was that because he worried about your reaction?

Jess:   I don’t know.  Dad loves word play.  I really have no idea.  He might have said that in a protective way, like don’t get your hopes up.

Q:       Does he worry about you in terms of how you are relating to success or lack thereof?

Jess:   I don’t know.  I don’t answer for him.

Q:       You haven’t talked with him about it?

Jess:   It’s not so much that.  I know the things we talk about as far as Road Worm and how both of us are tackling the whole singer/songwriter self-produced thing differently is that I’ve learned from him that this is an acceptable art form and an acceptable form of communication.  Like a family lineage kind of thing.  I have seen him do it.  I’ve seen him stop doing it and do the store and raise a family and then start up again.  But I feel that I am trying to take the next step which is that not only is it a viable art form, but also a viable form of putting food on the table.

Q:       Do you think that if your dad hadn’t left Cowboy at a crucial point that his life would have been music?

Jess:   I don’t know.

Q:       Have you ever asked him?

Jess:   Well, it’s hard, you know, because who knows?  I don’t think he would know.

Q:       Still, have you ever talked with him about it?

cowboyJess:   I think that what I’ve picked up from what his experiences were with the Capricorn label on the level he was at, what I talk with him about is just the logistics and marketing and all of that.  I mean, the actual how-you-get-an-artist-out-there.  That hasn’t changed.  I went to a Folk Alliance workshop and it was great because this woman described it as four wheels on a car and you have to have all four wheels going for the car to move.  You know.  Live shows, a product, marketing, and press.  People have to know where you are going to be, you have to be at that place, you have to have something to give them when they leave.  All of that has to be going.  So that was all happening with Cowboy.  The difference was that he had no idea what the numbers were.

Q:       Evidently, nobody did.

Jess:   Yeah, I know.  It was horrible.

Q:       But here is what he did have.  He had a marketing, promotional and distribution outlet.  That is what you didn’t have, in terms of where you were when you started.  All you had was product.  Am I correct?

Jess:   Right.

Q:       He had that.  Now the question is, can you develop, say, just for Road Worm… I mean, has your dad ever talked about wanting to tie into distribution or anything like that?

Jess:   Well, that’s all new ground.  Like anything, I’m always trying to research a couple of steps ahead of where I am.  Just in case, God willing, all of the dominoes fall exactly into place and the next thing I know, I’m further along than I thought I would be.  And that’s true for Road Worm too.  But I’m nationally distributed right now.  I had done research on what to ask for and how to deal with the contract.

Q:       How did you tie up with Lujo?

Jess:   Danny played the CD for a friend of his who was hooked up with Lujo Records.  He has a band on that label and he had helped start it.  Lujo is kind of a co-op in the sense that artists all have different kinds of deals— they all have their own deals.  Anyway, it is a really nice outlet for artists trying to take that next step.  Dan’s friend contacted the president, Eric, and Eric gave me a call.  I sent him CD clips.  He was into it and told me what their label could afford at that time— like where they were at and what their projection was.  From there, I developed a deal with them.  I swear to God, it literally came the day before my artwork came.  If I’d gotten that phone call, say, two days later, all of my stuff would have been at the manufacturing company under Road Worm and I would have received X number of copies and would have done everything I had planned to do, like radio and all the promotion stuff.

Q:       So you’re sitting there the day before you get your artwork and he says, okay, if you want to do it, let’s do it?  Exactly where was your artwork at that point?

Jess:  It was in my hand.  I was final-proofing it, so it had to go back back immediately because we had to include info about Lujo on it.  We had to use their code.

Q:       So you had to add the barcode so it would go out as Lujo?

Jess:   Pretty much.    It is distributed through Lujo.

Q:       It is Road Worm/Lujo, but it is a Lujo number.

jessrevealalbumcoverJess:   It’s a Lujo number because the distribution company, Nail, only takes on labels.  This is something I found out in researching, that large nationally-distributed companies only take labels which have X-amount-plus, let us say five-plus artists.  So they take the whole catalogue.  It is not in their interest to take an individual artist.

Q:       Did you talk to any distributors besides Lujo?

Jess:   I had sent out CDs.  I had been sending them out for awhile and I wasn’t getting any responses.

Q:       Are you talking about Slightly Skewed?

Jess:   I sent out Slightly Skewed, but I was also sending out Reveal.  Early copies of it.

Q:       Pre-artwork copies?

Jess:   Yes.  I was kind of seeing what was going on and wasn’t really getting anything.  I wasn’t hitting the pavement hard on it, to be honest.  I was doing it myself and trying to tackle things on a smaller scale.  But when Lujo came in, the deal we worked out was everything I asked for, which is nice.  It keeps it still in my pocket.  You supply them, which is great, because then I can figure out my own costs.  It just kicked into gear.  If I’m going to do it, I need to do it.  The deal made me put up or shut up.

Q:       Let’s go back to Promo.  What were your numbers?  You said you were saying, this is how many I think I can sell.  For your first run.

Jess:   I really couldn’t tell you right off the top of my head.

Q:       Five hundred?  A thousand?

Jess:   Oh, no.  Small.  So small.  Because I was making these all by hand.  I’d make 25, then I’d make another 25.

Q:       So after you sold the 25, did you say, oh boy, I sold 25?  Or did you say, oh God, now I have to go do 25 more?

Jess:   It was just what I had to do.  It was economics.  Supply and demand.

pillmoreskewedQ:       Okay.  So then, Slightly Skewed was released.  This was an actual package.  Full artwork.

Jess:   Yeah.  (laughs)  Of course, I got some crazy reviews about the artwork.

Q:       What?  They would say thing like…?

Jess:   Like, who is that?  I get that a lot.

Q:       Like, weird hair?

Jess:   Like, who is that.  It happens.  And, again, we’re all learning things.  I had different artwork.  It kind of fell through while it was at the plant and I had to make a decision on whether to change the artwork and put production behind a couple of weeks or go ahead with what you see now, which was done a lot over the phone with the company, and get them within the time that I needed.  Because I was playing a really big benefit in Chicago and I had to have them.  That was a learning thing for me.  A lot of it comes down to preparation and time.  And if I haven’t done enough in those two categories, I am usually screwed.

Q:       What did you think about it when it was done?  Did you already know what it was going to look like?  Did they send a picture before printing?

Jess:   Oh, yeah.  I totally knew.  I think they did a great job with what I gave them.  No, I knew what it would look like.  It was just one of those things.  I was pressed for time and had painted myself into a corner.  I didn’t want to play such a huge gig and only have Promo.  So, again, it was another one of those things where it was put up or shut up and let’s just get it out there.

Q:       Okay, so you’re sitting on Promo and it is selling, small numbers though they be.  Now, Road Worm is not a viable operation at this time except maybe as a hobby?

Jess:   I don’t really know how Dad might have described it to you, but it is a label, but not in the sense that everybody calls a label a label.  We don’t put money into the artists on our label.  They own their masters.  So that alone sets us apart, big time.  The whole thing with Road Worm is that we were working on a really, really small budget.  Part of what Dad and I offer the artist is that we sit down with the artist and ask, what can you afford?  What do you want to do with this album?  For instance, Mark Williams came in with a grant, so he had parameters.  Dad worked within those.  I wasn’t there for that— I sang on it, which was cool— but that was  more Dad’s project.  Ron Morris was more myself and Dad.  But the whole thing is more a matter of helping them search out mastering companies which are affordable for the artist but which do quality work, like Airshow.  Kind of help them out.  We don’t just record them and say good luck.

Q:       Still, you’re a label.  Maybe you might called yourself a vanity label or something like that, where the artist pays for everything themselves, but they are being released through Road Worm, right?

Jess:   I guess we’re trying a new thing.  Unlike a vanity label, wherein it is really just a cover and the artist does everything him- or herself, we don’t let just anybody come into Road Worm.

Q:       And that would be the big difference?

Jess:   Yes.  And we’re still trying to keep a collective of artists who…  I think it’s really interesting that all of the artists on the label are teachers to one extent or another.  Teachers in the arts.  There is that big picture that we want to do with Road Worm, connected with the company my husband and I have (Creatively Independent), which will help make artists even more independent in that sense, if they want to be a part of Road Worm.

Q:       Now, you’re talking in terms of you.  What does your dad think?

Jess:   That was what was so cool about touring with him on the East Coast.  We had hours in the car to hash it out.  I think Road Worm, for a couple of years— well, since it was started— we established it and then forgot about it.  We started focusing on the little things such as the projects themselves or the artists themselves, and it was always under Road Worm.  We finally got a chance to touch base, now that things are going in a stronger direction for us both.  He has an album out, which alone is a huge step away from where he was when Road Worm started.  That was never said out loud, was never an option.  He was not focusing on putting his own stuff down.

Q:       Was it hard to convince him he needed to do it?

Jess:   Yeah.  (laughs)  But it was okay that it was hard.

Q:       Why was he reluctant?

Jess:   You would have to ask him that.

Q:       I’ve asked him.  He evaded the question.

Jess:   Well, it’s a lot of things.  What stops any of us from doing the things we want to do?  I mean, it’s all based on a lot of the same fears, but I would really be just speculating.

Q:       Dan and I had a talk about it and we were trying to figure out exactly why Bill was so reluctant to do it to begin with.  Dan has a theory about your dad.  His theory is that your dad is laid back and maybe too much.  My theory is that… you know, as much as he told me that it was time to move on when Cowboy split, I think it crushed him.  I mean, I think he was sitting on top of what could have been a major release of that period (5’ll Getcha Ten) and he was out the door before it was even pressed.  I think it affected him so much that he crawled up inside himself and said, “I’m not going through that again.”

Jess:   I don’t know.  I mean, they’re both legit, both sides of him.  I could totally see either of those.

Q:       But, see, I’m looking at it from the standpoint of someone who doesn’t know him.  Dan at least knows him.

Jess:   Yeah, but everyone knows certain parts of every person, right?  I mean, Dan knows him differently.  Dan knows him from a certain perspective and, again, what we were talking about way back at the beginning, from his own glossary of terms.  How he interprets body language and phrases and actions and things like that.  So do I, and so do you.  I think what’s interesting about it is the fact that when I wanted to do music— and it came out of nowhere— I just of a sudden started writing songs…..

Q:       All of a sudden, one day you just said I have to write?

Jess:   Literally.  I sang a song to Dad and said I need to find chords behind this because the song won’t leave my brain.  And that’s how I started playing.

Q:       So you didn’t have the wherewithal musically to sit down and…

Jess:   Not on the guitar.  And for some odd reason, I felt like it had to be on guitar.  I knew the piano.  I took piano lessons as a child.  I wasn’t very good at it because I just stopped.  But for some odd reason, I needed to do it on guitar and I needed to get it out of my head.  And it was a full, fleshed-out song.  It is actually on Promo.  But I think it is interesting that if that is the case— if he really felt burnt by the whole Cowboy experience— I don’t know.  If that is the case, I would think that makes him a very strong person to not only help me go into an abyss that made him feel like that, but help me to do it on my own terms.  You know what I mean?  Because you would think he would be over-protective of his children in that sense.

Q:       You know, I wonder one reason that he might have wanted to do the tour with you is so he could give you that perspective.  Because if you were out there alone— let’s face it, you go to a place like Haven up in Portland and no one’s there— nights like that can teach you a lot.  And to suck it up and put on a performance— it’s like playing in a club where you really hope that people are going to listen and all you can hear is the clinking of glasses and loud chatter and yelling at the waiters.  These are instances which really teach you.  And I’m thinking that maybe what your dad was thinking that it would show you not only what you have, but he could be there in case you needed perspective.

Jess:   Maybe so, maybe so…

Q:       What kind of relationship do you have with your father?  Is it just a typical father/daughter relationship or has it changed since you started writing and performing music?

Jess:   I think it is definitely something which has developed differently since we started doing the music together.  It’s a totally different world.  It’s like learning a new language.  We both speak the language, but from totally different perspectives.  It’s nice to have that kind of tete-a-tete thing going.  We have a really good relationship, I think.

Q:       So he’s not the slobbering drunk you wrote the song about?

Jess:   No.  No.  That’s not my story at all.

Q:       Well, this is the shock of it.  When I was listening to Reveal— well, when I talked to Dan, he was saying (and please take this in perspective), he’s hearing your songs and saying that it was hard to work with you at times because he knew how you had to dig deep within yourself and bring out things that you did not necessarily want to relive or re-experience.  And I was thinking that the songs on this album had to be very personal.  I  mean, I know that all of it isn’t you, but at the same time I’m scratching my head and thinking, well, maybe your dad was a bum at one time, when he was young or something.  Because so many of the musicians turned out to be.  Many of them went through phases of drugs and alcoholism.

Jess:   I think it’s really interesting that when you see musicians of a certain age who are still doing music, kinda sorta, and they’re getting high with the kids and everything, you have to think what’s wrong with this picture.  You know what I mean?  Of course, that may sound stereotypical of me.

Q:       They are?  I don’t know any of those musicians, I guess.

Jess:   I guess they’re people who still like, for whatever reason, we sedate ourselves using different forms.  Different methods.  Some people sedate themselves with food.  Some people sedate themselves with drugs or alcohol or what have you.

Q:       We all have our balances, yeah.

Jess:   Right, but I think it’s interesting when… I don’t know.  You go to a certain group and I don’t know if it’s because of the generation— like, whether it’s because they’re coming out of the generation of the sixties or seventies.  It seems like that generation had a totally different outlook on drugs.  I mean, as far as what their deal was and why they were doing it and what they wanted from it.  And to be in that zone twenty, twenty-five years later, I don’t understand it.

Q:       It seems odd to me too.  I’m always freaked out that people are still drinking like they used to when they were 25, too, because my body won’t let me anymore.

Jess:   Right.  So it seems kind of odd, in that sense, when I see people still doing it…  Like you were saying, had Dad not been kicked out of Cowboy, who knows?  He might have been like that.  But how different he is compared to the people his age who are still playing the bar circuit.

Q:       It’s a hard life, even when you’re not the one doing the alcohol and drugs.  Playing night after night in smoky bars…..

Jess:   I can’t imagine.  I really can’t.  I think that’s part of the reason I stopped playing in North Carolina.  It got to the point that I could play for four or five people or I could play, or I could play a smoky bar and get paid and check my heart at the door and pick it up at the end of the gig.  Because it is hard.  I have no idea how people do it.

jessrevealsessionsQ:       How emotionally taxing is it for you to perform?

Jess:   It’s pretty intense.

Q:       Every time?

Jess:   Yeah.

Q:       Even the gigs you look forward to playing?

Jess:   Oh, I don’t mind intensity.  It just is what it is.

Q:       That’s your dad’s phrase.

Jess:   It’s a good one to get you off the hook.  I enjoy playing with a band because I don’t feel so alone which gives me more of a chance to get wrapped up in the groove of it all.  When it’s just me and the words, it is much harder for me.  Just because I get sucked into that whole universe a little more intensely.  The band always loosens that up.

Q:       Have you played live with very many bands?

Jess:   Yeah.  It’s haphazard, you know?  I used to play with Craig, who is on the album.  Craig Barnette.  When I was in Jacksonville.  And Dan whenever he was around, he would come and play.  And Jeremy Wolfe, who played bass on Promo, when he lived in Jacksonville.  Dad would be on keyboards and Jeremy would play bass and Jeff Linvey would play drums.  Both Jeremy and Jeff I knew through Douglas Anderson.  They were older graduates.

Q:       Jeremy who?

Jess:   They are both on Promo— I mean, Promo came out of that in the sense that we started getting that together and we knew the songs, so we learned more songs and started playing gigs as a band.  They’re rad guys.  I just saw Jeremy.  He moved to D.C. and came to a show when I came through.  It was really neat.  But now he’s made the choice to not do music because he wants to make some money.  But he’s missing the music.  It was nice to reconnect with him.

Q:       Was he envious?

Jess:   No.  He’s quiet.  He looks like a bouncer.  He has that quiet thing going on.  He said it made him think a lot, for himself.  So, whatever will get the bass in his hands, that’s cool.  He’s really good.

Q:       Well, if he’s that good and it’s in his blood, he’ll be back.  I mean, look at how long it took your dad.

Jess:   I know.  It’s like we’re our own worst enemies.  Nothing’s in our way except us.

Q:       For artists more than anybody, I would think.

Jess:   I don’t know.  I don’t know.

Q:       Well, I think so.  Do you consider yourself more sensitive than the average person?

Jess:   Maybe I’m tapped into it.  I don’t think I have more sensitivity than other people.  Does that make sense?  I think that people learn how to turn it off, but we all have it.

Q:       What I’m saying is that that is like having a violent streak in us, you know?  You tap into it or you don’t.  So you’re saying that you’re more sensitive than the average person.

Jess:   I just think that there is a reason why people take Prozac and it might not be for the reason it is prescribed.  It might be because of whatever.  That they are unhappy with choices they are or are not making.  Or with what they feel.  Their sensitivity to issues.  I guess what I mean is that we all make life hard or easy on ourselves.

Q:       Granted.  And that is largely due to the learning experiences that we have and various other things like family situations and learning situations.  They all help to form us over a lifetime.  Okay, let’s talk about Dan for a bit.


Jess:   T.C.O. (Jess’s pet name for Phelps) I met T.C.O. Through Craig, the drummer.  I knew this producer in  Jacksonville and he was into doing a song of mine.  I don’t know if he was trying to feel it out to see if maybe we could do an album…  I don’t really know what the deal was, but basically we were just feeling one another out, and he did a song that Craig had played on.  I knew Craig from watching him play in various situations.  We were acquaintances, but I mainly got to know him through his playing.  We recorded a song and Craig played it for Danny in Orlando. (Craig and Danny were in a band together there)  And I don’t know.  (laughs)  Danny must have liked it because he invited me down to Full Sail where he worked to meet him and the engineer, Barrett Miller, who is rad.  So I met Dan for lunch and we started talking and he wanted to try a little three-song project.  He said, I have the studio and some people who could play on it and let’s see what we can come up with.  And that’s how it worked.  It was pretty quick.

Q:       So from that one song that you had worked out, he heard something and wanted to see what was there?

Jess:   I guess so.  It was cool.  We had a blast.  It was my first experience working in a real studio, and it was beyond my….

Q:       This was Promo, right?

Jess:   No.  This was post-Promo.  I had already done Promo and could then play a 45-minute set with a band or an hour-and-a-half by myself.  At the beginning of Promo, I could only play those five songs.  It was a very quick process.  But within a couple of months, I had to have a whole band set.  Because I was thinking I need to sell this album and get it out there.  I need to be able to fill 45 minutes.  Only four months before we did Promo, Dad was playing guitar and I was singing.  So it went really quick.

Q:       So you’re down at Full Sail and Dan says, okay, let’s work on some songs.  How many songs did you do there?

Jess:   We did a totally different version of Desperate Dreams and a totally different version of Atlanta.  Let’s see.  What else did we do?  I want to say we did five tunes?  Five or six.  And then he moved to California and I moved to North Carolina.  You know.  Things just started happening.  One of the things with the Orlando sessions was that, just like with anything, there are pluses and minuses.  One of the huge pluses was working with T.C.O. And working with Barrett and all of the artists down there, and working with the equipment.  One of the minuses… well, it wasn’t really a minus.  It was how I could afford to do it.  It was done on the free time of the studio— T.C.O.’s free time.  And on mine and the musicians’.  So I tried to make myself completely available for whenever the studio was free.  I would drive down.  It took a long time to get those done, you know.  Stuff happens and I think they were all lost— all of the sessions were lost on the hard drive.  I have the songs themselves, but the files were all offed.

Q:       So you were working on those tracks and out of those tracks came Slightly Skewed?

Jess:   Out of my impatience came Slightly Skewed.  I was ready.  And I was learning so much, I felt ready for more songs, basically.  I was writing a lot more and I was really digging on the studio life.  I mean, when we recorded Promo, it was one or two steps above recording a live band rehearsal.  It was still done individually, but there was no sense of oh, what-about-this-or-what-about-that, after the fact.  It was more like, this is my part and this is what I’ll play.  Which we had worked out in rehearsals.  Do you see what I’m saying?  There wasn’t a lot of studio, arty, funkiness going on.  And that was completely different in Orlando.  But I think the difference in Orlando was that I was really not a part of that.  I watched it happening and it made me really itchy to be part of it.  But I didn’t know enough.  I didn’t know enough to become a part of it.  I knew enough to shut up, which I think is a really good thing sometimes.  To know enough that you don’t know anything and that you need to learn.

Q:       A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?

Jess:   You know?  So I just shut up and sat in the booth and watched everything they were doing and tried to soak up as much as I could and ask questions when I wasn’t in the way.  But it made me itchy to try it on a smaller scale.  Plus, I didn’t know what was going to happen in Orlando or if it was going to finish or when or anything like that.  I didn’t want to concentrate on that because of the whole thing of waiting for free time.  So I got with Dad and we started putting down songs, just me and the guitar.  At first, Slightly Skewed was just going to be me and the guitar.  Then my ambition ran away with me and I started adding stuff.  Then I asked Danny to come up and asked Craig to play and Farris Nix, who is a friend of Craig’s.  They have a band together in Jacksonville called 3.  So we all, played.  Time was short when they came up but it was like a big slumber party.  We were all crashed out at the Wormhole, trying to put in as much as we could, and it was one of those kinds of things where the songs were pretty much all set up.  And I had a little more of an idea to ask for certain things from them as musicians, but not technical things.  Just in the way of texture and this is what I’m going for on this song.  I would paint them a picture or a scene of the song and they would go off on that.

Q:       How did that process work?

Jess:   I hope it worked okay for them.  They are good musicians so sometimes it is hard to tell.  I mean, would they sound good, regardless?  (laughs)  I think we had fun.  I mean, I like the album.  I thin it sounds like it’s a truth, you know?  It sounds exactly like what happened.  It was grass roots trying to strive for a bit more of a textured, artistic bent of Skewed, bent on folk-rock.  A little bit off.  But it was all on the budget I could afford and with what the guys could manage— the time they could manage for what I could give them.

Q:       What did they think when it was all said and done?  Have you ever talked with them about it?

Jess:   Not specifically.  I mean, I think they dug it.

Q:       What about Dan?  He didn’t talk with you about Skewed?

Jess:   The only thing about Skewed that we ever talked about was in reference to what he wanted out of Reveal, I think.  At least, from my memory banks.  He understood where Skewed was coming from and this is what he would like to do next kind of a thing.

Q:       So before you sat down to do Reveal, he said, okay, here’s where I think you need to go and you said, this is what I want to do?  How long did it take for you to really hash things out?

Jess:   A long time.  But it wasn’t because we were trying to find common ground.  It was because of a variety of things.  It was where he was in his career and what he could do as far as time and what he personally was wanting to accomplish— not just with the album, but with his career.  And also my own personal breakdown in the sense of not writing and not performing and shutting down.

Q:       This was after this breakdown that you were talking Reveal, or was this before, and then you fell apart?

Jess:   No.  In North Carolina, after Skewed.  I did Skewed and promoted it and was gigging it and pushing it and all of those things and it just slowly ground to a halt.  I stopped writing and I stopped playing for almost a year.  I stopped playing for about two years, actually, but when the writing stopped, it was (a vocal shudder)…

Q:       What happened?

Jess:   I couldn’t find a purpose anymore.  It was like walking into a room and forgetting where the exit is.  I felt like I was going in circles.  And the stuff is so… what I choose to write about or what chooses me…  it is so intense that I feel like I need some sort of reason to do it.  It is so dark that if I just get sucked into it, it’s like I don’t want to hear it again.  I’ve lived through that.  Why would I want to sing that again?

Q:       Is this what Dan was talking about in terms of reaching down and bringing out things that you didn’t necessarily want to relive?

Jess:   Yeah.  And I think part of it, too, is the idea that not only do I not want to hear it, I also get the feeling that other people, like family members, don’t want to hear it.  That’s hard.

Q:       Don’t want to hear the music?

Jess:   Don’t want to hear what I am writing about.  Does that make sense?

Q:       Yes, it does, but I am shaking my head right now and thinking, are you talking about Rose?  Rose and your mom?

Jess:   And Dad.  I mean, there are some songs he would rather I would not put in a set.

Q:       Which songs?  Obviously you have had discussions.

Jess:   Yeah, but that’s okay.  They have a total right to feel that way.  The hard part for me is that I started to agree with them.  And that’s hard because that’s what I write about.  I went through a spell where I tried to write funny songs, and then went through a spell where I tried to write fictional songs, you know, and I was trying all of these different approaches.  Like that was going to make it easier.  It is actually really hard.

Q:       So what kind of songs would your dad say not to do live?  Would they be your really intense, emotionally down songs?

Jess:   Well, like When Your World Changed.

Q:       Really?

Jess:   Oh, yeah.  He would grin and bear it.  He wouldn’t saying anything unless I asked, but I didn’t put that one on the tour list on purpose.  It would be like putting spiders on the shoulders of someone who does not like spiders.

Q:       What was it in that song?  Are you going to an intensely dark place in that song?

Jess:   He knows where it came from, so that’s where he goes.  Which is part of the reason why it is hard for me to sing sometimes.  It’s because that’s where I go.  It is the source of it.  We had a really good conversation about it on the tour, which is cool because before it had always been said and then sighed about.  It was always, well, just don’t play that song.  That’s a sad song.  And that, to me, is hard because they all sound kind of sad to me, so I start to get mixed messages.  And then I realized that it wasn’t just that, that it wasn’t necessarily whether the song itself was structured poorly or the melody sucked or that you couldn’t see it.  I mean, I was thinking of it from a purely technical point of view, and he just didn’t want to go there.  Because he had not been able to separate the incident from the song.

Q:       For some songs, that is very hard to do.

Jess:   Yeah, I guess so.

Q:       Is that part of the father in him coming out?

Jess:   Sure.  And I’m sure that’s true with my family— with Rose and my mom.  Chris, I think, comes at it from a different point of view because art, for him, was an outlet out of that stuff?  I think he understands, in his bones, why I have to write about it.  So I think that’s a little different.  But Point of Reference is his story.  And I asked him if it was okay.  I wrote it, but I don’t have to record it.

Q:       Because if he heard it, he would know it was him?

Jess:   Well, as soon as I wrote it, I played it for him and asked if it was okay, you know.  The first step was if it was even okay to play out.  Then when it got to the point where T.C.O and I…..  When I got to Seattle,I had brought these demos that I had done in my little studio and new stuff that was half-finished.  Like, should I finish this now or should this go back on the shelf because it’s not going on the album.  We did a whole session of like 30 songs and that was one of them.  That was one I asked Chris if it was okay to include, and he was cool with it.  It was weird when we played the album for his parents, my in-laws, but part of my whole process with Reveal is that it is revealing.

Q:       So you played it for his parents…..

Jess:   Yes.  They have it.

Q:       And they know what the song is about?

Jess:   Well, that’s the thing.  People getting the song and people hearing the song are two different things.  So I don’t know.  But I think that is kind of where I draw the line, too.  I could have told them upfront.  Or I could have apologized upfront.  But what does that say?

Q:       Maybe they didn’t want you to know.  Maybe it’s something they have just filed away.

Jess:   I really have no idea.  I guess the realm of what I deem is appropriate for an artist…..  I got that from somebody who was willing to share that with me and I tried to put his shoes on and then, afterwords, I made sure he was okay with it.  Other than that, there is really nothing else I can do.  The thing is, I realized that I wasn’t dealing with the rest of the songs that I write.  That I wasn’t okaying them with myself.  I wasn’t saying I like the song, it says something, people are going to read into it, there’s nothing I can do.  Dan was just trying to make me good on my word.

Q:       What do you mean by that?  Do you mean that Dan was saying you need to do this?  Or you have to do this differently?  What kind of process did you have?  Did he understand where you were coming from on each song?

Jess:   I think so.  I took it song by song in the sense that it doesn’t really matter where the song came from because it is so far from that now.  So actually telling people the source sometimes limits the possibilities.  So I would kind of read it.  If new were hitting the wall with a song, I would offer more information on that song and say, okay, this is where it came from.  In the hopes that it would texture it a little bit.  For instance, When the World Changed.  At first, it was a hardcore rock ‘n’ roll song.  And it was almost not on the album, though I was really pushing for it to be.  Not just as a rock ‘n’ roll song, but because it was part of the reason that I felt I could do the album.  Because it talked about issues that are me and beyond me.  Like hopefully people could find some connection with these kinds of issues.  I really needed it to be on the album.  So when I told Dan what it was really about, he went to this really weird, creepy, crawly, where it is now place.  That’s where I had this idea of putting the sound of a door opening at the beginning.  Because when I experience that song, as a reality, that’s the one thing that keeps going through my mind— my roommate actually opening the door to the house.  For everything that happens afterwords, that was enough, you know?  But, again, I didn’t want to jump into that immediately because I didn’t know where that song was going to go.

Q:       What did you think when it started going that way?

Jess:   At first?  When it was all rocked out?

Q:       No.  When the song started to morph.

Jess:   I dug it.  I think part of the reason I wrote it…..  I didn’t write it as rock ‘n’ roll but I did write it as kind of a groove and it was faster than what ended up on the album.  I know that part of the reason I wrote it is that I wanted to get through it.  I was thinking, in order for me to get through this this song I need to make it two-and-a-half minutes and not four.  As soon as I start, I have to keep pushing through it because it is so intense.  I normally don’t write songs that are that intense for me.  I also felt that the original guitar groove I had kept me focused on something musical that I thought people could tap their toe to without getting sucked into what the subject matter was.  Because, seriously, who wants to hear about that?  It’s pretty dark.

Q:       Why write it at all?

Jess:   Yeah…  It took me… that incident happened… when did it happen?  ’96?  So it took me that long to write it, which is pretty amazing.  And then, it was one of those kinds of things where I started to feel like… I realized I was talking to people about it, about what happened, in conversation with other people who had experienced the same thing, and I was thinking, why am I not sharing this with other people who might not even know me enough to say this happened to me, or this happened to a friend, or anything like that?  So it kind of re-focused why I wrote it.  Does that make any sense?

Q:       Why does it have to make sense?

Jess:   That’s my whole deal.

Q:       You keep asking me if it makes sense.  You’re telling me.  It all makes sense to me because you’re the artist.  I didn’t write it.  But there are insights there, yes, that explain things to me.  Is that what you’re asking?

Jess:   Yeah.  That’s my thing.  That is part of the whole thing I am dealing with.

Q:       Well, let’s look at the album.  You have an album of songs which are virtually all intense, if you are going to use intense as a description.  Maybe Quick being the most light-hearted and possibly Siberia, too.  Pound For Pound is just plain brash.  All of the songs are intense in their own ways.  So, you’re saying maybe people don’t want to hear this dark stuff, but I’m looking at this and thinking that it’s not necessarily all dark, but emotionally intense.  Am I right?

Jess:   Right.  And I guess that’s the point.  I have to be okay with that.  You know, I’m a goofy girl.  I’m really a goofy girl.  I do silly things.  Personally.  Socially.  Weird sounds.  Like I scat for no reason.  I’m a bit bizarre.  But all of my songs are focused on this one really brown, gray, muddy kind of world.  So sometimes, I just have to be okay with that.

Q:       Why is that?

Jess:   Why do I focus on that?  I think it is an outlet.  I could get into all kinds of other stuff about it, but I really think that it is just a way for me to understand it… to put it in some kind of… capsule?  Just to frame it and put it out beyond me.

Q:       Okay, so let’s capsulize this.  Give me a short rundown of what these songs mean to you, starting the The Real Me.

Jess:   The Real Me is my inability to go outside when I lived in Queens.  I just stopped going out.

Q:       Going out in public?

Jess:   Yes.  I just stopped going out.  Period.

Q:       Were you turning agoraphobic?

Jess:   A little bit.  I mean, I did what I needed to.  It wasn’t extreme.  But I didn’t like going outside.  Other things were going on which I realize now, but that’s what the song is about.  The whole idea of— you think you know me but, really, I am in my pajamas at one in the afternoon.

Q:       Okay.  Learn To Let Go.

Jess:   That.  I need to learn to do that.

Q:       Do you find yourself hanging on to things that you shouldn’t?

Jess:   Well, should or shouldn’t, I just do.  I hang onto things whether they are good, bad, or indifferent.

Q:       And that prevents you from what?  Using your energies to go forward?

Jess:   Yeah.  I can’t progress.  Not with all that baggage.

Q:       Okay.  Vast Horizon.

Jess:   That’s my first anniversary.

Q:       Wedding anniversary?

Jess:   Yes.  It was our first year anniversary.  It was just one little moment.

Q:       When Chris hears stuff like this, does he relate to it?

Jess:   Oh yeah.  Well, I think.  You would have to ask him how he relates to it, I guess.

Q:       But it is a very personal thing for him, too, right?

Jess:   Yes.  I mean, he feels it coming on.  We were in the car with his parents driving us when I started writing it.  He knows.  You hear that pen and it’s like…

Q:       You had pen and paper?

Jess:   I always have something.

Q:       Desperate Dreams.

Jess:   That was my house in college.  I was sitting on the bed with a poem.  I didn’t write music back then.  I noticed coins all over the floor and I just felt lonely.

Q:       When Your World Changed.  We all know what that was about.

Jess:   You do?

Q:       You tell me.  Let me tell you what I heard, then you can tell me how wrong I am, which I hope I am.  Did it have to do with rape?

Jess:   Yes.  But not mine.

Q:       Okay.  But it makes no difference because it horrendous just hearing about such things.

Jess:   Right, and I don’t want to lessen the person it happened to.  But no, it wasn’t me.

Q:       I noticed that when I asked you for… the song where the little girl was at the counter and she was going to buy the candy bar….

Jess:   Yes.  That’s Pound For Pound.

Q:       Wow.  I didn’t hear that.  What I got out of Pound For Pound is what I have in the way of education.  I’m a broadcasting major, so I’m hearing Madison Avenue.  And I’m keying on this society that we have that sells us everything everywhere.  And you’re singing about a little kid who is being overtaken by the very same thing.  So our views are like the same thing from two different sides.

Jess:   That’s cool.  That’s why I don’t like getting too detailed about my sources for my songs.

Q:       But you should, because when you have a reference of the origin of the songs, they become personal to you.  That doesn’t change my attitude toward the song.  What it changes is how the song came about, and that is always cool.  I mean, if you dad ever told me the whole story behind Living In the Country or Opening…  Those songs pretty much defined my early seventies attitude.  He brushes me off when I ask, but if he ever told me how he came to write that, it would make it much more personal for me, I think.

Jess:   Which I understand, after the fact.  Like you have already put your own story in it, right, and you have already interpreted the lyrics.

Q:       Yes.  Don’t we all do that?  Court and Spark.  What did you get out of Court and Spark?

Jess:   So much.

Q:       And it is all personal, right?

Jess:   Yes.

Q:       Because you didn’t know.  I mean, I read things all the time, maybe too much, and I didn’t read anything until much later about the origins of her songs.  She didn’t talk about it, to my knowledge.

Jess:   Yes.  I guess that’s why… yeah, I keep walking that line.  That’s part of it.  You have to let people think what they want to think.  I don’t know…

Q:       That’s the cool thing about art, though.  Whether it is music or painting or choreography or whatever.  When you see a play, you think you know exactly what that play is, because you have your points of reference, then later you find out how the author came to write it and where it really came from.  Then, you have not only what it meant to you but its source and you have a whole new animal.  There is cachet beyond the fact that it was just that way.

Jess:   That’s right.

Q:       Let’s go on here.  Open My Mouth.

Jess:   An argument between myself and Chris.  And it blew up into a  bigger… I mean, that’s the thing.  I would say that probably less than half the songs come straight out from their intent.  Directly out from that.  A lot of times, I will be down different verses or different phrases and and I’ll let them sit.  Then I will come back to them a good couple of months later and start to realize that I’ve been hashing out the same kind of a thing and I start to pull different vignettes that still deal with the main subject of whatever I’m dealing with, and that was one of them.  I need to learn how to be okay about opening my mouth about stuff.  And it’s funny, I haven’t put that behind me in the sense of being comfortable knowing that no matter what, I’ll open my mouth if I need to.  There is always that hesitation involved.  Even with making the album, you know, when you mix things and you’re working on that, sometimes the engineer will listen to one phase over and over and over again because they’re listening to clicks or pops or putting different textures on it.  There was a point where I was dealing with a certain issue, just in the whole scheme of things, where there were over five minutes where I never opened my mouth.  I never opened my mouth over and over and over again and I thought, if I don’t learn now, I will never learn.  In that sense.  If I can’t hear it and it’s literally being beaten into my head, and I don’t open my mouth…..  I don’t like the fact that I don’t open my mouth.  I need to change that.  I thought that was funny.

Q:       If you were to say to me that that came out of an argument, I would say, okay, possibly, but that was a very intense place to be and it was a very deep place because there seemed to be a lot of emotional romance there that was possibly in danger.  When I hear that— that and Don’t Show Me are my two favorite tracks on the album because I think you show an incredible sensitivity towards the depths of human emotion.

Okay, Point of Reference refers to…

Jess:   It is Chris’s childhood.

Q:       Yeah.  And we won’t go there.

Jess:   He’s okay with it now.

Q:       All right.  Siberia.

Jess:   Siberia is a bar called Siberia across the street from Cat’s.  Across the street from the Winter Garden.  It’s something else.  A place I used to go to, a little dive.

Q:       So you wrote a song about being in a dive?

Jess:   Yeah.  It’s just the idea of going someplace to be alone.

Q:       Okay.  Quick.

Jess:   Quick was a spoken word piece, before I started writing songs.  It’s about my kitchen drawer, actually.  It happened when Ron, my roommate, and I were trying to make something (I forget what) and we had no recipes.  I swear to God, we could drown in menus and I realized that I never had to leave the house.  It could all come to me.

Q:       Okay.  Don’t Show Me.

Jess:   It was a writing exercise.

Q:       You’re kidding me.  You got that out of a writing exercise?

Jess:   Yeah, I know.  I didn’t know whether to tell you or not.

Q:       That is disappointing.  No. actually, it just shows you how music strikes each of us in different places.

Jess:   I mean, you know, we’ve all had that feeling.  It was definitely not coming from some fictitious place, but I was in North Carolina and there was this band looking for a lyricist and songwriter and I was trying to figure out whether or not I wanted to…..  Maybe this was a way to get me singing again— to write something that had nothing to do with me, personally.  But that was party of my writing exercise.  They had given me a verse and a chorus and I started to write that.  I wrote the first verse.  Then nothing came of it.  We moved to Northern California.  Then, one night in the studio, Danny and I— he had just watched a Neil Finn DVD and we got all jazzed and he started playing, making up a little loop and a guitar riff and I started writing.  And we recorded it that night.

Q:       All in one night?  It finished itself?

Jess:   Yeah.  And that’s the original scratch vocals on that.  On the album.

Q:       Incredible.

Jess:   Yeah.  When stuff like that happens, it all lines up.  It was pretty cool.

Q:       It’s magic, true.  You have to just sit there and say, good God, where did that come from?  That, for me, is the real key to the album.  That song is the deepest of the deep.  But maybe it is because I see people doing it all the time.  I see them walking away when they really don’t want to or they don’t want the other person to go, and I’m thinking, what is it that we can’t communicate with one another?  So, obviously, it is all me.  It was nothing more than a writing exercise for you.

Jess:   Well, like I said.  I had felt like that before.  I think it was a bit more of a metaphor, too.  For me.

Q:       Metaphor, in what way?

Jess:   Like, myself, don’t take the easy way out of the album.  Which totally skews it.  It is definitely a relationship song, but, for me, what I was battling with when I wrote it— finished writing that verse from like a year before— from the writing exercise.  It was how much you put into something.  And when you start to give up on it.

Q:       I guess I can see that.

I saved this for last because this is the song which had to have morphed more than any other song on the album— Atlanta.

Jess:   Oh, yeah.  Atlanta used to be a bluegrass song.

Q:       Dan said that you had started from a whole different place and I’m listening to it and thinking, how the hell did she get here, then?  How did you get there?

Jess:   We went— I’m sure T.C.O. told you this, but we did a whole demo session before going back into the studio in September.  We did two weeks of a demo session.  We were just trying to figure out which songs and what vibe and what have you.  We were just going to set them all down and T-co was going to start tinkering with them.  We did Atlanta.  We started putting it out and it just wasn’t clicking.  So we tried all these different bizarre things, but it just wasn’t working.  It was working really hard, and it is so interesting because in that whole demo process, I realized that I would literally get nauseous and my throat would lock up.  It was like my vocal chords just made a fist of themselves and I could not sing a scratch vocal on something if it wasn’t exactly right.  It was really weird.  At first, I thought it was fear.  Then I started listening to what I could sing on and what I couldn’t sing on.  And I was thinking, maybe it’s that strong in me that I can’t find it.  It’s just not working.  Atlanta was one of those.  It was not working almost to the point of not doing it.  Obviously, we were both really frustrated, I think because some of the others had gone really well and we took it for granted.  Then he started toying around with something else.  At the same time, he was working on his organica albums.  I don’t know if he talked with you about this, but he does some amazing atmospheric music which kind of defies a category.  So he decided to start tinkering around and I thought, that’s cool.  I’ll do something else.  And we let it breathe for a second, and he started playing around with this really weird bass line and electronic drumpad beats and noises and things like that and I said, aahhh, let’s just do that.  Let’s just put it on that.  I don’t know what.  Let me say it or sing it or whatever, but just let me put it on that.  Why don’t we just go there?  Because that’s rad and and what we are doing just isn’t working and why not?  And so we did.  And it worked.  It was weird.  It just worked.  And later on, Chris Jones came in and put on that really cool keyboard intro to kind of pull you into it a little bit more so that it wasn’t so abrupt.  And, like, now we’re going to do film-noir, deep poetry.  But, yeah, the melodies just went out the window.

Q:       It’s amazing that it works the way that it does.  When I heard it, what I thought was what you say, beat poetry.  The thing about it is, though, if someone came to me and said, hey, we’re going to puit out this pop compilation and we want one track off of the album, which one would you suggest we put on, the one that sticks out in my mind would be Atlanta.  Because it is so different.  At the same time, it might be a kiss of death because there is nothing else on the CD that’s like it.

Jess:   Right.  And we were toying with that.  We were definitely toying with that.  But I thought, we’re doing the safe thing and it’s not working, so who cares?  And I do spoken word live, sometimes more than not, depending on the mood.  But it’s funny because it is played more on radio rather than some of the other tunes I thought would be.  It’s interesting.

Q:       It is so— I don’t want to say it is unique because I have heard similar things, but you don’t hear it often done that well.  That’s the shock of it.  Because the rhythms and the vocals seem to drub you into submission.  Which is exactly what you should be doing with a song like that, I guess.

There are two songs I would like to ask you about off of the Slightly Skewed LP.  I will leave Petty Crimes out because you were disturbed at the coffeehouse because your dad did it the way it was supposed to sound.

Jess:   Yeah.  I’m not angst about it.  I just think it’s funny.

Q:       It’s funny that it’s different?  I mean, you could play your version and Bill’s version back-to-back and no one would think it was the same song at all.

Jess:   That’s true.  But I know there is a better version of it.  A far better version of it.

Q:       It’s just a different version of it.  You have to look at it that way because his version is certainly not in the place yours was.

Jess:   Yeah, you’re right.  It is different, but oh my God, when he plays it, it breaks my heart, it’s so good.

Q:       That’s what I felt when I heard it.  Bridge To Nowhere.  Where did that come from?

Jess:   That was a conversation with Ron.  I was doing the best friend thing and giving some friendly advice.  And I think my mom may have said that to me at one time.

Q:       That phrase?

Jess:   That old bridges to nowhere thing?  Yeah.  And it stuck with me so I passed it along to Ron.

Q:       How many people have approached you and said, Bridges to Nowhere is me?

Jess:   You know, a lot of people dig it.  A lot of people have commented to me that they keep playing it over and over again.  It is one of the songs that when I teach, I play that.  And Chopsticks from the Promo album.  For the kids.  I think one of the main reasons is because that whole idea of— not just in relationships— I talk with them about when friends aren’t treating you like friends should and when you should draw the line.  And saying, I’m not a bad friend by saying don’t treat me like this.  And it is neat to see little kids, and we’re talking kindergarten all the way up to junior high, understand that too.

Q:       Something that they maybe hadn’t thought of before, do you think?

Jess:   Oh, no.  I know that when I was in junior high, I was totally that person.  I was totally hanging out with people who treated me bad.  And I should have— I hate the word ‘should’— It would have been nice had I had the self-respect at that time to go, this is not worth putting my energy into because you’re giving me nothing that’s positive.  It’s going nowhere.  Literally.  Can you see that with little kids sometimes?  When they just want camaraderie?  So they will hang out with people just for the attention even when the attention is bad?

Q:       Hey, it’s the theme for a lot of the young teen TV programs now.

Jess:   Yeah, we’re all hungry for that.  They just don’t draw the line.

Q:       Kids can be cruel.  And you know, the weird thing about it is that one-on-one, you could have a friendship, but whenever there is more than one, you can be the brunt of cruel jokes, the runt of the litter.

Jess:   Totally.  And that shows you who that person is.  I mean, it’s just hard to fight that, though.  And it’s true with relationships, I think, and what have you.  I think you sometimes fight a person who seems to be two people.  Yeah, but you don’t know this person like I do.  Well, okay, but I see them now.  See how different they are?

Q:       That must be one of the hardest things for kids to learn.

Jess:   I have a hard time doing it now.  You know.  You have hopes and expectations for people and things just don’t go that way sometimes.

Q:       But when you’re a kid and somebody tells you that this is true, and you care for that person so much that you believe it and then find that it’s not true, and yet they come to you again and say it’s true, you sometimes go through the process over and over.  Because you really want it to be true.

Jess:   And that’s the thing.  It’s that hope.  And that’s the hard part.  You don’t want to kill hope.  You just want to kind of… I don’t know… hone your senses a little bit, I guess.  So it is worth putting the energy into it, possibly.

Q:       Well, I read what the girl wrote on your pages, about her listening to Bridges To Nowhere because it was something she needed to hear.  You know what it reminded me of?  Sandy Denny.  Not the sound, but the sentiment.  Just because she would occasionally say this is what you need to pay attention to, and I would think that’s a nice song and maybe I do.

Jess:   That was actually written at the same time as Quick.  It was a spoken word poem that I used to perform in New York.  The lyrics are pretty much verbatim on something that happened, but it was basically me saying goodbye to a dancer friend of mine who I had known since high school who was going off to Israel for a modern company.  We were both living in New York and she had just graduated from Juilliard.  She was maybe a year or two younger.  And I had that whole idea that if I had concentrated on one thing— if I had concentrated only on dance— what would have happened to me.  As I watched her going off and doing exactly what she wanted to and all of that.  You know what I mean?  And being smack in the middle of a job.  It was just one of those moments.

Q:       An epiphany?  Like, I could be eating right now?

Jess:   It was weird because I totally was.  There is nothing like New York money.  New York money is ludicrous, if you can get it, I guess.  I was working for The Daily Show on Comedy Central and choreographing projects off-hours.  When I could fit them in.  So I was doing it and thinking I don’t like what I’m doing.  Which for me was bizarre, so I totally had that moment.  Plus there was a spiritual connection with the company she was going to, an internationally renowned modern company which lives in a kibbutz, which I thought pretty cool.  There was also this idea that she was heading toward communal living and being in touch with her environment and working on her art form and all that kind of stuff.  And I was in a concrete jungle.  So that was what I had to go on.

Q:       Not quite as deep as Reveal, but what the hell.  It’s a story.

Jess:   I think that was as deep as I was willing to go.

Q:       What’s the big jump from Slightly Skewed to Reveal?

Jess:   I think that I forced myself to stop doing it.  And the fact that I had the power to do that.  One, it was pretty bizarre and, two, it made me realize that I can’t do that again.  Like, whatever made me want to stop was so not worth it.  Because it hurt so much not to do it.

Q:       You forced yourself not to do it?

Jess:   You know.  What you think— like your fears, your belief systems, like whatever it is that’s is that’s you putting it off on yourself.  So I forced myself to stop writing.  With what I perceived was going on.  Nobody else was forcing me not to write, so the only person to blame was myself.

Q:       Were you consciously aware that you were maybe saying I should write something and then would say no?

Jess:   Yeah, and then I would start putting my guitar away to where it was harder and harder to reach, and I just wasn’t about it.  I just wasn’t about it.  It was really, really difficult.

Q:       You were married at this time?

Jess:   Yes.  It was about two years ago.

Q:       Did Chris notice it?

Jess:   Yes.  He totally did.  But it was one of those kind of hard things, too, is that I think the dichotomy of being and artist and being a spouse is that he saw how it was hurting me to play gigs for one person and how much it was affecting me.  So he was coming up to me with the question of, well, if it makes you feel like this, why are you doing it?  The problem was that I didn’t know why I was doing it anymore.  So I stopped.  Until I found a reason to start again.  Because I was taking it for granted.  You know what?  I was about to ask you if it made sense… but do you know what I mean about taking some things for granted, sometimes the best thing to do is not to have it?  And to realize what kind of a hole it filled?  How big or how deep?

That happened with me and my dad.  When I was in high school, I was in a car accident and it totally blew out my back.  I had to choreograph laying on the floor with my head turned, and it was just insane.  Because I was in this performing arts high school as a dance major, I still had to watch class.  It was horrible.  To watch people move when I couldn’t.  It’s the worst feeling in the world.  So in a way, that had all happened to me before, but something else had taken it away from me, I guess.  And it made me reinvent how much I needed it in my life.  It was like a learning experience.  So I took the music away, only this time I did it myself.

You know, I am totally amazed at how open and forthcoming both Jess and Dan were when I talked with them.  All I can say is that I must have saved a bit of good karma.  Talking with them also reminds me about the human side of life.  About how each of us Noteshave a story and how interesting those stories are.

It’s late.  I’d better get to the…

Notes…..  More maniacal madness from Jeff Kelly, wife Susanne Kelly, and Green Monkey Records.  I have no idea what the 14th Night portends, only that I don’t want to be there when it happens.  Some dark, dark stuff.  And very intriguing, I might add.

Out of the blue… The Wetts, featuring old pal Judson Norman, formerly of Research Turtles.  Could this be another run at Popdom?  We can only hope.  Here’s the teaser.

Let’s see… When was the last time I saw music coming out of Bogota?  How about never!  Dominic Valvona over at Monolith Cocktail passed this along this past week.  Sidesteppers‘ new album, Supernatural Soul, is scheduled to drop Feb. 5th.  Valvona says it’s a beaut.  If it is anything like this, it is.

Here is another Kyle Fosburgh video posted on FB and accompanied by these notes:

First recorded for my ‘Debut’ album in 2012 and re-recorded as a stripped down and solo acoustic performance for ‘Two Night’ (album coming later this year).

Since the original conception and recording of this piece, it has found its rhythm and the feeling has fully matured. This is “Morning Diamond” in full flower. I am so pleased to be able to offer this composition once more.

Below is a video performance shot in California earlier this month. It was captured in one take and was a spur of the moment thing. Sometimes that’s the best way to capture the energy.

‘Two Night’ is the second album in the three album ‘Night’ trilogy. While ‘One Night’ comes directly to you, ‘Two Night’ is an artist / listener experience which calls for the listener to meet the music half way. I am very proud of how the album turned out and am eager for the world to hear it in its entirety later this year. For the time being, below is a sample offering.

Video and Audio produced by Radiance Recordings

It is early Wednesday morning and I just found out that Philadelphia’s T.J. Tindall has died.  No doubt there will be memories passed around because Tindall was a member of not only MFSB but Salsoul Orchestra, both of which were huge successes during their time.  I will remember him as creative force and guitarist for Duke Williams and the Extremes, a funky white-boy band riding funk and space all the way to nowhere.  They released two albums (A Monkey In a Silk Suit Is Still a Monkey and Fantastic Fedora) on the Capricorn Records label, two albums which I grabbed upon release and never let go.  I chatted a little with Tindall on Steve Hoffman Music Forums a few years back and he made reference to the unique and quirky nature of Williams and how much he enjoyed that band.  I had hoped to interview him at some time but he was a busy man and it wasn’t like I was writing for Rolling Stone or the New York Times.  Hell, back then I wasn’t writing for anybody.  At some time in the near future, I will undoubtedly sit down and unplug the computer and the phone so I can listen to all four sides of The Extremes’ two Capricorn albums, uninterrupted, and tip a beer in the direction of Tindall.  One of the more unique guitarists I have ever heard.

Ringo JonesShawna Harless got it right when she posted this picture of Mad Anthony‘s Ringo Jones, captioning it “Nothing good could be happening here.”  Jones has been known to tear up a few hotel rooms and phone books in his quest for world dominance.

Authorities have found that putting a guitar in his hands controls such unstable outbursts, to wit:

Thank the gods for the guitar.

I grew up on concert band and orchestral music.  When it is good, it soothes my soul or picks me up out of my seat.  I should have known but did not that it is alive and well and being carried on into the future.  Here is an excellent piece written by one Alex Thode.  It is a breath of fresh air amongst the constant barrage of electric and electronic instruments.  Listen here.  And just for your listening pleasure, here is a new orchestral piece written by Michael MarkowskiClick here.  Good stuff, this.

Men of Extinction, a group fronted by none other than Roscoe West and Jim (Coolgroove) Colegrove, have established a presence on Facebook which begs attention.  The page is full of sci-fi/fantasy/retro coolness of distinction (ahem, not to be confused with extinction).  In a few more months, I would not be surprised to see a graphic novel as compelling as those emanating from Marvel make its way from the Extinction Ranch to the rest of the world.  You can check out the Ranch by clicking here.  They have an album, you know— Men of Extinction, that is.  Filled with tongue-in-cheek if not downright enlightening tunes such as Jane’s Name Is Jane, Evolution’s Not Fast Enough For Me, and Lap Band Dance, they could well be on their way to becoming that cross between Sons of the Pioneers and Homer & Jethro.  Take a gander.


Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at

dbawis-button7Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at Frank bottle capone time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

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