Recent LA-transplant, Jessica Pratt is returning to her old stomping ground for Noise Pop 2015. And there’s plenty to be excited about – Pratt just released her excellent sophomore album, ‘On Your Own Love Again’ and will perform at The Chapel next Wed, Feb 25.
The album released last month on the Drag City Label has already received good reviews from critics with its lead single, “Back, Baby” one of the album’s strongest and most memorable tracks. Pitchfork suggests that Pratt’s ‘can’t go back’ moment is even more emphatic than the one Dylan sang about 50 years before in “She Belongs To Me”. You’d have to agree.
Pratt’s 2012 debut has gone down in SF folklore – White Fence’s Tim Presley so enamored of her early recordings, sunk his own money to start the label, Birth Records solely to release the collection of songs that she recorded in her teenage bedroom over a course of six years. These originals were done without bearing much thought of ever having others hear it.
And Presley was right as the first pressing sold out fast. The enthusiastic response to her eponymous album prompted Pratt to think about her next recording. Done with intent – to be for the listening pleasure of others, it has more color, range and quirky flourishes than her first which was all recorded in a studio.
It appears that the studio might have confined her somewhat, and this time round – more self-assured, she decided to self-record with her four-track at home. Hence, her music is often described as homemade like it was a jar of jam. Though certainly sweet and tart, “On Your Own Love Again” is so much more. It lends the songs a warmth while her poetic edit of a relationship coming to an end – it’s heartbreak, deception, and her sense of moving forward, gives it all gravitas.
That is balanced with Pratt’s voice which has a unique girl-ish cadence that may call to mind Joanna Newsom, but her folk leanings sets her closer to Joan Baez or Joni Mitchel. However, she herself professes a love for the English folk voices from the ‘60s such as Donovan and the six decades of Marianne Faithful.
Faithful who came to fame with “As Tears Go By” and her relationship with Mick Jagger, subsequently achieved infamy with her heroine addiction. It caused her to lose custody of her child, landed her homeless – living on the streets, and with a troubled lover who later commits suicide. All this looms large on her work but has never stopped her recording more than 20 albums with her most recent “Give My Love To London” hailed by The Rolling Stones as her strongest in decades. Faithful has even won one of France’s highest cultural honors – Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
It may be the tragedy or the sheer force of her heroine that attracts Pratt but it’s also ownership of her musical icons and their flaws. Interestingly, both Pratt and Faithfull credit their mothers with instilling the value of the arts upon them before their passing.
Both also posses their own unique internal rhythm that informs their melodies and phraseology. For the former, it is the limitations of her worn vocals that bears more of a Stevie Nicks drawl than the ’60s songbird of innocence while for Pratt it is the thing she does most naturally. She is comfortable manipulating her voice to just pour into the spaces that her nylon-string melodies open up.
On “Games That I Play” the first song she wrote upon moving to LA – the melody is circling deeper into a dark pool as feel yourself free fall in, you realize that her voice is actually lighter and the melody now like a tendril, is sun-facing and lifting you up. It’s Elliot Smith with the downplaying guitar chords, yet like Faithful has something grown-up and regal about her vocals. Unlike, her often-compared Joanne Newsom that has an almost put-on childishness.
It’s like a musical game of chess when you are blindsided by the woe-is-me melody but she raises the spirit by hitting up an octave but unlike the histrionics of a diva which arches for a crescendo, she meanders going down and up, then sideways.
“Moon Dude” recorded while Pratt was still in San Francisco is similarly interesting. “On Your Own Love Again” is a pretty song with guitar chords that sound almost lute-like, making you feel like you’re in a Shakespearean sonnet.“Jacquelyn in the Background” has a bit where she sounds like the needle has come off the vinyl record, her voice all deep and slow-motioned.
Elsewhere, her music sometimes sounds atonal but she never lingers there too long. At times, she sings like ‘60s baroque-folk band, Pentangle’s female vocalist – Jacqui McShee. And then back to the here and now where in “Strange Melody” she coos the “doo doo doo doo … of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like A Wolf”.
Still it’s “Back, Baby” that will mesmerize, draw new listeners and earn her more fans. She employs onomatopoeia to great effect singing “Things like that/you can never take back again…” then a sort of vocal hum like the sonar beep of a submarine – echoing a vessel that’s already wandered too far, lost forever.
Pratt herself has said ‘it’s the one that people seem to respond to most live.’ And listening to the album’s 9-tracks it is definitely the one that pops and finds you still humming its melody after the tape hiss ends.
Yet it was a song that was originally written for someone else to sing. Speaking to zoomdune.com from LA, Pratt sheds light on ‘Back, Baby’, her love for all of Marianne Faithful’s music, her homespun recordings and what she misses about San Francisco but why she can’t go back now baby.
How long have you been in LA now and do you miss San Francisco?
About a year and three months. I miss aspects of it – most things that I miss about it have already faded into the past so much so that the thought of going back is not even an option. I do still miss the climate and the denseness of the city. It’s compactness – I find it small and comforting, that you can feel the entire breadth of the city. LA feels so large and almost unknowable. But I do think it’s good to push yourself out of your bubble.
When you were 18 you arrived by Greyhound bus to SF – can you describe that feeling back in 2006, to your more recent move to LA?
When I first moved to SF, I was really excited to be there. I was from Redding, it’s a little town with not much going on. And in SF I felt like there was a lot of exciting things going on. My move to LA felt more aimless. It didn’t feel like a romantic situation. I guess with SF I was naïve and young but I also felt like I had come home. I had a lot of friends. Here in LA, it’s a bit easier to feel like you’re lacking in some sort of connection. I am happy to be here. But it’s like a more adult version – the compromises you make you have to acknowledge… it’s like you’ve now graduated. And LA has afforded me so many different opportunities and the people I have met not just in music but art …. overall it’s been more gratifying.
And what records were you listening at those two junctures?
On the greyhound bus, I had a Walkman and cassettes of David Crosby, the first Fred Neil record… more obvious stuff like “Tusk”, Gerry Rafferty and the first Paul Simon record. I certainly didn’t have an iPod at that time but I was very connected to my music. In LA – I always make it a point to listen to music and give it some time to digest. It was my friends’ records – Jack Name’s first record. He had released it on cassette himself then later on Drag City. “Song Cycle” by Van Dyke Parks. The pop of Bob Welch weird stuff like that… and Can. It feels like so long ago but it’s not really. Mostly I listen to music I like but I am very repetitious – I can listen to a record, or just one side over and over again for 2 days. There is so much music out there is hardly enough time in the f**king day to listen to everything.
Drag City – how did being signed to that label come about?
I’m not exactly sure myself. A little bit could be attributed to Ty Segall who I had given some of my music too. We were friendly and I sent him a couple of my CD’s and he said he could send it along to Drag to see what they thought. But then several months had past and I hadn’t heard anything. Then one day, they did call but they never told me it was because of Ty.
I feel like Drag City really suits you?
I feel very lucky to be on that label. They are real cool and seem to do things for the right reasons.
How do you set your home up for recording the album? It’s not EDM where you can just work samples from a laptop. Though you have past experience recording with a four-track?
It’s a pretty simple set-up with a four-track record player. I work in two rooms. It is not a very glamorous set up. I had already started on these songs in San Francisco before the first album came out. So I just continued with it when I moved to LA. There was no pomp to it but going into the next one, I can’t escape doing it in a more ‘perfect’ way. I do think recording it this way lends itself an organic feel of the room. They more casual something is, the more inclined listeners are to just flow with it.
How do you compare that isolation of doing the work on this album to sort of having it released now – like you’re untethered too? Doing interviews it’s like a barrage of people asking you questions constantly but you seem to be enjoying it?
I do enjoy the process. Writing songs is my favorite thing to do. It’s not ever a choice. The stuff I did in San Francisco, I wasn’t thinking about it as much, I was quite unaware of the audience and the process whereas now people are asking you about your process so you have to think about it. But I enjoy doing that and talking about other people’s process, it’s fun to compare especially with people whose opinions you respect.
“Back, Baby” was initially written for a friend to sing but you mentioned “it was too personal to give away” – can you reveal who this friend was and if not, when did the song cross that line of being something written for some one else to “too personal” to give away?
I just thought it was a good song once it took shape. Not so much that it was too good to give away because you don’t want to write a shitty song for someone else to record either. It was rhythmically different – something about writing to suit someone else’s voice and point of view. I don’t want to say who it was but it was male. I guess it was learning lesson for me. It wasn’t like a super serious endeavor; I just sat down and did it one night.
Do you like the idea of writing for others?
Yes, I guess so … it’s difficult you have to think about someone else’s voice, range and the lyrical content. A lot of my favorite songwriters wrote for others so perhaps.
You mentioned listening to Van Dye Parks “Song Cycle” – would you like to collaborate with someone like Parks who has worked with your Drag City label mate, Joanne Newsom?
I’d be open to collaborating if it’s someone I can actually make something interesting with. I think too many collaborations these day don’t really bring anything new – it’s just a name association thing for the artists. I really haven’t thought about it much and am not against it in a staunch, obstinate way… I’m curious about it. Moving to LA maybe it’s time to think about it but right now, it’s difficult for me to come up with anyone specifically. Maybe someone who plays a very unusual instrument like a mellotron or harp. Or Lute that would be very cool. Oh or to sing with a boy’s choir.
You refer to liking Marianne Faithful’s early music but I am sure you also like her later recordings after the drugs, and her voice was weathered and worn – what is it about her that draws you musically?
I like ALL of Marianne Faithful’s music. The weird early ‘70s stuff she did, then “Broken English” (1979) and “Strange Weather” (1987) – that album of covers. She’s weak and her voice is her ‘worst’ sounding in that album but I love that too. I feel like she’s been swept under the rug, after that English era of the ‘60s when her voice is super crazy and she’s really young. She’s a bit of an under dog and her music after that is a bit scattered and weird. And she also did that pop stuff in the ‘60s. I like it all. For a while, she didn’t seem to have a creative stride, and it’s all over the place and maybe people find it hard to get into her music. But … being a little tragic, maybe I am attracted to that.
For tickets to see Jessica Pratt at Noise Poise please click here. Fellow LA-transplant, Kevin Morby will open for Pratt, together with Carroll and Two Sheds. Noise Pop 2015 kicks off officially tomorrow and will go on till March 1 showcasing over 150 bands across the Bay Area.