Jessi Robertson

Jessi Robertson

Thoughts from a chick singer

Talking yourself in circles

This Sunday we tracked the final notes of my new record. Elated and pensive, I almost want to call it a little death, but that has other connotations which may or may not be appropriate.

Next week I head back to The Bunker Studio to begin mixing with my producer Omer Leibovitz and the uber-talented Aaron Nevezie. In between wrapping up tracking and starting to mix down, I almost got stranded in Nashville and survived yet another storm and its sludgy remains.

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I had a long internal discussion with myself this morning about my songwriting process. As we finalized the song decisions for this record, the flow of new songs has slowed to a trickle but I feel something brewing, even though I don’t know what it is yet.

For me, that’s one of the most exciting things about being a songwriter, feeling the idea begin to boil like water in a kettle (only, I’m the kettle), and not really being sure what’s going to happen when the whistle finally blows.

Analog / Analogue

I spent the last two days live tracking the lion’s share of my new record with Omer Leibovitz, Layton Weedeman, and Alex Picca at The Bunker Studio.

The Bunker Studio. Photo by Jessi Robertson.

We’ve been prepping for this for months and it really paid off, especially when we found that we could do without the click on most songs and just let it breathe.

Recording to tape. Photo by Layton Weedeman

I’m trying to think of the best way to describe the two days we tracked: intense, dream-like, frustrating, rewarding, funny, emotional. It was a beautiful, insane whirlwind and I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that it’s over, although there is still so much to do before this record makes it out into the world.

Jessi Robertson playing a Farfisa Compact Organ at The Bunker Studio. Photo by Layton Weedeman

Most of all I feel immensely grateful for the band. They supported me through this entire process and have been completely focused on serving the song and making my vision come to life. I can’t wait for you all to hear this record.

Alex and Layton listening to the final track of the album as Aaron Nevezie engineers. Photo by Omer Leibovitz

Omer and Layton in the control room. Photo by Jessi Robertson.

My life is now a sitcom

This has been an eventful few weeks, including an awkward visit to the ER with a public examination in the waiting room. Thanks doc, I just love it when strange men watch you put a tongue depressor down my throat.

While I was sick I managed to spill a scalding hot cup of tea on myself and subsequently my bed. This culminated in me holding an ice pack against my abdomen with one hand, while blow drying my bed with the other, and crying because I felt so miserably sick. At the same time I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous the situation was. An “I Love Lucy” kind of moment.

Things seem a bit surreal lately, like I might have stumbled into a bizarre sitcom version of my life. I am genuinely living the dream right now. For the first time in my life I’m getting to do everything that I want to. And while this level of contentment can’t last forever, right now I’m just soaking it all in and smiling like the Cheshire Cat.

I’ll be in the studio on Saturday making a record I believe in with every fiber of my being. I’ll be hanging out with my freaking awesome band and a crew of talented folks who are helping pull this project together. I’ll be done with antibiotics!!!

Even the pushy bitches on the subway can’t kill this joy.

24 days until…

We head to the studio to begin tracking my next record on February 1st.

Rehearsals started in late September. It sounds like a long time to prepare when put in terms of months, but this is going to be a very different record than my 2011 release. We’ve committed our time and energy to discovering the right songs, finding the themes that run through them, and trying to express those ideas in the way we play.

This deep collaboration has made me look at my songs differently and examine my writing process. And really, I could gush all day about how much I appreciate my bandmates, both as musicians and friends. But right now there’s work to be done.

I have a name

I’ve been struggling to find the right name for my upcoming album. I had a few good ideas, but none of them felt quite right.

During practice last night, Alex gave me some great advice.

  1. Don’t worry about it
  2. It will just come to you and it will make perfect sense
  3. The story behind the name is what matters

We started talking a bit about the story, the weight of history, and a theme I keep returning to- the cyclical nature of experience, the ouroboros forever eating its own tail (or tale in my case).

Right as I finished telling this story, the name popped out of my mouth all newborn, shiny, unplanned and perfect.

I have a name, and I know it’s the right one.

2014 Untitled Album: Streaming has changed me

What do you do to share rehearsal recordings when you’re preparing to make a record?

My band is using SoundCloud’s mobile app to share private tracks in playlists set up by rehearsal date. This lets us listen to the evolution of our song arrangements whenever we need to, including during the rehearsals themselves.

There’s a great debate about streaming, and whether it’s possible for an artist to earn a living on percentages of pennies (of course it’s not!). The industry is evolving and the solutions to this problem aren’t yet clear

But streaming has changed the way I work as a songwriter and artist. It is an enormous help in learning from rehearsals, and a way to gain feedback on demos before releasing completed tracks.

The first recording I ever made was a demo to get into college. I recorded it in someone’s home studio and received copies on CASSETTE TAPES! Yes, I am old. And it was a cheesy Christian song. And I still sang it like a bad-ass.

But I digress.

I’m grateful for the advantages that technology offers me as a songwriter, these new songs we’re working on are going to make your heads explode, and I’m interested to see how the royalty system matures.

I kind of went off the rails a little bit there at the end.

2014 Untitled Album: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

I have been spending a lot of time with Omer, Layton, and Alex lately. We’ve been rehearsing hard (which involves beer, deep conversations, and sometimes even bleeding fingers). It’s been both challenging and revealing for me to delve into the meanings of the songs and learn how to communicate what I want.

I’m not technically skilled at arrangements, so sometimes communicating what I want amounts to saying things like, “make it sound like a funeral dirge,” or “make it feel like you’re trapped in a subway car with teenage girls.” 

I’d like to say that it’s this method that has led to our great collaboration skills. But what it really comes down to is the way we have all agreed to be open to new ideas and try things even if we don’t think they’ll work. Trust, respect, and keeping our ears open for those beautiful mistakes that lead to the best moments in a song.

I’m already proud of this album that we haven’t even started recording yet.

2014 Untitled Album: First Look

I will be releasing a new full-length album in 2014. Some details are still under wraps, but I can divulge a few things:

  1. Like my previous 2011 album, “Small Town Girls,” the new album will most likely contain 9 tracks.
  2. Unlike my last record, I don’t have the album title yet. With “Small Town Girls,” I based the songs around the title. This time it will be the other way around.
  3. The band and I are currently in rehearsals. We’ve booked a prestigious local studio for tracking and mixing in February 2014.

I’ll be spilling more hints as we ramp up toward production. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Photo by Katie Basile

#bar44ever

You might wonder what I’m doing up at 7am, and why I’m sitting at my computer and not safe in bed sleeping off that last whiskey after The Funk Machine’s triumphant Bar4 set last night. I wondered the same thing when I saw the time. But I realized that tonight will be my last show at Bar4, and that demanded more than a tweet or status update.

Bar4 is not simply a place, and that’s why it’s so hard to let go. We traveled from small towns, cities, and even across oceans to a room on the corner of 7th Ave and 15th St. And somehow, because of this bar, we found one another. My dear friends, my family.

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I’ve heard from a lot of people this week, memories of their first gigs. For so many of us, Bar4 was the first place in NYC that was willing to take a chance and let us play our music. For me, it’s the place where I found myself as a writer and musician, the place where I went from a shy girl to a confident woman. For me, it’s hallowed ground.

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When I first moved to Brooklyn in January 2003, I came with a head full of dreams. Throughout history there have been cities where the creative energies just explode, where artists are drawn together and inspire one another. As I wandered around the city, I kept dreaming of finding the musical equivalent of the NYC beat poetry movement. I wanted to find my Kerouacs and Ginsbergs, the people who would make me want to be a better artist.

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I had a lot of silly dreams, but the best one, and the most unlikely one came true. I found a community of songwriters that inspired instead of competed. I found friends with character that I respect and talent that I’m blown away by. I found a place where my usual drink is poured for me almost before I sit down at the bar. Basically, a real life version of Cheers, if Cheers was about a group of musicians, comedians, photographers, painters, dancers, actors, and DJs.

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All these memories have been flooding back, Tanya singing Homeward Bound, Greg’s incredibly infectious laugh, Larry’s frenetic energy, Paul’s Further North, the whole bar becoming a percussion section for Matt Singer, and Isaac’s “FUUUUUUCK YOOOOOU, that was so good!”

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Today my heart is full, and tonight it will be running over. It’s not our last goodbye yet, not until we’re sitting in front of the bar on August 15th, playing songs on the street in protest. Until then, I’m going to make as many new memories as I can.

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Tagged: #bar44ever

Facebook reply:

We walk the darker road and light it up to cast our own shadows. Fireworks flare fiercely in a black sky.

Tagged: #cold sunshine