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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
A song for Isaac Daniel Perez aka aCloudedhed
strange to say that something’s now a memory
just a span of days ago it was still reality
now it’s diamond hard. I look at my fingers, scarred
I’d give up playing my guitar to have you here with me
you knew how to take the frown out of “fuck you”
you’d make me laugh when it’s the last thing I wanted to do
and you’d shake the worst of my gray mood days away
with a big bear hug hidden in your warm embrace
now when I sing it’s not just for me anymore
I picture you waiting there beyond the stage door
we’ll begin where we left off, humming over a chord
until then I hope you know just how much you are adored
time can’t steal these things from me
your smile flashing like sun on sea
your voice ringing with song eternally
now I feel your words, they’re alive in me
your words are alive
sweeping the storm front from
my clouded head
My name is Jessi Robertson, and when life handed me lemons, I decided to drink whiskey instead.
"Because what could be more satisfying, more decadent, than destroying your own artistic efforts on film?" -Robyn Shepherd
At the end of February I prepared for a pre-release show for my first studio album titled “Small Town Girls”, with the album release date set for March 1st. When I received the CDs from the manufacturer all seemed well at first, although I was a bit disappointed that the art wasn’t as crisp as it appeared in the proofs. I handed a copy to one of my friends without having listened to it… and then the other shoe dropped. My friend let me know that there were random popping noises between all the tracks. With no time or money to get new CDs before the pre-release party, I printed homemade stickers telling fans where they could download WAV and mp3 versions of the tracks.
Then I went home and stared at 8 boxes of CDs that were worthless. I’ll admit, I shed some tears. More than a few. It felt like someone had handed me a million dollars, and then I tried to spend it, only to find out it was counterfeit. I jokingly started referring to the CDs as coasters. Meanwhile, my press campaign was shelved while I tried to figure out a way to get new discs made.
I talked through the situation with fellow singer/songwriter Lara Ewen, and with her help and the help of my other friends in the Local Correspondents community, we developed a concept to re-purpose the CDs and turn a negative situation into an opportunity to create art. Nathaniel Johnston of NJohnston Photography took photos of me wreaking havoc on about 600 CDs at my favorite performance space, Bar4.
Some CDs hung across the stage, others were opened up like books. At one point, Lara and Nathaniel constructed a waterfall of CDs. Lastly, Nathaniel shot me outside the bar, busking with CDs at my feet instead of spare change.
On Saturday September 17, prints of the photos provided by Manhattan’s Westside Ritz Camera will be shown at Bar4 with live performances from Lara Ewen and my band. There will actually be handmade coasters made from the remaining faulty CD covers. A lucky few will receive "Real Women Drink Whiskey" shot glasses.
Who/What: Jessi Robertson CD Reissue and Gallery show, featuring photographs by Nathaniel Johnston
Where: Bar4, 444 7th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
When: Gallery show from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Lara Ewen performs opening set at 9 p.m.; Jessi Robertson with band performs at 10 p.m
Yesterday I spent the afternoon with Lara and Chris, working on homemade coasters for the upcoming CD Re-Issue Party and Gallery Show (September 17 at Bar4. More on that later).
We used the front covers from the original run of faulty Small Town Girls CDs and a custom stamp I had made by Stamp Out Online.Thankfully Lara had a rotary blade for cutting, because my Xacto knife was absolutely pitiful, and we all know I can’t draw a straight line, let alone cut one.
Yes, these fine coasters can be yours, free, as part of my campaign to drink whiskey when life gives out lemons. See you September 17.