by ryan s.
Jolie Holland’s new album drops tomorrow and we got an interview covering a cast of characters from the last half century to psyche you up for it. Jolie Holland has been Joan Burroughs incarnate in her dreams and never stops her trek towards new experiences that sometime lead her to midnight swimming and lighthouse shows. The album is a deep and poetic reflection of an open and adventurous individual whose song writing requires more than the casual listen. As with every artist, it’s a relative relationship for the music listener. But it’s nice to be reminded of the motives behind the words.
QC: What’s up Jolie… where are you right now? Are you in Cali?
JH: I’m just north of there, I’m in Portland.
QC: Oh nice. It’s so relaxing there. What are you doing, playing a gig or something?
JH: I have two different bands I’m working with here. One of them is my road band and another is this little side project I’m working on.
QC: What’s that one called?
JH: It’s a duo side project called Dark Eyed Junco,
QC: Nice, who’s that with?
QC: I’ll definitely check that out, how long have you guys been working together?
JH: Well we’ve been in different cities but we already recorded a little bit.
QC: Really.. do you have any mp3′s cut? Cause I want them..
JH: Well we don’t really have anything yet.. we’re a really new project.
QC: Wow. Side projects are really in this year. I think everyone has one..
JH: (Laughing) That’s hilarious… It’s neat when people never have a band that’s their own name too..
I didn’t even mean to have a band that’s my name, it just sort of happened. I just didn’t want to confuse people. Some people like to confuse people like a certain Will Oldham. It’s hilarious how you say to someone “Oh my god you like Will Oldham?” and they say “I’ve never heard of Will Oldham.” And then you play a song and they’re like “Wow what an awesome Bonnie “Prince” Billy song” and I’m like “yeah, that’s Will Oldham…” He’s just got thirteen different band names.
QC: Yeah, that’s confusing as hell… So are you psyched to get the album out already?
JH: Well yeah, it depends. I don’t know what it’s gonna be like. I don’t know how the world is going to
QC: I’ve actually listened to it once because I just previewed it yesterday. I think its great but the second I
heard it once, I was like “damn, I’m gonna need to listen to this more intently to fully appreciate.” It was one of those things where I was trying to prep for this interview and do research and I had it on in the background and I was like “no,no, no…” You know when you’re not giving an album the proper listen?
JH: Yeah, my favorite records are always like that. There’s this one Freakwater record that I listened to for
two years before I got a certain joke. I love records where you hear a certain song and you’re like “I don’t
even know if I like that song” and it ends up being your favorite song. I love records that change over time.
QC: Yeah I agree with that. I’m actually really scared that my music tastes have started to deteriorate a little bit. In the sense that I noticed alot of indie artists I like putting at least a couple poppy tracks on all their albums now. I think everyone is suffering through the “big book” syndrome trying to land the hit single and I now I find my brain subconsciously looking for that catchy track and I really don’t want to start going down that road.
JH: Yeah, the music business in not music.
You’re album is super poetic. And I think you’re one of the few writers that will actually explain what your songs mean and doesn’t mind talking about it. You don’t care when people ask you what your songs mean?
I thought that was the number one artist pet peeve.
JH: No, they all mean something. Another thing I find interesting is that unless someone has gone through the same thing they can’t really understand what you’re talking about anyway. Some people are like “that’s too personal I can’t share that.” But unless the listener has gone through the same thing it can still be secret. You can explain it to them in detail and it will still be a secret.”
QC: And sometimes telling someone what something is supposed to mean can inhibit them from finding their own meaning in it. If that kinda goes with what you’re saying..
QC: It seems like alot of interesting musicians collaborated on the production of this record like Marc Ribot, M. Ward, and Rachel Blumburg. How did that group assemble and was the recording process easy?
JH: It was amazing. I think this is definitely the highest level I’ve ever been able to work at in the studio. I think just because I was so comfortable with everyone I was working with. I think every other time I’ve been in the studio I’ve been way more stressed out. So having a producer really just helped me to perform better.
QC: And who put those specific people together?
JH: I don’t know it was kind of fate. I wanted to work with Matt Ward as a producer and we worked together for a little bit and he was really funny and really sweet. He was just like, “You know what? You don’t need a producer. You having a producer is like feeding bears human food.”
QC: I’m gonna need to think about that one for a second…
JH: I know, it took me a while. He had to explain it. He basically said that I needed to be my own producer. I didn’t need other people to produce for me. And I totally agree in the sense that the production is the song. He didn’t want to get me hooked on something that would eventually be bad for me. But I definitely needed a producer for this stuff.
QC: You referenced inhibitions in regards to how the album will be perceived.. Do you not view it as a natural extension of your prior work?
JH: Oh I do totally, but I’ve never had a rock band before so I don’t know what it’s going to be like to go out on the road with this band. I’m curious to see how it all plays out.
QC: So who’s actually going on tour with you?
JH: There’s Rachel Blumberg and a wonderful bassist/guitarist named Dave Depper. They’re also in a a band called Norfolk & Western. Dave’s also in an awesome band called Loch Lomond.. they’re sooo sweet I really love them.
QC: I’ll definitely check them out. That was the name of my neighborhood growing up..
[qc note: I did check them and they're awesome, so check out their MS link above]
JH: Where are you from? What’s your background?
QC: I grew up in Miami. My parents were born in Cuba..
JH: Really?! I just started writing a song and the first verse is all about this really rad Cuban girl from Miami. We were drunk outside this party and she was just speaking Spanish to me. And it was soo sweet, I love when someone comes up to me and randomly thinks I can speak Spanish.. I kinda speak Spanish because I have cousins from Argentina and I have a pretty good accent for not really speaking it all that well..
QC: Drop something on me real quick..
JH: Well I’ll tell you this song because it has some Spanish in the song… I was being stupid and couldn’t remember how to say aunt. And this Cuban girl was an illustrator and their company randomly drew alot of insects. So I was trying to explain that I had an aunt from Argentina so I was like “como se dice “aunt” ?” and she was like “hormiga!”.. And she’s like ridiculously beautiful too so the part in the song I’m writing is:
Gold and yellow mermaid of the Southern sea,
open up your honey lips and speak Spanish to me.
Mi hormiga, y mi tia, y mis primas Argentinas…
Your dress is wet from the grass,
and you give the bottle a pass.”
QC: And what project will that be a song for.. your solo stuff or Dark Eyed Junco?
JH: Probably me because the next verse is actually about Dark Eyed Junco.
QC: The opening track off the new album is Mexico City? Have you been there?
JH: No actually
QC: Soooo what’s up with that?
JH: I’ve actually never been to Mexico..
QC: Well Mexico City is shady.. It’s beautiful but don’t go there by yourself…
JH: Oh… no, no, no (laughs) I’m definitely not gonna go there by myself..
I grew up in Texas being a blonde girl and it was so intense just walking around where I was from..
I can’t stand the idea of going to Mexico alone..
QC: Ok, so basically you were sexually harassed in the streets…
JH: Let’s just say I wouldn’t go there alone but I have lots of amazing friends that are either from there or would love to go down there with me.
QC: Ok so how did that song end up getting called “Mexico City?”
JH: The whole song is actually written from the perspective of Joan Vollmer Burroughs, She was the common-law wife of William Burroughs who was shot in the head in Mexico City.
QC: Damn your such a badass in your song writing.. Where do you come up with this stuff?
JH: It was weird. I dreamed all this shit about her before I even knew that much about her. It’s weird.
QC: Whaaa?! That’s insane..
JH: Yeah it is insane. And I kinda just had to do something artistic with all the weird stuff that happened. The same weird dream sequence is why the song “Old Fashioned Morphine” has William Burroughs’ name in it. The “Jack” in that song is Jack Kerouac because Joan was friends with Jack.
QC: Damn.. the average listener isn’t gonna know this stuff..
JH: Well even if it’s not explained I like writing stuff that’s grounded in reality. There’s this kind of weight when you put real stories in, there’s a rootedness.
QC: And sometimes that can rationalize the whole process for the artist. It can give you the sense of completion you need, to know when something is finished.
JH: Totally.. One weird thing I noticed about that is on Escondida there’s a line I wrote in a very classic, ancient Japanese haiku style where you’re just reporting the facts. Old fashioned haiku style is all about a flash through your mind and you’re just telling the truth about something that happened right in that moment. And there’s a line in the song “Damn Shame” that goes:
“The smell of burnt exhaust,
drifts into the bar.
It’s midnight in California,
It’s high noon where you are.
Its motorcycles and booze,
and it’s dirty old perfume…”
I had been at this bar and there was this motorcycle exhaust drifting through and it was this beautiful clear mountain night in Northern California and my sweetheart was in Russia. And that old boyfriend of mine used to ride motorcycles and it just made me miss him so much at that moment. And writing that was just reporting the facts but it was weird how that line was quoted more than any other line on the album. It was quoted in Rolling Stone, and other writers would gravitate to those lines and I thought that it was because they were so concrete.
QC: Yeah that’s ironic.
JH: I read a really beautiful book about haiku writing when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression on me..
QC: The title of the record and few song references in the album touch upon death and graveyards.. has mortality been on your mind?
JH: Well the second song on the album is about my friend’s buddy who killed himself and then the random connection with Joan Burroughs when I dreamed 13 years ago that I was her. I don’t know, I guess death is always around. It’s not like it’s a random subject.
QC: You may be preaching to the choir on that one..
JH: We’re going to have an altar in the video for Mexico City and I’m going to make portraits today for it..
QC: Oh that will probably be a cool video.. Do you draw or paint?
JH: Yeah I’m kind of a decent portrait artist.. That’s what I thought I was going to be before music took over.
QC: And what are you listening to these days? What are your go to albums at the moment?
JH: I just went through a huge Jason Leonard phase, that was really fun. One of two albums he has out is all these little interludes that he wrote for a radio show and they’re just really pretty and you feel like you’re in a movie when you’re listening to them. I did alot of driving way out of town this summer so that was super sweet. And the other huge record in my life lately is called Purgatory by Stefan Jusco. He made the violin that I play on the record and he’s one of my best friends. I know him since I was 19.
QC: So I always get the traveling story teller feel from you. You go on these little journeys and such. Can you give me something that sticks out as a crazy little adventure amongst your recent travels?
JH: Oh that’s easy, I was going to play this show up at a lighthouse in Saugerties, New York upstate. And we had this truck full of 5 people and it was me, Matt Bauer, Bobby Dangerously who’s on the cover of the record, Brandy Gump, and Jana Weaver. Some really rad people.. and we broke down on the side of the highway in the bronx and it was just so hot and evil. But Brandy took some hilarious pictures of us just sitting there trying not to get heat-stroke.
JH: Then we were picked up by Swoon’s whole road crew and suddenly it was nine people in a mini-van and all of our shit and we went up to this lighthouse and we were really late. But the nine people in the mini-van were the almost amazing barrel of monkeys. I was stuck in that van for 4 hours and it was never shitty. Someone was playing the accordion and we were all singing. It was soo amazing and fun. And then we got up to the lighthouse carrying all our stuff, trampling through the woods.. When we got there this band was playing called Dark, Dark, Dark. And they’re awesome so we all went swimming in the water while they were playing with all our clothes on. We were under this bridge and they were playing on top of it so it was soo beautiful. Then I played after them wearing the dress I had just been swimming in so I was totally soaking wet.
QC: That sounds awesome.. wish I was at that show.
QC: On a different subject, Tom Waits is a noted fan of yours.. what’s your relationship and have you ever jammed together?
JH: It’s kind of like invisible fairy god-father ’cause I’ve never met him..
QC: So did your publicist just run with that one..
JH: Well we have the same fuckin’ publicist (laughing).. but people like to quote that. I mean when I first heard that he liked my music I started crying. I keep getting together packages I’m going to send him. I’ve written him long letters and made him sandals out of bee’s wax, and apparently Kathleen Brennan likes absinthe so I’ve had bottles of absinthe that my friends made that I was gonna send them but I totally chicken’d out.
QC: Damn you gotta do that.. especially the homemade absinthe. If you don’t send that I’m giving you my address and you’re gonna send it over here.
JH: (laughing) I gotta get another bottle though.. I finished that one off.
QC: Yeah you can’t sit on that, it’s way too much fun.
JH: Yeah it was way too much fun..
QC: What’s something random that not alot of people know about you?
JH: That today’s my birthday..
[interview conducted 9/11/08]
QC: Shut up!? for real!?! Happy Birthday Jolie! Are you gonna do anything today?!
JH: I’m trying to figure out what I want to do today but I just feel like cooking. I just want to call people and cook something wonderful.
QC: Does anyone over there know it’s your birthday?
JH: Well I don’t live here but I’m glad I’m away from home. I got the “mango breakfast-in-bed”..
QC: Oooh, who hooked you up with that?
JH: My sweetie..
QC: You’re a lucky girl, that sounds nice..
JH: It was awesome.
QC: Ok I know it’s lame but I gotta tell you that “Springtime Can Kill You” was me and my homie’s anthem when we were the poorest we’ve ever been in the city. We were sooo poor but would always play that and blaze and it was the perfect song for us at the time..
JH: .. When you’re sooo poor you can’t even fuckin’ think about it.. there’s nothing to even think about. There’s noo money so don’t even think about it.
QC: Was that song the spawn of a devastating spring for you, what’s the deal with that song?
JH: Yeah it was a season from hell you… (silence)
QC: You’d rather not get into specifics??
JH: I don’t know it was just hell. A really awful period in my life where I was really isolating myself.. and it was just bad. It was really bad. That song was almost like a joke for me. In the sense of a black comedy, in that it really cheered me up.
QC: It’s oddly one of the most beautiful songs.. I will love that song till I die. It’s unbelievable.
JH: Oh my god thank you.. it’s so nice to hear that.
QC: Are you kidding me?! The way you sing on that song is one of the best vocal displays of any song I have in my itunes, I fuckin’ love that song..
JH: Wow, thank you.. one of the ways that I started writing that song was just walking through the park singing it. I think that’s why it has such a wacky chord structure. It just starts with the melody. Completely, purely with the melody.
QC: Damn, glad I asked that… well that’s all for my questions really but do you have anything random you want to add or say???
JH: Ummm let me think… How did you guys get out of poverty in New York City?
QC: Mmmm… well basically we’re both big talkers so I guess we eventually talked our way into jobs that paid us money and we smoked alot of pot and listened to alot of music..
JH: Did you all ever dumpster dive? Just curious..
QC: Nah we never dumpster dived but I did invent a way to double up on Campbells chicken soup.. I’d make a bowl of Campbell’s chicken and for one meal I would just drink all the broth.. For the second meal, I’d add tomato sauce to the left over pasta…
JH: Oh wow..
QC: Isn’t that really smart?!!
JH: Mmm.. yeah… I guess… I’m just such a cook, I’d be like “go buy some bones!”
QC: Well anytime I cook I just mix the 8 random things that are left in my fridge so pretty much you would never want to eat anything I concocted.. I’m a flavor mixer.
JH: I’m a weird cook too but I buy super nice cheap stuff. I’m really into making bone broth. I’d love to do that today but it takes like eighteen hours to cook so I wouldn’t be able to eat it today.. Making soup is soo awesome! It’s soo fun to make soup..