A few years ago, I was in Austin driving to see a show with my friend and former neighbor Ray Bonneville. Ray was one of the first artists I met in Austin who really made me appreciate living here by making me feel I was among people who understand the daily life of a working musician. He was talking to me about the necessity of “fueling”, which is his term for the time you have to spend having experiences, just living in order to have something decent to write about. As an aside, I will always be grateful to Ray, whose writing I admire so much, for being so approachable and easy to talk to about the writing process.
Writing is definitely a process, and as much mystery as it involves, in my experience there is also a lot of nitty gritty to make yourself open to the mystery. I have to be engaged with my life – can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration like the Romantic/Hermit in me would like to do. I have to make the effort to have real conversations with people, find or reconnect with people who inspire me, listen to a lot of music, find music that inspires me before I really have anything worthwhile to say. And then once I’m all fueled up anew, I have to be willing to write every day for about three weeks before anything I would consider recording or performing comes out.
Part of why I moved to Austin was because the cost of living is lower here than NYC, and it allows me to have time to do the fueling part.
Winter has become my fueling time, because each fall I come back from touring a little tired and roughed up for sure, but hopefully a little bit wiser and definitely a little bit changed in some way. I have taken to using the winter months at home to figure out where those changes are taking me musically. And sometimes things start as a little seed months before I actually see their influence in my writing. For example, I started listening to Mike June’s music about a year ago, last winter. Then, because he was a fan of Jon Dee Graham, I started going to hear Jon Dee regularly. Finally, this week, I started a song which is clearly influenced by both of their writing styles – pretty literal. A new experience for Miss Flowery-Mysterious-Romantic-Imagery. I’m excited and grateful to have some new ways of writing. The lyric is “Well I heard you gave up nicotine/but you’ll never give up beer” and it’s over a straight up rock groove. I was also listening to the Bottle Rockets this week while making a mix cd for a friend. Love that straightforward/cut to the chase stuff. It’s the right compliment for a girl like me.
For me that’s the biggest payoff for slogging through life’s confusing/tiring or (god forbid) boring moments – feeling moved to do something.
This great compilation of children’s songs sung by some of Texas’ most popular artists and produced by Austin’s own Clayton Corn was named Best Children’s Compilation of 2012 by iTunes! Deep in the Heart features the likes of Asleep at the Wheel, Pat Green, Reckless Kelly, Stoney LaRue and more! Jess joins Fred Andrews from Honeybrowne for a duet on Keep on the Sunny Side of Life, plus Jess’s harmonies are featured on Stoney LaRue and Josh Abbott’s tracks! Listen and buy here.
Jess joins an all star cast of Austin Musicians for this Holiday Benefit Album featuring holiday tracks from Asleep at the Wheel, Carolyn Wonderland, Guy Forsyth and many others. All proceeds go to benefit Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, which provides high quality, low cost health care to Jess and thousands of other Austin artists.
If you’re in Austin, you can catch Jess and several other artists from the album at the Holiday HAAM Jam Benefit Show December 12th at Antone’s!
New interview and performance by Jess and Billy on Up Close and Acoustic! Check it out:
It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of public radio stations in the life of an indie musician these days.
When I get into a rut about something, the best way to shake myself out of it is to ask myself: “If I were going to die tomorrow, how would I want to spend today?”