Chatting with Jenny O. about Her Upcoming Album ‘Spectra,’ Tone, and Recording
Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jenny O. will release her fourth long-player, entitled Spectra, on February 24, via Mama Bird Recording Co.
Spectra reveals the outcome of Jenny O.’s reflections on what it means to be a weirdo, to communicate, and, ultimately, to be useful. Produced by Kevin Ratterman, the album features Jenny O. on guitar, bass, and synths, along with the finessed, evocative drumming of Josh Adams.
Difficult to pigeonhole, Jenny O.’s sound on Spectra comprehends a smorgasbord of genres, ranging from the jangly flavors of “You Are Loved Eternally” to slow jams like “Prism,” along with the new wave textures of “Advice At A Dinner Party” and “The Big Cheese,” the delicious a cappella vocals of “There Is A Club,” and the wicked swagger of “Solitary Girl.”
Originally from Long Island, New York, Jenny O. is a classically trained composer and double bassist who studied jazz and delved into trip-hop. Her previous albums include Automechanic, Peace & Information, and New Truth. She has shared the stage with Sixto Rodriguez, Violent Femmes, Father John Misty, and Faye Webster, and performed vocals on recordings by Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Conor Oberst, and Jim James.
Guitar Girl Magazine spoke with Jenny O. to discover how she got started in music, her use of tone, and her writing process.
What inspired your new album, Spectra?
It’s inspired by love, pleasure, and well-being.
Walk us through your mindset as you entered the studio to record the album.
Recording is my favorite part of what I do, so the first day in the studio I was just happy to get started and see my friend Josh Adams, the drummer! First thing we recorded was drums for 2 days. I try to soak it all in, enjoy it, check in with myself and what I really want each song to sound like. The whole record was made in about 14 days, so I came prepared. I have a clipboard and everything.
Is there one song on the album that means more to you personally than the others? If so, why?
There are a few. ‘Pleasure In Function’ is particularly dear to me. It outlines some means of survival, seeing change as the only constant, taking pleasure in the simplest joys of life.
How did you get started in music?
I got into singing and music as a little kid, I’m lucky, my father is a musician, so it was just there. First thing I really played was a little YAMAHA keyboard, later we got a piano, and I started on cello and bass in school. Guitar took me the longest to get into, it was really intimidating to me for many years. Around age 20, I decided if I wanted to be a songwriter, I had to get decent at guitar because there isn’t always a piano around.
Where are you from?
I grew up on Long Island, New York but left when I was a teenager. I now live in Los Angeles, California.
Did your hometown impact your sound?
I think my school district had a particularly good music program with great teachers and I was really encouraged to work hard at both bass and singing to get into all-county and all-state orchestras and choirs. Those early experiences, long rehearsals working out parts and learning to blend together influenced my sound for sure. I still play with choral sounds and harmonies. I played the double bass in orchestra and the conductor (Jim Lawlor, dearly departed) was also my bass teacher. He chose cool music that had exciting bass parts and that probably added to my sense of what can really be done with the low end.
Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?
It evolved naturally.
What kind of guitar do you play?
I mostly play a Sizzler these days, it’s kind of a random 1950’s electric guitar.
What is your definition of tone? And has your tone changed over time?
Tone is the way it sounds. My main guitar tone hasn’t changed. I prefer as little technology and as few variables as possible. That’s one reason why I like old stuff, the guitar and amp sound so classically distorted that I don’t need any pedals. A little reverb. In the studio. I might use different guitars or tones to color the songs.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?
Everything. Lived and felt experiences are infinitely interesting to me. The things we do and say, universal truths, shared humility, lessons learned, and pleasures. Yes, I’m inspired by film too, and the music that moves me or makes me dance.
What can you share about your writing process?
It varies. I hear music subconsciously, so I record every idea and the best ones usually kick around til I finish them. I also keep a notebook, writing down realizations, words, and turns of phrases that interest me. So I might pull lyrics from the notebook. Sometimes it all comes together, music and words, and I feel like I had little to do with it. I have a different process if say, there is a writing session scheduled and the goal is to finish a song in an afternoon. But I find that approach has a way smaller success rate and leads to a lot of half-baked music.
Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?
I admit I have not for a moment in my life had my finger on the pulse of contemporary music, but I like Kendrick Lamar, Shabazz Palaces, Sasami, Angel Olsen, Nick Hakim… Björk is killing it!!
How do you define success?
A proportional exchange between risk or effort with reward or abundance. My kale and spinach garden is a success.
Looking at your experiences from the last few years, what have you learned from them?
I have learned that I can, in fact, cohabitate with a dog. I have learned a lot about regeneration, and the plan to heal our planet, and I’ve learned how important it is to envision a future if we get it right. So that’s been transformational. I also learned more about community, I’m pretty introverted but I have more of an appreciation for the interconnectedness of things.
What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?
Yes, precisely. More videos, more live performances. A celebration of ‘Spectra.’
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