On stage, Jenni Potts sounds exactly like her debut EP, The Fourth, out on Clickpop Records. She doesn’t strain or even look up much. Her head is down, her long legs folded up under her, her foot barely moving to the strum of her guitar. She’s been through a lot, is still trying to figure herself out, and isn’t afraid to show us where she’s at and where she hopes to go.
Jenni sings from her heart and from her soul, sometimes very softly and sometimes with unbridled anger. Tones of Neko Case and Jeff Buckley peek through her music, but she most definitely has a style all her own. I caught up with Jenni at her most recent show at the Nectar Lounge…
What is your favorite part about making music – Performing live? Going into the studio to create? Using your music as a tool for release?
My favorite part is definitely the human capability that I have, and my need to express myself through music. I think that people have a need to know all the answers and to be in control. I, like everyone else, get caught up in juggling where to be and when, worrying about who I’m pleasing and just trying to be on top of my life. But when that all comes crashing down (which seems to happen daily for me), I am only left with my feelings and the few things that I'm actually sure of. Making music is the best way for me to communicate to everyone what I know. I can sing a melody and design a rhythm and depict a vague elusive idea, but I have almost no control, if any at all, as to how it is heard, felt, and interpreted by others. Yet it still seems to bring unity between me and the world more than anything else. I feel as real and as liberated and as alive as I can when I’m doing it on stage, in front of a nameless crowd of ears and hearts.
Going to the studio is the more professional side of playing music, but also a pretty fun side. I seldom play with other musicians live, so having my producer behind the glass while I’m recording, giving his affirmation and his input, is kind of like jamming for me. And having musicians or singers come in and help out on my recorded material is an honor, and at times quite surreal. I may write a song while shedding tears on the floor next to my bed or in a park at 3 am, but then I take that, which originated as so personal, and put it out there in the open. Hearing other people's opinions and melding their musical contributions with my music gives me a feeling that I can't really compare to any other experience. It can be hard sometimes, but more often than not I feel more special and appreciated than ever. And having the feelings that project themselves from the most inner parts of my being be translated into music and then be the topic of conversation by friends and complete strangers is a very unique and humbling event.
Who do you hope to work with in the studio in the future? Or who did you really enjoy working with this time around?
I’d love to do some work with Kristen Allen Zito (of The Trucks). I had her sing harmony on one of my songs on the full-length and her voice sounds amazing. She is so gifted and original in her song writing. I loved having Mike Harris of Idiot Pilot sing and play bass and guitar on my recordings too. Both of the Idiot Pilots boys’ talent blows my mind and I feel so fortunate to have had both of them work on my material. I adore Mike’s voice and the harmonies he comes up with. I think he adds a hauntingly beautiful, yet somewhat eerie edge to my music. Daniel Anderson’s (Idiot Pilot) guitar compositions have a very compelling sound. His dissonant guitar riffs and moving rhythms on my song “Pro LC” are what really makes that song as pretty and as free as I believe it to be. I want all those people back in the studio when I make another record. As far as new people… I tried to get Benjamin Verdos from In Praise of Folly to sing on my record but it just didn’t work out. I am in love with his singing voice. Seriously, he has once of the most amazing voices I’ve ever heard and I am so honored that he expressed desire to sing on my album. Schedules are conflicting sometimes, so better luck next time I hope.
How is your new album similar, or dissimilar, to your EP The Fourth?
The Fourth EP is a beautiful product and I am so happy with the way it turned out, but it is an incomplete piece. It depicts the pain and struggle and ugliness and beauty of a particular state of mind and just barely hints at the hope. It does show longing for, and the face behind, a tiny bit of hope and endurance, though. The EP is kind of like a hint to the full-length album. The full-length is not as simple. It has some songs that are softer and more melodic than the EP, but it also has some songs that are heavier on the drum beat and the bass and the vocals. Lyrically the songs vary as well. I think that the album is more complete than the EP because it describes different parts of one phase of my life, while the EP describes one state of mind or mood. But the full length really gives off a feel that is still incomplete, as well. It gets a little bit closer to what I'm searching for and suffering from, but it still doesn't depict a solution. I think my next release after my upcoming album debut will accentuate my current recordings because it will explain them more and it will give a more complete view of me through my music. The full-length is darker in some ways and sweeter in others. It’s more too chew on than the EP, but I love it to pieces and I’m excited to get it out to the public.
Was it hard to record your first release? Or did it just come naturally to you?
I’m not going to lie. It was very hard at times. The EP and the full -ength were both recorded at the same time. We just recorded over twenty different songs and then picked which would go on the EP and which would go on the album. I think recording did come naturally to me in the sense that I wasn’t bashful or self-conscious when I was doing it. However, a structured schedule and hours and hours of singing and playing guitar and other instruments and trying to perform the task over and over until there were no mistakes was not easy. Don’t get me wrong though; I had a great time recording and I love the studio. But, I am your typical artsy person who’s flaky and disorganized, just trying to get the practical stuff in my life in order.
Oh yea, that kind of stuff is hard for everyone. Don't think that you're alone in that.
I know I’m not alone, but it really feels like it sometimes. I know so many musicians and people in the music business that are so put-together and just on top of everything. I find myself feeling overwhelmed and like a huge loser sometimes when I compare myself to them. But I’m pretty young and inexperienced compared to most of the bands that are well-known around town. I need to learn how to be responsible and organized sooner or later in life, and what better way to practice this than through something I love and am willing to fight for?
Who would you love to play a show with, local or otherwise?
I sang back up and played guitar for a musician friend of mine before I ever played solo. I also performed with her at a bar in Seattle with a bunch of artists, one being Jen Wood. I would love to play a show with Jen Wood. She is freaking talented and I adore everything about what she creates musically. Her voice, her lyrics, her dissonant guitar sounds, her harmonies. I could go on for hours.
Do you feel wise for your age? If so, do you feel that it's because of the experiences that you've already faced in your life?
I usually don’t like to use the phrase “for my age” because I think that age defines people in the United States much more than it should and is really less of a factor in describing someone than we think. Bu
t yes, I will say that I think I am wiser than most people my age. My experiences definitely have given me a broad perspective because I have been so impulsive and I can identify with so many different environments. I remember back when I was 13 or 14; I was super goody-goody and I was good in school and in church. I had never broken the rules and didn’t curse or drink or touch boys or anything, yet I still strived to comprehend things to higher level, and even then came to conclusions that were considered beyond by years. So, I don’t really know why I'm this way. It’s probably a combination of things. My upbringing, my brain chemistry, my exposure to the media and art, along with the people I chose to hang out with and my fuck-ups (and the repercussions of those fuck-ups) all contributed to how wise I feel, I guess. You know… a bunch of stuff.
What is the driving force or influence behind your music?
The driving force? I don’t know exactly. Maybe the constant struggle and fight for survival that I, and all living things, experience. When branches are ripped off of a tree it just keeps growing more branches and more leaves. I don’t know how it does that but when my life is threatened I grow my branches by singing and playing my guts out. Whatever it takes I’ll do it. Sometimes I just have to cut everything off for an hour or two and run to more private place, whether it’s my bedroom or some secluded forest, and just sing and play. I need to open up and express myself with no limitations of insecurity or fear of rejection. Singing and playing music, whether it's for open ears or just for the breeze in the air, is the only way I can expose myself without holding back. And thank God I’m more confident with my music than anything else.
Well, maybe that's why music is kind of your calling. It helps you do things that you wouldn't be able to otherwise. I think it's like that for a lot of people, maybe with their writing or performing or creativity. Everyone needs an outlet and a way to deal right?
Yes, yes, yes. I feel so blessed that I found my calling (if you want to call it that) so early. I know so many beautiful, strong, passionate people that still don’t really know where to aim there efforts and how to manifest there mind into something tangible. And it’s so hard for them. Everyone needs to express themselves and feel understood and accepted and respected. I think that every person is incomplete in a sense and needs to communicate with living things by expressing and receiving in some way.
If you weren't singing and producing great records what would you be doing right now?
Um, I’m not sure I even want to think about that. It’s no secret (if you listen to my music enough) that I have had some pretty self-destructive characteristics in the past. I really don’t know where I would be if this music opportunity didn’t come along. It’s what motivated me to keep living and keep pressing forward and keeping hoping and believing that I’ll reach the sunshine someday. So I hate to talk about something else I would be doing without putting emphasis on just how freaking much music means to me. If this opportunity just disappeared tonight I would probably just concentrate on school and study art history and maybe try to get a job in film later in life.
How did you start out singing and performing?
Well, I played piano at a young age. I played cello for awhile. I started playing guitar at 13 and then didn’t realize I could sing till about 13 or 14. I was performing music from when I was pretty little with Keyboard Kids and Orchestra in school from age 10 to age 15. I lead a worship band at a church when I was in high school for a few years, believe it or not. But I didn’t start playing shows at bars or cafés or music venues with my voice and my guitar until I was 17. My friend Tara Ward, who was in the band Late Tuesday, introduced me into that world by letting me back her up on her solo stuff at shows and letting me play a song of mine sometimes. When I was 18 my friend Daniel Anderson, of Idiot Pilot, found a little demo I had made at my studio apartment and told me he was going to take it and listen to it. And then he showed Clickpop Records, aka Paul Turpin and Dave Richards, my demo and they told him to tell me that they wanted to see me play a show. So, I wrote a bunch of songs that I could actually remember on stage and played my first personal show ever as Jenni Potts in Bellingham at Bay Street Coffee House. As a result I was signed to Clickpop Records June of 2006. Pretty cool for me.
Pretty cool indeed. Jenni Potts new full length will be out in early 2008. In the meantime, check out her stunning debut EP, The Fourth, out on Clickpop Records.