Jessica Pratt's California Love
The singer-songwriter just delivered 'On Your Own Love Again,' a charming follow-up to her debut record.
Photo by Dola Baroni
Though California singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt's most recent album, On Your Own Love Again, was released last week, it was mostly written upon her move to Los Angeles from San Francisco last summer. Though here on the opposite coast, it's now New York in the winter, and there isn't a better time to get lost in this record, driven by the frozen otherworld of "Wrong Hand" or the evocative "Jacquelyn in the Background." These songs could accompany Warren Beatty trudging in the snow in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, or Kurt Russell as MacReady shivering in the final scene of The Thing, or pretty much any other semi-pretentious cinematic reference you could make about how winter makes you feel things. The catch of all of this, though, is that Jessica Pratt hails from the west coast. Where she is, it is never winter.
To put it another way, Jessica Pratt's music has the uncanny ability of taking whatever current emotion you're feeling, and amplifying it. This is a feat.
The singer-songwriter currently resides in LA's Chinatown, and she lives there without a car, which means the album also has the pervasive influence of being stranded in LA. If you can't get a ride, you'll be spending hours transferring from the Green Line Metro to the Silver Line bus and then on to the Blue Line Metro. It takes a while, but it beats paying car insurance or worrying about passing a smog inspection. During our conversation, she casually details how it takes her 45 minutes on the bus to her favorite record store. I ask if she's a fan of Roman Polanski's neo-noir LA, and she replies, " 'Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown' is a line that comes into my head at least once a day.'"
This cinematic scope frames the nine songs of On Your Own Love Again, nine distinct movements of betrayal, bitter lovers, and finding solace in the Pacific Ring of Fire. The record is her first full-length since her self-titled debut in 2011. In 2015, she'll venture on a European tour, an American tour, and will even do a few select dates opening for Panda Bear, all the while enrapturing audiences with just a nylon string guitar and her distinct voice.
Noisey: I love the first line of "Back, Baby." What's your relationship with rain in California? I can't help but think of Jerry Garcia's "Mission in the Rain."
Jessica Pratt: [Laughs.] Jerry, that's great. That's why I like making music. It's like when I listen to Ariel Pink, I hear so many places that he could be coming from, just a millisecond of his music can remind me of something.
I do like the rain. An interviewer just mentioned to me that that line reminds him of Roy Orbison, which is actually very poignant and accurate. When I say that line I feel like Roy Orbison for five seconds. It is oppressively dry here, maybe that was a subliminal thing that came out. Obviously symbolism of rain is pretty pervasive historically in songwriting.
I wanted to ask you about the pitch-shifting that's featured on "Jacquelyn in the Background." I love how the song sort of melts and comes backs again. What was the idea with doing something like that?
Well, pitch shifting, speed shifting, and vocal oscillation are interesting all on their own. I'm tend to be drawn to songs of Mothers of Invention, or even Connan Mockasin or Tim Presley, where you sometimes can't tell if the speed has changed.
With "Jacquelyn," I had recorded the last 30 seconds of it separately and wanted to fuse the beginning and the end together, and I think I was trying to disguise the part of the song where they were being fused. My solution was trying to slow it down, which ended up being this weird melting psychedelic part that I really like.
When did you first start using a four-track and what do you like about recording with it?
I got my four-track in 2011. It was around Christmas time, and my ex-boyfriend got a job where he was making a ton of money. I think he was just tired of seeing me struggle, making things with the wrong resources. So we went on Craiglist, found some dad that was selling his Tascam 424 that his wife bought for him and was the wrong thing. Nothing would have happened without that 4-track, I owe my life to that thing.
Photo by Dola Baroni
I saw that [multi-instrumentalist] Will Canzonieri was also a part of making this album.
Will is the only human I've ever played music with, in any capacity. I needed someone to go on tour with me, and was introduced to him through Tim Presley. He helped with the record immensely, not only was he really supportive and understood me, but he mixed the whole record. I did my own initial mix on the four-track, but when it mattered, he did the whole thing, and he helped me transfer the tapes, which was a hairy complicated process…some of it was on tape and there were also some digital overdubs, so it was this puzzle we had to put together. He also contributed some instrumental tracks on "Moon Dude" and "Wrong Hand." I'm very indebted to him for the work he put on the record.
My favorite song on the album is the title track. I like how it's just a minute and half.
Brevity a really important thing and a useful tool and underutilized perhaps, but maybe there's something about short little songs that feel like the credits are rolling, and it's a nice little finale at the end. There's a song on the self-titled Townes Van Zandt record called "None but the Rain." So my song is short like that, it just felt like the right place to put it. Like a McCartney style ending note.
The song title "Greycedes" seems to suggest that you combined two words together.
That is a factual statement. I did do that. I tend to be very muse-centric in a lot of my songs, and I think this time around, I was trying to evolve as a songwriter. So as things were becoming more concretely autobiographical, I was also trying to balance a sense of abstraction and braininess, so some disguising was necessary, and maybe that resulted in coming up with non-existent words .
Your lyrics read very well, how concerned were you with the form and structure this time around?
This time around I was just taking it very seriously trying to write. I was haunted by the fact that the songs on the first record are so casually written and recorded in a way. They feel very amateurish and unrefined, which is perhaps what people like about it. But to me, it's just been so long that when I hear it it just feels grating and horrible, so it was a concerted effort to write something that felt like real songs. Words are really important and are kind of neglected a little bit.
"Strange Melody" is another favorite of mine, and it has what sounds like a reference to the hook in Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf."
Yeah, totally. That is a thing. I kind of realized that right as it was happening, and went with it. I personally like those weird references to already existing things, and there are some Brian Jonestown Massacre songs where that happens, a sort of direct acknowledgement to a prior song. That song is a strange thing.
It's cool though because you're not just ripping it, just a sort of artistic repurposing.
Yeah, I like that it's this weird moment in the song, and not a "My Sweet Lord" deal. The fun part of listening to lots of music is selecting where you're gonna pull things from.
And unlike George Harrison you're not gonna be paying seven million to Simon Le Bon.
I hope not, I don't have that kind of money!
Gary Canino is on Twitter.