Monday, December 10, 2012
Crowd types I've played to:
1) No one
2) Next to no one
3) The bartender and the one friend I least want to be there
4) A few of my friends using their cheers to try to double their numbers when they are the only people filling 25% of the room
5) A few of my friends drowned out by drunken frat boys who to their credit cheer wildly at "A Thousand Miles"
6) Friends forced in to whispered commentary by their proximity of the stage
7) A lot of my friends talking/eating/drinking/having a good time who stop their socializing to cheer wildly at the end of each song
The crowd I played to Tuesday night at Knitting Factory was entirely new. I got the lucky right-before-the-educational-panel slot, when everyone was ushered in from mingling in from the front room to be seated in folding chairs and LISTEN. And listen they did until they could close each song with a golf clap. I had about two friends in the audience (sorry promoter) so they weren't there to turn the tide. Not much energy to feed off, just me alone on stage with Elliott, staring past the blinding lights to the silhouettes of musicians silently reciting their elevator pitches so they could storm the panelists after I was done. I didn't feel like entertainment. I felt like a hurdle for these people to jump through.
I'm already pretty shy and networking-averse, but there's not much that sounds worse to me than being the next person in line trying to sell her music to an "industry player." So I barely spoke to anyone. Haha. We'll need to get over that. The shy, sensitive "poet" types don't get very far these days.
Neither do artists without funds, as evidenced by the band who brought $20,000 worth of equipment to play a 5-song set. But that's another story for another time. :)
What is it about musicians that keeps us from enjoying someone else's music? Part of it is that we see the other's flaws, yes. But also I think we're all terrible at living in the moment, particularly when there's a chance to promote ourselves coming up in 30 minutes. We're all about the future, the next step, the bigger concept… not today, this note, this moment.
I wonder if my anxiousness when listening to other musicians is a symptom of the larger problem that makes me sometimes snap out of performing headspace mid-set and worry about the number of people in the room, whether they're having a good time, whether they feel like they have to be polite, etc. It's just really hard for me to stay in the present moment when my music is involved.
Maybe learning to listen attentively to someone else's songs and enjoy them at face value will be good practice for living in the moment.
Found my first resolution for 2013! :)
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Some people go into a separate headspace to put on a show. They step into another character of who they think the audience wants to see. It's always been important for me to be genuine, so in performance, I've always tried to actually connect with my songs on stage, rather than just pretend I mean what I'm singing. I feed off the crowd's energy a little bit, but not the way that loud and boisterous artists do. Most of the energy and feeling has to come from inside of me.
Watching the AMAs the other night, you'd think that connection between song and performer was the last thing the fans wanted. Everything was about spectacle, weird outfits, and incongruous dance routines played out behind the artist as if she were too tiny to possibly hold anyone's attention. Even the emotionally vulnerable songs were spouted from heads with dead eyes. Is this what the industry thinks we want? Is this what we want?
That sort of smoke and mirrors just isn't me. I want to mean what I'm singing, and not just look like I mean what I'm singing. I want to have a real emotional abandon that lets each song swallow me. I want to connect with the audience too, but that part comes less easily. I get nervous. I worry about being observed. I fret that I'm boring everyone. (I'm a little defeatist, I know.)
Friday's show at SideWalk felt really good though. Before the show, I went downstairs to have a few quiet moments to myself. Then onstage with the piano on the side, I could launch my emotions into the wall and turn my head to the audience when I felt ready. It was a lovely mix between feeling like they were watching me and feeling like I was playing alone in my room.
Before I moved to New York, I could barely perform live. I had grown up singing solos in church, and that was one thing, but I playing original songs on piano was entirely different. I'd play these gigs at the college coffee shop where five people would come and I'd still be so nervous that my voice would shake and my hands would forget the chords. Now after three years of playing in NYC, I feel like I'm finally starting to get the hang of it. It goes to show that you can get better at anything with practice!
I'm so grateful that I played all of those bizarre gigs at weird bars to three people so I could get to this place where I'm starting to be confident and people are actually starting to come to my shows. And I'm so grateful to all of you who have stuck it out through my floundering to hear the songs that my nerves were obscuring. I'm learning that I don't have to be anxious at a show. Nor do I have to become someone that I'm not. You are coming to hear what comes from inside of me, and that's what matters.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
The EP release show was great! Derek entertained us with his piano wizardry and Jen made our guts wrench with her soulful singing. I loved seeing so many old (and new!) friends that night!
If I were a normal person, living in a normal city where people could afford things like cars and parking was free, I'd tour. Not a lot, just like, on weekends to do stuff around the Northeast. As it is, I'm going to make it back to DC (yay!) and hopefully some new places like Philly and Boston. (If you have any venues with pianos to recommend, please do! Makes my life a 124,234,124,984 times easier.)
In November, I'll be playing a long afternoon set at Kávé in Bushwick, where you can have some coffee and hear some "deep cuts," and a show at SideWalk, which I plan to record and release as a live album! (Unless it sucks, in which case, forget I ever said this.)
Beyond that, I'm already planning on another EP for early 2013, tentatively titled Torch and containing 4-6 songs— probably "Nothing To Say To You," "What We Meant," and "Wildflowers," for sure.
It's weird— I expected I'd feel some sense of accomplishment once the EP came out and the release show was over. As it is, I can't stop thinking about the next thing. But I suppose not obsessing over what I can't change and looking forward to the future is its own accomplishment in itself. :)
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
16 W 8th St, New York, NY
No cover! Free CDs for all!
7pm: Derek Bishop
8pm: Jennifer Vazquez
9pm: Jana Fisher
RSVP to the Facebook event!
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
I don't know how they figured that out about me, but yes, it's true. I'm running this show mostly by myself. This morning I've been designing digital liner notes for Ideals & Deals (which comes out on Tuesday!) and playing with merch designs. I've also been running my own publicity campaign, which in case you've never done, is depressing as sh*t. So I'm going to take a minute to celebrate all the good things people have been saying about "30k!"
"'30K' is a testament to the exploratory ins and outs of hopping off the bus in New York City, and hoping against any odds that you'll make it there… In her video, she blogs that walking across the Manhattan Bridge represents the wide-eyed approach to transforming yourself, and then, as her costumes change, molding into a city girl—and eventually as simply yourself." — Curve Magazine (not to play favorites but this one's my favorite)
"'30k' … is spunky, upbeat and good to foot tap to. What we wouldn’t do for that eh Jana?" — Higher Plain Music
"I love this catchy pop song, from a good girl with a great voice. So close your eyes and enjoy the magic." — My So-Called Gay Life
Not to mention all the great YouTube comments!
It has also been featured on:
DIGA @ Stetson
Kings of A&R
I'm not good at bragging so I appreciate when people do it for me. :)
I feel like I'm fighting the Internet, and I will win only with a thousand tiny cuts. I just have to keep fighting! So thanks for indulging me in this little pep talk. And if you haven't watched the video yet, go do it! I wouldn't be bugging you so much if I weren't so proud of it and certain you'd enjoy it. (While you're at it, please watch it 1000x and leave a comment. plzyou'llmakemydayokthx)
Update: New feature from SheWired! "You don't want to miss the sweet, angelic voice of this self-described 'lyrical folky piano pop' artist."
Friday, September 21, 2012
Monday, September 17, 2012
Friday, August 24, 2012
It also means that I have to write my own bio.
Writing my own biography is hard. Not just because it's awkward (though also amusing) to quote myself. But because so many different stories make up my life and I have to choose just one arc, make it neat, and have it end sounding like I've arrived at some destination of maturity/self-actualization/blah blah.
I'm an introvert with many floating "free traits" that I'm in the habit of presenting in different combinations. I'm used to telling different parts of my story to different people. And now I have to choose one and let it be how the world sees me?
I choose the preacher's kid arc because it's the most concrete. It's something unique about me— much more interesting than, for example, the story of struggling to be okay with doing music rather than continuing to pursue academics— and it's a big part of my identity. But it's hard to convey that story to people who haven't lived it. The bio makes it sounds like I've built my identity on rebelling against that role, but that's not it. I still play that role every day.
The problem with making that "my story" is that it makes it seem like the book is closed. In reality it's hard to make understood something that I don't even completely understand myself.
I guess that's why most people wait until the end of their lives to write autobiographies— to have the insight that comes with hindsight.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I learned that the hard way when we were supposed to meet there to shoot the "30k" music video and both Bill the director and Asia the makeup artist got lost. I just sat there quietly practicing my Zen.
The main concept for the video is that I cross the Manhattan bridge as a wide-eyed and hopeful transplant and change clothes for each verse as I try harder to fit the mold of what I think will make me a city girl. We decided to shoot the part on the bridge first because it we were trying to beat the rain.
It started raining the second my makeup was done. But that's okay, wet concrete looks awesome!
For verse 2, I turn super hipster with my little fedora and vest and junk. By then it had stopped raining. Go figure.
I was nervous about verse 3 because I'd be putting on clothes I'd never wear under normal circumstances. For one, I don't wear heels. Period. Because I'm a huge klutz. I come within inches of spilling an entire water bottle on my computer about once a week. But I had 4+ inch clonkers to strap to my feet. Then I was supposed to wear this tiny dress, fake eyelashes, and the whole nine yards. I changed under the bridge using a huge t-shirt (during a red light, of course. ugh) and then kept the t-shirt on to get my makeup done.
But once the transformation was complete, I had fun with it. I almost believed it could work (until I had to walk anywhere. Those awful shoes kept me grounded).
Verse 4 took place after a long night out, all that beautiful makeup smudged. I looked terrible.
Then woohoo! The hard part was done. Asia took off my makeup so I could breathe and go eat vegetarian meatballs.
We competed with a couple taking their wedding photos near Brooklyn Bridge Park in Dumbo so I could be an incognito hoodie-wearer carrying a suitcase. Obviously the video shoot was way more important. Duh!
Then we went back to Bill's apartment so I could play the narrator — a nice girl in a dress singing into the camera from a basement.
It was 8pm when we wrapped! So we went down the street for dinner and celebratory drinks. It was a carnivore restaurant so I had braised collard greens and roasted potatoes and a cocktail called Hemingway's Daughter. (Why didn't I take pictures of my food??)
I've developed this sort of jealousy that actors get to be different people all the time while I only get to have one life. But a music video is sort of a mini trip into other realities! I can't wait to share it with you (and do to it again).
Many many thanks to director William Murray (who also took these photos) and makeup artist Asia Werner for being super troopers and otherwise awesome!
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
I feel unprepared for good things.
Good things are easier to manage when they're far off in the distance, when they'll be ours sometime in the future when we meet some unattainable standard of worthiness. We spend so much time dreaming about them but keep telling ourselves we just aren't ready.
And then a good thing happens. And while we love it, it's scary. It hints at other impossible things. It demands that we stop making excuses for why we don't deserve the things we want and actually go after our goals.
Sometimes it's easier to reject the good things that come our way so we don't have to leave our comfortable anxiety. One good thing has the power to ripple through our entire self-perception and completely change a life.
I always had a thousand reasons why I wasn't ready to make new music. Now that it's finished, I feel like it was waiting for me all my life. What seemed like a Herculean task before I started ended up feeling entirely natural— a thing I will do again and again and again. A thing that opens the door to more adventures, more dreams.
We all come up with reasons why we're not special enough to have the things we desire most.
But guess what? We are.
We deserve good things.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
If the personal is political, and my songs are personal, then…
I usually refrain from ranting about politics, first of all because I feel like I'm not qualified. The closest I came to studying poli sci was History of French Civilization. I mean, come on. And secondly I feel like there's enough ranting in the world and I don't need to add to it.
Unfortunately, tensions are high in an election year, and in the Facebook era that means getting bombarded with everyone's off-the-cuff opinions and articles that support their viewpoints. I log on to the Book of Faces and skim through everything, usually to find myself stewing in my own frustration.
(Maybe I do that on purpose— going somewhere and reading stuff that I know will make me angry because I need something outward to direct my anger toward so it doesn't collapse inward. Maybe that's why everyone feels qualified to rant about politics, because it's a more acceptable form of aggression than punching someone ugly.)
It's not that I want everyone to agree with me. I'm pretty liberal, but I definitely appreciate well-reasoned arguments for small government when they actually come around. However, most of the political opinions I see are just so poorly reasoned! Opinions on all sides of this current Chick-fil-A madness have been so frustrating to me that I actually jumped in and posted this:
"With every purchase you make, you are voting with your dollars. Not just when you buy something from a company that's recently gotten bad publicity or is the subject of numerous Facebook memes, but EVERY time you buy something. There are so many issues to think about when you think about what companies you're supporting: fair labor practices, environmental waste, treatment of animals, use of carcinogenic chemicals… and yes, treatment of LGBT folk, to name only a few. I'm glad the Chick-fil-A issue is raising people's consciousness of what their purchasing power can actually do, but one CEO's insistence on "traditional marriage" is not the only hill to die on. And I don't eat chicken anyway. :)"
Amazingly, people on both sides seemed to appreciate it. I'm kinda thinking this is my cue to jump in and try to say things that are somewhat sane rather than just sitting back and trying to make things better by staying out of it.
And you know what? I'm already involved in politics. I eat vegan foods, a lot of which are organic and local, because I want my food choices to reflect my values. I use my bike to commute because I think that self-propelled transportation is a step we need to take toward sustainability. I'm a feminist (more about that some other time.) And I write songs that …
I've often wished that I knew how to write a good protest song à la Guthrie, Dylan, DiFranco. But my music is already political! It might be subtle, but I write about gender relations, struggles with religion, how love is the same no matter who I'm dating… And I'm a woman using my own voice and making a career for myself.
I guess maybe that does mean I'm qualified to talk about politics. Maybe we all are. Isn't each of us having our own voice the very point? ;)
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
As to how I'm financing this project, I don't have a label, and I'm not planning on running a crowdfunding campaign — so put away your wallets! ;) This is something I'm doing for myself, on my own. When the time comes, you can support me by coming to shows and spreading the word. I have the money to pay for all of this myself… mostly because of Obamacare.
Let's back up.
So, as you may or may not know, I graduated college at 20. I came in with a lot of credits and I left early to get cracking on this music thing sooner rather than later. Up until graduation I had wonderful health insurance through my mom's employer, but as soon as my diploma was in hand I was given the boot.
Now in what world is a 20-year-old expected to have health benefits through their job? I suppose I could have gotten them by staying a latte slave at Starbucks, where I worked part-time during my unpaid music business internship, but I chose to follow that internship to the job that I have now— a job that still does not have benefits.
Being too paranoid to go without health insurance in a crazy city where I could be hit by a car (or a train, or a bike [as happened this weekend], or a drunk person's fist) at any second, I decided to pay for COBRA through my mom's employer. Sadly, it was $300/month for less coverage I'd had previously. It's a good thing I had it because I ended up needing it to check out some mysterious health problems I started having (long story for another day, but if you hang with me just know I eat weird food now), but every time I got a bill back it would be like "Why am I paying $300 a month for insurance and still owing this doctor $170?" It was ridiculous. Health care was eating up almost as much of my meager income as my overpriced NYC rent.
And then Obamacare happened! In 2011, I was able to go back on my mom's health insurance. I went from owing the insurance company $300 a month to something like $150 a year. That's over $3000 back in my pocket just in premiums, not to mention what I save by having better coverage. I think the total is closer to $5000.
Before Obamacare, I was literally living paycheck to paycheck. There's no way I would have been able to save up to finance this EP if that money had not come back to me. Now in this new reality where healthcare isn't my biggest expense after housing, I've saved up money for some financial security, and I put the rest back in the hands of musicians— people who definitely don't have employer-based health insurance.
This is the first time that a change in government policy has directly affected me so dramatically. And that's why I was a nervous wreck waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether the Affordable Care Act was constitutional or not, because I simply can't afford to go back to the way things were. I don't know what I'll do when I turn 27, but hopefully by then health care won't be such a make-or-break expense for me.
I usually stay away from political debates (that may change ... been listening to too much Rachel Maddow), but this issue is obviously very close to my heart. The ACA isn't some specter of socialized medicine waiting to take away our rights. It's a real thing that benefits real people. And it's (if indirectly) bringing you a little EP called Ideals & Deals, and hopefully several more to come.
Much love to all my friends without health insurance. May this period of your life sans safety net end soon.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Life is really complicated when you're 18.
That's what I've learned from this blog series. A History of Sleepwalking is a snapshot of an emotionally dense and complicated teenager, a person who seems almost a stranger to me now. I don't know about you, but I find that as I get older, the world appears more and more multi-faceted, nuanced, and layered, while my little life grows smaller and simpler.
It's comforting to wake up to be more or less the same person every day. Even though I'm constantly changing — and nothing scares me more than the prospect of becoming stagnant — my growth is linear. Each day starts with the same struggles, right where I left them. And it's nice that I can count on that, you know?
No matter how hard things get, I can always look back on the path that I'm on and be reassured by how far I've come. If I could make it through all that, I can do anything.
That's what I'd like to tell the Sleepwalker now— that even though the world outside is terrifying and ugly, the things inside her are not.
The Sleepwalker is beautiful.
I think I can admire her for what she is and close the book on that chapter of my life.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
My senior year of high school was really hard. I'm sure lots of people say that, but it seemed to high school me that I was having an especially rough time of it. Several circumstances, caused some by my actions but mostly by my inacion, resulted in losing friends and respect. At 17, I found myself alone with more regrets than a teenager should have.
I wrote this song partly as a bittersweet graduation song that I would sing at my final choir concert, but also to comfort myself. I wanted to convince myself that even though I had lost friends and would soon move away from the friends I had left, they'd still stay with me. I'd still have memories of the good times before everything went wrong.
I wasn't strong enough to make it through that year, so in this song, I created an older version of myself to be my strength, to reassure me that everything would turn out alright.
And you know what? It did.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
We interrupt your regular programming to bring you a special broadcast … about recording!
Yes, it's true. I finally got around to setting down three of the ten billion songs I've written in the past five years. Since Sleepwalking was recorded in solitude with mostly electronic instruments, I decided to challenge myself on this EP by going in the opposite direction: recording quickly and organically with real instruments and as much collaboration as possible.
Elliott, the guitarist, drove me to Brooklyn, playing Jack White and Dawes for me. (How I've missed car stereos!) We met Shawn, the percussionist, at The Gallery in Bushwick, an ingeniously built studio in the normally unfinished McKibben Lofts. We were greeted by Brian, the co-owner and engineer, who turned out to be an unbelievably cool and talented guy.
I started off the day by laying down scratch piano tracks before starting the guys off. Brett Gleason, my co-producer and primo supporter for this project, joined in as an extra pair of ears. He came up with an idea for the bridge of "30k" that we had fun communicating on the fly by trying to explain through the talk back mic. Elliott and Shawn sounded great— and somehow Brian made cajon, shaker, and tamborine sound like a full drum kit!
Me and Brett Gleason
After they left, Sam came by to snap some photos and I laid down my final piano takes. I was even feeling energized and manic enough to start recording vocals up to the last minutes of the session. Sam and I left to go find sushi and passed by a girl skateboarding in a dress and the folks at Bushwick Open Sound System playing music onto the sidewalk. (Oh, Brooklyn.)
The day 2 crew was just Brian and me. I did more vocal takes than I really wanted to edit, but singing into the M-Audio Sputnik felt soooo good I didn't want to stop! Most of Sunday was spent listening, editing, and eating vegetables. (Brian and I joked that we should submit our menu for that day for a world record for Healthiest Diet Consumed by a Studio Duo.) Brian sent me home with some rough mixes and I went to bed exhausted and satisfied.
I'm really excited about how everything is sounding! It's all so organic and energetic with the live instruments. "You Deserve Better" has become upbeat somehow, "30k" has taken on a honky tonk feel, and "If I Ever Break Your Heart" is sounding really beautiful. I can't wait for you all to hear the new recordings. :)
Friday, April 27, 2012
Thursday, April 5, 2012
I think this is the only one that I'm really embarrassed by. It's so self-righteous! And so graphic! I thought that by making it explicit, I could convince people that I was bringing them "wisdom from the other side," but really it just makes the song unlistenable.
It also promotes a worldview I picked up from youth group and no longer agree with, namely that:
1) Sexual purity is the primary measure of moral character
2) We must view the loss of innocence as a tragic event after which we become "less-than"
Don't get me wrong— I think it's important to teach teenagers about the consequences of their actions. But forcing this "innocence-or-nothing" worldview on them takes away their ability to make their own narrative. It's why I thought my life was over at 17. It's why I said "Our future beauty can no longer last / Because of all the stains of lovers past" and thus gave people an excuse to treat me as the "less-than" I thought I was.
If you're 17 and reading this, DON'T LISTEN TO THIS SONG. Your chance for happiness is not over. Take this song as an example of extremely flawed thinking and go make your own life.
I still like one line in this song though:
Though I battle with demons each day
It's compromise that steals the soul.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
It's based on a book of the same title, about a girl who, guess what, gets burned in a fire. I wish I remembered the author's name; I would write her. I tried to look it up just now on Amazon— they have everything, right? Instead of an emotional YA novel, I found two erotica novels with that title. (The song is not about them.)
[Okay, it's there, out of print, but writing to a stranger with an out of print book makes me uncomfortable. I mean, what if she's become a nun and sworn off computers or something? I wouldn't want to disturb her.]
Writing this song was an important stepping stone for me. As a person, I struggle constantly to step out of my own head. As a writer, I've gotten wrapped up in thinking that my own thoughts are all I have to say. "Out of the Fire" was the first song I wrote "on command," so to speak. But it was also my first glimpse of universal themes— on what I, a self-made outcast, have in common with the rest of humanity.
It gave me a glimmer of hope that I wouldn't remain imprisoned in my own mind forever.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I couldn't figure out what to say about this song. For like, two months. Because you probably think this song is about you.
Seriously, I made the mistake of posting these lyrics somewhere online in my LiveJournal days (ancient history!) and the subject knew instantly the song was about him. But since it's sort about everyone who's ever been in my life, it wasn't that much of a stretch.
Some free advice: even though it feels natural to repeat your mistakes, you're actually supposed to learn from them.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Faith is a wonderful thing but one that requires that I exert myself to find. In some ways it would have been easier if I despised it. But instead I doubted, and doubting is hard, and I wished I didn't. I never felt like I fit into either the saintly or wild preacher's daughter archetypes, so I felt like I fraud. I staged small rebellions by listening to rock music and dyeing weird streaks in my hair.
This song, like several on the second half of the album, is about stepping outside the saint vs. prodigal narrative. It's about solidarity with the doubters and the beauty of not having all the answers. It's about coming as you are.
Friday, January 13, 2012
This is the only track I recorded actual acoustic percussion for instead of just using software instruments, but you would still never find me in the studio playing drums. I made beats with snipping scissors, zipping zippers, cracking knuckles and a squeaking chair to give the percussion an artificial feel— a feel of alteration, of surgery.
Four years later, I think this song — and most of the album, and much of my pre-New York life — makes the female character out to be too much of a helpless victim. But its essential message still rings true: a lack of honesty will destroy a relationship.
Oh, and by the way— "Abdicate in the Lines" means to give up what makes you special in the way that everyone expects you to.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
This song is a feminist anthem.
No, I'm serious! Okay, okay, let me back up.
I wrote this song about a boy. Surprise, surprise. I thought he would save me — not just my soul, but my music as well.
You see, he was a keyboard player, one I considered much more skilled than I was. He could improvise and I couldn't; he made all sorts of nice synth arrangements when I was trapped in piano/vocal; he was in two (relatively) successful local bands and I rarely played my own music live. Becoming his girlfriend felt like watching my ship come in. I saw this future where we played in bands together, he produced my records, and we got married at like 18.
Needless to say, that never happened (and thank heavens it didn't — it would've been domesticide, just like the book trailer!). But I wrote this song about him. It originally had a one-handed piano part and an unsingable vocal line so rapid that all the words got mushed together in an endless breathy whisper. Despite encouragement from friends who praised its innocence and vulnerability, I shelved it.
Then came college, where I learned how to do things that previously seemed outside my own capabilities. I made my own arrangements, I started playing my own music live, and I even learned how to improvise (a little). And I found the courage to pick up this song again and rewrite it.
Instead of waiting for someone else to swoop in and save my music for me, I did it myself. That's the whole story of A History of Sleepwalking, really. To make my own fairy tale.