JENNY O

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JENNY O.

Interview with original photographs by Brian Snider

 

“I RESENT MY DUTIES LIKE A TEENAGER BUT

THIS IS WHAT MUST BE WRITTEN ABOUT NOW.”

-Jenny O


With music in her blood Jennifer Anne Ognibene or simply Jenny O as she is known best, grew up in Long Island New York around instruments, her father a science teacher and a Rock and Roll cover musician. She went to college for Jazz improvisation but found her calling when a friend put recording programs on her computer and she switched schools to focus on writing and recording. She eventually found her way to Los Angeles where she recorded and released her first EP Home in 2010. In 2013 she worked with producer Jonathan Wilson to release her first full-length Automechanic, toured extensively with Father John Misty, Leon Russell, and others. Her music was licensed and appeared in ad campaigns and television shows. She moved to Nashville for a period as a bit of a personal test, then returned to Los Angeles where she released her second EP Work at the end of 2016, and as the calendar rolled over to 2017 Jenny prepared to release her second full-length Peace and Information, once again produced by Jonathan Wilson.

Peace and Information was not the album that Jenny wanted to write, not entirely. Lost in some other dimension is an album written about clouds, rainbows, and that satisfaction that introverts get from blending into a crowd. Instead her pen was pushed by a challenging personal relationship and the current political landscape; climate change, social injustice, the moral bankruptcy of America. Despite the heavy subject matter Jenny wrote an album of fun hook-filled songs, in fact she left a handful of “sad songs” unfinished, unwilling to spend the next few years playing them over and over. Peace and Information is beautifully crafted taking huge risks while capitalizing on Jenny’s wholesome vocals, her songwriting, and Wilson’s propensity for vintage sounds from the late 1960’s and 1970’s. When Peace and InformationĀ was released on August 4th Jenny O delivered an album that was both culturally relevant and beautiful.

 


BRIAN SNIDER

You’ve said that “these aren’t necessarily the songs I wanted to write but they were the ones I had to write.” Can you extrapolate on that a little, about why you “had to write” them?

JENNY O.

Oh, I just sort of write myself out of my troubles, you know, and I had a few really difficult years so I had to write about those things. And racism, and the environment, I resent my duties like a teenager but this is what must be written about now.

BS

Much of this album was written in a cabin in Nashville Tennessee, which was once owned by Jimmy Buffett. Did you end up there because he formally owned it or is that just a unique coincidence?

JO

Just a coincidence. He owned it in the 70’s, it’s changed hands a few times. In its final year it was a rental property leased to my friend and she invited me to sublet a bedroom.

BS

Peace & Information is the 2nd time you’ve worked with producer Jonathan Wilson, what does he specifically bring to the table that you don’t have on your self-recorded EP’s or that you wouldn’t have with another producer?

JO

Well he’s spent his life developing recording techniques and acquiring the best gear, whereas by myself I record with one mic someone gave me 12 years ago and I don’t EQ anything. I just think about music and let other people think about sound. Jonathan is really fearless and such a cool, skilled guitar player. He likes stuff weird and risky, which I’m into, not everyone is prepared to stand by a weird stupid sound or whatever, but he loves it, and I welcome the adventure outside my traditional instincts.

BS

Is there a specific song on either Peace & Information or Automechanic that you think exemplifies that artistic relationship?

JO

In the last track on Automechanic – Sun Moon and Stars, the drums drop out at a certain point toward the end. We had recorded everything to tape. It was his idea for the drums to drop out and he ran it by me and then just did it, he just hit record over them, held the record button down til the moment they re-enter, then released it. There’s no going back with tape, no undo, no leaving yourself the option. I was really impressed by that.

BS

One thing I remember thinking about a few songs on Automechanic and though less so on this album, I felt there was an occasional hint at Disco. At least to me it felt that way. Maybe I’m just crazy. Was that ever intentional? Incidental? Something you realized after the fact? Or am I just crazy?

JO

Disco is about the hi-hat right? I wasn’t thinking about disco but am always thinking about R&B – maybe what you’re hearing is James Gadson’s drums on that record. He’s a legend, check out his credits. He’s responsible for Bill Withers’ grooves and all these classic tracks like ‘Express Yourself,’ he’s at the center of Soul and R&B and it was an absolute honor to work with him. Maybe what you’re hearing are his groovy ideas. Master of the hi-hat.

When they ask what you play and you say “the bass” they are satisfied. And they might ask if you’re in a band and then it’s really fun to say “no.” They stop caring. It’s the best.

BS

You took an improv class at UCB in Los Angeles and blogged about it on your tumblr, which I found thoroughly entertaining. Taking UCB’s beginning Improv class is a rite of passage for many in LA, what was your reason for taking it and what did you ultimately get out of it?

JO

Thanks. I have trouble speaking on stage and in real life, to strangers. I thought maybe it would help me ‘break out of my shell.’ I don’t think it did. It’s weird to get to know a bunch of strangers that intimately and then part ways, so I tried not to get close to anyone cause it’s awkward later when you never speak again. I didn’t know improv comedy has such an established form so that was interesting to me.. “Yes, and” is the first thing you learn, it’s a vehicle to propel the scene. Agree and add something. This can be applied to real conversation. Not sure I’ve used it yet. In real life I more often disagree.

BS

Also in that series of blog posts you talked about simply telling people that you play the bass. I literally laughed at my computer when I read that. Can you tell me a little about why you’ve learned to do that?

JO

Well I am actually a bass player, it was my first instrument, so it’s not a lie. But it’s a very simple thing that people can wrap their head around. It’s an answer that satisfies them. “What do you do” or “Oh you’re a musician, what do you play?” are common questions from strangers. After years of answering that I’m a songwriter, I’ve learned this only opens up a bevy of personal questions that weigh deeply on me and if I’m in a Lyft I really don’t want to open up. I am having a short break from other people’s energy and it is wonderful and when they ask what you play and you say “the bass” they are satisfied. And they might ask if you’re in a band and then it’s really fun to say “no.” They stop caring. It’s the best. No need to give your name or “who do you compare yourself to,” which is otherwise the next question/nightmare.

BS

You’ve offered up a photobooth strip on your website and it was also a Kickstarter reward, and I chuckled to myself when I got mine because I wondered if it would be from The Cha Cha and then it was. That was one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, with it’s weird decor, the black velvet paintings, the vending machine full of strange things. Is that someplace you find yourself often or does it just happen to be a place with a photobooth?

JO

No, not really. Cha Cha still has a $3 photobooth and all the other good ones are $4. I was doing a lot of photos over a few weeks so it was an economical choice. That place is cool but feels like a fire trap to me. Not trying to dog on a local business but I’ve been in a local fire so I’m a bit sensitive.

BS

Speaking of kickstarter, you used it to help fund the last phase of Peace & Information, and part of Kickstarter is that they make you list out you “Risks and Challenges.” You put down a couple of things, the second had to do with fixing yourself to the internet for a month all while your country is in “moral crisis.” I don’t know if making art can ever be considered easy, but for many I think that process is considered the easy part when compared to the business and promotional side which only feels harder when dealing with our fucked up political times. Maybe you don’t have a full answer to this but how have you managed to deal with it so far? I think there are probably a lot of artists looking for help with this as well.

JO

I don’t have an answer, nobody does. This is grim, sinister, so so sad. What’s happening to our country with disinformation and widespread acceptance of the worst of human behavior is just tragic. I listen to Pod Save America, that helps with optimism and knowing what’s actually going on. Other than that, non-attachment is what gets me through anything. I picked it up a few years ago when I went through an entire process to no longer be attached to life on Earth, my own existence, or society as we presently know it. It’s not nihilism, I still do what I can, I still fight. But I feel prepared for anything. It’s also helpful to remember we are all in this nightmare, it need not be carried alone.

BS

You Just finished up a tour but what do you have coming up after that if anything?

JO

More tour- East coast in November. A couple LA shows. And sometime soon I’ll dig into songs for the next album.

__________________________________

Jenny O is from New York, she lives in Los Angeles, she wrote Peace and Information while living in Nashville, and I met her at La Marzocco fittingly located in the lobby of KEXP in Seattle, which also happens to be right next door to The Vera Project where Jenny would be playing with her band that night. She was right in the middle of her tour with Tristen and was coming off a show in Portland the night previous so time was tight and we walked a big circle around the Seattle Center area where we took some shots in front of the Key Arena, the skate park, and the International Fountain. One of the things I’ll remember about this shoot was how gracious Jenny was at taking the time to chat and shoot with me, in between locations she snapped pictures of the arena, the skate park, the Space Needle, and lots of pictures of an Italian heritageĀ festival that was being set up which excited her because of her own Italian heritage. It struck me that on tour, this was her down time, if she was going to “see” Seattle at all it would have to take place right then and there, and so a photoset that was beginning to feel a little touristy became all the more fitting. The images were shot on my DSLR as well as a Canon Canonet 35mm. The performance later that night was a real treat, given that previously I’d only seen Jenny perform solo and what I really wanted was to hear her perform the songs off the undeniably amazing album Peace and Information the way they were meant to be heard. The album is a centerpiece to 2017 both because of its greatness and as a piece of social and political art. Jenny just wrapped up a tour and has another East coast tour booked for November, visit her site Jennyo.com for more info. Find Peace and Information as well as Automechanic and her EP’s wherever digital music is sold or through the store on her site.

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