Reggae at the park 



SEPTEMBER, l998 -By Randy Cohen 
Q:  You seem to be a romantic. A lot of your songs center on emotional love. Can you explain why this is the focus of your music?  
JENNIFER: I don't think there is a completely rational reason for this. I would say a couple of things. I have definitely been searching for emotional balance in my life and true love, again. I found the latter to be the true love. The former is a life long endeavor as is love. That is obvious from the other half of my songs. I am a romantic person and nostalgic, and I find that I enjoy letting that part of me show in a way that wasn't cool before. I don't have a really hard edge. I have edges definitely, but I like to look back. 
Q: What song means the most to you?  
JENNIFER: Right now probably the "Revelations". It encapsulates so many feelings - here we are back at feelings again, that I was having during the last couple of years, since I quit "Story" in September, l994.  
Q:  What would you consider the driving force of leaving the band 
"Story"  and   going solo?  
JENNIFER: It was purely to extract myself from a very uncomfortable situation, painful, awkward, emotionally nauseating, and not creating anything. I had made myself into a zero. I was living a life where most people - whatever most people - fans, thought that I was half of a partnership. That's what it looked like visually, but it never was that - towards the end it was never that. It's hard to be seen that way and then it makes you feel even emptier. So I quit to quit - purely to quit. I had no designs on being solo. I hadn't written a song in l5 years. I didn't play instruments and I had not sung lead at all in Story. This is what I was up against. I quit - bye-bye, I'm going to be a graphic designer and I going to work on my marriage, which then failed. I'm going away from this life. I don't know what's going to happen. I take a step off the edge into nothing. It's a hard way to learn a lot about yourself in a hurry. It's taken me a couple of years, but I can't even tell you how much I learned from it. I wouldn't be talking to you if I hadn't quit and gone through all that.  
Q : I think some of your fans would want to know what gives you that inner strength. You say you didn't know how to play any instruments. Did you at least play the piano when you were younger?  
JENNIFER: Well, that's an exaggeration, sorry. I did have piano when I was little and I had command of some classical piano pieces. My chops are bad, but I could play. I know what the chords are from studying music when I was a kid. More in classical world and I never sat down and learned pop songs at the piano. I never really learned any songs that weren't reading classical songs. I had a guitar in college. I could play a few songs. I even played at the beginning of Jonatha's and my music partnership - we both played the guitar and I tried to learn a couple of her songs so that we were both playing at the same time. And then I brought a keyboard and I brought a drum, and eventually it pared down to her one guitar basically and the two of our voices, and that was very compelling. 
Q: Who influenced you to go solo?  
JENNIFER: I didn't quit to go solo, I didn't have goals, I wanted to write songs, I wanted to prove myself as a songwriter -- I didn't know any of that. I didn't think that I had it in me. It just wasn't an option. I was drawn out by a bunch of friends - particularly Patty Larkin, Carrie Newcomer, Catie Kurtis, and Lucy Kaplansky. They drew me out. I went on tour with Patty - she invited me the year after, in l995, to sing in her band. She did a national tour in a bus. She usually toured solo. She wanted me to do more than sing. She said could I play these parts that are really simple on the keyboard. I said okay sure - what have I got to lose and I played a lot of keyboard and played some tipals, a little guitar like instrument with three or four chords and I was part of her band in l995 and it was tremendously empowering and I give her a lot of credit for her shoving me out there and saying I need these parts can you do this - but in a very gracious way.
  Q:  What did you do after that tour?  
JENNFIER: The year after that, I toured with Carrie Newcomer from Indiana. She has made six albums around her. She has had a lot of commercial success. She has like a Mary Chapin Carpenter voice - but a more womanly voice. She had a tour in l996 and invited me to do the same thing - stand back-up for the vocals and play a little bit. In the middle of her show she gave me her guitar and said now you sing your songs with my band and I will sing background for you - in the middle of her tour. It was an incredibly generous thing to do. If she had not suggested that as a way to hire me. I wouldn't have done it. 
Q:  Where did you go from there?  
JENNIFER: People called me to sing on their records, club owners called me to sing at their club, and I would tape the gig because they really wanted me to play there and introduced me as "here she is - was - half of Story". I didn't have enough songs, so I would have a deadline. I had a gig in Cambridge and I had to play six songs. It was getting to be two weeks away and I still had to finish 5 songs and I did. "Revelation" is one of them, "This is My New Vow" is one of them, "World Without End", and "Track 11".
Q:  What would you like to inspire in other would-be musicians?  
JENNIFER: If I had any goals, it would be to inspire other people to be creative - in any way - whatever it is, and to find it in themselves to find that creative voice. It is amazing to me that I found one.
Q: When you did the "Lilith Fair", did you do the whole tour?  
JENNIFER: I played two Lilith Fairs - in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. It was an amazing experience. 
Q: Who did you play with?  
JENNIFER: Natalie Merchant, Lisa Lobe, Sarah McLaughlin, Paula Cole, and Joan Osborne who rocked my world. 
Q:  When you played the two Lilith Fairs, how did you feel playing in big amphitheaters?  
JENNIFER: Thump...It was inspiring. A couple of things happened. It was great to be part of such an well-organized festival and especially there is something about Sarah McLaughlin and her vibes. She radiates this calmness and courtesy and I would characterize the entire backstage as both those states. 
Q: Who's play that blusey number at the end of "Take One Step"?  
JENNIFER: I haven't told anybody that - at least in an interview. That's my boyfriend, Ryan. 
Q: You are very inventive in a lot of your songs. The "Gagna's" song, was that based on a true story?  
JENNIFER: It was based on my grandfather's life. He lived in Rome for about 8 years. He was President of the American Academy of Design in Rome - kind of an educational center - teaching fellows, professors, writers, painters and my grandfather was an architect. So "Gagna" is Italian for grandfather. He died in l997 after having been ready to go for a long time. 
Q:  Do you go through stages in your songwriting? When you start are you in full train of thought, or do you stop and not go all the way through?  
JENNIFER: It depends. I would not yet call myself a craftsman. I mean I do not have a regular schedule and I don't really hone that thing. It comes in spurts. When I have time and when an idea is really bugging me or something is inspiring me, I will try to write out the ideas.  
Q: Does your emotion have to be there to really get into the feel of writing for a song?  
JENNIFER: For me it does. I think that's where I'm a young songwriter still - like an inexperienced craftsperson. I need that emotion because if I don't have it, like right now, if you just gave me the paper, I won't remember what I was feeling yesterday when I wrote that other stuff down, so I can't finish that. It's hard writing songs. I don't have a schedule that I stick to and I definitely lean on the emotional intensity that I have to get through a song.
Q:  Does the music come first?  
JENNIFER: There is always a lot of music and lot of words going on at the same time.  
Q: You went to Amherst. What did you major in?  
JENNIFER: English.
Q: Does that help you with your writing?  
JENNIFER: It does. I am my own worst critic and still - the words are the hardest part for me. Music is somehow pouring out of me. To get words down natural, but with some sort original poetic somehow and not too poetic - I'm not totally pleased with all the lyrics on this album.
Q:   You didn't seem to be too shy with writing the song "Kissing in the Car"?  
JENNIFER: It's not really about people going out kissing, dating at all. It doesn't matter though. I love how people interpret songs because that's what matters. It's why it really came out of me in the first place - that was a really dark one, like 'keep your hands to yourself'.
Q: Who has influenced your music?  
JENNIFER: Joni Mitchell of course. I would say of all the songwriters who are girls playing the guitar and singing, she would probably be the one that I was the most moved by. So heady and complicated, and challenging, and emotional and it's vicious and it's soft. Some of it's even schmaltzy - the old stuff - I love it, and some of it has a great edge to it and that moves me. I've never actually tried her songs. I thought they were way too complicated. They have some really hard chord changes. Not folk guitar.
Q: Your career is excelling really fast. It looks like your going somewhere.  
JENNIFER: Thank you. I hope so. I feel that the more I learn now, both musically and also about myself, and what I play and do, and my performance, and about music in general, the more I learn about all this stuff - the less I know and it is so exciting. I feel that there is so much to learn and I am just completely turned on by it. I could never have said that about any of the time I was in Story. It is some gift from somewhere that I have found - but it is also a gift. 
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