After taking a few years off, Brooklyn singer-songwriter Jennifer O'Connor will release her new album I Want What You Want via her label Kiam Records on Nov. 8 through all the standard digital formats. You can download the single “Running Start” here.
O'Connor released her last album, Here With Me, on Matador Records. That she's never received the level attention of some of her former label mates seems like a failure of the greater music community and not her, as O'Connor's songs are unfailingly moving, secretive and worth your time. She was recently nice enough to answer a few email questions about self-releasing her new album and taking a break from music.
Nonstop Sound: So, you took some time off from playing music for a while. What were you doing during that time?
Jennifer O'Connor: "I was working. Various odd jobs. I sold some M&M's to John McEnroe at a matinee performance of 'Fela.' (I was bartending on Broadway for a bit.) I also started running. I run a lot now."
NS: Did you always think you would go back to music, or were you considering doing something else with your life?
JO: "I was still writing songs the whole time, on and off, but I was seriously considering (no longer) doing it in a 'release records and tour' kind of way. I did start doing some freelance writing during that time, which I've enjoyed and am still doing some of, but music is my real love, and real talent, I think. So it feels good to be back doing that."
NS: What made you go back, anyway?
JO: "Well, I think it was the writing and recording of the song “Swan Song (for Bella)" actually that got me to really want to get things going again. And to answer your final question, yes, I wrote that song for the Twilight movie. It did not get chosen. I'm actually kind of glad it didn't get chosen though because it belongs on this record. It's not really about Twilight, though it was initially inspired by her character, and the opportunity did sort of force me to write and record a new song on a deadline. Deadlines have a way of making you get something done, I've found. When I was finished, I realized I had written a sort of mission statement for my life. The recording came out so great that I wanted to keep going with the recording process and I felt renewed in general, musically. I kept her name in the title because I felt I do owe the movie for at least the initial push."
NS: Following that up, what made you decide to put this I Want What You Want on your own label?
JO: "To be honest, I knew that shopping it around would take time and that the earliest that I would probably be able to put it out would be March, and I really didn't think I could wait that long. It's too long. I just wanted to get on with my life and have people hear the record now. And I happen to have a record label, so I figured why not? Everything is changing so much, so quickly, how people put out records, so I just decided I was gonna follow my instincts. They told me to release the record on my own as soon as possible."
NS: You’re known for a stripped down sound. How do you keep finding new variations within that template?
JO: "I think that songs and recordings have endless possibilities, stripped down or not. If a song is good, it shouldn't matter if it's played with an orchestra or a single guitar, it will come through. Both can be great, and both can be terrible."
NS: At the same time, there’s more full-band arrangements and keyboards on this than the last one. Was that a conscious effort to get out of your comfort zone?
JO: "I played a lot of keyboards on the record. I have done some of that in the past, but not nearly as much as on this record. I think it happened kind of naturally. Some of the songs sounded great as guitar-based songs, and some seemed to be calling for something a little different. I think taking more time on the record really just naturally developed into me being more like, 'Hey why don't we try this instead on this song, etc.'"
NS: For a while you were hosting a songwriter’s series at The Rock Shop. Any good stories?
JO: "That was really fun and I will probably pick it up again at some point. I just had to stop for a bit so I could finish the record. I learned a lot from that experience. We all wrote new songs each month. 'Hidden Hill' on the record was a song I wrote for the series, the theme that month was winter. We all collaborated on each other's songs as well. Some great bantering between Franklin Bruno and Tim Bracy stands out as a highlight. As well as a particularly amazing version of a Whysall Lane song from Richard Baluyut. Also a top notch new Mascott jam from Kendall Meade which she wrote for the show. It was really a blast."
NS: You have a song here called "No One Knows Anything." How true of a statement do you think that is?
JO: "I think it's pretty true. We all think we know things and then our world gets turned upside down and we don't know so much after all. It's a cautionary tale, I guess."
NS: Be honest. Is “Swan Song (For Bella)” about Twilight?
See answer #3.