Jenny Anne Mannan

American Songstress

Filtering by Category: Favorite Things

Music Festivals: A Family Tradition

Last week I met up with my friend Kimber Ludiker, fiddle player for the amazing and inspiring (and coincidentally all-girl allstar) band, Della Mae, and played an opening set before their show out in the Spokane Valley. The evening turned into a mini festival, with lots of music, passels of kids running around, and a full moonrise over the mountains. Summer night air, high lonesome singing, hot picking...these are the sights and sounds of some of my fondest childhood memories. My darling friend Brittany Roberson showed up with her camera and captured some of the fun.

See, there's Kimber. She's rad. Seriously, I'm not just saying that because I like her. She's a total badass. I mean, both her parents are national fiddling champions themselves, so I guess it makes sense that she's a 2-time national fiddle champion and lives and breathes fiddle magic.

That's my mom's guitar strap, by the way.

There's Caleb and Waylon watching and listening...

 

And this right here is really what festivals are all about. Throwing as much food and drink at the kids as possible and then turning them loose to run and play so as to keep them out as far past their bedtimes as possible.

 

Here is my lovely Violet, with my lovely photographer friend Brittany.

This Saturday I'm playing at the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival, so we'll have a chance to do it all over again. 

Oh and I'll have my brand new CD for sale. You should come. Bring your kids and listen to some music and make some memories!

Summer Reading

My summer reading list often turns into a wish list. Sometimes I hear myself saying things like, "I just don't have time to read," or "I'm too tired to read." But I burn with shame and remorse to confess that Caleb and I have succumbed to a wicked addiction to "The Bachelorette", and I can't honestly say I don't have time to read when I do carve out time to rubberneck myself silly watching this train wreck of a love story. (I really hope she picks Jef. Oh that's not a typo. That's how he spells his name. Jef with one f. I like him a lot. And Emily seems so happy with him, and I think he would be a good dad to Rickie.) Judge and roll your eyes all you want, it's good old fashioned American reality tv at its best. Anyway, the point is, anyone who makes time to watch reality tv most certainly cannot claim she's too busy or tired to read. The question is when to make it happen? I keep imagining a sunny afternoon, blanket spread in the backyard, happy, distant hum of kids splashing in the sprinkler, iced coffee or cocktail in one hand, book in the other. And let the mirthless laughter commence. It's not totally beyond the realm of possibility that Jupiter will be in its 7th house and the Big Dipper will be at its zenith while 5 wolves howl 3 times each and there will be at least 15 minutes together with not a single disturbance in the Force and I'll be able to jump into my aforementioned daydream, is it? 

I think it's like everything else in life. I find time for the things that are important to me, and try to let the rest go.

As far as reading materials go, I am always on the hunt for a good summer mystery. Something along the lines of The Mysterious Benedict Society, but maybe a slightly more grownup version. Last summer I tried The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was not what I meant at all. Can anyone write thrilling stories that aren't chock full of the grotesque and morbid? I'm not even moralizing here, I just think it's lazy storytelling. I mean, if we use our imaginations we can find lots of mystery and intrigue without a single person being naked or violated or murdered. Grownup mysteries almost always begin and end in a dank basement with the upstandingest character in the story turning out to be depraved beyond all reckoning, with a few twists and turns along the way, and come to a shocking conclusion when the very flawed protagonist exposes or maybe accidentally kills said villain and then goes on to suffer from crippling PTSD while trying to forget, but finally finds redemption 30 years after fact when in an act of great heroism he writes his memoir. Apparently my standards are very high - and I might add, consistent. A girl who only elevates her mind with quality entertainment like "The Bachelorette" has to be picky about what she reads, too.

Anyway, this summer I've got a great reading list, and I'm having trouble deciding which book to pick up first.

1. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

My sister-in-law and I decided to read this before the release of the much anticipated film (this fall?), because we can't very well see the movie having never read the book. When I started the first chapter, I realized I have in fact read this book before, but I was undoubtedly much to young to appreciate the rich nuances of this classic. I can't wait to read it as an adult.

 

 

2. Chinaberry Sidewalks, Rodney Crowell

Untitled

A gift from my stepdad and inscribed by the author (!!!), I could tell within the first few sentences that this is going to be one of my favorites. After all, Mr. Crowell is one of my favorite songwriters. I have high hopes for his memoir.

 

3. The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde

Last winter Caleb and I happened to catch the 1945 film starring George Sanders and Angela Landsbury based on this book, and it was riveting. We immediately bought the book, and it's been waiting faithfully ever since. The preface alone is thrillingly brilliant: "We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless."

 

4. Lit, Mary Karr

I first heard of Mary Karr in a Rodney Crowell song, actually. "Earthbound", from the record Fate's Right Hand:

Tom Waits, Aretha Franklin, Mary Karr

Walter Kronkite, Seamus Haney, Ringo Starr

The Dalai Lama, Charlie Brown

Make me want to stick around...

Earthbound.

Clever, clever clever.

Ms. Karr's writing is beautiful and witty and honest and so distinctly American.

 

5. Little House On The Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder

My kids and I are making our way through the Little House series together, and it's a rarity for me to make it through a chapter without Violet asking, "Are you CRYING? AGAIN?" I am overjoyed to share these wonderful adventures with my kids.

 

6. Give Them Grace, Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessic Thompson

I've only read the foreword, but I am looking forward to the rest.

So that's a pretty good list, right? I'll let you know how it goes. Please don't make fun of me if all my lofty intentions only amount to half of a memoir and a few desperate searches through the parenting book for hope and encouragement. I hope for better things, but I also like to be realistic.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to make sure the DVR is set to record "The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All."

PS, What are you reading this summer?

 

 

Sun Midnight Sun: Sara Watkins

Sun Midnight Sun, Sara Watkins' second album for Nonesuch Records, came out last Tuesday. If you don't have it already, please go buy it real quick. Then meet us back here.

Sara is one of my dear friends, and I wanted to talk to her all about her new record. Actually, I wanted to talk to her about all kinds of things whilst, for once, avoiding my kids' finely honed Mommy-Is-On-The-Phone-Let's-Ask-Her-For-A-Bunch-Of-Stuff radar, so I made an appointment and holed up in my husband's office, away from needy voices and distracting antics, for a good long chat with my girl about life after 30, marriage, becoming a solo artist after Nickel Creek, and writing and recording her second album.
 

So. What have you been up to since your last album came out? What are the highlights?

SW: My first solo record coming out was a pretty big highlight, and there were some other things that happened right away. Turns out there are some perks to working with John Paul Jones, aside from that perk in and of itself, you get to play with some other people too. So I got to play on Jimmy Fallon with John Paul Jones, my brother Sean, and Questlove played drums on “Long Hot Summer Days”. I was freaking out. I totally rushed! [laughs] 

I got to be part of the whole Prairie Home Companion group for a little while, Garrison Keillor having me join the show for so many broadcasts was really nice. Doing the Summer Love tour was so totally different for me because I'm holding a microphone, wearing a Betsey Johnson cocktail dress, getting to walk around in heels every night...

That is just so fun! What was that like, I mean being in that kind of a situation with Garrison Keillor?              

SW: I loved it. I actually practiced holding a microphone while singing, holding the mic in my hand. The only other time I’d seriously done that was this one sort of this gimmicky song with Nickel Creek and then like karaokeing and I sound horrible when I'm singing and holding the mic and singing karaoke, so I thought, "Wow, this is totally different, I need to actually practice how to do this!" So I practiced just so that I wasn't freaked out about the mechanics of it. Which sounds totally stupid, but there it is!

But it doesn't at all sound stupid, because you know, in the setting that we grew up in, being that kind of a performer, especially as a woman, was definitely not encouraged or considered valid. But it's about being feminine and figuring out how to channel all of that energy into the performance, I think it makes so much sense. I wish I could have seen it!

SW: It was really fun. And you're right, we come from the school of sort of roughing it, where if you try to make anything too pretty it’s almost a strike against you. I mean, girls are definitely welcome to look pretty, but it’s a pretty tough scale that people are judging you on, and if you wasted any energy on showmanship when you could have worked on singing a few more notes in better tune, it’s almost unforgivable. Which is totally valuable, but it’s fun to be on the other end of it. It's still the folk world, but it's the most accepting environment possible - Prairie Home Companion fans are so loving and accepting.

What was really fun was getting to be Garrison’s date every night onstage, where I just supported him. It was like we were going to a business dinner every night and he was the selling point and I was kind of supporting him and jumping in when it was my time, and he’d let me shine in my moments...it was kind of this whole dance. And I got to sing a few of my own songs, but mostly we were just singing duets all night. I’d sit on this little bench while Garrison would tell stories and do his monologues and then I'd rejoin him and we’d sing lots of oldies and classic American songs.

 And that was a pretty unique situation, right, to be Garrison's sidekick?

SW: Um, I think he'd done some similar things on the tour, but the one thing I did do that was totally unique was guest hosting “A Prairie Home Companion”.

So did he come to you with that idea?                                                                                            

SW: During Summer Love, the final days of the tour, he told me he was hoping to have a guest host. He wanted to see the show from the sidelines, and he thought I would be good at it. I was totally blown away and of course I said yes...I got super nervous, and then I got really excited because he was going to let me bring any guests that I wanted...there were several ideas that I brought to him and he'd say, “Uh, let's do it this way instead.” And I was like, “Totally fair! Totally fair.” And it ended up of course being the right call, because he does know how to run a show after all! He was really generous.

Making the jump from fiddle whiz kid to solo artist - was that a scary transition or do you feel like it happened pretty seamlessly?

SW: It was a little intimidating, mostly on the logistic end of things. We decided in the beginning of 2006 to put Nickel Creek on the shelf, and we gave ourselves 18 months to do that, so I had plenty of time to consider what I wanted to do and just take myself more seriously as an individual artist...That, combined with the Watkins Family Hour, which was basically my other band for all of those years anyway, those were really helpful. But the biggest transition was learning how to tour manage. That was a whole different kind of stress. I kid you not, Jenny Anne, I will be a better mother because I have tour managed!

Oh of course you will!                                                                                                                             

SW: I cannot imagine having a child at that time, having not done really anything responsible, let’s be serious, for more than a couple of days at a time! [laughs] So I took on tour managing, because I remembered that my mother told me all those years that I could do anything I set my mind to. [laughs] But it was just logistics - planning flights, making sure they were the cheapest flights, reconsidering all of the options, and then touring with my brother Sean and 2 other grownup men who have toured under a lot of circumstances and really were nice to me to pal around in a minivan with me all the time and pick up different backline in every town that we were in and sleep in motels and drive hours...all the stuff that bands do but for some reason it felt, because I was making everyone do it and it was for me rather than for a united cause, it felt like I was putting everyone out a lot more. They were all really nice about it but no matter what it’s gonna feel like I’m making them do this and they’re not getting paid well enough. So that was a transition, adjusting to the logistic end of things. And then the accounting is still a nightmare. But I’m so glad for it, because...it gave me this huge pride of ownership for a whole different side of the career, not just being a musician that people make excuses for on the business and social end of things, but owning something a little more, like owning my business, knowing how to do a little bit more of everything.

Do you think that sense of ownership has informed your artistic development also?

SW: Yeah. I think it has given me a little bit more bite into what I care about and what I want to achieve because after all, working harder for something makes you want it more.

It seems like it gives you not only more to say, but it also gives you a sense of authority when you say it.

SW: Cause I’m not just making up stories imagining how responsible people live, I’m trying to join them. [laughs]

It's where the left and the right sides of your brain unite, and there's magic in there!

When did the Watkins Family Hour start?

SW: It started when I was 21, so 2003. We were doing 3 weeks on and 1 week off with Nickel Creek, so during that one week we would do the Family Hour and it was me & Sean and Gabe Witcher. We would have friends join us as guests, people that we knew from Largo [the LA club that the Watkins Family Hour calls home], or friends who happened to be passing through town - Tift Merritt was one of our first guests, she was just passing through one night and she sang some songs. And mostly to begin with it was just us ripping off Tim & Molly O’Brien songs and Hot Rize and Bluegrass Album Band songs, just doing super easy ripoffs basically but they were really fun for us, because it was our “for fun” band.

After a year or two we decided we wanted to put a little more thought into the songs, so we tightened up the screws a little bit and there were a few years there when we had a group of consistent musicians who were the Family Hour band, and then they went on tour and that happened a few times, and the group we have with us now has been with us for probably 4 or 5 years. So whenever they’re in town they play with us. That’s the band, and then we have guests come in. Occasionally we’ll have a whole band come in as a guest, but generally it’s just a singer.  

So that’s how you met people like Jon Brion and Fiona Apple...

SW: Yeah. I met Jon one night at Largo - we opened for him one night, Nickel Creek did, and he let us play some songs with him. I would drive up every Friday night to see him, and it was a 2 hour drive home, so the owner of the club, Flanny, would let me sleep on the couch for an hour while they vacuumed before they closed down so that I could get some sleep before I drove home. [chuckles]  

How did you meet your producer, Blake Mills?

SW: I met Blake through Benmont Tench - Benmont has been the piano player for the Family Hour for many years, like 6 years now, whenever he’s not on tour [with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers]. He has on Sundays these weekly music hangs, at his house whenever he’s home, and Blake came to one of those. I think Gillian Welch brought him. And then I would see him at jams and hangs - a few times in a short while - and then we started bringing him down to the Family Hour and he would play with us. And I was trying to figure out who I would want to produce my record. I knew that I didn’t want to go for some big producer who had a big giant career and a big sound... even if I had the option. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to afford them anyway, but I knew that I wanted something else. I loved Blake’s Break Mirrors cd and I liked his songwriting, and I saw that he’s the kind of player that when he’s around everyone kind of plays a little differently, and adjusts a little bit, and kind of redirects their thought process a little bit. It’s not through any kind of forcefulness or attention getting - on the contrary he’s more...people just sort of go to him and kind of gravitate toward where he’s directing songs. And that was really intriguing, and I always liked where things went when he was sort of directing traffic. So I asked him to produce a few songs - I knew I wanted him to produce the whole record but I kind of chickened out and just asked him to produce a few songs, to see if we could test it. He said, “Yeah, I’d love to, what do you have in mind?” And so I told him a few things that I wanted for the direction of the songs and how I wanted to approach the record, and he said, “Sounds great, let’s do it!” So we did 4 songs in November and it went really really well, and we knew by then that we were planning on doing the whole record together, so we recorded the rest of it in December and January.  

Was it kind of an audition then, those first 4 songs?

SW: It was kind of like an escrow process - an out option for both of us where...I just wanted to make sure that we worked well together in the studio. If there’s an out option, even if it doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to take it, sometimes it just helps the process...So it was just kind of, “You know, if you’re miserable, or this turns out to be a horrible idea, we don’t have to do this.” But it went really well.    

How important do you think friendships are in the studio? Do you think if you’re too close that it can inhibit the process?

SW: [laughs] That’s so important! Sometimes it can really help to know people really well, and sometimes it can get in the way because you might be working with them in a different way than the relationship generally works. So in this case, I didn’t know him very well at all. I knew that we got along, and I knew that he was a really nice guy, and that everyone respects him. He has a very good reputation. I also knew that he’s 5 years younger than I am, so that was a little funny. I really loved that he’s young. I found out after the first week of recording that he had never produced anybody officially before. He had co-produced things - stuff for Jessica Hoop, and a lot of other people - but his name was only on one or two other things and it was all co-production stuff. So this was going to be the first thing that he had produced by himself. So it was really fun. And we did it in the studio that he basically grew up in, and used his engineer...I wanted the songs to be formulated with Sean, and me, and Blake all there. That was really important because I didn’t want myself to get carried away with some really exciting idea that was totally new but really had nothing to do with who I am as a musician and who I will be out on the road...I didn’t want to put on these fancy costume clothes that I would never really wear, and I could totally see myself doing that. So having Sean there, in addition to having his incredible musical insight, was really nice because he is my band, basically. That was a guarantee that we would be working with some of the tools that I have on the road, and also it helped me stay grounded in where I come from and a place that I might be going to, and then Blake was just adding to that. So instead of leaving something familiar and adopting something totally new, having Sean there was really valuable in maintaining this continuum.    

I think that definitely comes through in the record, because Sean’s playing and what he does on your songs is such a part of the sound that we hope to hear from you, that if that weren’t there something really important would be missing. There’s all of this new and exciting stuff happening on the record, and then there is an element of grounded authenticity...which I think all works together to make something that is so multi-dimensional.

SW: Thank you!  

The duets on this record are so amazing. I remember you posting something on Twitter about recording with Fiona Apple and having a runner’s high. And then I heard the song, "You're The One I Love", and I completely understood why. Was that a song that you thought of doing with her from the beginning?

SW: Yeah. So, Fiona is a frequent guest on the Watkins Family Hour. Well, she is more than a guest - she has declared herself and we have declared her a member of the family. [laughs] So I’m always looking for songs to do with her, and I was on this Everly Brothers kick for awhile, and I heard that song and really liked it, and I just felt like it should be a little bit darker and a little bit more stalkery and more obsessive-sounding, and I thought I would really like to sing it with Fiona. I thought it would be really fun to sing it with a girl...In the fall of 2011 I finally sent it to her and said, “Dude, do you want to learn this and sing it with me?” And she said yes, and so we sang it for a few Family Hours, and then in the second half of making this record we were looking at adding a couple of songs, so “Impossible” got added, and this one, “You’re The One I Love”. I asked her to record it with me and she said yes! I had never been in the studio with her before, and she was into it, which was so much fun. We had the song recorded, and then she came in and we sang it together in the same room. And it was just so fun and so intense, it was really awesome.
 

Was her persona different in the studio than what you’re used to when you play live with her?

SW: Yes, not personally, she’s still Fiona. But she sounded different on the mic - like when she was singing on the mic, I thought, “Holy crap, this is the voice that I heard so long ago before I knew her!” Just the subtleties of how she gets in and out of notes, you can hear a lot better when you’re in headphones, and when she’s singing with headphones on, I think, she gets to those places. It was just really fun. And we tried a few different ways of singing it, and then the last 2 passes we didn’t break eye contact the entire time. And it wasn’t awkward, we talked about it afterwards and it wasn’t weird, you know, “Oh shoot we were looking each other in the eyes, I’m going to look away now,” it was just like the most focused energy I’ve ever had singing with somebody.

That energy really comes through. One of the things I’m always sad about when I listen to a record vs. hearing people live is that a lot of times the intensity of the performance doesn’t always translate into the studio. It’s not about the mechanics of the engineering, it’s just that the energy is so different in the studio compared to when you have an audience. But in this situation it was so obviously a magical moment that completely transcends technology...it literally feels like you’re sitting there in the room watching it. So awesome.

SW: Thanks!

And then all of the string parts on that song are so cool. On the whole record, really.

SW: Blake was really helpful with the string parts, actually. A lot of the really definitive parts, like on “I’m A Memory”, there were certain things that he asked of me that I wouldn’t have thought to do, which is always the fun of playing with people who aren’t necessarily string players. Like those soaring string parts that are kind of cinematic? Blake was like, “Can you just get from the lowest note to then the highest D in like a bar?” And I said, “Well I don’t know how I would do that without it just being like a straight arpeggio, or something, I can’t really scale up that fast...” And he came right back, “Okay, so you can’t do it. How would you do it?” Which is such a great question! So I basically just faked it 3 times in a row and it sounds like this [laughs] small string section playing fairly accurately! So suggestions like that are so fun and helpful.

I love that part! It worked out. You did it. How did you do it?

SW: I just played a bunch of notes!

I remember that you meant to have Jackson Browne sing with you on your first record and that didn’t work out.

SW: Yeah. The timing just didn’t work out, you’re right, I’d forgotten that I’d asked him that first time around. So it worked out this time. He just came by and, he’s on “You & Me”, and then “Take Up Your Spade”. And I just love how his voice comes through - it’s pretty recognizable, even though it’s not really featured. Oh and he’s on “I’m a Memory” too, he’s on 3 songs. He and Blake are really good friends, and they’d worked more closely together than I have with Jackson, so we played a couple songs for him and mentioned, “Yeah, we were hoping you’d sing on this one.” And he said, “Great!” and so he did. It was so funny when we were soloing his vocal in mixing because his voice has so much to grab onto when you listen to it - there’s the roughness, there’s the smoothness, there’s the way he gets out of each note with this gravel...it’s just wonderful.

How did it feel having a person whose voice is so iconic sing a song that you wrote?

SW: It was pretty great. He’s just such a sweetheart that you don’t think about it as much as you might think because...well, of course you think about it when you’re in there because you’re aware of what’s happening, and I’m human, but he’s just singin songs, and he is so sweet and generous with this time, that he doesn’t put any additional sense of “You should appreciate that I’m here” onto anything. He’s just very gracious. But yeah, it is pretty crazy that he’s singing 2 of my songs. And I especially loved him on “Take up Your Spade” because I feel like you can really hear his voice stand out, and it was fun to hear him and Fiona. It was really fun hearing them together, that was a fun little...almost like a trick that I played on everybody. [laughs]

“Take Up Your Spade” is one of those songs that you hear that you sort of always wish you could have heard your whole life - it’s like it’s familiar in all of the right ways but it says things in a fresh way, like you think you know where it’s going and it does go there, but it’s in a way that surprises you - so timeless and so beautiful. Where did it come from?

SW: The melody started like 2 or 3 years ago when I was in Scotland on tour with Transatlantic Sessions, this group of people from America and UK who tour, a wonderful little series, and Bruce Molsky was in the show. And I got the melody idea from hanging out with Bruce. I knew that I wanted to write a song - this is actually a song that I did have some goals for - I wanted it to be congregational in feel but not religious in lyric, and I hoped a group of people would sing it together someday. And it was really nice having it turn out that way - I hadn’t told that to Blake, but he was the one who brought the idea of having everyone who was singing on the record come and sing on that song at the end. And I really loved it and it helped the song kind of come around to what I was originally hoping for. The subject matter came from something that my mom used to always say to me, especially if I’d had a particularly difficult yesterday, my mom would wake me up and say, “Good morning! It’s a new day, without spot or wrinkle!” and I loved that. I still think about it a lot, and so I wanted a grown up way to say that. And it carries with it a little bit of baggage, the feel of the song - I wanted it to have this realistic sort of trudging that you feel as an adult when you’re just starting the process of acknowledging that you can start over again. I wanted it to feel adult but still have what my mom used to say to me in there.

How are the instrumentals on this record different from the way that you would have treated an instrumental on your album a few years ago?

SW: The first song, well both of them, changed quite a bit from how they first started. They were both sort of fragments. The first one we did was what turned into “The Accord”, and that was a fiddle song that was originally very fiddle tuney. It was uptempo, and had kind of a double time feel to it, and I played it for Blake and he just basically said lets’ try playing it half that speed, what if we did it like this? And he started playing it at the tempo that it ended up being recorded, and we changed a few chords and added a couple phrases here and there and it just ended up having this great little personality. I’m really glad for how it turned out because, I think I told Blake before playing it that it’s always weird doing a record and then the novelty of “Heeere’s a fiddle tune!”, just “Aaand I play fiddle too!”, and so I was really pleased with the direction it took because they both fit in with the sung songs a lot better than they would have the way that I’d written them. And when I wrote them, I didn’t know what the record would turn into and I didn’t really have any context, so it was nice to put them together with Sean and Blake after we saw a little bit of how the record was turning out.

The other song, “The Foothills”, I did write for the record because I wanted to have another instrumental on there. I had the start, and Blake helped me finish it, and then he started messing with the tones on everything. I played it 6 times - 6 fiddles in unison, and they were really close to each other...they all matched and we couldn’t really hear the difference, so we messed with it a lot and tried a lot of different things - putting some effects on some tracks, using different mics with only one or two fiddles, amping and different things, and eventually we ended up with the way it sounds on the record. That was one of those times where I thought, “I’m just going to let Blake see this through until he’s done with it, because I really don’t know what I think yet,” because on principle I hate effected violins. So there were certain things where I was firm, “No, we’re NOT doing that, this sounds like a violin we’ve all heard that does not sound good.” So I put my foot down in certain places, but it was exciting and enticing to be in a situation where I decided, “Okay, I trust Blake, I obviously want him to have an opinion on this record, because I hired him. I’m a little uncomfortable right now because I would not be making these decisions, but that’s why I have a producer, because I want somebody else’s opinions. I’m going to sit back and wait until I know if I actually like or not, I’m not going to react out of being uncomfortable...” And sometimes that would end with, “Okay, I’m really not comfortable with this, this feels like you, it doesn’t feel like me.” And other times, “Okay, this is great,” and either he’d come around to a place that I was comfortable with on his own, or I would come around to seeing that there was a purpose for this and I do identify with the sounds that are coming out of the speakers right now. And on “Foothills”, I realized that what was working was that it’s not just the fiddles that have effects, it’s the whole stinkin track that’s squashed and distorted and lumpy sounding. And the more I heard it the more excited I got. So I couldn’t be more pleased about that song.

What I think is so interesting is that there parts of the bowing and nuances in your playing that you can hear so much more clearly because of the effect on your fiddle than you would be able to if you had just recorded it in a traditional way. To me, it almost replicates how it would sound live if I were sitting there watching you - some of the bowing is just so YOU - it was so fun to hear it and be able to actually picture you playing it. Because I think it's the spirit of how you play your fiddle on a song like that.                                             

SW: Thank you! That's awesome to hear!

Thinking about some of the life changes that you’ve experienced since your last record: you’re married now, you’ve turned 30...do those things give you a different perspective about your music-making and creativity?

SW: I think that a huge part of my creativity is a result of the security that I have in my marriage. Because he’s so unstoppably encouraging of my career and what I do and just the fact that it’s part of who I am, because he’s so relentless with all of that encouragement - and believable, like I actually believe him that he likes all that stuff about me - that relieves me of any kind of guilt...not any kind, I mean I still feel guilty...but a lot of the guilt about time away from home, and just the way that my life affects his life in sometimes a difficult way...because I know that ultimately he supports me 100%, even when he’s sad that I’m leaving, that first of all makes me work even harder, and it helps me be more creative and free with writing and it keeps me excited about music, because I know that I’m not just letting him down. I know that a lot of people in relationships have a hard time maintaining their excitement about music or their art, whatever it is, when they have the feeling that it’s making their loved one jealous. And I’m so lucky that I don’t feel any of that jealousy from Todd, regardless of the fact that I’m gone a lot. He could be jealous of people, of time spent with music vs. time spent with him...there are a lot of things that you could be jealous of - other families that have a much more stable, normal life - and I think because I don’t feel that, because I have a relationship that I feel gives me the freedom to be this, I think that helps me feel freer about creativity.

We’re always talking around here about the creative process. Had you been writing and collecting these songs for awhile, or did you write them specifically for the record?

SW: They were just sort of songs that had come up since the last record. And there were several songs that I’d worked on that didn’t make the cut, which was nice - I was glad to have some to throw away. I have a hard time...whenever I’m writing a song and I take a moment to stop and admire it, or think, “Wow! this would be really good for this or that,” I just lose it. And all of a sudden the song becomes half of what it should have been, because it’s more of a show than just existing. I loved your blog post about creating for creating’s sake, and I think that for me, as soon as I stop and admire something too early when the process isn’t completed yet, it takes away from what the end result could have been and it changes the whole perspective on why I’m doing it. It’s almost like a curse - whenever I’m writing a song and think, “Oh I hope so and so likes this lyric, maybe they’ll like that part,” immediately I want to slap myself because I know that I’ve come out of it and I have to either put it away or just refocus and shake myself out of that mindset as quickly as possible. And so, in saying that, I mean that I wasn’t writing any of these songs for this record. I haven’t figured out how to write with a goal. Except for “Lock and Key”; that one had certain constraints: it’s a me & him story, it’s okay to have some old timey lyrics, and I have an idea of how the story’s going to end, and so there are certain rules around it but I might not always even have those rules. I’ve never been able to write with a purpose, really, at least for a record. Not yet anyway. People write with themes, like, this whole record is about something, and for me I feel like either it’s going to be about that thing because you can’t write about anything else right now, or you have to really concentrate and it’s sort of this challenge to yourself to focus things. I don’t need to have any more challenges to writing a song - I just feel like I’m lucky to get any song!

Yeah, you want it to be real and you want it to come from a place of authentic inspiration, and sometimes if you have too many parameters, it can kill the actual spark, the real life place that it comes from. Didn’t you used to do songwriting challenges when you were on the road with Nickel Creek?

SW: Yeah. We’d pick a title and then write a song within 24 hours with that title. I think that was really helpful, if for no other reason than to help me not take myself too seriously and not be too precious about everything and feel like everything has to be good. It’s like, no, you’re just doing something, you’re just using crayons or something...and that was really good. I’ve done those songwriting games since then, and it’s really helpful if you have this block where you feel like nothing is good and so you’re not doing anything - that’s totally unproductive and it’s very hard to get out of it if you don’t just get the wheels turning.

Actually one project that I have been a part of that I'm really proud of is called For The Sender, it’s a really cool project that my friend Alex Woodard put together, and that’s one time when I was actually writing for a purpose. It was a really good exercise where we had these letters that people would write telling us their life story, and we’d just pick something out of the letter that seemed to make sense...that was really fun. I was co-writing with this guy Jack Kempshon, really great songwriter, and the feeling that I got from him while we were writing...because he’d just be sitting there with his guitar and singing these melodies and spouting out words without really being self-conscious at all about if it was going to work or not, and just seeing what people grabbed onto, and he would build on it. And he was so quick moving that there was no time to say, “No, I don’t really like that.” I’d have to suggest something if I wanted it to be different, because we’re moving right along here, so if you don’t like it then what’s a good suggestion? And that was really helpful - a really nice tempo and a different way to go about it.

I think it’s helpful to just accept where you are. I feel like I’m much more critical...I have better taste than ability in a lot of ways. [laughs] I hate it, it’s horrible, but what can you do about it? To an extent I just have to be there and do it, and I feel like I have a better idea now that I’m a little older too about what the past and the future means, which is funny, because you’d think you’d have a bigger idea of the future when you’re younger and you have more life ahead of you. But going into this whole record - the artwork, everything about it, partly because of how much I put into the first record and how much I learned about the process in terms of artwork and promotion and how you portray yourself and what you want to do and what your goals are and figuring all of those things out as I went, I’ve got a little bit better idea of what I want now, and I also know that this is this record. And I’m really proud of it and I’m excited for it, but it’s not my last record. It’s this record. And there will be more. There’s a lot of comfort and excitement in that. Not in a surrendering kind of way, “Oh well, there’s always next time,” it’s just, no, this is how it is now, but who knows what it will be next time?

Right. This is another piece in the puzzle.

SW: Yeah. And I actually did try as hard as I could for this - I didn’t phone it in, and I was really lucky to work with Blake and a lot of things fell together that made me really proud of the outcome, and all of that makes it something to celebrate, and I guess see it as, “Oh sweet! This is what happened that represents the first big chunk of my life.”

You've always done such a great job of communicating with your fans - I remember when Nickel Creek was touring and blogging wasn't even really a thing that people did, and you would write journal posts on your website from different cities. You've always treated your fans like friends, it seems like. Is the feedback mostly positive for what you're doing now?

SW: Yeah, I think so. It's funny, a lot of Nickel Creek people don't know that I'm doing this. A lot of times I'll be playing, opening for somebody, and towards the end I'll mention that I grew up playing with Nickel Creek and they'll realize, "Oh, that's how I know her!" It happens all the time. And I always feel glad, "Yes! I got another one back on my side!" To an extent I'm still trying to spread the word to anybody who cares, who felt an attachment to the band, I'm doing this other stuff here so please join me. All the while still trying to be myself and not live in the past too much.

I'm so excited for you. It's such a great record. It's spectacular music, and it's so inspiring to watch. I feel like I could talk to you about this for hours and hours, but you have been so generous with your answers and your time! Also, I just think what a great idea to make an appointment with my friends to hang out on the phone!

SW: I know! I should enter in the GoogleCal, "Call with Jenny Anne" much more often!

Visit Sara for upcoming tour dates and info.

 

What the...

Do you have those moments too? Those who do I think I am to get to have these kids and this life and these things to make it all better moments?

I know it isn't exactly cool to talk about stuff. You know, the stuff we buy that we like that makes our lives easier or more fun or prettier or...easier. Like a Kitchenaid stand mixer or a new computer whose case isn't cracked and dirty and that actually works and doesn't blink that our startup disk is full every time we ask it to do its job. But we still like the stuff. We still scrape our dollars together and buy it. And we talk in hushed tones about how much we love it, because, apparently, it's not okay to say it out loud.

But I'm just going to.

Of all the many times I've been overwhelmed by the Things I get to have, the one I most clearly remember was the moment Caleb and I drove home in our minivan. And loaded our brand new double stroller into the gigantic cargo space. I wondered, "Who do I think I am?"

 

He was a baby. 6 months old. And I'd been strapping him into a front pack every time I went somewhere, because, turns out, a Toyota Echo's trunk is not large enough to accomodate a double stroller of any variety.

I took my two kids to the zoo in my minivan with automatic doors and unloaded my double stroller that I could steer with one hand, and I thought, "Who do I think I am?"

 

She was 2 years old, and couldn't be trusted to navigate Fred Meyer on her own. She had to be contained in the shopping cart.

Tonight she's sleeping over with her cousins, and we feel weird without her. We miss her handing out little pictures of hearts who love each other, and snuggling whilst surreptitiously sucking her fingers. Her brother came upstairs a few extra times after being tucked in to tell us his room's too dark and he's thirsty, which we all know is code for, "I miss Sissy."

Meanwhile, I am sitting here staring at a brand new computer screen, next to a beautiful camera. I know next to nothing about photography, but I can tell this camera is really great. I mean, I can actually hear the shutter doing its thing when I take a picture. (See? You can rely on me for lots of technical info.) And this new computer looks ridiculously sophisticated for our little family. It's actually a little intimidating. But it claims to have enough storage space to accomodate my husband's vast music library (When we started copying our music from our old computer, the estimated wait time started at 'about 2 days'). And it's so pretty.

Who do I think I am?

 

The Day is Done

25th January 2012

The Day is Done  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:



A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.



For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And tonight I long for rest.



Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

Work Station In Progress

10 January 2012

 Caleb is always talking.

(Talking not pictured. He was busy driving and listening to rock n roll.)

Lately he’s been asking me all about my work station - you know, that perfectly quiet, orderly place where I can go to shut out all the sounds of the kids and the world, where the chaos is contained, where all visual and tactile stimuli are perfectly designed to enhance creativity…I hope you can hear the hollow laughter in my head. It’s pretty loud.

But pipe dreams notwithstanding, I think he’s onto something. Caleb’s writing desk is strewn with favorite books, WWII knives, and vintage bookends, among lots of other things that taken as a whole look like clutter but individually comprise his physical sources of inspiration. He says when he gets stuck, he looks at a book, or picks up a physical object that gives him a tangible link to his work.

I like him. I think he’s wise. And I like it when he talks. So, I’ve been working to set up my desk in a way that makes me take a deep breath, ignore the lunch dishes that are still on the table, and listen to those ideas in my head. Even though I can choose to look at the dirty water glasses at my elbow, I also have the option of looking straight ahead.

See? The antique owls aperch behind the vintage rosin on the stack of pretty books? I feel inspired already.

Then there’s the question of what sort of book in which to write. Spiral bound? White paper? Lined or unlined? Ball point or roller ball pen? It’s a highly personal choice, and finding the perfect combination is a little like finding the perfect wand (“The wand chooses the wizard!”). I’m a spiral bound, unlined, matte paper with a ball point pen kind of girl:

It’s coming along. Waiting for inspiration is a little like waiting for lightning to strike. But it’s so much better if I’m prepared when it does.



The Beacon of Advent

16th December 2011

 

I just read something that compared a Christmas tree to the Christmas Star. The star that lit the heavens, that led the Magi to Jesus.

Advent, the season of preparation, is a time to remember who I am. And where I’ve been. But most of all, it’s a time to celebrate who Jesus is and what he did for me.

The tree in my house is laden with ornaments - in fact it’s leaning forward just a little, so heavy with pretty things. All things that remind me of how I am loved. Small remembrances of people and places, of births and deaths, of failure and redemption. Each ornament on the tree tells a piece of our story, and symbolizes our anticipation of all the promise of heaven.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May love and joy and peace be yours, this season and always.



Treasure Hunting

4th October 2011

Something happens to me in the fall.

It's my favorite time of year - grilling moves aside for slow roasting and baking, I trade in my flips for boots, I pack away those shorts that I hate and pull out my favorite sweaters and jeans and skirts. And most of all, COATS!

Meanwhile, I always feel a tiny bit anxious in the fall. (I recently learned to identify the feeling of anxiety. I lived 30 years on this earth before I figured out what to call that almost queasy, vague, unsettled feeling that, when I was a kid, I associated with being homesick or in trouble. And then I realized I feel that way A LOT.)

The reasons are varied - maybe it's all the beautiful fall fashions I see everywhere I look.

10_1220_pendleton_lifestyle_2_2807f

Whoa. How can I not feel a tiny bit panicky when clothes like this have stepped straight out of my mountain fairy tale? And they cost like one million dollars?

Not to mention the boots.

boots

I just coughed and gasped at the same time. I'm glad you couldn't hear it. It's not the prettiest sound I've ever made.

On top of my own wants and needs (fantastic or no), there are those of the rest of the family. Our schedule has gotten a little more demanding than it's been, Christmas is looming on the horizon, fall chores need to be done, we're experiencing a little uncertainty in the vision/life-direction department...Throw in a dash of financial pressure and a handful of questions without answers, and we've got a perfect recipe for anxiety. 

I'm far enough along in this whole living business to know that when I'm more aware of lack than abundance, it's time to refocus and look at things a little differently. So this morning I took a cruise through iPhoto and found some things.

Violet09jpeg

Tennessee

reading09

These were taken in the fall of 2008. Caleb had just gotten laid off, and we weren't sure how in the world we were going to make ends meet. But remarkably, when I think of that time, I don't remember the stress nearly as much as the absolute certainty that we would be taken care of.

Reading10

2 years later, in the fall of 2010, with a new little person in our family! Still uncertain, and still being taken care of.

72067326DD025_Real_Madrid_v

(What? You're welcome.)

Boys

And here we are, Fall 2011, with more reasons to be grateful than ever. I think these might be those heavenly treasures - you know, the ones that gently push away my anxiety and replace it with awe.

Copyright 2016, Jenny Anne Mannan. All rights reserved.