Fireworks Magazine (UK)
Interview: Jennie DeVoe
by Nicky Baldrian
Band line up:
My normal band line-up is pretty basic. I go out usually with a five piece that includes myself on main vocals and acoustic guitar; Brett Lodde on lead electric and acoustic guitars; Bill Ritter on double and electric bass; Greg McGuirk on piano/keys/Wurlitzer/ Melotron patches and such; and John Wittmann on drum kit and percussion. When I travel further sometimes I only take my two sidemen, Brett and Bill. Financially, as an indie artist, this can be way easier to budget for me.
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Who's being interviewed
Hi, this is Jennie DeVoe. I'm an indie artist on my own label from the Midwest in the US. My little label is called Rubin The Cat Records.
How did you become involved in this crazy world of music?
I remember my Dad playing the coolest records - Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Glen Miller, Gershwin. My Grandma would play Ragtime (Scott Joplin) music on piano. Between them and my Mom being church choir director, I got a pretty cool music schooling from just growing up with people who, to me, had great taste in music. My older sister had Rags-to-Rufus, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith records. With so many different influences around me, taking piano lessons, being sort of shy early on, I let my imagination guide me and I just always pictured being a singer and a performer from a very young age. I never had vocal lessons but luckily, for some reason, I didn't let that stop me from being an artist. The stuff that felt most natural to imitate and grab onto was the emotional and great music I was exposed to so young and I think that put me on an interesting path. I think emotionally, gospel and soul-blues-rock singing became a natural part of how I write and sing today. Those early influences tapped into something deep within me and set some of my own instincts into motion. Also, I think as much as I was pulled to making music, just as equally I didn't feel I quite belonged or functioned in any normal job even though part of me really tried. So, maybe not fitting someplace else was a really cool blessing that pushed me into music ultimately becoming my home.
Who are your inspirations?
My inspirations are so vast, past and present really. I never stop learning or getting inspired from new and old artists. I go from Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Etta James, Aretha to Led Zeppelin to Billie Holiday to Black Keys and Ray LaMontagne and Jack White. I love Jack White for a lot of reasons. He is so free in his efforts and thinking and non-perfecting. Emotion seems to be the thing that gets me. If it's a gospel, rock or ballad vocal, honestly, it just has to move me and be believable and authentic and I can be won over. I always want to create something moving and emotional and memorable for my listeners. Hearing and studying great artists is the best inspiration to make my own stuff better. I think I have improved in different areas each time I make a new project and, hopefully with every live show, that non-tangible connector to a person or an audience just gets stronger and better. It's a goal that won't ever go away. I just wanna move people, relate stories, sing my guts out and sound like just me. I'm sure you can hear my influences in there but within my first few notes, the goal is for people to say "that's Jennie DeVoe".
What was the inspiration behind the album?
I wanted to strip things down to basics. My producer, John Parish, and I aimed to make something new and unique but with an old-school approach in production and simplicity that would support my own old-soul vibe and the influences that inspired me in the first place. The goal was to be authentic, have good solid timeless sounds and vocal and instrumental melody lines and textures that just last. And the foundation needed to be solid drum grooves, which John is so fabulous at creating for each song. I wanted to make a record that people would want to listen to while they were alone in the car. When people choose to listen to you on their own time, that's a cool honor. I guess aiming for profoundness in its simplest form is always a goal to shoot for, whether you get there or not. I think songwriters realize at some point that simplicity is why the best songwriters or poets still get our attention, so I tried to keep things stripped down, meaningful, but not showy or complex, and to write relatable lyrics in a way that hadn't been done already - giving it my own stamp and sound and viewpoints. John Prine , Bob Dylan and Tom Waits are kings of great lyrics and lines that we all wish we'd gotten to first. Anyway, point being, whether it's rock or gospel or folk or soul - screaming or singing a lyric with lame content sucks - so I tried not to suck. I love working with John Parish, and this was my third record with him. He's no nonsense. I get him, and he always seems to push me the right way. I think we both said it at different times while recording 'Radiator,' 'I think we're making a soul record.' And I think that's what we did.
Could you tell our readers about the band and what makes you different from other artists?
Connecting to the audience is the key. If the show is right, I'll talk a lot in between songs, about whatever comes to mind, nothing scripted. But it's become part of my shows, and it's awesome to be able to make people laugh with stories and then make 'em think or feel or cry with a song. Those shows that are a perfect roller coaster evening of emotions are successes to me. I think the key to breaking the ice with people is to not have a script - just to be in the moment with them and say what comes to mind and be vulnerable, no walls up, just let it happen. I'm sure I've repeated stories to new audiences, but mostly you can't plan that part of a show, it has to be organic and natural because audiences that close in proximity don't fall for the big one-liners that work on a big stage. So you can't fool 'em, you can't be phony, they can see if your mind is there with them. Vulnerability is key to being real with them and yourself. So, there is something complete for me when I'm able to maintain an audience's attention with more than just the music - earning their silence or laughter or applause during a whole show top to bottom - that's success for me as a performer. I think that may be the thing that makes me different from other artists. I just want my audience to have fun, be entertained, give them dynamics. I think being indie also gives that freedom of singing soul, blues or folk, and adding a Zeppelin cover if it feels right. I love what I do, and I think any time an artist gets a gig, they should work it out for the audience. Every show is a little different because every audience is a little different, so you adjust your set list occasionally as the night unfolds. Looking forward to a show and remaining grateful and vulnerable and excited for your audience - that's the whole thing, and key to a good show for me.
Tell me about the album? Where was it recorded who produced it and how long did the process take?
It's the 3rd record I've made in England with producer John Parish, at the Toy Box Studios in Bristol, and I named it 'Radiator, the Bristol Sessions'. The word 'radiate' kept coming up in reference to how positive the vibe felt in the studio with each other. Billy Fuller, from Robert Plant's band, played bass on all the tracks. He was a joy to have around and made us laugh a lot. He was very self-deprecating and down to earth. In addition to producing, John played the drums and percussion on the record, and I brought two of my guys along (Brett Lodde on guitars and Greg McGuirk on keys and accordion) to play with Billy and John. We laid all the songs down 3 or 4 times live together, so nothing felt too perfect. It was meant to be more whole and real and live. We also laid it to two-inch tape so the sounds were warm and had that 60's-70's room sound. I was in Bristol for about 3 weeks, my guys for 2 weeks, then when I got home, it took another week to master. Then, I re-mastered it and second-guessed some of my vocals but overall, I'm happy about how easy and natural it sounds. It's not perfect but it's fun to listen to. I love working with John, because he gets me, he's objective, he has good taste and he's usually right about stuff. He's a great clear-thinking leader, without being bossy or having his own agenda. He knows how to serve the song and help it speak and come to life. He doesn't let things get forced or sound like a bar band, or typical, or corny. He's got great taste and he just 'gets it'….whatever 'it' is.
What's in store for the future?
I love making music. I hope to remain relevant and increase my exposure--even a turtle's pace is fine at times. I try not to take even the smallest leaps in my modest career for granted. Getting radio or press is icing on the cake after you make a record. I just love gaining any new listeners, any new exposure. It's pretty organic and small, but it works, and I have only to answer to myself and my fans. I imagine I'll just keep making music as long as I can keep it fresh and evolving. I get bored quickly, so that shouldn't be a problem. I've been lucky in landing different TV licenses or commercial licenses of my songs, and/or just my singing voice. But the cool thing is, I've not really written specifically for TV or commercials - as of yet. It's always a license on a song that I completed never having intended on what its life might be. I just finished reading the book on Jimmy Page called 'Light and Shade.' I love Jimmy Page and loved finding out that even he made a living making commercial music early on, and there's nobody more creative or musical than him. So, singing for your supper, bar gigs, commercial gigs, learning to do so many different musical styles and be in all kinds of musical situations as you evolve as an artist - it's all good - there's no shame in any road that leads you to being a better artist with a better understanding of all music. While I'm here, I'm blessed to be asked to play or sing or have a gig or make records and work with amazingly talented people. It's a fun life, a gypsy life, but I can't imagine any other life that would fit me.