Jem of Local Bay Area Band Jean Marie Chats

Posted by Miss Ess, December 17, 2008 07:17pm | Post a Comment
Jean Marie's songs are warm and cozy; they kinda feel like curling up fireside and dreamily gazing out a glowing window. Thus, their music is perfect for the winter chill we are currently experiencing! What better time than now, when we are besieged by hail and frigid winds, to tap into lead Jean Marie-er Jem's brain to bring on the warmth and find out what and who inspires her? Read on to find out about her love of Riotgrrl, the East Bay, and...Mariah Carey!?

jean marie

Miss Ess: What made you want to play music? How did you get started?

Jem: My mother has a love affair with music and is an amateur singer, so she sacrificed and saved to give my brother and I piano lessons, music lessons, etc, so there would be music in the house. She did this with the intent that we would simply appreciate it as a pastime, but as adults, we both chose to follow music as our path...which means, rich happy hearts, but sad empty pockets.courtney love

I started writing my own songs in high school. I was really inspired by the Riot Grrl movement and especially Courtney Love. I was just starting to play guitar when I saw Hole perform at a radio-sponsored Christmas show in 1994. Courtney was beautiful, dramatic, and absolutely enthralling. Her guitar playing and her singing was basic and sloppy, but because of that, revolutionary. It didn't matter what the chords were or where you placed your fingers or whether you sung in tune or not -- what mattered was that your voice and story was being told.

ME: Wow, I love to hear about mothers who were really into music and imparted it to their kids. That's more how it went in my family as well. My dad doesn't know anything about music! How did Jean Marie come together and what is the concept behind its sound?

Jem: I've always written ditties and little songs in my bedroom where my only audience was my tape recorder or if I was lucky, a bored boyfriend. My friend Jasmyn was looking to hang out and play music, so Jean Marie began there. This was after college, in early 2005. We were playing quiet, folky music, but at the time I was listening to a lot of Electroclash like Tracy & the Plastics and Le Tigre. I would like to disclose that my original suggestion for our band name was "Civic Center."

Since then, people have joined and left and rejoined and the sound has grown, especially with the addition of Alex Uncapher on Wurlitzer piano. Live, I'm really trying to create slow, gauzy soundscapes that blanket those who feel a little bit wistful or sad. Lullabyes, essentially.
ME: You have acheived it because that is exactly what you sound like! What is next for you guys -- any upcoming tour dates for Jean Marie? Or an album?jean marie

Jem: Touring has been erratic and really unpredictable. This past year, I've found myself playing shows in LA, Portland, Denver, and Singapore (!). Really random, really warm and welcoming places and people. Who knows what 2009 will bring? I'm crossing my fingers for Japan.

As for recordings, the album's been gestating for 3 years. Every so often, I go up to Penngrove to Angelo Sacerdote's studio and add more parts. I like to approach recording as continual work -- building and building and building until it's an overgrown, surreal masterpiece. It's a mentality that probably also afflicted Sarah Winchester (the architect of the Winchester Mystery House).

What projects are you involved with currently? I know you are in other bands besides Jean Marie.

I sing and write music in another band called Family Trea. Everyone in that band is an astounding musician and I feel lucky to be in the company of such talents. I'm also in an East Bay doo-wop group called Frensual, and then sometimes I play solo as The Sleeping Grass. I'm also working with Aaron Morgan (The Finches, Roots of Orchis) on some experimental recordings.
stevie wonder
I can't wait to hear what you've been creating with Aaron! Who are your musical heroes?

There are so many! My ultimate hero is Stevie Wonder. Everything about him is positive and inspiring: his radiant grin, his effervescent joy, his romanticism, his warmth and compassion, his incisive storytelling, his musical complexity and vocal abilities. So many amazing things about him. All the great songs have already been written and sung by Stevie Wonder, so I think that's a great weight off the shoulders of everyone else making music. All we're doing is just extra material in the grand scheme of things.

Some other artists who make my heart pitter-pat: Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips), Rufus Wainwright, Phoebe Snow, Aretha Franklin, Fiona Apple, Neil Halstead, Judee Silfleet foxesl, The Cairo Gang, Bonnie Raitt, Mariah Carey, Fleet Foxes.

I still haven't heard that dang Fleet Foxes CD -- what kind of Amoeba employee am I?! I will have to grab one tomorrow. What music was playing in your house when you were growing up, before you had a choice?

My mother played a lot of Mozart and classical music. When I was a kid, I would hum "The Blue Danube Waltz" while playing handball. Then there was a lot of Vietnamese pop music that I was subjected to. A lot of romantic, lovelorn balladry about loneliness and lost love wailed over bad sweeping synths.

Do you remember hearing a particular album when you were young that had a great impact on you?

Green Day's Dookie. I learned how to play guitar and how to write songs by listening to that album. I also connected to Green Day because they were from the Bay Area and not that much older than me. That album was a catalyst forwillie nelson a whole new mode of thinking when I was in high school. It led me to Gilman St & the East Bay punk scene, the DIY ethos, the Epicenter in SF, zines, comix, and meeting all these other kids who just wanted to make a difference.

It bugs me when people deride Green Day for just that reason -- they introduced so many kids to a creative and underground world they might not have found on their own. If you could play on a bill with any band, regardless of time/place, who would it be?

It would be a command performance at The White House for President Obama. Also on the bill: Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Bonnie Prince Billy. This fantasy would be broadcast on PBS so that all my uncles and aunts could tune in and tape it.

What is your favorite local band?

Bart Davenport. There was a period of several years when I was musically dormant and depressed about it so all I would do was go to his shows and watch and quietly listen. Homeboy played out a LOT, so I've probably seen him play over 25 times in my life. At the time, I was just looking to be entertained, but now, I think of it as an accidental apprenticeship. bart davenport

What are your thoughts on the Bay Area scene these days, especially with all the economic woes of late? How does the East Bay scene compare to the SF?

I moved to Oakland this year, after living my entire life in San Francisco. Rent is a bit cheaper, so the musicians I've befriended on this side of the bay work less, hang out more, and consequently, play more music. There are fewer clubs and establishments to play in the East Bay, so music thrives in living rooms and bedrooms, basements and backyards. The best performances are the impromptu ones in people's homes, so that keeps music separated from things like cover charges and "draw" and any sort of pressure to make money.

My SF musical experience was relegated to pockets, separated by intervals of waiting. Everyone works so hard to pay rent on their apartments and rehearsal spaces that there's a lot less time and everyone is tired, so music was more appointment-based and precious. I've found the East Bay to be a more fluid and fertile place for growth and making all kinds of sounds. There's a great freejazz and experimental scene here that's encouraging. I'm acquainted with some great people on this side, who eat, drink and shit music, so I feel very lucky. For instance, one late night I was playing with some friends and I made my hands into bear paws and just banged up and down a keyboard and yowled and the guys I was playing with were like, "Let's recod'angelo voodoord this!"

What music do you enjoy falling asleep to?

When I'm home, I'm ceremonial about preparing for sleep: the music sets the mood for the shift from activity to passivity, and transport into the dream realm. When you're lying in bed, you're unoccupied, relaxed, and because your eyes are closed, hearing becomes your primary sense. This is the ultimate time for a serene, blissed-out kind of listening. Some standbys of mine are D'angelo's Voodoo, Nick Drake's Pink Moon, Hem's Rabbit Songs and anything by The Innocence Mission or Brightblack. Lately, I've found soporific splendor in Susanna & the Magical Orchestra.

I love the word soporific! What music do you like to wake up to?

I don't listen to music much in the morning because I like to listen to birds chirping or other mornings sounds like cars starting, or my housemates making coffee. On lazy Sunday mornings, though, when I'm tidying up around my room I like to listen to gospel and early 70s R&B. I especially love Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace. This double LP was recorded live in 1972, at church. It's so powerful. You can hear the energy, the urgency, and the possession and release of unified joy. Usually by the time the album ends, I'll have realized that, again, another ordinary Sunday has somehow turned into The Best Sunday Ever.

What are your musical guilty pleasures?

I have an unabashed pop heart, so I'm a sucker for a good hook. I'm not embarrassed about what I like, but people look at me like I flunked a grade when they find out that I'm a huge Mariah Carey fan. I also own two well-worn Britney Spears and Nsync albums. Each.

birds of america currents carryWhew! That all is some admission! Awesome. Is there an album that you love that you think more people should know about?

My favorite album of all time is Birds of America's Current Carry. This is a simple, gentle listen: good for when you're feeling blue, good for when you're feeling cheery, good for when you feel helpless, good for playing when you go to the ocean by yourself and you just want to stare and stare.
What has been your best find at Amoeba?

Amoeba has so many treasures! Any $1 record will make me feel like I hit the motherlode. These artists spend years and years making these incredible albums, and now a couple decades later, all this hard work and effort can be had for $1. Phoebe Snow's self-titled record from 1974 is always in the clearance bins, but that record is invaluable to me. Her vocal technique is effortless and she has this sweet vibrato that I really envy. I also scored all of Bonnie Raitt's records from the early 70s for $1 each and I came home feeling richer than Rockefeller.   

Great choices! Thank you so much for your time!

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