Interview with Jo Gabriel

Photo Credit: Chaitanya Lakkimsetti and Wendy Christensen

Delusions of Adequacy:  Hi Jo!  Your limited edition artist’s version of Fools and Orphans is very dear to me, and I reviewed the album here last year.  It contains key elements of your sound, including your graceful, but emotive vocals, stirring, poignant piano notes, and heartfelt lyrics.  You also have a new double-album out titled Hunting Down the Ceremony.  I’d like to start off this interview by focusing on Fools and Orphans and going into the creative process and then work our way chronologically through your creations.

How did you start off composing the songs on Fools and Orphans?  Did you write the lyrics first and then come up with melodies that conveyed the emotion of the lyrics, or was the opposite way round where you had the melodies sparking in your head first?

Jo Gabriel:  For me, Fools and Orphans was tornadic. Fools and Orphans came at me like a volatile storm. I was swept up in a short time of creative burst. Eventually it presented itself as this eternal journey of mine, of loss and madness, love and longing.

To say which occurred first, the words or the melodies, would be like standing in the middle of that storm trying to pinpoint which leaf started swirling first. It was all one continuous intertwining process for me. In fact, I actually had a few more songs that I wrote and considered for the album, but once I sat back and waited for everything  to come forth, waited for the storm to settle, it was very clear which songs formed the constellation of Fools and Orphans. All in all I consider both the melodies and lyrics the beautiful debris that was simultaneously swirling around me at that time.

DOA:  Listening to your lyrics and the emotion your pour into each song makes me want to know more about the backstory to songs like “How the Devil Falls in Love” (“I always want what I can’t have / What I can’t have is killing me.”) and “Bulldozer” (“Why did we build this love / or was it a dream? / You were the end / to most everything.”).  Can you give some details about these songs?

Jo:  One of the constant themes that has been running throughout my life has been a sense of being haunted by significant loss and longing. There are two threads that are running through Fools and Orphans. One is the thread woven by my muse, and the loss of that love which I have yet to vanquish the memories of. The second was the catalyst for the album, my having lost my beloved Angeline, my Abyssinian cat that I rescued after she had been abandoned after 8 years and left very sickly and neglected.

I spent two years nurturing her back to some semblance of health. I cooked for her a special diet which helped her diabetes go into remission but unfortunately the years of unhealthy treatment she endured before me caring for her took its toll and she suddenly died of a heart attack after only getting to spend two years of our lives together.  I never got the chance to say goodbye to my lady cat. I got the call from the hospital after dropping her off for a routine blood test that she had heart failure and they couldn’t get her back. And while I fiercely consider all my cats my feline children, Angeline and I seemed to share a significant and sacred bond, an almost otherworldly past life connection that brought me such joy from her companionship. Her presence in my life was very meaningful and so when she passed away so unexpectedly it affected me drastically, it nearly drove me crazy from the anguish of not having her near me anymore. I felt like I had been gutted alive. Like a piece of my heart had been torn out. It hurt that much.

I think that was the last crack in the dam that precipitated the flood of emotions that would eventually create Fools and Orphans. Angie triggered every loss I had ever experienced and made it all fresh and raw again. There are so many variations on love, loss, and longing on this album and Angie was just one aspect of that. I wrote “How The Devil Falls In Love” for Angeline, but I had to change the name to Victorine, which suited her regal beauty just fine. Whenever I tried to sing ‘Angeline’ in the song, I would burst out in tears and found it impossible to finish my performance. I know it sounds so dramatic to say, that “I can’t breathe without you here,” but missing someone’s presence in your life can actually feel like that, like you’re gasping for air.

I think the Devil got his due when she died and when this mortal heart felt the absence of joy that Angie brought me. Wanting her here and not being able to have it, or bring her back. Our pain is how the devil falls in love.

Angie came to me in a dream shortly after her death and tried to console me by letting me know that she was happy and still watching over me and that I shouldn’t stop finding joy in life. And she assured me that we’d meet again. I try to honor her memory by remembering her powerful presence here and allowing myself to believe that we’ll meet up again. She was such a character, she was one of my best friends.  Yet another serendipitous occurrence was Isis, Mike Fazio’s wonderful Siamese cat, who would often wander into the studio during our sessions for Fools and Orphans and just so happened to yowl during the recording of my vocals for “How The Devil Falls In Love”. It was the one and only song she had decided to sing along with. And so I kept her there at the end to signify the presence of sacred cat energy. Ironically, and poignantly, Isis passed away on August 4th, 2009 so now the song is every bit a tribute to her as well…

By virtue of being human, just existing here on earth, love and happiness are filled with ironic outcomes. “Bulldozer” is a tribute to the beautiful muse who opened up my heart for the first time in my life only to bring the walls crashing down around me, creating a constant state of the destructive force of abandonment. My heart has been the edifice left standing as testimony to where this particular love once stood but is now only an abandoned place where the remnants and relics of our scattered memories crumble and decay. She, my iconic muse, inspired “Firefly”, “Fable Honey”, “Cellophane”, “I Shudder For The Clouds”, and “Poison In The Well”, and most iconically is “God Grant She Lye Still”, which was also inspired by an episode of Boris Karloff’s 1960’s television series Thriller about a 300 year old witch who was trying to inhabit the body of her descendant and drive her soul out in order to take possession. That’s what the memories of loving someone you can’t have can do to you. So I thought the title was a perfect aphorism for this song. I often blend real life experience with referential notions inspired by films, novels, mythology, historic characters, etc. because they seem to harmonize perfectly with my songs.

“Vacant Little Stare” is an homage to someone in my past who suffered from schizophrenia. She was a tragic figure in my life who I loved very much. Oddly enough I used the idea of someone who is trapped inside themselves and shut off to also indicate the varying degrees that  some people can shut themselves off from love or being touched authentically. I’ve been with people who were shut off, or could evacuate their bodies whenever there was an incoming emotion. You can literally see the jaundiced carcass of the person as they fled and who can’t feel at all. These people are invincible, and often impenetrable.

Strangely, Alice, who was the schizophrenic mother of my ex, Jo Post (Big Jo), showed me a raw and sometimes vivid love that was more honest at times than many people in my life were capable of showing me. When Alice was present, it took all her energy to reveal her authentic self. I was honored that she trusted me enough to work that hard, to let me in at those precious times. She once laughed at me and said that I was crazy because I had so many cats. Truth is, she was a gentle soul who loved her own animals just as much.

“Emily Laughed”, which appears on Hunting Down The Ceremony, is also about Alice and her specific kind of “Madness.” Love can be a type of madness at times too. But sometimes, there are those who are trapped by a madness not of their own making. I have a lot of compassion for these souls in limbo.

The brutal, often fragile, truth of how we can sometimes see the glimmer of awareness behind someone’s eyes who is trapped by their brain chemistry and committed literally or figuratively to a life of being in and out of it, either because of mental illness or just the fear of intimacy. Those of us who can’t reach them suffer as well. In the song “Cellophane” where I sing “we’re really naked after all”, it’s my way of exposing how people try to be inconspicuous with their feelings but it’s actually like wearing cellophane for clothing. It covers up nothing, you can see right through to the naked truth, “Hinting like some glass that hints at pieces of the little things.”

DOA:  Who collaborated with you on Fools and Orphans and how do you put together a song when there are additional musicians? Does everyone go into the recording studio at the same time to do an organic take of a song, or does each person submit individual tracks that you handle in the studio to form a song?

Jo:  I can honestly say that much of the beauty of Fools and Orphans was capable of being realized because of the various contributions that these incredibly brilliant artists who brought  their individual voices to the project. Hannah Fury, Matt Turner, Linda Mackley, Mark Urness, Stephanie Rearick, Wendy Schneider, Mike Fazio, and Tom Blaine. And the Wings of Argosy Choir, the flock of birds that mysteriously appeared during the tracking of my concertina on “Of Love and Ether” and then inexplicably flew away once I was done playing that instrument. Again, the birds were recorded in real time. They seemed to ebb and flow with the song as if they were summoned by an unseen Maestro.

With the exception of Hannah Fury, who due to logistics worked on her vocals at her own studio, each artist performed their signature element separately at Coney Island Studio whilst playing along with my piano and vocals. It was very exhilarating for me to watch all of them add their piece of the puzzle. They came in individually into the studio and were able to imprint their style that ultimately created the warm, live, symphonic allure that I was looking for with this album. I craved a warm, live aura for this project and collectively these musicians brought that essence overwhelmingly to the album.

It was Mark Urness who actually played his upright bass as the haunting lead into “The Habits of Shadows”. I think, often people might mistake that intro as Matt Turner’s cello, but it’s actually a little emotive improv that Mark played during his session that inspired me to want to use it at the top of the song.

Mark has this gorgeous 100 year old mammoth upright bass that he strokes with these tonal vibrations creating a sonic majesty like a swarm of bees at an old-fashioned band concert in the park on the gazebo.  I actually dubbed his bass Bertha and The Bee Hive, not realizing that he had already named her Bertha! There were a lot of serendipitous moments during the recording of Fools and Orphans.

Another serendipitous moment happened while working on “God Grant She Lye Still”.  Wendy Schneider brought out a bag of rebar scraps of all sizes. It turns out that dropping these construction scraps of metal on a concrete floor can create the most delicate sound of glass tinkling. Linda Mackley used these as a percussive tool and dropped each variety of scrap metal on the floor in real time to create the sound that crackled like tiny shards of glass shattering throughout the song. That wasn’t something we planned to do, but little beautiful moments like that happened a lot and made the album even more destined to be a primal and unique art piece.

I worked with people who are so amazing at what they do, so it allowed this devouring appetite of unselfconscious ideas that brought the album to life. Linda’s timpanis brought a thunderous depth and Matt’s cellos brought the thrust and invocation of tears. Hannah’s incredibly sultry vocals on “Habits of Shadows” brought the innocence of my song to an entirely more sensual level. Stephanie Rearick’s trumpets brought a majestic regal fanfare to “Fable Honey” and “Bulldozer”.

The basic elements of songwriting for the album were already laid out by my piano and vocals, but each musician came in and imbued the music with their signature sound. Mike Fazio, Wendy Schneider, and Tom Blaine are masters at sculpting sound and staying authentic to my songwriting. And ultimately what it created was a very live, raw, warm, magical, regal, and analogue symphony of stories that told parts of my life musically and lyrically.

Photo Credit: Chaitanya Lakkimsetti and Wendy Christensen

DOA:  Your albums have been released on various record labels, like FaithStrange, Projekt, and Kalinkaland, but you had full creative control of your version of Fools and Orphans, with no record label interference.  What was it like to have the buck stop at you?  Did you feel additional pressure to get everything together or was it a freeing experience to do it all yourself?

Jo:  It was the ultimate experience to have absolute control over every little note and nuance. It’s one of the reasons that Fools and Orphans is so precious to me. It’s my most authentic work, as is The Amber Sessions, because I had complete supremacy over the input and the outcome. It’s the most free I’ve ever felt and I’ve learned to trust my instincts, feral as they may be. If the work is honest, then it’s right. I’d rather be honest and a good writer, than polished, generic, and over-exposed.

DOA:  While I was listening to your string of albums, I found that you often play two “lines” of piano, where one hand is steadily playing mid-range to lower notes that form the base of a song, while your other hand is dancing over the keys in a lighter, higher tone that reflects the restless flight of your voice.  How did you develop this particular style, with the emphasis on your vocals, and the piano as a second voice, so to speak?  I guess the 3-minute, disposable pop song format doesn’t appeal to you.

Jo:  It’s a place I dwelt for a while during the 80’s. The word disposable is really good, because I think it’s the antithesis of what I am doing now. My whole trajectory was headed towards writing things that could be considered timeless. At least for me they are. I write “songs”, not catchy phrases that fit the moment. I like songs that endure, ones that transcend a particular genre. I love a well-written song. I don’t care what style it’s dressed up in. A good song is something that I appreciate and strive for. Not that the clothes or arrangement don’t matter, but that’s another aspect altogether.

Anyway, the generic pop song didn’t satisfy me anymore, although I must say that I have a catalogue of pop ballads that I truly believe could have been hits if sung by the right artist. And I do believe it had a partial hand in shaping my writing style. I was often discouraged back then to think of myself as a singer because of the peculiarity of my voice and the lack of commercial potency. I had all the authentic emotions, but I couldn’t carry out a power ballad. My range and tone were quirky and I pronounced my words in a really unconventional, feral way. It wasn’t until I secretly started writing the types of songs that I am known for now, that I not only learned to embrace my voice, but revel in its honesty. And in fact, because I’ve let go of the old standards of what a mainstream voice is supposed to sound like, I think I’ve gotten better over the years. I’ve given myself permission to just be myself and so I’ve emerged more and more because of that.

Instead of holding it back for fear that I wasn’t mainstream enough or technically trained like some. Now I suspect that at some point I might reach the ability of hitting notes that would sound like pulling up a mandrake by the roots, if I really finally let it go. I’ve given myself permission to stretch the boundaries of my vocal abilities whether that’s pleasant to some or nails on the blackboard to others. I’m ultimately happy with who I’ve become, and how I am evolving.

It’s actually really hard for me to say how my piano style works. If you’ve ever seen The Beast With 5 Fingers with Peter Lorre about a concert pianist’s severed hand that has a life and will of its own, that’s sort of me when I play. Providence or something is driving my hands to move across the keys, and of course my soul and my heart are connected to this (ministration, alchemy), but it truly feels involuntary to me. My voice is something of the same, in that I really am not sure how my lips and tongue will shape the words until they’ve finally flown out of my mouth.

And as far as songwriting goes, I write for me now. With pop in mind you have to aim your sights on appealing to a certain market in order to create sales. My songs in the end will either connect with people or they won’t. They are as authentic as they are involuntary. I don’t try to fill a niche. I don’t try to sound like other artists, although everyone gets compared to someone else. That’s the rules of the road I guess.  But I never try to adopt a more accessible persona  or use gimmickry with my voice or piano style to either make money or become famous. I have found the most core view of THIS artist and it’s very closely connected to the person that I truly am.

DOA:  Special mention is made about you playing the concertina on Fools and Orphans, but I think you play various instruments on each of your albums.  I have a feeling the list is lengthy, but what other musical instruments do you play besides the piano?

Jo:  I am teaching myself to play the concertina. Trying to find my way around this wonderful instrument in the same way I came to play the piano. You’d think living in the Midwest which is rich with a heritage of accordion playing, I would have found a good mentor, but alas I haven’t taken advantage of that yet. I plan on getting a harmonium soon. And I did play my electric Strat guitar on The Unreachable Sky, but unfortunately I am just not as fluid or compelled on the guitar as I am with keys, although I’ve been thinking of getting myself a Rickenbacker. I am so in love with the sound of that guitar and perhaps it will inspire me more than my Fender Stratocaster did.

Photo Credit: Chaitanya Lakkimsetti and Wendy Christensen

DOA:  When you write your song lyrics do you always write about specific events that you’ve gone through or emotions you’ve felt, or do you also go into “story-teller” mode where you become a different character and speak through that other person?  What are some of the stories behind your lyrics?

Jo:  Great question! I’ve always said that I am more of a revelatory songwriter than story-teller. But I do at times draw from specific situations that enhance the meaning of a song. I’ve told you about Angie inspiring “How The Devil Falls In Love” and Alice making me more sympathetic to mental illness by writing “Vacant Little Stare” and “Emily Laughed”. On Hunting Down The Ceremony there are several songs that are based on a confluence of events or archetypes in my life. “Mother May I” is about being subsumed by someone else’s devouring force, in this case my own mother, who tried tragically to live her life’s passion through me and failed, setting up for me an expectation of gendered and cultural heterocracies that distorted and defined my early self perception and self worth.

There have been times when I’ve been inspired by a particularly powerful true story. On Hunting Down The Ceremony there is a song called “7 Little Secrets” which is a specific experience I had with Santaria. I was mistakenly directed to a voodoo priest while looking for a more traditional psychic to give me a reading. This priest dressed in pristine white robes surrounded by jars of strange-looking root-like substances, chicken bones and feathers, and shells, knew 7 intimate details of my life with which to lure me into the credibility of his psychic powers. Once he had me in his gaze he proceeded to terrify me by insisting that I had a curse placed on me by my ex mother-in-law to be.  This was not Alice, by the way, but someone who probably did wish I was gone from her son’s life permanently. He proceeded to warn me that she had damned me by using a Strega or Old Italian magic to harm me for all eternity.  That I was fated to rot from the inside out and to never know love. All because she wanted me to stay away from her son. The priest wanted to hold an exorcism over me, to purge this curse from my body. To literally save my life and my sickened damned soul. The sin of having loved this woman’s son and almost marrying him.

Of course this would take a lot of money. I spent many weeks traumatized by the thought that I had been besieged by such a strong angry spell. It was uncanny how accurate he was about certain secret details of my life, not the usual parlor tricks of reading my body language, which can be a certain type of scam. That’s what frightened me so much. There was the possibility that if he was so right-on about all these other details of my intimate life’s story, could he be telling me the truth about being cursed! After all, anger, revenge, jealousy, and envy are very powerful emotions and can very likely create bad energy in the universe even if not impelled by a supernatural force.

I finally went to a psychic/healer of the light who practiced white magic and did a cleansing and comforted me with her psychic acumen as well and assured me that the priest was a charlatan who, while he was extraordinarily gifted with second sight, was using it to prey on my vulnerability and trying to exorcise me of my money only!

“Scribble The Sky”, which is a song on Lying In The Evidence Of Love, was written about my suicide attempt when I was in my early 20’s. The lyrics and the chorus “saying goodbye” was the metaphor I used for having tried to kill myself. The song helped me verbalize what I had felt about giving up and letting go of the life I was living, of failed love and self loathing.

I woke up in the hospital having been given a second chance at not existing but persevering. The air smelled better. The sky was bluer, everything tasted with an enhanced flavor and I’ve never looked back nor spit in the face of precious life or the gift I was given at a second chance at living it. Not just life, but living, for the small details, to notice everything around me. And not to take for granted how precious every moment here on earth is. Perhaps you truly have to die in order to understand what living really is about. I still get sad of course. I still wrestle with demons. I am not my perfected self yet. But I’ll never want to step back into that black hole or want to leave a message in the sky “farewell, goodbye this girl” ever again.

Now with the album I’m working on, Advice From a Caterpillar, it is definitely a bit further down the road of my journey. All the songs are completely written at this point, and I am planning to start working on the tracking, production, and arrangements soon. This album is also rooted in love. This time it’s about the personal journey of self exploration and emergence. Self love and self recognition. The celebration of the self.

Casting away the song “Apple Core”, like the people and hard memories that have left a bitter taste in my mouth. I was inspired by the various squirrels who live on my Starkweather Creek, who I feed my leftover fruit. I got the idea that metaphorically it would be like offering up my memories for them to feed on so I could forget all the painful things left to rot in my heart. So again I used aspects of my true life to create a poetic narrative to tell a story.

My archetypal adventure is Alice in Wonderland. My life down the rabbit hole, and through the looking glass. I’ve been Alice for a long, long time. The songs are very much inspired by Lewis Carroll’s story. I even have a tribute to my cats. Since the book is very affectionate towards the feline energy of the Cheshire cat. The album will have a very fairy tale-like quality to it, and I plan on exposing it to a very Gothic Americana style. The album is about going through the looking glass and coming out on the other side. Again, blending characters, concepts, and themes from Lewis’ story with my own life’s little adventures. Meshing some of my experiences and feelings within the framework of Wonderland. Next to Fools and Orphans, Advice From A Caterpillar is, I think, some of my best songwriting ever.

Photo Credit: Chaitanya Lakkimsetti and Wendy Christensen

DOA:  What inspires or provokes you to write and play music?  Are you searching for personal meaning via your lyrics or, once you’ve written something, is it out of your system and meant only for the listener to divine its meaning?

Jo:  It’s funny but the music can actually evolve or transform itself with every listen. It can mean different things to different people and in the sense that it is self-reflective I might potentially learn something new about myself and what I’ve written at a later time, depending on where I’m at emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. The music might change with me as I change or open myself up. The basic thrust stays the same but the tiny little subtleties emerge independent from my inserting my will upon it. I’m never done with anything really. I hang on to everything with claws and a fierce grip. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so prolific these past few years. Why I’ve unsuccessfully buried my muse. And why she seems to keep manifesting herself in my work again and again in my waking life and in my dream life where I have my most fertile insights. I guess she’s eternal. She, as well as others, who have abandoned my heart will resurrect themselves over and over again for my art.

I have to make something clear though. I write about the things I obsess over. The journey that has inured me to the reality of being human. I rarely write happy songs, because rather than dwelling on the blithe spirit of my life, which I choose to occupy in real time, I am more inspired to write about the things that are lamentable, reflexive, and their lineage. I’m too busy actively being joyous to stop and write about it.

It might seem like I’m a dark soul, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am one of the most joyful people who savors the little things and the little moments in life. I love my partner Wendy whose presence is a benediction to my past earthly suffering as well as the blessing of the numerous feline souls that I’m surrounded by. And a wealth of incredible people that I have the honor to call my friends. Plus, the awareness that I am so adored and endowed with so many things to treasure.

What also inspires me to create comes from a confluence of beautiful details and passions for things like the cottonwood that floats like summer snow in July and the chorus frogs that serenade us from the creek, and the dragonflies and my two trees named Romulus and Rachel that have a matrix of faces on them. The Hoot Owl, and Spanky The Muskrat who eats the nectarines I leave out for him in the morning. The cast of characters that roam around in my head from the films and stories I love to revisit over and over again. Those are just a few of the things in my environment that quiver me. So it’s not just the painful moments from my past, but the knowledge of how magical life can be while it’s pulling rabbits out of its proverbial hat every single day.

DOA:  When you were growing up, at what stage did you realize you wanted to be a singer and musician?  Was it a sudden “bolt of lightening” proposition or did the realization come to you gradually?

Jo:  I was 8 years old when the lightening struck, and I had my Dr Pretorius moment.  He was on scene when Dr Frankenstein hails “It’s Alive, It’s Alive” once the monster awakens from his mortal slumber on the slab.  You must love my constant horror film references. LOL It’s yet another reason they call me Monster Girl… And everything reminds me of something else, it makes me happy!

DOA:  You have your own record label called Ephemera.  What albums or other work have you released via your label?  What was the reason for creating your own label and what does the job entail?  Do you have anyone helping you on the business side of it?

Jo:  Autonomy, plain and simple. I am an artist who wants full control over my expression. It took me long enough to allow myself and trust myself to be alone with my creative process. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated so much incredible input from other gifted people, but it became time for me to take this personal sideshow on the road. I love having visiting performers, but ultimately it’s my tent to stretch out in and perform my feats of magic solo. Even the business aspect is overseen solely by me. I found through out the years that I am my own best sales person. I present myself honestly to the people who I wish to share my work with. If they like me, and we have an authentic connection, that’s great! If not, then we’re not the right people for each other. I’ve made wonderful strides by introducing myself and not allowing someone else to push my agenda for me. I can say clearly that I am very nice and real and accessible and I have come to expect that from other people as well. It makes for a great creative process too.

As far as albums in the works through my Ephemera label, it goes as follows:

Hunting Down The Ceremony has finally been mastered by the amazing Tom Blaine, who worked on Fools and Orphans with me. This is a 2-disc retrospective of my music. Volume One~The Hidden Voice is a gathering up of songs as I refer to them as scattered to the winds. Pieces that are on CD compilations, or in films, or never made it off the shelf and on to distribution.

Hunting Down The Ceremony Volume One~The Hidden Voice is a combination of stark theatrical piano vocal performances, as well as actually old relics from found cassettes of the only existing recording of an unfinished album Heavy Gray Line which I was working on in the 90’s with my full band, as a follow up to my debut album Lying In the Evidence Of Love. This album was never completed and ultimately my band broke up shortly after that. These few songs are the only copies I have left as testimony of that project.  They weren’t final mixes, they were recorded from masters onto cassette from unfinished sessions using scratch vocals. So the quality is somewhat like The Amber Sessions and The Last Drive In in the sense that the work suffers from analogue hiss and sonic generational losses and unrealized perfections to the outcome. I still wanted to share them with my listeners.

There are also a few pieces that are actually sneak peaks at my future project Down The Rabbit Hole. I’ve affectionately left the click of the old Panasonic tape deck in at the top of the song “Once” which is one of the first songs I wrote back in the early days of me, to show how primitive some of these songs are and where they hail from. That song and “Resurrection” were recorded in my living room on my upright Kawai piano. Little old- fashioned tape deck used to record these songs as reference. There’s an honesty and purity and innocence to them. This is when I first broke away from those throw-away pop songs and emerged as the artist I am now. It was my true artistic birth.

Hunting Down The Ceremony Volume Two is called The Mirror Image. These are all the songs that are currently out of print, and that I amassed on several other albums through my association with Mike Fazio’s label Faithstrange. Currently there are now two different incarnations and versions of some of my favorite songs that wound up on Kalinkaland’s label, so I’ve picked my favorites from my Faithstrange days that are no longer in print, and put them all together on Hunting Down The Ceremony. Adding the two vocal songs from The Unreachable Sky as well as some of my favorite songs from my debut album Lying In The Evidence Of Love, which makes Volume 2 a very solid collection.

Then, like I’ve said, I am setting up to track Advice From A Caterpillar. Again, as if taken over by one of those mental storms, this album came to me in a weekend siege of migraines. Whilst in the midst of horrible pain, I suffered and purged out a single thought that was relentless. In fact, I am considering keeping the rough recordings as they emerged because they truly are so authentically connected to what I was feeling and I don’t want to change that course by any means. Perhaps I can offer a B-side alternative with both versions. A good deal of the songs were recorded on Augusta Finch, my Upright Grand, that I rescued from being rained on in the trash. This album features songs called “If I Did Fall”, about my love affair with Humpty Dumpty, “Fog On The Sheath”, “Wool and Water”, “Pig and Pepper”, “I Passed By This Garden”, “Voices In Your Head”, “Behold”, “The Queen Of Hearts”, “The Pool of Tears”, and of course the afore- mentioned “Apple Core”, “These Little Faces”, and “The Weeds”.  While not a perfect technical package, I love its raw honesty and that’s what songwriting is about for me. These songs, as I’ve said, are about self-emergence. Letting go, redemption, a celebration of the self. Using some of the iconic images and ideas from Wonderland and my relationship to Alice and the many players in her story and from my own life’s story.

Incidentally I am now in my Tennessee Williams phase. LOL My mother is Blanche Dubious and I am a character in The Night Of The Iguana, for sure.  I am actually planning on writing a musical in the spirit of Sondheim using The Night Of The Iguana as the theme for the music. I would love to write a Broadway musical. Almost and as much as writing for film. I just need someone to adapt the script for me.  I want to re-issue The Unreachable Sky as a solely instrumental album with an additional piece or two added.  I am also toying around with another neo-classical instrumental album with songs that I’ve written a while ago. I’d love to work with Matt Turner again. This would be a piano/cello album called Silence, A Fable.

And then, finally, I would love to release my original recordings from the early 90’s when I first started writing away from the commercial pop format and delving into the more poetic songs. I have these archived now and would like to share them with people so that they can see my growth as the artist. I plan on calling this, big surprise, Down The Rabbit Hole Part One and Two.  These are songs recorded while it’s just me drinking coffee in my boxer shorts at 3am discovering the artist I was to become. In my living room, at my piano Kawai given to me at age 8.  The recordings are rough and innocent. Not thinking about hitting the right notes. Just trying to find my way in the dark of my new creative landscape. I love the innocence of it all. It will illustrate the trajectory of my songwriting.

I’ve been talking with musician friend Mark Sheppard of The Offering about collaborating on something in the not too distant future as well as working on my song “The Weeds”, which is a track on Advice From A Caterpillar, with the exquisitely sublime artist Darius Greene. And dear friend.  And passionate and poetic fellow artist Christopher Gunter of Shadow Thieves and I have been talking about doing an EP of obscure pop song duets like Johnny Ray’s “Cry” for the project. We’re calling ourselves The Prom Dates From Hell and the album will be named Devastatingly Sexy. I forget which one of us is going to wear the baby blue tux and ruffle shirt and the chocolate brown tux. We can figure that out later.

I would love to work with Sylvi Alli on something, Nina Nastasia, and Po’Girl.  They’re all such incredible writers and musicians!  And I am hoping that I can get Lisa Germano to grace the sweet song tribute I wrote for cats called “These Little Faces (Jalousie Dreams)”, another track on Advice From A Caterpillar. We both share a love of the feline persuasion and I think her presence on the song would be memorable. I haven’t asked her yet, because I haven’t started tracking the album. So fingers crossed that she likes it, and if I can send her the mix.

Photo Credit: Chaitanya Lakkimsetti and Wendy Christensen

DOA:  Is there one aspect over all others that you prefer about being a musical artist?  Do you prefer to be in the studio working on songs or performing live or sitting at the piano just coming up with a song?

Jo:  Both are vital, both have a different type of payoff. They’re all very unique experiences and often mutually exclusive. There is a certain power in the live performance. Mercurial. There is an austere intimacy because you’re essentially naked up there, unmasked to the world. And there’s an exhaustableness factor involved as well.

But alternatively there’s immense power in those first unconscious moments in the studio, when the notes and lyrical phrases come wandering out of your head and into the ether for the first time. It’s like love at first sight. It hits you in the guts in a way nothing else does. The studio process is a cerebral and primal passionate affair. Live performance is more of the primal aspect of it all.

And it’s not that the studio isn’t overtly primal, it’s just that it gets a little self-conscious after spending more time focusing on the subject, trying to trap that beautiful moment under glass, that proverbial butterfly in the recording net. My favorite stage of creating really is the first alchemical moments of drawing out the song from the “well”. That’s why I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with releasing pieces that aren’t technically pristine, but more authentic to the moment of inception/conception.

DOA:  You’re based in New York, but also reside in Madison, Wisconsin, and I’m wondering if this change in environment affects how you work and whether your songs reflect some aspect of this change in geography.

Jo:  The act of uprooting and setting down on total alien soil is enough to cause reflection in anyone. I’ve been very prolific since moving to the Midwest. It’s been a sacred gift I will be taking away with me when I leave. Of course, I imagine going back East will hold new mysteries and experiences for me. It will trigger new situations and inspirations. I don’t think I’m anywhere near done yet.

DOA:  Looking back to the start of your career, your debut album, Lying in the Evidence of Love, was released in 1995 and your vocals are reminiscent of a young Bjork with a breathy, sweet, little-girl lightness.  It is an accomplished debut with a range of song styles that include classical strings, island-like drum beat, country guitar, contemplative piano movements, and a tiny bit of spoken word.  Can you give a little background into how that album came to be and how it felt at the time to have your first album released?

Jo:  Writing pop songs, ballads, etc started to feel very unsatisfactory to me. One night I had that pomo epiphany in my living room. I called it the “waving my fists at the ceiling” moment. The ceiling as I say in the song “Day in The Life”, “cause that’s where god is”. I fell to my knees literally and cried out for deliverance and that night I wrote my first song. A true song in the sense that I had come to know it. That opened up the flood gates. It’s so nice that you mention Bjork. Like her, you either love my voice or hate it. The sweet little girl quality was very real for me. I was exploring this new character as well. She(me) was in awe and innocent and open and vulnerable.

I wasn’t sure of her strength and neither were some of the people around me. Some discouraged me from leaning into my quirky tendencies, while others encouraged me by introducing me to other artists like Kate Bush for instance. Once I had seen her video “Running Up The Hill”, I knew I wasn’t alone in these vocal exaltations.

I’ve fought against the encrypted pronunciations of words and phrases and NOW I have sought to uphold them.  Now, I make no apologies for my voice. It is mine. And while I love and appreciate the comparisons to other artists that I hold in very high esteem, I resist any implication that I am a mimic. I have been inspired by and encouraged by these incredible artists, both male and female, pianists and/or other musicians, but I consider myself to be my own unique artist at the end. That’s another reason why I stopped writing ballads. I was actually really good at it. I even think I have some untold hits there somewhere. But, my passions were driven by tapping into the inner-directed and less by the outer-directed.

With Lying In The Evidence of Love, I found a group of people who liked what I was doing and participated in helping me facilitate releasing a very charming, yet inexperienced debut of my first songs. We chose the ones that we thought would be most accessible. I was really fortunate to have worked with John Leitch who is in my opinion one of the greatest living guitarists around. He also engineered and co-produced Lying In The Evidence of Love with me. His sensibilities helped guide this first attempt at releasing my music in a more polished form. I think that there are a few great pieces of music on that album that have withstood time and that’s why I’ll be adding them to Volume Two The Mirror Image on Hunting Down The Ceremony. I think that album is quite sweet and poignant because it shows that I was really wandering in the woods trying to find my way around. During a time when a lot of female artists were trying to break ground in the music industry.

We, Jo Post (Big Jo), myself (Little Jo), and John who both co-produced, all lived in the same house in Babylon, Long Island for about 6-8 months while we were recording. It was a living project literally. That was a special time for me. Once the album was finally released, I had felt like at last I was inhabiting the role of singer/songwriter. Not just little blonde girl in her boxer shorts screaming at the ceiling driving her cats to distraction with her midnight laments across from the paint factory at a dead end street.

DOA: There was a long break between your debut and the next two albums, Tinderbox and The Unreachable Sky, which were both released in the 2002/2003 time period.  What was happening during that break and were you working all the while on those two albums?  Why were they released around the same time?

Jo:  The album Tinderbox released through FaithStrange in 2002 was a direct result of a live show I did at Hofstra University in 2000. I loved the performances that Linda Mackley and I did so much that I set them to additional tracks with Mike Fazio in his studio laboratory he calls The Luna County Observatory. The Unreachable Sky was yet another example of channeled energy that occurred over one long weekend. I am sometimes a purge writer. Again, Mike Fazio helped me assemble the pieces in his studio. He is a master sculptor of sound, with an incredible eye and ear for detail.

I released both of them at the same time because they felt like siblings, in the sense that working with Mike allowed me to break away from my first attempt at documenting my work to sound recordings and yet taking the experiment further in terms of pushing the boundaries and allowing my self- expression to emerge even more than before. Mike understood that about me. He put no restrictions on my creative process. We weren’t focused on commerciality. We still aren’t.

DOA:  You are/you have reissuing/reissued The Unreachable Sky this year, but from what I understand, it’s an altered, all-instrumental version of the original album.  The piano-driven numbers bittersweetly yearn in a limpid, upward trajectory befitting the album title, where the lower piano notes is just as ephemeral as the tinkling, higher keys.  There is also a lot of instrumental variation woven into the rich tapestry including strings on “Tinderbox Waltz”, harpsichord and flute on “Day Without You”, guitar and tolling bell on the title track, orchestral strings and synths on “Spill”, church organ on “The Grendel Inside”, drumming rhythm on “Ladders to Fire”, and plunked piano notes on “I’m Still Okay”.  I also detect some human vocals, albeit without words, like the “la la las” and humming on “Day Without You”, crying sound on “Glorify”, and ghostly “Oohs” on “Quicksand”.  Besides Fools and Orphans, this is my favorite album of yours for its palpable poignant tone and beautiful piano work.  What was the impetus behind creating this album?  What songs were removed and added to the reissue, and what was your reasoning behind this?

Jo:  I took out the few vocal pieces such as the infamous “7 Little Secrets” and “Mother May I?” and am putting them on Hunting Down The Ceremony, allowing The Unreachable Sky to be a strictly instrumental work in continuity. I am so glad that you appreciate this album as much as you do. I consider this part of my elementals series. The Unreachable Sky being my “air” intellectual contribution, The Amber Sessions is my “earth and water” emotion and spirituality elemental force and The Last Drive In is “Fire” or the physical body. These works all came channeling through me. I did not contrive to put them together with any forethought. But there does seem to be an elemental musical theme that has arisen.

DOA:  I also found that a couple of the songs on The Unreachable Sky, “Turbulent Silence” and “Danse Papusza”,  with the high-note, water drop reverberation of piano notes, reminded me of some of the piano interludes in the 1981 French film Diva directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix.  Have you ever seen that film, and if so, was it a source of inspiration for those songs?  Have you found that other film scores have inspired your own instrumental work?

Jo:  I’ve never seen Diva. Although it’s always been on my list of films to eventually watch. Like Venus in Furs, The Bicycle Thief, Roshomon, etc. Cinematic music has certainly influenced and affected me throughout my life. I credit much of my lucid imagination to the films I was exposed to as a child. I think that Jerry Goldsmith, Gil Melle, and Mort Stevens, just to mention a few, contributed so much to the film and music industry.

DOATinderbox is a shorter album of 7 songs and I hear more use of drums and cymbals in the mix.  From what I understand you recorded the album in front of a live audience, but then went back and added background vocals and an orchestral backdrop.  Is that what actually happened?  Who is singing dramatically on the first song “Night Digging”, and in what language?

Jo:  Yes I took the existing live performance and layered the sonic textures that I felt added a different dimension to the songs. Sarmila Roy is singing “Sveta Svatara Upanisad” from The Maha Bharata. I used portions of the lyrics which are a traditional Hindu prayer. Again serendipitously, her voice brought a certain majesty to “Night Digging”. As did Hildegard Von Bingen to “Give It Back”.  I don’t use these voice elements as gimmickry in my songs. I truly respect and believe that they are sanctified by my use of them.  I also give open credit to their use in hopes of bringing new listeners to their sacred work.

DOA:  In 2007/2008 you released two albums, again within the span of a year, one being The Amber Sessions and the other The Last Drive InThe Amber Sessions is an all-instrumental album with a more somber feel than The Unreachable Sky, utilizing piano, strings, and synth notes to solemn effect.  There are a few breaks in this pattern, like the delicate, water drop piano notes of “Moments like Drops”, male talking vocals on “Passing/Arriving”, and operatic singing on “Mistress of Time” and “Amber”.  Are the guy’s voice and operatic vocals “found sound” clips that were incorporated into the instrumentals?  Oh, and is that a cat mewling or a baby exclaiming on “Yorga’s Songs of Hunting”?

Jo:  That’s actually George (Yorga is his given gypsy name). Those frequent tirades of his or yawps were called his ‘Songs Of Hunting’ by animal intuitive Asia Voight who told me that he likes to tribute the night creatures with song. He revels in the idea that if he were outside and roaming, he would be a fierce beastie to contend with. To me he’s just my beautiful little guy. And I love when he sings his songs of hunting.

I believe that both The Amber Sessions and The Last Drive In were manifested from my feeling of isolation. Having moved to a very different environment it seemed that my one true source of inspiration was the connectedness that I had felt to Starkweather Creek which stirs literally at my back door. Starkweather became like a conduit to my sense of belonging again. In a very small period of time I sat with my keyboard, my recording gear, and my analogue 4 track deck that I’ve dubbed ‘The Traveling Mothlight Theatre’ and stared out at my beloved creek while the stark Midwest sky cracked the trees with its soft amber light, like little jewels poking through til the sun set. I allowed the music to stream through me as if I were conjuring a primal elemental force. The entire process was very ceremonial for me. I will always be grateful to the solace and sustenance that Starkweather has given me over the years.

While The Amber Session for me is my little pagan serenade, The Last Drive In is a tribute to my childhood and thus the nickname I incurred “Monster Girl”. Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s I was very receptive to the images and atmospheres of the moody, dreamy, and often nightmarish landscapes of the classical and gothic horror films of that time period. Over the years those impressions have filtered through much of my work and The Last Drive In has a sensibility that perhaps captures that feeling that’s been instilled in me. Anyone who can remember staying up very late to watch Chiller Theater or Creature Features will know what I mean.

The music is less a literal tribute and aims to create more of the atmosphere of an authentically haunting and creepy experience. I found sound clips and dissected, manipulated, and morphed them into melody lines, altered choirs and loops that I weaved within the framework of my performances on piano, keyboard, and guitar.

All piano, strings, orchestrations, soundscapes, grooves, and arrangements are by Jo Gabriel with special acknowledgement to: The Amber Sessions

“The Mistress Of Time” – Kiri Te Kanawa, “Amber” – Huelgas Ensamble, Helas Avril by Matteo da Perugia (d. 1418), “Mothlight” – Huelgas Ensemble, Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis (d. 1585)

DOAThe Last Drive In is also an instrumental album of 9 songs that is atmospheric, and even ominous at times, utilizing varied instrumentation from elongated organ notes on “Waking the Dark”, low tone strings on “Masque of the Red Death”, drums on “A Cast of Exciting Unknowns”, and wordless vocal “Ahhhs” on “The House on the Hill” and higher operatic vocals and a beat like   I found the song “Aren’t You his Mother, Rosemary?”  to be the most interesting on the album, with its interplay of the two piano “lines” and violin line that doesn’t really mirror the flow of the piano notes.  Was that stealthy sonic discord between the piano and violin your intention?

Jo:  Yes, after it told me it wanted to work that way. I often let the music tell me what it wants. I just know when it sounds right. “Rosemary” is actually my favorite song on the album. It’s poignantly sad like a cob-webbed room filled with dusty photographs and unfulfilled dreams in an unslept bed. The film is also my all-time favorite movie.  Again, the whole process of putting together the haunting puzzle pieces of The Last Drive In happened very spontaneously for me. It’s my elemental fire album. Alchemy is born of fire. Music is alchemy.

DOA:  Over the years you have contributed several songs to various projects and created film scores, like for the 2000 documentary With One Voice: The Battle Against Breast Cancer on Long Island, which was broadcast on PBS.  What was it like to score a film?  Did you view the finished film and then work on the music, or was it an on-going process that occurred while the film shoot was in progress?

Jo:  Yes, I sat and accompanied the film from the top to its ending credits. I wish I had a copy of the music. It was really quite good. I’ll have to track it down somehow. Contact the director one of these days. It was an amazing experience because I had always wanted to work with film and the issue of women’s health is vitally important. I had my own breast cancer scare in recent years, ironically. I’m okay though, blessed be.

DOA:  In 2006 you contributed a song called “Siren Lotus” to an album by 17 Pygmies.  Is this track available on one of your own albums, or did you record the song specifically for that band?

Jo:  No, this is an exclusive contribution that I made to the Pygs. I recorded the song specifically for their project. I have another little endeavor that I worked on for Jeff Brenneman and the Pygmies.  He asked me to contribute a song to a George Melies short film. I chose The Conjuror and used “Summoning” off of The Amber Sessions. They released a compilation video of several of us artists including Mike Fazio with all our interpretive compositions in a tribute film to the great early and innovative film maker George Melies. The project is called Lightwerx: George Melies, and the DVD came out in December 2009. It’s fantastic.

Photo Credit: Wendy Christensen

DOA:  Last year two of your songs were featured in the indie film Watch Out by director Steve Balderson which was based on Joseph Suglia’s best-selling novel.  Are those two songs originally from albums of yours?

Jo:  “If Not” is on Hunting Down The Ceremony and “I am Lovely” was written specifically for the film Watch Out. It’s featured in the ‘Love Doll’ scene where Matt Riddlehoover is making love to himself with the photo image of his face glued to his traveling blow up doll companion. Very provocative film. It’s already a cult classic.

I had submitted some music for Steve Balderson’s new women-in-prison film Stuck starring Karen Black. There were 2 songs. “Ladders to Fire” and a song I wrote specifically for and inspired by the film called “Angels in Concrete” which is a sexy piano/ flugelhorn tune performed by the talented Marty Robinson.  We created a jazz piece throwback of noir-meets-women in-prison for the flick.

Steve LOVED my songs and really wanted to use them in the film, but unfortunately the guy who scored the film decided that he wanted to do all the music exclusively himself. Steve was sad about not using “Angels In Concrete” and he told me that I could tout the song publicly affiliating it with his film anyway because it was inspired by this campy cult gem.  I grew up watching Karen Black in many of the cult horror and films from the 70s and I just adore her. I am so disappointed that the songs didn’t make it into the movie, but at least the director loved them and I’m still excited to see Stuck.

DOA:  In 2008 you also contributed a piano score to the documentary CUT: Teens and Self Injury by director Wendy Schneider.  What was that process like?

Jo:  I love working with Wendy Schneider. She had grown very accustomed to my piano style and thought that I would be a good fit for CUT. The documentary is a very telling lens into the lives of several people who experience self injury. I was very moved to be able to participate in this project. I knew how intense the project was and approached it with sensitivity and respect. I channeled “Longer” with that in mind, and Wendy recorded me in real time as I expressed on the piano the idea of digging into yourself for the essence of release and delivery. I understand that all too well myself. This film is so important and having offered my musical voice to this issue with “Longer” is very meaningful for me.

In September 2009 the award winning documentary, CUT: Teens and Self Injury, featuring Shirley Manson, will begin its third year of screenings across the US.  Manson said she once used cutting to cope with feelings of loss and desperation, and only when she discovered a different outlet in music could she begin to recover. She’s not alone – it’s estimated that about one percent of Americans experience self-harm.

DOA:  As you mentioned earlier, you just released a 2-disc set of songs titled Hunting Down the Ceremony, a retrospective of your obscure works which includes alternative versions of songs, compilation songs, film soundtracks, and unreleased recordings, and some new tracks too.  You have graciously let me have an aural sneak preview of the compilation in its raw form and I’m hearing a variety of songs on the comp, like delicate piano ballads (“Queer”, “Objects in the Mirror”) sitting next to smokier torch numbers (“If Not”) that slink against more pop-oriented songs (“Longer”, “Emily Laughed”) with drums, cymbals, and guitar lines.  Can you go into why you chose certain songs to be featured on this compilation?  Oh, and who is the guy talking on “Testify”?  I really like your breathy, intimate vocals on this song that reminds me of Kate Bush.

Jo:  The idea of “The Ceremony” being that one moment in time when you had grasped “that thing”, whatever that is to you, that thing you wanted and how it managed to escape or dissolve. The Ceremony is that moment of reckoning of true love and the rest of your life trying to recapture that moment when it first struck you. We’re all on the hunt. The Ceremony is also a metaphor for my creative process and the songs that were led astray over the years. Hunting down and gathering up those obscure or forgotten songs.

Again, I am just blending metaphor with reality, real life, love, and the art of individual alchemy. I’ve chosen songs that people haven’t heard, that represented my strict songwriting sensibility and songs that deserved to see the light of day, because time or circumstances had hindered their release. I picked “Objects in The Mirror” also because Kalinkaland had dissected it up in order to create their dreamy music-box version of the song, but it only told part of the story, so I wanted to honor the song with its full performance.  Jeff Ladd who sang with me on “Heavy” is singing once again with me on “Testify”. He’s got such a wonderfully sympathetic and honest tone to his voice.

Photo Credit: Wendy Christensen

DOA:  I just have to ask you about your involvement in a short film called Phone Sex, directed by Steve Balderson.  What year was this film shot and what did you have to do, and did it relate to music at all?

Jo:  The film was released I believe in 2005/2006. The film is not exactly as the title would suggest. Steve had the idea for a short film that was more performance art for use in art installations as well as conversation pieces at social gatherings. He asked the question to those of us “What is Sexy?” and had us leave our input on his answering machine. It was a hoot. I was really thrilled when I wound up right after Tura Satana, cult icon from Faster Pussy Cat Kill Kill. Somehow, horror and cult films seem to wind up a constant theme in my work.

DOA:  You are featured in U.K. music critic Mick Mercer’s 2008 book on international gothic artists, which brings up the question of if you consider yourself to be a gothic artist and what you feel that means.

JoMusic to Die For came out February 1st, 2009.  I was very honored to have been included in this book.   I hesitate using any one label like gothic, ethereal, cabaret, etc. Craig Gidney called it esoteric pop, which is so much closer to my personal journey because my writing roots were planted in pop and soul for years. I would say that, most of all, in order to remain timeless, I would rather be considered a singer/songwriter and let my songs tell what they are instead of giving them constricting titles that qualify them. Gothic works I guess because my work seems to be  poignantly dark at times and dramatic. I think the films I grew up with, and having an actress painter for a mother, helped mold my theatrical qualities. I am very sensitive and child- like so ethereal wouldn’t be a far stretch. And because my work doesn’t have a catchy formulaic precision it doesn’t fall into the mainstream. Which is fine with me. Sometimes I’m neo-classical. Sometimes I am 70’s songwriter, pure and simple in nature. Sometimes I tap into my gypsy blood. I recently found out about an ancestor of mine named Morticai/ who was a poet and musician. Flamboyant and considered spiritual like a Magus. Hmmm… sounds familiar.

DOA:  Continuing with the gothic/goth theme, it seems like the music, the look, and the lifestyle have gotten a bad rap by the mainstream music press and general public (kinda like the backlash for grunge and emo, but for a much longer period of time), and that the meaning of these terms are rife with misconceptions.  What is your take on the issue?

Jo:  I think people need to attach labels, identifiers to things in order to categorize some commodity which then makes it accessible and familiar. I am open to whatever someone’s impression of me is, if that’s how it truly strikes them. That’s part of the art process. I am not making a value judgment when gently resisting the Gothic genre labeling, but like I said, I will always consider myself purely a singer/songwriter first and foremost.

DOA:  Have any of your songs been featured in TV shows or commercials? This is a topic of much debate, about whether indie artists lose their artistic and indie credibility once they “sell out” and their song is used in a commercial, or if this is a viable way to promote the artist’s music and actually get compensated monetarily.  What are your views on this topic?

Jo:  I would love to have them used in a commercial or TV series. Look how much Sally Ellyson and Hem changed the face of insurance for Liberty Mutual. Their music is incredible and puts a real personal touch to the concept of supporting people’s lives. Music can really underscore ideas in such a powerful way. I think turning a song into something iconic is wonderful. I wish someone would discover my work and use it for something. That would be a good thing!  Although commercials for bathroom tissue and male enhancement drugs, I’d rather not bother.

Jo and Daisy

DOA: Have you done any covers of songs or do your albums all contain original work?  If you could do an EP of cover songs, which ones would you choose and why?

Jo:  Oh yes! I have done a really neat version of Todd Rundgrens “Hello It’s Me”. I do plan on releasing it eventually. Although by the time I do, someone will have done it already. I like what I did to the song so far. It’s got some layers to go yet, but it’s definitely in the works. Also somewhere on a dusty cassette exists a version of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You”.

DOA:  You’ve started up a blog online that I think focuses on other subjects than music.  Can you explain what you’re writing about there and if it ties in with your music at all or is another extension of your creativity?

Jo: The Last Drive In blog is yet another extension of my creative life force. I love watching, talking and writing about film. I truly believe that my love of classical horror film and television, film noir and Science Fiction/Fantasy and classic melodrama have contributed to my musical journey. Luckily I had parents who nurtured this in me.

My pop was the strong silent type. Mom was a mix ofSarah Bernhardt andBlanche DuBois. She was an incredible painter and a frustrated actress who did local theater and sang a bit like Ethel Mermen which brought about a lot of wrath on me as a kid, because the neighbors would taunt me about it. She always left the kitchen door open and would bellow out show tunes while making lunch or cleaning the house. I would be harassed relentlessly about it until I moved away from the neighborhood.

Me, I was terrorized by the neighborhood kids for being different. Not different like weird in a serial killer way. I didn’t light things on fire or have a fascination with taxidermy. No, I was normal in that regard. I just wasn’t mainstream like them. And I was very, very sensitive. They smelled it on me like fresh blood to a shark.  The neighborhood kids tortured me endlessly. But my Mom and Pop never treated me like a freak, even though I was obsessed with monsters and creepy tales and the supernatural, etc. They nurtured my imagination and allowed me to explore my creativity and my otherness. I’ll always be grateful to them for that. They gave me my piano when I was 8 years old.  And I did play with dolls, just less interested in Barbie and more into action figures and Aurora Models of Frankenstein and Wolf Man.

One of pop’s jobs was working for a printer. He worked the presses late at night and would often go on deliveries to the local stationery and candy stores on Long Island. There’s nothing really like that anymore. Just 7/11’s and gas station mini-marts. But I am sure there are those who will remember the small mom and pop stationery stores that carried all your needs. At least Whalens did. My pop would often take me on his route and buy me the latest issue of Forest J Ackerman’s Famous Monsters Of Filmland. I’d get a package of SweetTarts and perhaps the latest DC comic with Iron Man or The Flash! These little excursions meant the world to me. My pop never complained that I was not doing girlie things or that I might have been morbidly preoccupied with creatures with 1,000,000 eyes or mad doctors and such! He just loved me and let me be. He even put up with my taking his hammer and tools to build space stations out of boxes, putting on knobs and dials whereever I could find loose odds and ends around the house. This I would endeavor to do in the basement. Oh, he’d get a little annoyed if I’d forget to put things back in his work bench, but he never said, “Go put on a dress and stop acting likeDr Pretorius!”

My folks never put constraints on me. They would let me stay up late and watch Chiller Theater or Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Thriller. And when the latest Hammer Horror, 70’s cult film, or drive-in movie came out, they would take me. I spent so many balmy Saturday afternoons in the cool dark movie theater enraptured by the double-billed offerings.

Back then I would see every horror movie there was to see. On television, in movie theaters, and drive-in theatres. My imaginary world often collided with my waking life.  I could always count on my folks to give me access to the dream world that was horror and sci-fi. It was my salvation and my escape. They were my muse of a sort. I carry those impressions with me still. I’ve written music because of it. I’ve learned to cope because of it. It gave me a unique perspective on life that I think is very characteristic of classic horror movie fans. So it just seems natural that I would continue my love affair with this stuff and want to blog about it.

I will confess that when I was growing up all the kids in the neighborhood and at school gave me the moniker of “Monster Girl”. In retrospect I consider it a great honor. I have always identified with “the other” or “otherness”. And I spent a great deal of my childhood exploring the world through the lens of imagination. I emancipated myself from the often cruel treatment I felt from the outside world, and the pressure I felt in trying to keep up with what was perceived as “normal”. So I turned inward and I turned toward the dark mysterious light. I found comfort in the mysterious landscapes of the macabre and haunting tales translated on film. And so I developed an intense appreciation for the art of Horror.

There are very noble and introspective ideas not so hidden in the genre of horror and sci-fi. Horror explores the world in a very poetic way, though dark and often disturbing, it examines the details of our existence by way of the fantastical, fable, allegory, and the mysterious. These themes chosen by filmmakers make them cinematic philosophers, anthropologists, and social voyeurs. These creature features and chillers, became my companions and helped me find myself in the darkened hallway of my youth and yet still do, and will forever be a great inspiration to me in my work as a songwriter as well as being a more sympathetic person and lends to having more of an expansive visionary sensibility. These themes and certain characters became my extended family. They also became the mirror with which I viewed myself and the world.  So it just seems natural that I would continue my love affair with this stuff and want to blog about it.

DOA:  Please list your official site(s) where we can learn more about you and order your albums.


DOA:  Thank you so much for doing this interview with me Jo!  I really enjoyed finding out more about you and your music.

Jo:  I just want to say thank you so very much for indulging me with this very intimate interview. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.