"It acknowledges that while memories and past lives exist and inform the present day, the road ahead is unknown" We chat with Jodi James
Appearing from the Baton Rouge music scene Jodi James is one half of an Americana duo with her friend Clay Parker. Their latest record, The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound, is a beguiling blend of country and folk, with added Americana. It's a wonderful album that's appeared from nowhere. We had the chance to talk to Jodi and ask her about how the record was written and where it was recorded, among other things.
Hey Jodi, so where are you right now?
Sitting at the kitchen table.
What have you been up to today?
Worked on some booking/administrative stuff, researched how to outsmart Instagram by re-formatting a horizontal video to fit its “vertical only” IGTV requirements, yoga/meditation, made some fancy soap.
Tell us how you came to be part of a duo with Clay.
We’d known one another for some time, just being a part of the same scene of Baton Rouge songwriters. I’d always been drawn to his writing and stoic delivery and one day after a show we made a half-serious remark about co-writing. He actually followed up on it and sent me song idea through email shortly after. I was spending some time in Nashville, so we continued going back and forth through email and by the end of two weeks we had 12 completed songs. It was just a very natural thing from the get-go.
How did you go about writing and choosing which songs to record for The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound? In the early stages (before touring) we were writing all the time; whatever spark or idea one of us caught, we followed it to fruition. After a few years we had more than enough to make a solid record, so we recorded most of them and then whittled-down to what we felt was a cohesive collection.
One of my favourite songs is the fantastic ‘Cumberland Mill (No Pain)’; what can you tell us about that track?
Well, that song has another alternate title…'Hydrocodone Blues'. Coincidentally, both Clay and I had emergency surgeries within weeks of each other. The recovery period inevitably required some pain management. That unfamiliar and droning, medicated headspace sometimes induced a bit of anxiety for me; but, the idea of capturing that hazy detachment musically, sort of gave it purpose and it was easier to resolve in my mind. So, we rode the feeling and ended up producing something positive from it.
I also really love the opener ‘Easy, Breeze’, can you tell us what that song’s about?
'Easy, Breeze' summons the sentiment of lingering. It’s a languid plea for the elongating of a season, and nods to the inevitable shift of wind while being rooted in the present landscape. This song also has a good bit of flood imagery, which is directly related to the Great Flood of 2016 which affected nearly all of southeast Louisiana. 90% of our parish and surrounding parishes stayed underwater for nearly a week. Fortunately, we were spared major devastation; but in keeping with folk music tradition, the telling of the tale made its way into the folds of the verses.
We don’t have whippoorwills in the UK, what are they? And why are they name-checked in so many country/Americana songs?
Whippoorwills are small, chanting birds. They sing at night while all else is quiet in the woods…and seem almost contented in their loneliness. Maybe this is what appeals to the spirit of the troubadour?
Where did you record the album? And how would you describe that space?
We recorded vocal/guitar tracks for half of the tunes at Bakery Sound Studio in Nashville. Those were recorded live, with Clay and I sitting across from one another in mustard yellow retro armless chairs in a wide-open, sunlit room; an amber velvet lamp hanging just above us providing some warm light. All of the additional instrumentation and the remainder of the vocal/guitar tracks were recorded at Blue Velvet Studio in Baton Rouge, a space owned and operated by our good friend, Denton Hatcher. (We also recorded our EP from 2015 there as well.) The open room is a long, narrow and moody space. Floor-to-ceiling heavy blue velvet curtains adorn the walls of the tracking area, and a garage sale papier-mârché Elvis bust (complete with glasses) rests atop a well-enough-tuned upright piano.
What’s the one song on the album that you really want people to hear?
'Remember It All', I’d say. It acknowledges that while memories and past lives exist and inform the present day, the road ahead is unknown. It is simple, unguided chaos, and leaves opportunity for new life. This one came about shortly after 'Gallows Tree', and the two songs have always seemed to have a similar sentiment of forging ahead on one's own terms.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
Oh man…I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my fair share of both anger and tear-inducing experiences in regard to inequality and/or lack of respect for simply being a woman. I think in any business where there are extremely successful people and people vying for success, there’s assumed power and assumed vulnerability. There was definitely a point where my sense of trust was shaken, but it made me tougher and I’m grateful for what I gained in having lived through those things. My response to the question prior to this one applies here as well, so I’ll revisit (and elaborate) — past lives do exist and inform the present day, but forging ahead on one’s own terms has more power than letting those things from the past have power, still.
And have you noticed any change since the #MeToo movement?
Sure! I think it’s brought about a collective assertion and intolerance for mistreatment…which is amazing.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
I was doing costuming/wardrobe for a sitcom pilot that was being filmed here in Baton Rouge and Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) was part of the cast. I was obsessed with that show in my younger years and did get a little giddy about working with him. I actually have an old phone recording of us singing together on set between takes…pretty cool.
You’re from Baton Rouge, what’s the best thing about the town?
Well, technically I’m from a tiny town called Burnside, about 25 miles Southeast of BR. When I began writing songs and looking for an original music scene, I jumped right into what was happening around Baton Rouge, and it has since been sort of my “home” musically speaking. The lovely thing about Baton Rouge is that everyone supports everyone. There’s a very inclusive, thriving community of amazingly talented musicians and songwriters. In no way does it have that competitive vibe as that of larger and more well-known music towns.
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
We have a few more tours lined up for the year, so we’ll be on the road a good bit. It would be nice to find a big chunk of time to devote to writing, too.
Is coming to the UK in your plans?
We were actually trying to make it overseas this coming October, but the timing just didn’t work out quite right. It looks like spring (late April/early May) might be a better time for us. Stay tuned!
If you could recommend one song to hear this week, what would it be?
How 'bout Eva Cassidy’s version of Buffy St. Marie’s 'Tall Trees In Georgia'.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
I’m just glad you didn’t ask me anything about politics!
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Lately I’ve been enjoying my coffee with honey flavored creamer and turmeric (but tea usually comes first). And, maybe…sometimes…a nip of bourbon.
To find out more about Jodi and Clay you can visit their website, or you can see what they're up to on Instagram and Facebook.
Their fantastic album, The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound, is out now and available to buy from decent music places and stream.