Interview: Jillian Bessett

Jillian BessettQuirky. That dreaded word. Too often it’s assigned to a female singer songwriter with a unique voice; the kind that you instantly recognise, like Regina Spektor or Joanna Newsome. Really though – and no matter how great their music can be – these ladies follow a traditional format in terms of instrumentation and style. Quirky should be reserved for the musicians who really push a boundary without altogether breaking free of it. It should hint at the kind of musician that pulls talent out of the sky and bashes it about until it’s truly their own. It shouldn’t be a dirty word, because it embodies amazing artists like Jillian Bessett.

We found Jillian Bessett through her gorgeous new album Electric Moon, and we’ve not put her or it down since. Recorded solo in Bessett’s residing town of Tuscon, Arizona, it hints at the singer songwriter’s influences while also pummelling home her individual skill and blinding talent. Keen to find out more, Tiffany Daniels talks to the artist about her beginnings and what she has planned for 2014.

Hello Jillian! Why and how did you start making music?

I've been making music since I was about twelve or so. My Mom and I would sing harmonies of Girl Scout songs on the drive to school in the mornings. I got an electric piano for Christmas one year, then an acoustic guitar after that. A lot of things have changed in my life over time, but making music has been a constant.

How long have you been making music and what inspired you to first approach it as a career?

I've dabbled in making money playing music since I was about sixteen, busking and the like, but it's only been the past couple of months that I've started playing gigs at legitimate venues.

Online you’ve described your work as classical. Is that a reference to the instruments you use? Are you classically trained?

No, not at all. I wish I was. I wish my mother had forced me to play piano every day my entire childhood, but everything has been learned on my own. I have terrible habits. SoundCloud will automatically pick tags if you don't have one for a song, I'm assuming that's how classical got there.

Is there another musical genre that you associate with?

I've been calling it soul-folk. I keep trying to write straight ahead soul songs and these acoustic folk things keep coming out.

You quote artists likes Neil Young, Ani DiFranco and Woody Guthrie as an influence. What is it about their music that motivates you to create?

I love stories and story tellers and people who can say what's on their mind without flinching. I've found that writing about difficult or big emotions can make them seem less overwhelming when you're feeling them in real time.

Who or what else has inspired you to make music?

My family and friends have always been so supportive. I get great turn-outs to shows and I swear; I know everyone in the audience. I've been fortunate with a very active and loving community of people in my life.

I noticed you’ve also quoted Marika Hackman as an influence. How did you find her music? We love her!

She's wonderful! I found her on SoundCloud through a blog called Pigeons and Planes. “Retina Television” absolutely floored me. That whole album (That Iron Taste) is just gorgeous. SoundCloud has been instrumental (ha) in helping me find new music.

You sometimes work with Paul Radek, but what does he bring to the table?

Paul is my boyfriend, partner, right hand everything, producer, multi-instrumentalist. He forces me to edit and get it right when I'm rushing to get things completed. We've been playing together for live shows. He vacillates between bass and drums for the most part, but also plays guitar and saxophone. I could write a book about Paul. Or an album. I could write an album about Paul.

Who else have you worked with? Did anyone else specifically contribute to your debut album Electric Moon?

The music, arrangements and everything for the final Electric Moon is just me. There are some versions of specific songs that might get released at a later date that have Paul Radek on saxophone and Max Henkel on drums. Ultimately, those versions ended up feeling a little too rock and roll, but they're wonderful.

Electric Moon is exactly the kind of music DrunkenWerewolf goes in for – innovative and also unlike the majority of other artists on the scene at the moment. Do you push yourself to be different, or is it something that comes about naturally for you?

Thank you! Different isn't what I'm going for; it's just how stuff comes out. The differences or similarities to the scene at the moment isn't really of consequence to me, I just want to play what I like.

Who do you consider to be your peers on the Tucson scene?

Wow. I'm really new to the music scene in Tucson, so there's not really a way I can gauge this. But there are a few Tucson bands I love: Shrimp Chaperone, Mason Reed, The El Camino Royales, Sugar Stains, The Jonestown Band... The art/music scene in Tucson is so rich. We get a lot of good music travelling through because we seem to be a nice stop in between Austin and LA, but the locals, man... We've got some good local stuff happening.

What do you have planned for 2014, besides releasing your album?

They're really just goals at this point, not plans. I want to play a show a month for the whole year, I want to play the Tucson Folk Festival in May and I plan to start work recording my second album.

Find out more about Jillian Bessett here.

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