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Interview
Jess Chambers

Jess Chambers

date
Friday 7th October, 2011 3:20PM

Wellington’s beautiful balladeer, Jess Chambers, recently released her second studio album ‘Desire’. It follows the release of Jess Chambers and the Firefly Orchestra in 2008, which received critical acclaim. Jess is also well known for her contribution to Wellington’s folk/country collaboration the Woolshed Sessions, and received an APRA Best Country Song award in 2009 for the song ‘Stringing Me Along’ in which she sang lead vocals. We had the chance to chat with the lovely lady about her latest offering and what she has been doing in the wake of her first solo album’s success.

How would you describe Desire as an album?

The instrumentation is pretty spare because I was determined to only give the songs what they needed to get moving and nothing more. They mainly feature a lot of beautiful mandolin played by Peter Hill, slide guitar by Lee Prebble, piano, backing vocals and guitars. It's a little dark, with some alt-country elements to it, but there is just enough warmth and hope to not be completely heartbroken!

Was the creative process different for you this time around?

This time I produced the album myself, which means I planned the recording sessions logistically and creatively. It was a real challenge and thrill bringing each song together in terms of instrumentation, arrangements and feel. I made 35 demos on my laptop of the nine songs before we went into the studio, so I had everything worked out pretty concisely once we hit record. As opposed to my last album Jess Chambers and the Firefly Orchestra which Justin Clarke produced.

This album seems to take a step further into alt/country territory...would you agree?

There is a hint of Americana on this album. I've been listening to Gillian Welch, Neil Young and early Emmylou Harris. I love the natural sound of the instruments that those artists capture on their recordings. I also like how their songs sometimes appear simplistic, but if you listen closer that is real depth lyrically, musically and in the sentiment of in their work.

You went to the US last year, how was your trip?

I really enjoyed going back. I stayed in San Francisco for most of the time and got to know the city really well. Played a few shows and met local musicians. It was fun. Saw a lot of amazing music. Neil Young, Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Jenny Lewis etc. It was inspiring.

I hear you are heading back to the US after you tour Desire... what are your plans?

Yes, it's mostly just for a change and some adventure. My mother is from California and I spent some of my childhood there so it feels familiar to me. We plan to check out a few more big cities before we decide where to base ourselves. There are a lot of options.

Can we expect you back or is the future a little open in that regard?

I'll be back and forth because a lot of my family is here in NZ.

You manage to capture a real sense of intimacy in your songwriting. How much of your songwriting is story telling, and how much is derived from you own experiences?

Some of them are, some of them are written for other people. For example, 'Full of Fire' I wrote for a friend who went through some hard times. It all depends really. I interpret life poetically in my songs to accentuate the human experience.

You have written some beautiful ballads - real heartbreakers (in a good way). What are a few of your favourite ballads and why?

Thanks, there's nothing so bitter sweet as a slow, sad ballad. I love Roy Orbison, he's the king of heart break - 'Love Hurts' is one of my favourite songs. 'Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' by Bob Dylan, 'So Long Marianne' by Leonard Cohen, any old school country ballad featuring Emmylou Harris.

Natalie Finnigan

links
facebook.com/jesschambersproject
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