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Interview: Jackie Venson and her new EP Transcends, and why

Interview: Jackie Venson and her new EP Transcends, and why

Patrick O’Heffernan

(Los Angeles) Texas-based Jackie Venson blows the roof off every venue she plays.  Trained in classical piano, Venson has multi-instrumental chops plus a voice that can drip with emotion or belt with blues.  She picked up the guitar shortly after graduating from the famed Berklee College of Music, made the giant leap from classical piano to raw and gritty blues guitar, and never looked back.  Enthralled with music as child, Venson has a vibrant musical soul and  precise technical control of both of her instruments – guitar and voice. She blends and bends Blues, Rock, R&B, and Soul with her introspective lyrics into music that led to a Jackie Venson Day in Austin. She kicked off her coast-to-coast tour this Friday in LA,  promoting her new Transcends EP. We were lucky enough to catch up with her for an interview before the concert.

Patrick. Jackie, you have titled the new EP Transcends.  What are you transcending?

Jackie. I am transcending negativity in all its forms. Kinda like an anthem to positive thinking and self-expression and manifesting good things in your life and keeping the good energy flowing.

Patrick. In the title song you sing about a brother being shot, fires to fight, making us turn on ourselves, divide and conquer. That doesn’t sound like positive energy.  What is going on?

Jackie. I am observing how negativity and wickedness can manifest itself in different forms.  Sometimes it can manifest in murder and injustice.  Sometimes in people turning against their own.  It pops up in so many different ways, that the only way to fight it is for us to manifest and preach positiveness and love. It is not really a bittersweet song – all these things are happening we have the power to do something about it.

Patrick.  Is this a new direction for you.  I don’t recall a lot of commentary in your earlier work?

Jackie.  It’s not really a new direction – it’s not like I am going to start preaching this nonstop and do nothing else.  But it is something I believe in and who I am, so it will pop up from time to time .  I decided to make the entire EP about this because I wanted the title track to be “Transcends. I thought that an EP with a title track “Transcends” needed a theme.  I compiled all my unreleased songs that supported this theme,   I didn’t use them all because it would have been too long. This is how it worked out.  I just knew I wanted an EP called Transcends.

Patrick.  Come to think of it, this is not the first song with commentary in it.  In your song “Lost in Time” you sing “Young woman emancipation/Finally free to chase your dreams/But others will tell you that you can’t.”  In those lines  you lament lost opportunity; in Transcends you pick up the fight to get them back.  Does this reflect a change in you or in society?

Jackie.  It definitely reflects a change in me.  I used to surrender a lot –  I used to think,  “well ok guess that door is closed and I can’t go through.”  Now I am like “No!”  I have a lot of fight in me now because I have had too many doors slammed in may face and I am tired of it.  I am much more aggressive now – not in a physical violent way –but with things that I want. I was a little bit more timid but not anymore. Don’t put up with it anymore. The changes in me will always be translated in my music. As long as I write music from the heart.  I think there may be changes in society too – I notice a lot of people standing up and not taking it any more.

Patrick. I also notice that in this album there is a change in how you approach music. More subdued – higher keys, more stripped down arrangements, less howling guitar solos, more emphasis on lyrics and your voice.  Is this a new musical direction?  Are you experimenting?

Jackie. It is a result of the producer I worked with in Austin, Michael Ramos.  He said that a recording is a recording and a live show is a live sow. In a live show, you can whatever you want – 20 minute guitar solo, whatever.  But it is really hard to capture in a recording what you do in a live show, except for live recordings.  In a studio recording, it is a totally different medium.  Like a book is a book and a movie is a movie. You can’t make the book exactly into a movie…you have to adapt the book into a movie. It just got me thinking

Patrick. So you think differently in the studio?

Jackie. I thought to myself, maybe when I am in the studio to do the recordings I love the most, I should focus on learning the art of recording, get it down.  Not just go into the studio and lay down songs like I do them live.  You have to respect the fact that you are in a studio. You have to be thoughtful about the arrangement – how long do you want that introduction to last? 2 bars? 8 bars?  Will that lose you? You don’t ever want to lose people with a recording.  Now,  if I am lost – if I get the urge to pick up my phone during a section, there is something wrong with that section. If I am the one who is singing I pick up my phone during the second half of the second verse and I pick up my phone, maybe we should cut that out.  I really appreciate Michael showing me that.

Patrick.  In the song “Fight”, you sing about changing your life, but you also sing about changing the world.  You are always looking at yourself and trying to get better, I get that. But how do you want to change the world?

Jackie. Just the act of seeking to improve yourself has an impact. When people see you working on yourself, they think maybe they look at themselves and improve; it has a ripple effect.  I heard from a psychic once that one person has the power to influence 100,000 people – positive or negative.  If I can influence 100,000 people and they can each influence another 100,000, it gets exponential –  it becomes millions pretty quick.  And that is why I  truly believe that working on yourself and being a positive influence in your network is the only real way to change the world.  You can’t tell people to change, but how can they decide to if you are to trying to change?

Patrick. How would you like to change the world?

Jackie.  I would like people to be a little more compassionate towards other people and to constantly be considering how their actions in real time are affecting people around them.  If they find they are affecting people negatively, they need to change that.  It works the other way also, negative or positive.  I want people to be more considerate.

Patrick. Does you have a responsibility because of the many people you can influence?

Jackie. Yes.  I think about this all the time.  It has gotten to the point if I am not feeling positive  it’s like the rule,” if you can’t say something positive, don’t say anything at all”.  I feel that way about energy.  If you don’t have good energy to bring, don’t bring anything – stay home.  If I don’t feel like I can be a positive impact on whatever place I am going to or whatever concert I am playing, I don’t want to do the concert or go to the place. I only want to leave my house if I can bring positive energy. Sometimes I have a bad day– I am not perfect.  If I don’t think I can overcome whatever negativity I am feeling, I don’t want to go and drag everyone else down.

Patrick. How does being a girl in the blues world fit in that – negative or positive?

Jackie. It depends on the situation.  It is what it is.  I stand out sometimes because I am girl, although I am not always the only girl. I don’t always stand out;  there are a lot of girls in blues.  It is a disadvantage because I always have to have my guard up, I have to watch people and listen for micro aggression.  It can be heavy sometimes, I have to constantly keep my eye on every single person who wants to enter my life.  In that way it is not an advantage, but what can I do – not be a girl?

Patrick. Your song “Fast” — and the whole EP —  emphasizes your voice.  You seem to be adding new melodic color to your blues, less down and dirty and more flowing. Is that right or am I imagining it?

Jackie. You are not imagining it.  Yes my melodies have definitely changed.  My melodies used to be a bit harder to follow;  they weren’t so easy sing along to,  to latch on to and repeat.  I wanted to change because I love melodies that get stuck in your head.  I love that personally in the music I listen to.  I wanted to change that but I was never able to pull it off  because I didn’t have the songwriting experience at the time.  But now I have also been working, making my melodies really stick with you.  I have also been learning about all the different tones I have – people don’t understand that half of singing is how to assign which tones to which emotions and translate that to the audience.  I have been learning to assign the right tones to the right emotions.

Patrick. Jackie, thank you for the new EP and for talking today.  Good luck on the tour.

Jackie.  Thank  you.

Patrick O’Heffernan.  Host, Music FridayLive!, Co-Host MúsicaFusionLA

Jackie Venson.

Transcends EP available at Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify.

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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