Guitar Girl'd: Interview with Jennifer O’Connor About Her New Album, 'I Want What You Want'
Jennifer O’Connor almost didn’t make her new album, I Want What You Want (Kiam Records). But she couldn’t stop writing and playing and singing. And thank goodness!
Dropped by her label and discouraged from years of touring, O’Connor took a break and went into a funk that she’s come out of in grand style. I Want What You Want was released November 8 (on her birthday, no less). Produced by Tom Beaujour (editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine and owner of Nuthouse Recording), O’Connor draws you in with her introspective lyrics and sincere delivery.
Both bitingly frank and melodically gorgeous, I Want What You Want finds O’Connor taking the musical reins in the form of multiple guitar parts, bass, and even synth tracks.
Watch TV much? You’ve probably heard O’Connor, as she’s had songs appear on numerous television shows and films such as Sons of Anarchy, The Ghost Whisperer, The Strangers and The Sensation of Sight. O’Connor has toured the United States many times over, playing alongside bands such as Wilco, Cass McCombs, Silver Jews, The Mountain Goats, Damien Jurado, Feist and Yo La Tengo.
Lyrically soul searching and creatively recorded, I Want What You Want is somehow familiar, sometimes melancholy, entirely human and completely wonderful.
Here O’Connor shares a bit of insight into her journey.
You’ve had songs placed on several TV shows and movies. Can you tell me more about that?
I’ve had a song in the movie The Strangers called “Hopeful” from the record The Color and the Light. A song called, “The Church On The River,” on the TV show Sons of Anarchy last year. I’ve had a song on an Internet ad even for Eileen Fisher called “Tonight We Ride.” Plus more!
I’ve enjoyed that kind of stuff. I would like to do more writing for TV and film. In fact, one of the songs, “Swan Song” (for Bella)” that’s on the new record, I wrote as a submission for the new Twilight movie. It didn’t get in, but it was actually the first song I recorded.
That’s a really nice song. I really like it. I almost felt like I had heard it before when I listened to it for the first time.
It’s the first song I recorded with Tom Beaujour, and kind of what really made me decided I wanted to make the record with him, because we had such a great experience together for the first song. It all came together really well, and it was great working with him. I co-produced a record with him and he was very encouraging of my ideas.
I think that’s really important. When you’re in the studio -– that you’re working with people that build you up and don’t intimidate you, and bring you in as a partner in the creative side of the recording process.
Exactly, yeah. He made me feel like my ideas were all worth exploring. It was cool. I really learned a lot working with him.
Can you tell me a little about how you got into playing guitar?
I didn’t really start playing guitar ‘til I was about 22, after college. I had a guitar for a while, but it just sat in a corner of my room (laughs). And I ended up taking a few lessons for a couple months and then just started learning on my own. Books, and listening to other people’s songs, and looking up tabs and learning that way. I’ve been a pretty basic player for a long time as a way to write songs. But I think I’ve gotten a little bit more exploratory with playing. On most of my records prior to this one, there was a lead guitar player on a lot of the songs. I did a bit more of my own of that kind of stuff on this record. It was a little bit different for me this time.
So did you play all the guitar parts on this record or did you have anybody else?
Most of them, yeah. I think there are two that are played by other people, but I played some of the solos and some of the more noisy stuff. It was fun. On the song “Already Gone,” there’s a solo that I played. And then, on the song “No One Knows Anything,” there’s a part with a lot of feedback that I played as well. I liked playing around with soloing and feedback on this record. I demoed it at home just on Garage Band, then did it for real in the studio.
What gear did you use on the album?
I used an Epiphone Casino hollow-body. And on “Already Gone,” it was a Fender Jazzmaster, I believe. And then for acoustic I use a Gibson J-45, usually. That’s what I play mostly on this record.
You stopped writing and performing for a little while. What happened there? Did you just get burnt out?
I was just kind of discouraged. I had been dropped from my label (laughs). Not even trying to talk around it. But I was bummed out about it. And not doing so hot financially, just from a lot of touring and putting other kinds of work on hold for so many years. I was just considering possibly not continuing in such a professional manner, y’now? I was still writing songs, and I didn’t really think I’d stop doing that. But I went through a period of feeling a little lost and confused about what to do. But I think a lot of the songs ended up being about that. And kind of ironically, I ended up making a pretty good cohesive record based on a lot of indecision and soul-searching.
Maybe it was a little therapeutic for you.
Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s kind of cliché, but I think it really was.
Are you going to now tour in support of this new release?
Yeah, I am going to but probably not until like next year, sometime like February/March. I’m going to do SXSW. I’ve already got that locked down, so I’m going to hopefully book a little bit of band tour around that, and then do some solo tours as well, which I’ve always kinda done a little bit of both. But I’m putting it off until in the late winter/spring.
Until the weather gets better?
Yeah, that’s a good thing about putting out your own record – you can do whatever you want.
I noticed on your label, Kiam Records, that there are some other artists, too. So, what’s your role with that?
The label really began so I could put out my first record almost 10 years ago now. And then, eventually I started putting some of my friends’ bands, too, and bands that I liked. So it’s always been this small business, but I’ve put out a handful of other artists.
I used to work in promotions and PR a little bit before I started music, so I have a little bit of a background in that kind of thing. And I think that’s been an asset as a label to some of the artists. I help get the word out about their stuff and do shows with them sometimes. And it’s always stuff I really, really love that I put out, so it’s really just kinda fun. It feels like a worthwhile to spend any free time I might have.
Well, it must feel good to take that power back for yourself and truly do your music your way.
Yeah. In the past I’ve wanted to please the label, or please the booking agent or whatever, and y’now, I’m like “Well, what do I know? I should do this, right?” So, I think it’s just good that I DO know. I do have a say and that’s important too. But it’s hard, I think a lot of people starting out just wanna be successful and feel like they need to do everything that they’re told they should. And sometimes they’re good ideas, and sometimes they’re not.
Find out more at jenniferoconnor.net.