Interview + Photos by By Erica Tello
ET: What was the moment that you initially knew you were made to create music?
JJ: I think you have these realizations all the time. Then they’re taken back, and you have another one. I never knew it was going to happen. I was doing music in every moment I could find. I have always been pretty good about putting my head down and doing it. Not really looking up and waiting for validation. You do kind of need validation to get a manager and all the boring stuff.
I knew I had something, but weirdly enough playing SXSW was a moment for me. It was unexpected, and I mean that in the most honest way. My manager at the time said I shouldn’t go since I didn't have hype or buzz. Everyone was telling me you need hype or buzz for people to even come to your shows at southby. I was like ‘whatever I just want to go. I want to travel in America. I’ll do it solo. It’ll be a funny story to tell back home.’ Some friends wanted to also travel too, and so they came with me to play. I came here with no expectations. Everyone talks to you like you’re going to war.. ‘It’s insane. Everyone is going to push you around.’ It wasn’t like that. People came to shows. I remember seeing Bob Boilen seeing us play. He was the person that you wanted to see at a show. I remember him filming us, and that was a moment for me.
ET: I read you were hoping to be a social worker, traveled on a Gap Year, and worked in factory for Essential Oils.. What ignited you to pursue music? What kind of sacrifices did you have to make to pursue this dream?
JJ: You have to make sacrifices in anything you do. I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I think to me being a touring musician, you sacrifice relationships and health. In the beginning, I tried to maintain all of it. If this is the life I want to choose, I realized I had to let go of it. Sometimes I am going to be away from those who I love, and I’m not going to feel great physically. You add things in -- like I was skipping rope earlier and trying to FaceTime my family.
ET: I greatly connect with ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ because it feels like it gravitates towards those just figuring out life in their 20s. I am feeling similar anxieties about navigating life at this age and about getting older. What’s something you really hope drives home for this audience?
JJ: I can see sometimes especially when I sing that song that I am really lucky that I have a skill and platform to express the way I feel. It hits home how a lot of people don’t have that. They don’t know how to collect their thoughts and push them into art, which can be so cathartic to get through the human life. Or they don’t have a platform to express those things. People can take whatever they want from it. This is for people who can just hear certain words, and someone else feels the same way. A lot of people say ‘I sent my mum that song after I watched you play’. Sometimes being able to talk about things with people you love is really difficult.
ET: The Phantastic Ferniture record has been a favorite for me this year. It’s so playful and fun. I also love seeing you be so natural in the role of a female front-woman in a rock band. What’s are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in this journey with this band of close friends?
JJ: I’ve learned many, many, many lessons. The agony and ecstasy of working with close friends. I mean that in the greatest way. It’s wonderful to be able to do, but it can be very difficult. Friendship comes first. That’s what is great about that band. We have all been through a lot together. Coming out on the other side of this record, and we are all really proud. We’ve all played together for many years, especially me and Liz for ten years. We’ve been in many bands together and have grown together as musicians. We’ve taught each other and learned from each other, so that band means a lot to me.
It has also given me a lot of confidence on stage. If you watch early footage of me in that band like four years ago, I’d just kind of stand there like a soldier and feel really awkward. Now, it’s really fun to just let go. I’m 28 now, and I don’t really care about that stuff anymore. Whereas before I’d be like really aware, now I don’t give a shit about how I look or what people think. People respond to when you genuinely let go and transcend all that stuff. Especially, that stuff you feel as a teenager or in your early 20s that a lot of people feel, and I felt very hard.
ET: I love the ‘don't overthink it’ mentality of Phantastic Ferniture. It’s inspiring because it’s about leaving what’s comfortable and discovering who you are. Can you tell me more about that idea and what’s it looked like for you?
JJ: It has been really easy these days, because our lives are so curated online and in person. It’s easy to constantly like look at what you’re doing and analyze it too much. With Phan Fern, first thought go with it. First idea for the album cover. First idea for the music video. First idea for the lyrics I wrote were literally the first things that came out of my mouth. With my solo stuff, I agonize over the lyrics for weeks and months. I am impulsive in some ways. I put a lot of time and effort into it.
ET: What have you been listening to on the road?
JJ: It changes all the time. Today I was listening to SZA. I have listened to Grimes ‘Art Angels’ the most. That’s probably the album I’ve listened to the most in my entire life. I had a friend who’d be concerned and ask ‘are you listening to ‘Art Angels’?” It became some sort of home to me. That album.
I’m touring with one of my best friends from home, Nick. We have very different music tastes. He’ll put on Calvin Harris, and I put on Neil Young. I gravitate towards pop music when I’m touring. I like sad music. I write sad music. I play in sad bands usually. Very existential bands and music. In the van, I just want to listen to Troye Sivan or Carly Rae Jepsen.
ET: It seems like you really enjoy traveling. What are some of your favorite places you’ve traveled to? Any places you hope to visit soon?
JJ: I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico. I’ve always been so close to it too, and it’s been a dream for so long. I keep waiting til I have the time or finish US tour and go for weeks down there. Hopefully, I’ll do that next time I go on tour for my next record.
ET: What’s a song that changed your life?
JJ: ‘Suzanne’ by Leonard Cohen. To me, it is the greatest song that has ever been written. But did it change my life? I’m going to go with ‘Memories’ by Leonard Cohen. I remember hearing a band cover it, and someone told me it was Leonard. The playfulness in his lyrics and the humor mixed with the sadness is what I try to tap into when I write something. He is like a god floating in the sky, and I’m down below just trying to gain some of his wisdom. I think he is the most incredible musician ever.
ET: Growing up listening to music in the 90s, Michelle Branch was a revolutionary woman that I looked up to because she shifted from the ‘girl in pop’ idea and was one of the first to begin singing alt-rock. Do you have any women that did something similar for you that you looked up to?
JJ: Fiona Apple. I remember being on my boyfriend’s couch. He was my first love when I was 13. He put on ‘Extraordinary Machine.’ It was a sky-opening moment. Before that, I was listening to what my parents were listening to like Led Zeppelin, Doris Day, Deep Purple and that kind of stuff. I had been listening to top 40 like Aqua and Smash Mouth. You don’t really know what you like. You are following everybody else. That was the first piece of music that I thought ‘wow I really like this.’ It’s not because someone is telling me I should or I grew up listening to it. To me, I think Fiona is one of the greatest the lyricists ever. She taps into something rare, and it hits me straight in the chest. She’s not afraid to let it all hang out.
ET: Anything from America you have to bring back home each time you go on a US tour?
JJ: I am a huge snowglobe fan. I bought this incredible one in San Francisco when I was here last. It was the Golden Gate bridge. It had glitter in it, and it was really cool! I was really so in love with it. There’s something about snow globes that make me dream up this American TV life, that I know doesn’t exist but it’s some sort of weird comfort to me on the road. When I toured with this band called Calexico from Tucson, and it was a really wonderful tour. As soon as the tour finished, I hopped off the bus and it crashed in front of me. I realized this means something and I don’t know what. We’re going back to San Francisco, and I know where I bought it last so I’ll try to get another.