Jessica Pratt on Baez, Wu Tang and Not Being a Folkie


Jessica Pratt on Baez, Wu Tang and Not Being a Folkie


Jessica Pratt’s spacey brand of folk is as emotionally affecting as it is odd, and that’s just the way she likes it. The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter put out a second record of lullaby confessionals late last month, and now she’s bringing her music to the masses on her second ever international tour. With shows across North America and Europe filling her schedule for the next few months and a summer full of festivals after that, she’s got a busy year ahead of her. We caught her before she set out for a chat about labelling music, onstage fashion and her dubious rap acumen

You recorded your album at home over the past two years. What was the songwriting vibe like, recording at home?

It’s the only way I’ve really done it. All the recording I’ve done for the most part has been at home, so it’s the process that feels the most familiar and comfortable for me. This was the first time I set out with a period of time dedicated to just writing and recording at home with the intent of presenting it as one album piece. It was kind of exciting.

Does that mean there’s an overarching narrative to the record?

Not intentionally. I think people tend to have thematic elements in their songwriting that continually rear their heads whether you intend for that to happen or not. I was going through some weird transitional adjustments at the time. I had just moved to Los Angeles and I think a lot of the songs sound like there are some personal things happening. The format that feels most comfortable for me to write tends to be a classic boy meets girl thing. The fusing of fantasy and reality seemed to come in waves to me.

“Back, Baby” is a song that’s been extremely popular at your shows. What’s the story behind it?

Initially I wrote it for my friend. I was kind of coming it at it based on his voice and his songwriting. I don’t know if it was conscious or unconscious at the time but I was trying to evoke “Highway 61 Revisited”-era stuff, putting a stream of consciousness flow to the words, but that was just a vague direction I was going in. Even if you’re working with an artificial framework, I think that words that you write are going to be fuelled by some valid emotional thing. It started out as a project for him but ended up as a totally legitimate song. In a weird way, it’s maybe the most emotionally present song on the record.

In the past, you’ve rejected comparisons with musicians such as Joan Baez and expressed displeasure at being labelled a folk musician.

Anyone has to deal with comparisons. It’s an inevitable part of music journalism and all of those gradations of ineptness and coolness. It can tweak your brain out a little bit even if you’re a really grounded, confident person, but for the most part it’s best to put the blinders on and try to not think about it, otherwise you begin self-editing right off the bat. That being said, I have a lot of different influences and I don’t mind if anyone feels that it’s rooted in that. I did grow up listening to a lot of British folk music and it’s beautiful stuff. The only truth in that statement that I made years ago about not wanting to be pigeonholed is that I felt kind of disillusioned by the basic, straightforward, conventional folk shit. I wouldn’t anyone to think that it’s only that.

On Twitter you’ve posted everything from Motown to Wu-Tang. Would you ever be interested in taking those influences and making a project beyond folk?

I kind of already have. I play nylon string guitar; that’s the way that I write songs. Maybe eventually I’ll acquire other instruments. The second has to be qualified as folk but that’s not how I imagined it. It feels like pop music to me. The more I do this, maybe the better I’ll get at playing other kinds of instruments. I’m certainly interested in pursuing all of those weird things as far as it can go

Have you ever rapped?

No, although I do have a lot of respect for people in that field. It must be a very powerful thing to be able to do but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that. You have to have a very commanding voice to do that.

You’ve also posted some pretty eccentric outfits on Instagram. Are you dressing up on tour?

I’ve always dressed eccentrically. It gives me a lot of pleasure to wear things that I enjoy and it’s cool to be in LA, where I feel like it’s an accepted thing. It can be kind of a funny thing to go out onstage in a real flamboyant outfit because it sets this precedent that whatever you’re about to perform musically should match that. It’s a weird mental mindfuck doing that. I also haven’t played that much live. Last year was the first year I toured, ever. I’m still getting really comfortable with it. In daylight I wear a lot of stuff– fashion’s always been a huge thing in my mind. If I wasn’t doing music maybe I’d be doing that. Who knows?