music: interview: Jessie Evans

Jessie Evans has travelled and played all over from the age of sixteen. She was part of the artpunk scene in the San Francisco area and is presently based in Berlin. Here John Littler has a great chat with her about her past and her new album in the making. How can you not love someone who when faced with an unfriendly UK and having way too much stuff with her, just throws most of it off a bridge and moves on?!

What the heck, let's start at the beginning .. was growing up in Ft. Bragg interesing?

I was born in Ft Bragg, California which is one of the most disgusting places I have been. A very depressing port town on an otherwise very beautiful stretch of the Northern California coast, access to the sea lined with a big mill factory, lots of obese people and crack and dope fiends, often foggy or drizzling, nothing much to do, not very great. However, I didn't grow up there at all, I grew up in other very small towns in the surrounding areas of Mendocino. I spent the first few years of my life traveling across country between the West and East coast living on a Boat off the East Coast. My step dad had a dream to sail around the world, and had bought a rundown Scooner but it didn't end in much, as we soon ended shipwrecked in a huge storm not far off the coast from Nova Scotia. Until 8 years old we lived in a very small town called Caspar, at my grandparents house on land called the Eagle Ranch. It was on the cliffs near the sea, lots of tall trees and fog. From 8-12 I lived in Albion, up a ridge, it was the country, we lived in an octagon house on stilts and my real dad, who I never lived with and didn't have much money thought it was so important I had a pony he saved up to get me one and I spent most my free time hanging out with my friends, riding our horses into the wilderness, having campouts in the swamps and forests, eating top raman and getting lost. Afterwards moved to Little River where I lived in a haunted house that ended up burning half to the ground one Christmas. These were my teenage years, and this was the worst of 'childhood' in many ways. As I grew increasingly bored with living in a small town, being the oldest of 6+ children but having no older siblings or access to 'culture' having to drive 1-2 hours to see a reggae show was the extent of exposure to music. However I did go to an alternative high school which borrowed some beliefs and rituals from Native American traditions and Eastern philosophy, and this was really a great time, as I felt like I was accepted for who I was finally.

You set out into the world at the age of sixteen. Did you have the idea then of wandering and playing music or did you head out just to see what would happen?

The only Idea I really had was that I needed to get the hell out of where I was, I wanted to live on my own and support myself, I wanted to work and to live my own life. This led to living In Santa Cruz for 2 years. It's a small surfer beach city south of San Francisco. There I went to Junior College and took mostly Jazz improv and photo classes and lived with a 9 piece soul band. Then at 18 I decided I wanted to move to Europe so I got a one way ticket to London. When I arrived I had the worst culture shock of my life, the British were so stuck up and awful. The food was all fishy salads and shredded cheese, it was so expensive and I had brought so much stuff with me that I couldn't move around so I ended up within the first week throwing most of belongings off a bridge. I stayed there one month before getting on a bus and traveling up to Edinburgh, where I met some guys who were in the Scottish guard and I stayed in the Edinburgh Castle. From there I ended up in Dublin, Ireland where I ended up staying for 8 months. I was waitressing 12 hour shifts with no break or food for 2 pounds an hour, no tips, living with these beautiful Spanish punks I had met and basically hanging out, going to shows and partying a lot. It was a great time, from there I went to Amsterdam where I lived in the Fox Hotel, a punk rock squat, and traveled in Spain with a bunch of musicians playing on the streets and so on. I moved back to San Francisco when I was 19 cos I wanted to start a band.

After getting around Europe a bit, you went back to the West Coast to be part of the artpunk scene. Just how big was that scene? Did you have plenty of places to play?

The first places I started playing shows were Gilman St. in Berkeley, also this tranny bar called Kimos which is in the Tenderloin. I played bass in a punk band called THE KNIVES and when they first starting having shows again there the only rule was that everybody had to be dressed as women. The singer for our group was a really big guy, at the time he was going out with a girl that worked at a catholic schoolgirl uniform factory so he had her make him a schoolgirl uniform. It was really ridiculous. There were lots of other places to play. I was in a lot of different bands at first: THE PANTY-HOS, LEPER SEX KILLER ON THE LOOSE, DEEP THROATS, LEONARDO DICAPITATED etc before I started playing saxophone with SUBTONIX. an all girl garage/deathrock quartet. It was really fun and wild. Those times I really felt for the first time in my life that I was part of a community and creating a scene.

This must have been somewhere around the time of Jane's Addiction. Did you cross paths with them at all?

I'm not sure, I've never really been a big fan.

Now, you're living in Berlin. How did that come about?

I moved to Berlin in Aug 2004. I had wanted to move out of San Francisco for awhile and had a feeling Berlin would be the right place. The year before I traveled there on tour with my band THE VANISHING and It had been really great for us, really welcoming. I had also become friends with this girl HANIN ELIAS, who used to be the singer for ATARI TEENAGE RIOT. I was really inspired by her music and wanted to see what Berlin was like.

I first came across you through your collaboration with BETTINA KOSTER under the name AUTONERVOUS which I thought was very cool. There's also some nice production work on the tracks. Who produced them?

We produced all the music ourselves at home on my computer using protocols. I made the beats and most the bass and synth parts, Bettina played guitar and a bit of synth, we both played sax and sang. It was mixed and mastered by INGO KRAUSS, who used to work at the studio of CONNY PLANK (who is famous for working with KRAFTWERK amongst many other bands).

Are you planning to do any more with Bettina?

No, though I'm happy we did an album together.

Over this last summer you had a big tour through Mexico and the West Coast. How did that go?

It was really amazing. We played 6 shows in Mexico, and 3 shows in California. Mostly we were in Mexico City recording in a laundry room on a rooftop that we converted into a studio, and in Tijuana where we were working with PEPE MOGT from NORTEC COLLECTIVE who is mixing my new record. We'll return there in January to finish the album.

Any outstanding moments you'd like to remember?

These kids from Acapulco came to two of our shows in Mexico City and invited us down there to stay at John Wayne's house. I guess when he died in the 70s his son came down there and sold the place right away to some people who just kept everything exactly as it was, frozen in time. It's this insane mansion on the cliffs with a huge pool, hot tub, outdoor livingroom, etc. It was such a vacation. We slept in his bedroom and recorded sax there.

I think you've got a new album currently being recorded with a few interesting guests - like to tell us more?

I started out on this just working on the drum programming fo the first 4 months until I started to go crazy, then I moved to the bass, organ, voice, sax. I wanted to work it from the ground up, like building a city. Its been really great working on my first solo album cos I've had the opportunity to bring whoever I want into it which is something I've never really gotten the chance to do in the past. There's one song I made together with my friend NAMOSH, who is an amazing singer/performer here in Berlin. BUDGIE (THE CREATURES, SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES) is playing marimba on a couple tracks and drums on 3 or 4 tracks together with TOBY DAMMIT (IGGY POP, SWANS) who is playing live drums and percussion throughout the entire record. Toby is also doing live shows with me now and he's helped me a lot with the recording- he even conducted a choir here in Berlin and a choir in Tijuana for one song. We also did one song with EXTRA ACTION MARCHING BAND from Oakland/San Francisco. They covered one of the tracks. It sounds really amazing with all the drums/brass! It will be great next time we play together. My friend CHLOE GRIFFIN sings backup on some songs. THOMAS STERN (CRIME AND THE CITY SOLUTION/ EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN) has worked with us on recording the drums and some voice as well as is doing live sound.

Through the various changes you've been through - bands, places - you've been quite true, I think, to a sort of original, slightly dark, vision. Could you tell us about it and its inspiration?

I feel like everything I've done so far has always turned out way darker than I would have liked. I had a lot of subconscious things to overcome, things I don't even understand. You may think that you want to project something but other things come up and you have to let them out. In the beginning the way I wrote was very longwinded and metaphorical. I think I was overly excited to say something, and had so much to get off my chest. At the same time it was covered up by lots of pretense. THE VANISHING was inspired by both modern fairytales and a very bleak Sci-Fi vision of the (present day) future. Much of the inspiration came from dreams. I was trying to make sense of these sensations and at the same time make a statement of how I viewed the society I was living in. There was always a lot of angst about living in America. Living in San Francisco I watched the city go through major gentrification during the dot com craze, meanwhile the homeless population was so out of control and it became more and more expensive to exist there. Even though the support is there in the underground, its not really possible to survive being an 'artist' it unless your famous. The system there feels incredibly classist, and going back there is always sort of shocking. I chose to live in Europe because here music and art is still considered an integral part of society and is respected so much more. I'm happy since living over here that I am under less pressure and stress now that I can explore other parts of myself that aren't quite so manic. I don't think it makes that much different where you are but being in Berlin has allowed me the personal space to get to know myself a lot better. Though I have good friends here I find it to be a very solitary place and that's been good for working. Lately I've been stripping down my words more and more. I just really want to know what I'm saying and to believe in it. The words are essentially the prayer; the spell and to be most effective they must be simple and direct. Inspiration mostly comes from people, from attraction and desire. Earthly feelings that are very basic but you feel it in your gut. I want to revert to a more primitive state that's based on rhythm and emotion with no mind interference.

What's next?

I want to finish the album I'm working on and then focus on getting my live set together. After that touring in the spring and more traveling. I would like to escape to some southern states.

Thanks very much... veilen dank!
Myspace page

photo credits: sombrero - Heather Rene Russ with drummer- Billy und Hells

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