I awoke uncharacteristically early today to download Jackie Venson’s new EP, Transcends. The cover art, stylistically straddling the 60’s and early 70’s, instantly made me smile with misplaced nostalgia over an era I never had the opportunity to live through, but attempted to recreate with the Fillmore West concert posters which adorned my bedroom walls as a pre-teen.
In a sense, Jackie’s EP is a six song slice of nostalgia, venerating a bygone era where musicians played instruments rather than manufacturing beats by manipulating software. But this is not to say her new work is more throwback than contemporary or relevant. Transcends is comprised of simple yet penetrating lyrics, infused with just enough funk to sonically render even verses grappling with challenging or emotional subjects remarkably upbeat. In today’s socio-political climate, I embrace with open arms a young female musician who can harness the technical skill and groove of the old-school funk and blues guys I adore, but spike it with modern flavor that moves me to dance rather than to despair.
I first took notice of the Austin-based performer when she sat in with the legendary Jon Batiste’s house band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. As I subsequently read more about her, I was hard-pressed to find a list of top U.S. guitarists—whether it be blues guitarists, emerging guitarists, black guitarists, or female guitarists—where Jackie’s name was absent. But to distill her talents to merely “guitarist,” as it seems so many do, is to miss the point of Jackie’s brilliance entirely. We have a renaissance woman in our midst. She writes, is a vocalist, plays guitar and piano, and most recently, has produced a web series, How to Become a Musician, which is part motivational and part celebration of other professionals who are grinding through the perils and pitfalls of trying to make a living in the music industry.
LADYGUNN had a chance to catch up with Jackie in anticipation of Transcends, which drops today, September 29th!
Shirt by Club Monaco, Jacket (Vintage) Stylist’s Own, Rings by Avocet Jewelry + Mollie Cutler Jewelry
How would you describe your sound?
A groovy mixture of pop, soul, and rock.
Could you tell me a little about your writing process?
I usually sit down to practice and end up looping a chord progression (on my Looper pedal) and jamming over it. Sometimes I’ll just spend the night practicing, sometimes a cool melody will come out and I’ll go from there.
Do you have a preference when it comes to writing vs. performing?
I love them both equally, it depends on the mood I’m in, but mostly I like a balance.
When did you begin writing/playing/performing? At what age/where?
I began playing piano at 8, guitar at 21. I began writing at 16 and performing as a singer at 17. Most of this happened in Austin, TX.
How has Austin shaped your music/career?
There’s live music everywhere, therefore opportunity everywhere. There’s always a chance to get a gig or do an open mic or simply go out and hang with other musicians. It’s a wonderful environment for writing/performing musicians.
Crop Top + Shorts by Samantha Pleet, Choker by Briwok Jewelry, Rings by Avocet Jewelry + Mollie Cutler Jewelry
Was there anything significant in your background that informed you as an artist/performer?
My father is a musician of 40 years and played professionally for decades. I used to watch his band rehearse as well as play gigs. I believe I picked up more from that than anything else, my father’s stage presence is excellent and watching him and the crowd and how happy everyone was to be there made me want to get into it. I started writing because I was tired of playing other people’s music.
Are there any specific themes you tend to grapple with in your music? Any lyrical motifs?
I’m all about universal love, acceptance of oneself and others, and peace with our existence on earth. I also like to sing about my experiences in life.
Do you have a song you’ve written that you particularly love?
I love a song I wrote called “Run”. I just love the melodies and how they sound in my voice. I also love the subject-matter. It’s been a therapeutic song for me.
What is it like to be a female blues guitarist? This is so rare and I’m wondering if you’ve been met with any specific challenges in the music industry as a result, or if you’ve been embraced?
I’ve mostly been embraced but there are weird hiccups here and there. Sometimes I get weird comments from men but for the most part they leave me alone. Haha… I think they know I will verbally smack them so it’s usually fine.
Shirt by COS, Vest (Vintage) Stylist’s Own, Pants by AG Jeans, Rings by Avocet Jewelry + Mollie Cutler Jewelry
What bands/musicians past and/or present inspire your current music? What about them specifically?
Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, and Stevie Wonder are just a few. This is always a really hard question to answer because I listen to so much music and I really can’t track what influences me or what rubs off on me. Plus, I listen to a lot of music by people who aren’t famous or legendary and they influenced me too. As for the three I mentioned I really love their originality and I think that their musicianship is top notch.
Who were your favorite bands/musicians growing up? Who did you listen to most as a teenager?
I listened to a lot of Pop as a teenager because I just listened to whatever was on the radio. My sister would turn me on to people like Marc Broussard or Citizen Cope, also a band called Motion City Soundtrack. Her musical tastes were all over the place so I suppose that rubbed off on me as well.
Who outside of the realm of music has influenced you? Visual artists? Writers? Filmmakers? Philosophers? What about them specifically?
I’m really into civil rights activists. I love Martin Luther King and Angela Davis. Folks like them took on such an incredible battle and I deeply admire and are grateful to them for that.
Could you tell me one strange, unique, or unexpected thing about you that your fans might not know?
I have 8 older siblings, I am the youngest of 9. I also am a huge video game nerd.
Jumpsuit by Samantha Pleet, Shoes by Jeffrey Campbell, Earrings by Haarstick Jewelry, Rings by Avocet Jewelry + Mollie Cutler Jewelry
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
A few things: Going on my first national tour with Belk, playing with Jon Batiste and Stay Human on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, meeting, opening for, and hanging with Earth Wind & Fire and crew, jamming on stage with Buddy Guy, touring with Gary Clark Jr. …it’s been a wild few years! Mostly I love my band and my team and I am looking forward to more of the journey.
What is your primary career goal for the next year?
I’m working on making the Transcends EP my biggest release yet in terms of exposure and popularity.
Do you have any particularly fascinating/insane tour or performance stories?
We roll into this castle in Germany to play some gigs and there’s a natural museum IN the castle not mention an entire taxidermy display. Like a bunch of dead stuffed animals arranged in some what of a nature scene. To make it even weirder, they had a continuous loop of bird and nature noises in the background.
Do you have a city or venue where you particularly love performing?
I’m obsessed with San Diego. I want to go there several times a year, at least. I also love summer in Alaska. Honestly, I love traveling. I love every place for different reasons.
Could you tell me a little about the creation of your web series? What inspired it, how production went, anything particularly useful or interesting you learned from creating it?
I wanted to try a different medium of reaching my fans while still relating to music. I have a lot of great friends who are also musicians by trade so I thought sharing our collective knowledge would be interesting. I did learn, however, that filming and editing a show is quite the task but I’m willing to do it as I get guests that I think would make a great episode.
Do you have any friends or collaborators who have been particularly instrumental in your success or development as an artist?
The guys in my band, Alàn Uribe and Rodney Hyder, are brilliant musicians and contribute tremendously to the music I write.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career, or the elements that have been hardest to deal with/navigate?
It’s a marathon not a sprint. Understanding and accepting that is extremely challenging.
Choker by Redwolf PDX
CONNECT WITH JACKIE: