Talk Thursday To Me – Lone Valkyrie

Today we talk with Portland, OR based indie folk artist Jessi Adele – aka Lone Valkyrie – about her writing process, dealing with stage fright and her debut album.

Postcard Editor:  Hey lady. Thanks for taking this time to sit down with me – let’s just jump right into it. You’ve been laying down some new tracks lately – how is that coming along?

Jessi Adele:  They have just gotten mastered, so now I’m in the phase of bringing it all together and pressing it.

PE:  Excellent – so let’s talk about the process – this is your first album right? Who did you record it with?

JA:  Yes, It is my first album. I recorded with Adam Selzer at Type Foundry here in Portland, Oregon.

PE: And what was that process like? Because I know you did a few tracks before with some other people that were, for lack of a better phrase – kind of Norah Jones-esque, but what I’ve heard of the Selzer sessions it’s much more true to what your sound has always been live.

JA:  When I was living in Los Angeles I had the chance to record with Vincent Jones who has played with Sarah McLachlan, and many more, and who owns a studio in Hollywood.  We only recorded two songs together, one being more my style, or a representation of my sound I guess you could say.  The other was very soul pop’ish.  They were both really fun to do!

Now that I am living in Portland Oregon, and there are so many musicians and great studios up here, I figured I would stay “home” to record my album.

PE:  Yeah, I wasn’t trying to say that it was bad – it was just unexpected, because it was a departure from your sound. So you stayed home so to speak and hooked up with Type Foundry – what was that process like and who from your circle of Portland friends did you have on the album with you?

JA:  I have actually wanted to record with Selzer from the first time I met him, when I was in the studio with Langhorne Slim back in 2008.  I just had a good feeling about it.

The process was really smooth. Adam and I met for coffee a couple times just to talk about different possibilities and different people coming in to play on the record.  When day one came, I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend, Sean Scolnick from Langhorne Slim be off tour for that week of recording.  It was just Adam, Sean, and I laying down the first guitar parts to the songs.

I had my friend Liza Stillhard play piano and sing back vocals.  We have played out a few times together, so it was nice having someone come in who already knew the songs. I also had Chris Funk from the Decemberists come into the studio to record some banjo and steel guitar, Adam Selzer played drums and bass, Paul Christensen from Weinland played organ, and Alia Farah also played piano and did some backing vocals.

PE:  Cool, it sounds like it was a very organic process. So you mentioned your relationship with Sean (aka Langhorne) – did you collaborate much with him on the writing process or was his involvement more as a player and singer only, adding little parts, but not really co-writing per se?

JA: I wrote all the songs, but Sean did help bring a little more life to them. Sometimes I can be a little redundant in my chord progressions, so Sean was a big help in adding a little more flavor to the songs.

PE:  Cool – so let’s talk about your playing for a second, because I’ve always found your finger picking style to be very impressive. It’s delicate and seemingly simple, but when you actually start focusing on it you see that it’s actually pretty intricate. How did you first start playing guitar, and how did you gravitate to that style?

JA:  I started playing guitar at fifteen.  My parents bought me my first Martin Goya Guitar, which is the same guitar I still play today.  I started taking lessons from a man by the name of Jan Tangen, who I will be dedicating my album to.  I know he was culprit who taught me how to finger pick.

PE:  That’s very sweet of you. So let’s talk about your path to this first album. Unlike a lot of people who throw themselves out there as soon as they know a couple of chords, you’ve been known for a while as this almost Salinger-esque musician who had these great songs and a great voice and would pop up for a show randomly and then disappear for a long while. How did you come to a place where you felt more ready to start playing regularly and to record and so on?

JA:  Tangen was the push I needed to play music, and especially to face my big fear of playing for people. I have always wanted to play shows, but have always let my fear determine where and when I’ll play.  I think you were the one that told me that when you hit 30, you just don’t give a shit anymore.  I think that is what happened.  I’ve always thought that there was time to get over my fear, or that I would grow out of it.  I never grew out of it, and I just turned 30, and I thought if I don’t do it now, I will never do it.

PE:  Oh that’s crazy – I remember that conversation. In that case, you are welcome. Ha. So how has the experience been? Are you enjoying it, or is it still a struggle to get up there in front of people?

JA:  Everyone who struggles with stage fright must say this, but it’s true, I had built it up so much in my head, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.  I also realized for me that it helps not being on stage alone.  Playing with other musicians brings the focus somewhere else.

I was taking banjo lessons from Laura Veirs who recommended a book called The Inner Game Of Music by Barry Green.  I read it right before I played this past New Years Eve show opening up for Langhorne Slim, and it was incredible how much it helped.

PE:  That was a huge show for you to play, definitely jumping in the deep end if you were struggling with stage fright. But now you’ve got a handle on it you’ve doing more shows – is a tour for the album in the works?

JA:  It’s getting better. No tour plans as of yet.  I would really like to get some tangible CD’s together first, and then hopefully start touring in the fall.

PE:  Ok, so back to the album – do you have a title for it yet?

JA:  Lone Valkyrie (self titled)

PE:  And how did you come up with that as your musical persona? Obviously it’s great for a solo female performer, but what attracted you to the imagery of the Valkyrie?

JA:  Long before the movie Valkyrie came out, or even any of the Valkyrie Video Games, I came across Paulo Coelho’s book The Valkyries.  He is one of my favorite writers of all time, but I really gravitated towards this book.  I looked up the meaning of the name, and essentially it is a mythological goddess with blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, and rides around on a cat.  It sounded awesome.

Or maybe it is a horse.  Either way, I liked the idea.

PE:  Ha – true that. Ok, I know that this has been a bit out of order, but that unprofessional conversational style is our trademark here at the PE. Anyway, who are some of your biggest influences? Musical or otherwise?

JA:  Right now I am listening to Alela Diane, Thao & Mirah, Samantha Crain, to name a few.  To think on biggest influences, even if it sounds cliché: Joni Mitchell, Carol King, Karen Dalton.

Sean & I have been listening to a lot of old time records, Abner Jay is one of my favorites right now, which has given me the inspiration to mess around with electric guitar and try to get that old time feel.

PE:  I know we started to talk about this at the start of the interview, but I wanted to get back to it before we wrap it up. Can you tell me about your songwriting process. What inspires you lyrically, and what kind of themes do you tend to favor in your writing?

JA:  I am a lover, so I tend to fall prey to writing a love song or two.  I have noticed that I come up with lyrics to songs most while driving.  I hear a melody in my head and find the lyrics soon after.  I usually try to record it on my phone because if I don’t it’s lost.  Sometimes I have those magic moments where i sit down and a song just pours through me.  Whatever the process I realize too that I need to be alone. I usually write when Sean is on tour and I have the house to myself.  Maybe that’s why I have taken to writing in the car.

I also tend to write songs very factually, so when I feel something I put it down the way I feel it. I have started writing songs on the piano first which has given me a different approach to how I hear the song.

I was feeling limited by guitar.

PE:  So do you typically write the music first and then the lyrics or other way round? When you’re driving are you thinking of a melody you’ve written beforehand?

JA:  I used to always write the music and then the lyrics.  Lately I write the lyrics and have no idea how I am going to portray what I am hearing into music.  I then will start playing around on the guitar and piano and take old lyrics that I have and collage them into a song.  When I am driving I hear a melody that I have been working on in my head or sometimes it’s a brand new melody that just came to me in that moment. A sound or song might inspire me and then I work off of that.

PE:  Great – so when can we expect to see the new album coming out, and is this going to be independently released or are you shopping it around?

JA: I have always wanted to put out my record myself. I am hoping to get it out by late summer!

PE:  Awesome – well we’re definitely excited about it, and of course hope to see you return to Bloomington on the fall tour. We always end the same way here, name three things that are currently rocking your world – can be anything at all.

JA:  Food Carts.  Summer.  Our new cabin in the Portland hills.

 PE: Three fantastic picks. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. Can’t wait for the album and tour.

JA: Oh it was my pleasure. Thanks for having me!

Jessi Adele lives in Portland, OR and plays music under the name Lone Valkyrie. Her self-titled debut album will be available later this year, but you can hear it right now via the player below. And below that are a few videos of Lone Valkyrie playing the songs stripped down.

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