Maria Bamford

I have had a favorite comedian forever and her name is Maria Bamford. I have never seen a live comedy show (certainly not a professional one, anyway) before…and when I saw Maria Bamford was coming to Austin and I was going to be in town I jumped on it.

She is right up my alley because she does an enormous range of voices and characters…some impersonations but mostly she has an incredible way of embodying 3 – 4 people at a time, so that she can tell a full on story with everyone’s voice involved. She can relate to us a 4-way conversation between herself, her father, mother, and sister…and you never get lost and you always know who is talking. This is hard.

Maria Bamford

I stole this photo from someone’s blog because I was too chicken to take photos. Now I can’t remember who I stole it from. Shhhh.

She’s also great with accents, another thing I am very fond of in a comedian. (I think I am supposed to say comedienne but it makes me twitch a little for some reason).

The show was at Cap City Comedy Club and Katie went with me. Perhaps we peaked with seeing someone as cool as Maria, but I think live comedy might just be the cure for what ails all of us. I had a smile on my face for 2 hours straight and was full on crying/laughing for a big chunk of that time as well.  It was a great endorphin rush and my face hurt all night.

Here is Maria in action…go see her live!

Ok folks, here’s round 2 of the week’s #askjana questions. I have enjoyed this immensely and will make it a regular thing. I hope it imparts a tiny bit of not necessarily knowledge but more like a…knowing. Proceed.

What’s it like to be The Jpo? – K.C.
K.C., it’s flattering you ask because I get up in the morning and put on my Lady Gaga 2011 Concert T-shirt just like everyone else. Actually, I believe from reading several female singer-songwriter biographies that as a 29-year old, it is completely ok for me to admit that being The Jpo is pretty fun although somewhat riddled with a constant and nagging anxiety about “doing it right” (“it” meaning: life, music, credit card payment, oil change schedule, writing, and coffee brewing). I have been told by many folks that the next decade and beyond does get easier, so being The Jpo right now means cruising along doing well at what I can while keeping in mind…it will all chill out in the future. In a good way. For now I will continue to consume mass quantities of caffeine, read one (and exactly and only ONE) celebrity gossip blog a day, work with people I love, and post pithy one-liners on Facebook.  Amen.

Train Robber Booking

THIS is what it’s like.


What’s it like being a seminal folk star in Austin, TX – Kathy
First I had to look up the meaning of seminal: “Strongly influencing later developments.” Why thank you, Kathy. I imagine the future in Austin to be much like it is now except replace, “Back when Austin was REAL we had the Armadillo Palace and Stevie Ray Vaughan made me breakfast tacos,” with “Back when Austin was REAL Jana was just blogging instead of running a multimedia empire and she always asked me to make her breakfast tacos.” Oh sorry, I was daydreaming. It’s pretty cool. The folk star stuff is sorting itself out (and my thought there is “just keep writing!”) but one of my dearest friends does refer to me as “The Mayor of Facebook” so that’s a start in the stardom department, right?

When did you know you’d make a profession out of music? – Heidi
When did you decide that music was the career for you and what influenced that decision? – Krista
Heidi and Krista’s questions had the same vibe so I stuck them together. Heidi, meet Krista.
Well…I will say that I had the druthers to be a rock star (or in those days, a country star…gack) as early on as 11 when I started playing guitar. Perhaps even earlier if you go back to the days of my intricately but tastefully choreographed lip sync productions of “The Little Mermaid” in my room. I will tell you in the seventh grade we had a class discussion about “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and I said, “A musician!” and my teacher said, “…But they don’t make any money.” Ouch. Way to kill a dream and start a cycle of anti-abundance thinking all at once, Mr. 7th Grade. But I ramble.

I did move to Austin because of the music scene here and so that clearly means I had decided to give music a whirl by the age of 23. What I did not know is that the oddity and the beauty of the music business is that these days, you must be a jack of a lot of trades. This turned out to be a blessing, because I do like writing and playing songs, but I also like working/traveling with artists that I believe in like Susan, working at Rubicon with Dan because his business is so unique and useful, and booking artists like Elizabeth and Michael and Charlie because they are great artists and great people.

The truth is that most people you see who are making a living in independent music these days have multiple streams of income.  This is not a secret so much as an overlooked fact.  Stumbling on some awesome people who allow me to utilize my interests and skills in what is (I hope) a mutually beneficial business arrangement has been the thing that has made this music profession happen at all, and for them I am grateful!  It takes a village, but it does not take The Village People.

Why didn’t you get the pie out of the vending machine? – Norma
Norma is referring to these videos where Elizabeth Wills and I stop at a place outside of Austin we refer to as “Pecania.” This tourist trap has a 24-hour pecan vending machine that actually sells a whole pie. Norma…to be honest, I’m not sure. Sometimes I wake up from a dead sleep thinking, “I should have tried that pie.” Sometimes I imagine what a pecan pie might taste like after sitting in a glass case for 24 hours in the Texas sun. It boils down to the fact that for $20, I am just not going to find out. Unless it’s someone else’s $20. I’ll try any pie on someone else’s tab.

How has music and culture in the past inspired you to bring you to the style you play now and where do you see yourself going musically in the future (1-2 yrs, 2-10 yrs, 10+ yrs) due to those and other current influences? – Mike
I wanted to print this because it’s such a good question but I am going to let the answer slow burn for a bit and address it in the next round. Also it gave me flashbacks to college paper writing prompts.

Favorite Austin restaurants and why? – Kathy
My Austin-based food criteria are usually comprised of a) is it wrapped in a tortilla, b) can I afford it and c) is it made of organic and free range and all that goodness. I don’t always find the trifecta, but I do love me some Torchy’s Tacos and some P. Terry’s. Taco Deli was also just introduced to me and I loved it. The tofu crack at Bouldin Coffee is greatness, too. Once I ate at Uchi and it was amazing, and Dan was buying so that was doubly amazing.

Name your Top Five Favorite Books / Albums / Movies – Jon
If you don’t know Jon, you know he has great (and sometimes pretty obscure) taste. I do not. I’m also not gonna front an answer to make me look cool or literary-snobby or super musical-hispter-educated.

Albums
1. Stones In the Road – Mary Chapin Carpenter. Always and forevs.
2. Buy 1 Get 11 Free – The Groobees. The first recording with Susan Gibson on it that I ever owned.
3. Rose Cousins – If You Were For Me. Gorgeous.
4. Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster. How I embraced pop music.
5. A Few Small Repairs – Shawn Colvin. Epic.

Books
1. Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
2. Portrait of an Artist: Georgia O’Keeffe – Laurie Lisle
3. The War of Art – Stephen Pressfield
4. Bossypants – Tina Fey
5. Mere Christianity – C.S Lewis

Movies
A note here is that I can never remember movies after I have seen them and I really only have a direct interest in Christopher Guest, Alfred Hitchcock, and laughing at Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. Pedestrian? Maybe. Awesome? Yes.
1. A Mighty Wind
2. Best in Show
3. North by Northwest
4. Bridesmaids
5. I can never think of a 5th.

Books Suspended

Do you ever hit a creative block and if so, how do you get past it? – Natalie
YES. I have arrived at the idea lately that people may get creatively blocked in one area, like…”I can’t possibly match words to any chords right now and may never again,” but that usually means I’m still cool with some other form of creativity like…making a ridiculous video or writing a blog post. So I go do that.

The other thing I have learned to tell myself is that the blocks always pass and there will be another song/video/blog/Facebook post. Panicking does no one any good, and probably prolongs the block. When blocked, sit back, relax, and doodle in a sketchbook or watch something funny. Blocks hate it when they are met with chillaxment. (Yes, I just made up the word “chillaxment.” You’re welcome).

Top 10 artist/band for a road-trip playlist? – Kelly
My favorites! Road trips and playlists! People I work with are exempt because I’d include them all anyway.
The Dixie Chicks, Terri Hendrix, Garrison Starr, Ryan Adams, Gregory Alan Isakov, Kathleen Edwards, Jason Isbell, Abra Moore, Florence + The Machine, and Imogen Heap.

It’s that time…Ask Jana (with its very own hashtag #askjana!) is at it again. What this means is that I run out of ideas for things to blog about and I turn to my mighty Facebook friend list for ideas, and they always come through because they are a clever bunch. (Friend me! Then you’re really friending about 1000 other people but without the birthday/holiday obligations!)

Off we go…

Why were mosquitoes created? Really what was the need? – Tammy
The good Lord knew that once Bill Gates had amassed a billion dollars with Microsoft, he’d need to turn his attention elsewhere…so God created the mosquito so Bill Gates could exercise his humanitarian side. Nets for all!

What was the first Mary Chapin Carpenter song you learned on guitar? – Lisa
He Thinks He’ll Keep Her. Which is weird for an 11 year old to be jamming to a popular country song about divorce, but it was by far the most interesting thing on the radio at the time and we HAD NO (USEFUL) INTERNET…so radio was it. Also the music video was awesome. I learned it in A on a nylon string guitar.

Why doesn’t Reese’s sell the peanut butter eggs year round? They have the perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter… – Erin
You are right, Erin. Once you go egg, you can’t go back to cup. I also recoil at those creme eggs…I just can’t do it because they’re too close in texture to real eggs. Anyway…I don’t know. I think the solution is to create more holidays throughout the year where an egg is the centerpiece symbol. National Egg Day. National Poultry Reproduction Day. National Spherical Plastic Container Day. In the meantime…start stockpiling.

What is your favorite stretch of road? – Ryan

Awesome question. I love the trip from the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico. We often drive from Amarillo to Taos, so you’re looking at plains and plains and plains (pretty in their own right)…and then you cross the state line into New Mexico and I SWEAR the sky gets bluer and the clouds get prettier. It’s flat and dry until you go through the mountain pass after Cimarron and suddenly you find a river alongside the road and even snow at the right time of year. It’s windy roads and green mountains all the way into Taos, and it is then that I start craving red and green chile and having the string urge to buy an adobe casita.

New Mexico Road

jet lag – Havilah
Havilah is my talented songwriter roommate who has spent so much time traveling these past few months that she can only type in short thought bursts. I have been there. I get jet lag when we have gig weekends that keep us awake until 3 or 4 in the morning (and I don’t even do the driving so I get off easy – yay Suz!) and then I try to get back into the “wake up early and do things” schedule. On the first day my re-acclimating trick is to sleep until noon at the extreme but NO LONGER! Drag that butt out of bed. 10 or 11 is better. Do not nap. Be lazy, but be awake. Go to a bookstore or Target and window shop or something…mental stimulation and walking outside. Then try to be in bed by midnight that evening…and boom. Usually I’m back on a schedule I can deal with because I can get 6 – 8 hours of sleep that night. Don’t stare at screens (this is the hardest for me)…read a real book before you try to sleep. Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool. This is more like a “sleep better” answer than a jet lag question, but the two are intertwined in my head.

I have so many questions that this post will continue tomorrow!  Now go eat a Reese’s egg, sleep well at night, and learn a Mary Chapin Carpenter song.

Ok.  I am finally to a point in my existence where I will admit this.  It’s a long passed phase but I found this stuff the other day and I decided it is blog-worthy.  As a kid, I collected autographs.  Since I lived in New Mexico and was 12, I had little access to real life celebrities, so I wrote them fan mail and asked for their signatures.

I was already an internet fiend by then, so I became a member of a few autograph collecting message boards (remember those?) and even a Usenet group.  I learned some tactics from those groups that actually…really worked.  I built a random but cool collection.

My choices of who I wrote to were narrowed down by these parameters in my 12 – 15 year old mind:

1. I liked country music
2. I liked songwriters
3. I liked Alfred Hitchcock movies

I know.  I was THAT kid.  So anyway, my collection veered heavily toward these categories with some random other celebrities thrown in.  I present a tiny window into what I collected, broken down by tactic of obtaining them.  You’d be surprised what worked and what didn’t…sending a fan letter to the agent or fan club was usually a waste of time.  Read on:

Hand Tracing

I got a lot of famous people to trace their hands and sign them for me.  It might have been the thing that made my hobby so successful.  ANYONE can beg for a signed photo.  Who asks for a hand tracing?  It also might have had something to do with my charming ways of 13-year old fan letter writing, but I like to think the odd request got people’s attention.

Kenny Chesney Signature

Kenny Chesney – who was the chart king back then.

Gloria Estefan Signature

Gloria Estefan…who was my first concert ever.

Martina McBride Signature

Martina McBride and her tiny hand.

Joan Baez Signature
 

Joan Baez – folkie.  Check!

Venue Mail

This trick entails looking at the artist’s tour schedule, picking a venue, and sending your autograph request there.  The theory is instead of piling up on the agent’s desk, the mail will be handed to the artist/their entourage at the venue, and it won’t be in a giant mass of mail because…this was a little known tactic except to collectors.  It worked for some doozies.

Dixie Chicks Signatures
The Dixie Chicks

Sting Signature
Sting!

Natalie Merchant Drawing

Natalie Merchant delivered by far the most interesting signature.  She was playing in Portland, and I got my letter back not with a hand tracing but with a doodle…and a Taxi business card from Portland…and a leaf.  Yep, Natalie Merchant sent me a leaf.

Have Weird Things Signed

The last technique was to send something cool to get signed.  I got this First Day Cover (stamp collector nerd alert!) back from Janet Leigh.  Cue Psycho shower scene music here.

Janet Leigh Signature

Nowadays I don’t even really collect autographs.  Sometimes I get a CD signed at a show, usually not.  I think I burned out all my fascination for celebrity ink on paper by age 16.  But the Natalie Merchant leaf is still cool.

Lucy Kaplansky at the Mucky Duck

Yesterday I drove to Houston to see Lucy Kaplansky play at the Mucky Duck.

Friends: “So…you have Sunday off from driving around for live music and you’re going to drive somewhere…for live music?”

Me: “Absolutely.”

Besides getting to go to a fun venue and hang out with Nancy Jane who has an iPod full of things I wish were on my iPod (I mean to say, we have the same taste, not that I stole her iPod), I absolutely had to see Lucy on her Texas tour.

Back when I was a wee high-schooler who listened to singer-songwriters a lot but had never seen one in the wild so to speak, I went to see Lucy at the Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque. Lucy is a fantastic live performer and it solidified several things for me:

– live music is fun
– having an “aggressive right hand” guitar style is awesome
– folk shows are great because you can talk to the artist at the show!

Not bad for an introduction to songwriters and live shows. I was hooked, and I actually had the luck of seeing Lucy two more times in college because I became a volunteer at the Outpost. Those were good times. I took that venue for granted because I kind of assumed every town had an Outpost where devoted music fans sat in a room with great sound and listened all night and ate cookies and drank coffee. This is not the case. The Outpost is awesome and Albuquerque is fortunate.  Go see things there.

Anyway, it’s been…at least 6 years since I have seen Lucy live, perhaps more. The show was awesome – there was the aggressive right hand guitar style! – and we got a few new songs from a soon to be released new album. The fits of nostalgia were strong but a pleasant added tone to the show for me.

I hope it won’t be so far between shows this time…the East Coast songwriters need not be scared of Texas!

Lucy Kaplansky at the Mucky Duck

It’s not that far into 2012 and there have already been some awesome albums released.  While I was traveling around last month NOT blogging, I listened a ton to these three:

2012 Albums
 

Rose Cousins: We Have Made A Spark – Rose is exquisite in her songwriting and singing.  Settle in.

Garrison Starr: Amateur – Like a good kick in the pants kind of songwriting.

Kathleen Edwards: Voyageur – I’ve waxed poetic about Kathleen before.  “Change the Sheets” is my jam.

Coming up in June?  WHAT’S IN JUNE YOU ASK?

June 5th: Shawn Colvin – All Fall Down

June 12th: Mary Chapin Carpenter – Ashes & Roses

I THINK I MIGHT HYPERVENTILATE RIGHT NOW.  Ok, I’ll be fine.  But I might have to take a vacation that week just to handle it all.  I need headphones.  No earbuds are worthy!   Ok.

 

Ukulele
 

This installment of #askjana comes from Heather, who is about to enter her soon to be finished EP in (I hope) a bunch of songwriting contests this year. Heather asks:

“How do you choose what songs to enter in a songwriting contest? And any other contest general tips?”

I’ve done quite a few of these over the last couple of years. There are two schools of thought for them and I subscribe to both. One side of the coin is that winning these definitely ups your “folk cred” in the songwriter community, so entering these competitions is a must for a singer-songwriter. Another school of thought is that it is weird to judge people’s music. Yeah, it is. But enter them anyway.

Most competitions have two facets to them. There is the entry process, where a pool of songs are selected from a (probably) giant pool. Then there is the actual competition, which usually involves a live performance.

Heather’s question is a good one because your task when entering is to

1) choose your most solid songs
2) that fit into the genre of the contest
3) that you can also perform with confidence when you get to the competition stage

Look at past winners and get a general feel for what goes at that particular contest. Some are straight up singer-songwriter acoustic guitar and words types, some lean country/bluegrass, some are very open to genre mixing. Keep your entry in line with those general guidelines.

Also keep in mind you might be asked to enter more than one song – pick the best ones (“Best” being the combo of a really solidly written song coupled with your ability to deliver a strong performance…if your brand new song is amazing but you’re shaky on the live performance, skip it). Yes, it’s like asking to pick your favorite kid…just do it.

Congratulations! You got selected to show up and…compete. What does that even mean? We are songwriters, not cage fighters. It means show up practiced and ready to compete, but know that some of the greatest benefits to doing these competitions is not what place you get, but who you meet and the networking you get to do.

Size up how the competition will go…some give you two songs only and they pick the winners. Some have rounds where you play 2 and then you move up to the finals to play one more. This means have at least 3 contest-ready tunes (even if you only had to enter one!). If you just have to play a one set, do your best songs (see criteria above).

Now let’s go with a scenario in which you play 2 and then move on to play 1 more.  You play your best 2 tunes for the semi-finals and move on to the next round…and suddenly you think, “I just played my best songs! NOW what do I do?” Except you want to play a really friggin’ great first set so you CAN move on to the finals. Hrm.

The real trick is to have 3-4 tunes you are immensely confident in both craft-wise and performance-wise…because you must be confident and know the song inside and out so you can perform it well and connect with the audience, not worry about playing it right. Practice and more practice helps that. You’ll probably be nervous anyway because no matter how many gigs and open mics are under your belt, few probably had a panel of judges sitting right in front of you taking notes. You will feel nervous. Over-prepare so you can cope.

The day of the competition take care of yourself however you need to…get a good night’s sleep.  I spent 20 minutes wandering around the parking lot of the Fairgrounds in Halletsville, TX at the Songwriters Serenade warming up. If socializing makes you at ease, go ahead. If it doesn’t, don’t feel pressure to chat before you play. You will see all the other contestants engaging in whatever zone-inducing habits they partake in…so don’t be embarrassed to warm up in your car or stretch or find a corner and play guitar.

HYDRATE. Start 2 days before. You’ll pee a lot. This is a good thing. Your throat will be lubricated and work for you. That parking lot in Halletsville? Dirt lot. It was windy. Ick.  Water helped.

When you’re up there, treat it like any other gig.  Banish thoughts of the awesome girl who played ukulele before you, or the dude that plays guitar like Tommy Emmanuel.  You got here based on the merits of your entry, so relax into it and have a great time.  I say this because I don’t always do it, but it’s always better when I do it this way.

If you win: be a gracious winner.

If you don’t: allow yourself to feel sad and mad for a minute if you do.  I did.  You go through these “I should have done a fast song because the winner did that” thoughts.  You start ultra-comparing.  Allow it for a TINY bit, then let it go.  Be a gracious not-first-placer.  (There aren’t really losers at these things since you all got picked to be there, even if it feels like it).  Revel in the friendships made, get business cards, Facebook friend them, whatever.

Win or lose, when you get home dissect the competition fairly (once you’re out of the YAY! or Booo. phase)…note who did well and why you think they did.  Sometimes judges share notes with you, sometimes you have no idea what the heck they were judging.  Oftentimes their list of criteria will include:

Song quality
Overall Performance Quality
Audience Engagement (Good banter is great.  Nervous rambling is not).
Instrumental skill
Confidence

The thing to remember is that while there are criteria, the judges are human and have their own preferences, tastes, and preconceptions. This fact leads back to the main point of Do Your Best and Have Fun. Nothing else will do for these things.

To recap…
– pick your “best” songs
– prepare a lot
– relax and do your thing
– be gracious regardless of outcome
– meet people and network
– have fun.  I SAID HAVE FUN!

Some great ones to enter include: Kerrville New Folk, Wildflower, Telluride, Songwriter Serenade, and Merlefest.  Don’t stop there…start local and try everything.  Your community will grow and so will your performing chops.

Plus a lot of these competitions are at festivals and they have funnel cake.  You can’t beat funnel cake.

This is pretty awesome…we got a new touring van in Phoenix. Susan had been looking for one for a while, and I located this gem in Arizona from a Craigslist search. It was the long and tall model and had a bench seat in it that folds into a bed…sold! The other kicker was we were already planning to be on tour in Arizona just a few weeks later when we found it. Kismet? Probably.

New Van!

I allows for more space, physical and mental, because we’ve been traveling with the dogs in a Honda Element for two years. The Element was great, though…but when we camped out in Roswell last week Susan slept on the bench seat bed and I fit a whole Queen sized air mattress in the back. An SUV just won’t allow for that kind of luxury!

San Angelo Storm

Currently I am super excited about the glove box that I can stick my whole arm into…think of the things I could store in there. I could pack for a whole week by just using the glove box!

It was a whirlwind month as predicted although we must have mostly paced ourselves because upon returning I did not feel the need to sleep for 5 days.  Just one and some change.  I think I’m back on track now and glad we didn’t miss Spring in Austin…all 6 days of it before it just gets hot for 6 months.  /End weather report rant.

Hotel El Rancho - Gallup, NM
The El Rancho Hotel in Gallup.

As a New Mexican I’ll admit maybe we have a prejudice against Arizona for a few reasons.  One is that most of the country interchanges NM with AZ because we are “one of those southwest states.”  I have actually met (only a couple of) Texans who think Arizona is their western neighbor.  So we New Mexicans have an inferiority complex.  Also Arizona might import it but they don’t have claim on real green chile, so there’s that.

However, I discovered it’s a lovely state with some really unique scenery.  And that whole saguaro cacti stereotype thing…it’s not a stereotype, it’s true.  They have them.  Everywhere.

Sedona, AZ

We played in Prescott and Clarkdale and Sedona, which really does look like a Route 66 postcard from 1954.  I want to go back and investigate these weird “energy vortexes” they have around Sedona…I like energy and I figure if I can stand in a vortex of it, well why not?  Next time.

Arizona Pig
Yes, an Arizona Pig was had.

Cactus
Not a saguaro, but an alien cactus nonetheless.

This year I was hardly in town for SXSW, so I didn’t get to see much. The Sweater Set stopped by the Rubicon Studio one evening to play a few, a true example of SXSW coming to me…that was cool.

Lloyd Maines, Terri Hendrix, Susan Gibson

Other than that, Susan shared a show with Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines in Beaumont, so that was awesome and out of town.  Yes, they are all wearing matching t-shirts from Lamar University in Beaumont!

Elizabeth Wills at SXSW

I caught Elizabeth Wills at Artz for the Kerrville showcase and ate some BBQ. I’m glad I did because I heard Artz lost their lease. Sigh. That was good BBQ.

…and then we left for our Arizona tour!

Next year I’m so going to attend Interactive. Savin’ up!