If you haven’t heard Jesca Hoop, you’re doing something wrong. If you have, then you know what I mean when I say that her music defies categorization. Her personality weaves itself into the complexity of her studio work as well as the bare candor of her live performances. Now she’s working on a release that will blend the beauty of both.
Jesca breathes new life into her songs on her upcoming record, Undress. Undress will be an acoustic redux of her sophomore album—Hunting My Dress—in which she tracks her own footprints from familiar sounds, through rivers and valleys, into an encore exploration of these songs in their natural form. Jesca isn’t afraid to strip down her material to reveal her music’s beauty in an unembellished state.
This creative re-visiting of previously released material is nothing new to Jesca. Her last release, The Complete Kismet Acoustic, is a work of a similar nature. Also funded by PledgeMusic.com, it captured the transformation these songs underwent through years of live performance and shared them offstage.
While many artists have recorded acoustic live albums, Undress is a record set apart. It is not simply a recording of a single performance tidily packaged for your listening pleasure. While live releases often break the cohesion found in a regular album, Undress delivers the best of both worlds by combining the adventure of a live album with the comfort of a familiar work.
Jesca’s majik doesn’t end there. Undress will feature performances from guest artists, including Willy Mason (a brilliant folkster with a new album out who frequently tours in support of Mumford & Sons, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros), Erika Wennerstrom (of The Heartless Bastards), Jesca’s sister Carissa Hoop, the brilliant Guy Garvey of Elbow, and—as my fellow Atlanta fans may guess—Sam Beam of Iron & Wine.
Undress is entirely crowd-funded. That means we cut out all the hubbub of record labels and middlemen in order to deliver a record in its purest form. I say “we” because the fans play an essential role in enabling indie artists like Jesca to do what they do.
I woke Jesca up one morning to talk with her about what it’s like to self-produce albums in this way, the decision to stay independent, and how to survive in the Arizona wilderness without so much as a flashlight.
AR: How’s your relationship with record labels going?
I haven’t been signed to a record label since 2007.
AR: Why not?
Because there has been no commitment worthwhile. To sign to a label is like a marriage in a lot of ways, and there’s been no relationship worth committing to that has come my way so far. We’ve always looked, and still I’m totally open to a label. I license my records through labels, but I’m not signed as an artist to any label, they just license the record, but they don’t sign me. Which is the part I like. I don’t need permission to do anything, and no one needs to have any permission to do anything with me, except for me. So that’s nice. But I would be open to a healthy, proactive relationship with a label, it just doesn’t seem to go that way with me. We’ve been able to do everything labels are able to do on our own, which is a mixed bag.
AR: What are some of the best ways for listeners to support independent artists and allow you to do what you do?
Well, the primary one is to buy the music. Spread the word. Buy the music rather than download the music, seeing as that’s the very element that changed the face of the industry. The first step is awareness. The musicians that you love need to be supported. They have to eat; they have to pay the bills. If you want them to continue making records, if you want that privilege in your life, for everyone to listen to it or create it there has to be a foundation of support financially. The people need to buy the records.
There’s always been some element of copying it. When we were copying cassette tapes, that didn’t dissolve the industry as we know it. That was healthy, innocent, spreading of the word. Then you’d erase that cassette tape and replace it with another record. The first step is awareness; that musicians are not breath-etarians. They have practical needs. I have mixed feelings, because it’s a very complex subject. But the truth of the matter is it’s a thing that requires something in return. A record isn’t free. It isn’t free in any sense of the word.
People think for some reason that music should be free, but the fact of the matter is that it isn’t free. It’s earned from the very point of its gestation it comes at a great expense. But spreading the word—and that’s part of downloadability—is the other side of that. Spreading the word is the tool that the internet really assists in ways we have never known it to. You just have to buy the records. Spread the word. Buy the records. That’s it.
AR: How did your experience using PledgeMusic for The Complete Kismet Acoustic inform the way you are approaching your campaign for Undress?
You have to remember that it is a fan-artist collaboration. So you want to really wrap your head around that very fact: that it is a social media driven effort. So you have to wrap your head around what Social Media does, how it does it, and do it better.
You have to surrender yourself to being available to your fan base. Some artists want to recluse, you know, they want to go away. They don’t want to be reached. To do Pledge, you have to make yourself available. You have to appreciate that it is your audience who are perpetuating the creation of the project. So you want to provide for them insider information, for them to be a part of it at that small scale.
And I think there are a lot of people who really get something out of this little delight of seeing something made that you participated in its development. There’s a certain ownership which is invaluable in a way. You helped make that record. When you buy a record that was made in the top tiers of Sony, you can’t say that. There was no handshake done along the way.
AR: How do you listen to music at home?
Record player. I love listening to records.
AR: Are there any chances of there being a Kismet re-release, on vinyl perhaps?
That’s a good question. I like vinyl a lot, so maybe we’ll do vinyl.
AR: Could that also translate to the acoustic releases?
On vinyl? I don’t know, it depends on how much money I have to throw around.
AR: You’ve been playing some new material on this tour, how many songs are there?
AR: And have you been playing all of those new ones?
Have you played each of them once?
Are there any chances of some of those songs making their way onto Undress in the way that The Complete Kismet Acoustic had some previously unreleased material?
So, no bonus tracks?
There will be bonus tracks, but there won’t be new material, just re-envisaged old material.
AR: Have you ever been to Asheville, North Carolina?
I have not been to Asheville, I have been to Chapel Hill. And a couple other places like Raleigh, but I know a bunch of people from North Carolina. I know a band from there, and the Asheville people, there’s a big hippie community there. I like hippies.
AR: On that note, I’m dying to know a little about your experience as a Survival Guide. How long was that for? What exactly did you do?
My lives seem to intertwine, but they don’t as much as I’d like. My timeline in the mountains, living off the grid and close to nature was about a span of six or seven years. My time as a guide was an intensely one-year period where I was working in the mountains, walking kids through the high mountain desert, through river bends, around plateaus and stuff.
We didn’t use roads, we used topographical maps. We weren’t allowed to use trails, we used river bends and plateaus. It was heavy duty work. You’re only given a cup, a sleeping bag, a poncho, rope, a knife, and that’s it. No backpack; you can make your backpack out of your sleeping bag. And they give you enough food to meet the states requirement for your caloric intake per week. So the kids are up there for two months straight. There’s no camp, no building. Just you and raw nature and intense Arizona weather. They walk every day for two months. They have some days off where they don’t walk. But you walk basically from food drop to food drop.
It takes us like an hour to drive in. So this is way out there in the wilderness. Drive in, not from the city, but from the point at the national park. So you get to the national park and drive into the park for an hour and that’s where you find the kids. They’re there right now. I always think about them. You know you don’t carry flashlights, and you do a lot of travelling by night time. Only light from the stars and the moon.
And there are no lighters, you don’t cook over camp stoves, you cook over fire, but you have to make the fire from friction. So if the kids want to progress in the program–because they’re sent there because of behavioral problems—they have to learn to make fire with two sticks. Which is pretty radical. And commendable. They get a lot out of it. I’ve seen the most beautiful sunrises in the world up there. And slept in the most amazing locations. The most idiosyncratic little locations, because you’re walking until you put your roots down. It’s the best.
AR: Every time I read someone trying to describe your music or anything like that, they’re always at a loss for words.
-Oh, they compare me to Jewel, haha.
AR: And I hear comparisons to other artists then I listen to your music and I think I disagree with that. But I think that speaks to the uniqueness of what you create. Any time you meet a stranger who doesn’t know you’re a musician at all, how do you describe your music? What terms do you use, or do you just let the music speak for itself?
I just get annoyed. I don’t get annoyed that they ask it, I just get annoyed that I’m having to answer the question. I just think “I hate this question, this is a stupid question. Just listen to the music.” Music is just music. There are kinds of music, but it isn’t important to fit into one. Or even to fit into a few. It’s just important to make it and listen to it. So I don’t like the genre question, just because it’s boring and I hate trying to describe the kind of music I make because it’s boring. It’s just music. It’s just music. I wasn’t raised with any genre preferences, so I like all music. It’s good. So it’s a question I don’t find entertaining.
AR: That being said, are there any one or two of your songs that you would recommend to first-time listeners- someone who’s never heard you before. Is there anything you think is kind of like “The Introductory Jesca Hoop”?
I like to show people the song Deeper Devastation from The House That Jack Built. It’s pretty close to home about what I think and feel about music and what it should be like. Music should get to the heart of any matter. Any matter at all, no matter what mood you’re in, it should get to the heart of it and I think that song does that successfully.