Interview: Jenny Gillespie
Songwriting speaks to a writer with the courage and curiosity to continue developing her songwriting with each record she releases
Springfield, Illinois songwriter Jenny Gillespie first picked up a guitar aged 13, and her formative influences included Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and Shawn Colvin. Despite this early introduction to (and interest in) the art of writing music, it was more than half her life later before she released her first record, 2009’s Light Year.
After releasing the alt-country and folk-inspired Light Year, Gillespie then struck up a musical kinship with Austin, Texas multi-instrumentalist Darwin Smith. Together with Smith, Gillespie recorded the more experimental Kindred. The success of Kindred convinced Gillespie that songwriting was not just her passion but her life and she left her job as a children’s literature editor at Cricket magazine to devote herself to her writing.
Her commitment to improving and developing her songwriting saw her enrol in African guitar fingerpicking classes, as well as starting an MFA in Poetry at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. It was following this that she found another musical companion and another multi-instrumentalist, this time Shahzad Ismaily. With Ismaily she recorded 2012’s Belita EP, which saw her expand her songwriting further by delving into African and Asian influences.
After following Belita with 2014’s Chamma, Gillespie released the superb Cure For Dreaming this May, an album that brings together elements of folk, jazz, pop and R&B to produce another record of dexterous and finely crafted songwriting.
We caught up with Jenny and delved into how she writes her music…
What is your musical background?
“I’m a songwriter, producer, singer and multi-instrumentalist. I studied classical piano and voice as a child and teenager then kind of went my own way around age eighteen.”
What other artists currently inspire you?
“Joanna Newsom, Bon Iver, Beyoncé and Thom Yorke”
How are your songs written?
“I usually start on guitar and piano, just twiddling with melodic ideas. Then I bring in words from my journal or a poem.”
Can you give us a case study, for a particular song?
“I wrote the beginning of Involuntary Sway on the bass. Then I transferred it to piano, and the chorus unfolded on that instrument. It was much longer, originally, so I had to focus on making the words much simpler and tighter.”
What was the writing process like for Cure For Dreaming?
“It was very fast. I challenged myself to write it in two weeks, while my mother-in-law was in town watching my baby! But some songs are a few years old – namely Evening Loving, Dhyana By The River and Part Potawatomi.”
What was it like recording in LA?
“It was lovely, we were mostly at Paul Bryan’s house which was very relaxed. It was really fun to have access to such amazing musicians like Greg Leisz and Jay Bellerose. That’s the best part of being in LA – the talent and history there.”
Cure For Dreaming was recorded last year. How do you think your songwriting has developed since then?
“The stuff I’ve written since then has some of the same elements: it’s buoyant and tighter than my previous stuff, but I’ve been playing around with synths and voice manipulation to bring it into a weirder place.”
What are your plans for the future?
“Have my second baby, then write some more songs and poems and make art.”
Interview: Damien Girling
Cure For Dreaming is out now on Narooma Records. For more on Jenny Gillespie, see her official website.