Home > Interviews > Jonatha Brooke


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BB: What's your process of recording music? What do you think are the important things to remember when you're trying to get your best stuff down?
Jonatha: The important thing to remember is not to make it too perfect. That's what I've learned over the years is that you can beat a song to death by doing take after take after take, especially vocally, until its lost any immediacy, any vibe, and any of the imperfection that makes it really connect with an audience. That's my biggest thing. The recording process keeps changing for me, and I think that every record has been so different from the last. And that's an exciting part and that's the daunting part because every situation is different. I mean, on the major labels I had a ton of money, they were fronting the budget, so I could pay for a studio for two months and invite new editions to come in for two weeks to do basic tracks, and then over dub at my leisure. Then when I went out on my own, when I started Bad Dog Records, it was like, ok, I'm paying for everything, I got to figure out how I'm going to swing this. On Steady Pull, I was lucky enough to work with Bob Clearmountain, who was pretty much my patron. So that's how that happened, and then Back in the Circus was all out of pocket, so I had to do it by bits and pieces. A lot of it is in ProTools, done in sort of four day spurts when I had enough cash to go back in and work on things

BB: Tell me about Back in the Circus. How do feel this record relates to your previous albums?
Jonatha: I think that each record informs the next one, and at the same time I'm very conscience of not repeating myself. So I think whatever I learn from Steady Pull I learned from Steady Pull, and then I went for a completely different vibe on this one. I think I had more confidence as a producer, so I knew ok, I'm going for this particular sound palette, I want this intimacy, I want these colors but every time it’s kind of a new frontier for me, so it was a definite learning process as well.

BB: This album features your first cover song with Fire and Rain. How did that come about? How do you think it turned out? What's your own relationship to that song, and to James?
Jonatha: Yeah, Fire and Rain, and I also did God Only Knows and Eye in the Sky. They were kind of surprises, actually. I certainly did not set out to cover other songs. I had never really done that before. But when I was opening for The Hooters in Germany two summers ago, I thought ok, how am I going to connect with these total strangers every night, five thousand people in all these German cities. I decided to do Eye in the Sky, and come at it very acoustically and very plaintively and see if they would catch on. It indeed went over big, and they loved it. I could see, as I got to the chorus every night, them sort of figuring out “oh, it’s that song, how cool this is awesome, we like her.” So it was a great icebreaker for me, and I ended up recording it just to see how it would sound recorded, and loved it. So that went on the record, because it kind of fit the vibe. God Only Knows it was my husband’s idea. He just thought what a cool song, what a great chord progression. He just thought I would really love it, so I just decided to demo it and see what happens, and again it just took on its own intimacy and vibe that I thought was special. I certainly wasn't trying to top the Beach Boys, but it just came out in a way that I thought suited me, so I put it on the record and it went with the vibe. Same with Fire and Rain, it was my guitar player’s idea. So we were just messing around with it in his studio one afternoon and I loved it. I had no relationship with it really, it never would have occurred to me to do Fire and Rain, if Godfrey [Moore] hadn't brought it up. I mean, I'm certainly a James Taylor fan, but covering Fire and Rain was not at the top of my list. It is a classic song. But the approach was so different; I know I'm not treading on anyone toes. I'm not trying to cop his signature acoustic guitar riff, in fact I decided there must be no acoustic guitar on this, or else it’s just death. So it was just fun to try and come at it from a very different approach.

BB: Which of your own records is closest to your heart? Which has been the biggest seller?
Jonatha: Well, this one is now, Back in the Circus. They are all pretty close, because their now pieces of me.

BB: Which has been the biggest seller?
Jonatha: In terms of in the time span so far, Steady Pull has been the biggest. I think Angel in the House is now getting way up there. It must be at 150,000 by now. Steady Pull is somewhere over a 100,000, but it’s more recent. I'm not sure where Back in the Circus, but it's coming along.

BB: Do you prefer the studio or playing out?
Jonatha: I love them both, they are so different, but I think I would die if I didn't have gigs. I don't know that I would die if I couldn't ever record again, although It would be a close call. But I think performing really is one of the biggest sustaining factors of what I do.


BB: What makes a good show?
Jonatha: Building a repoire with an audience, including them in what ever is going on, creating some kind of chemistry or inside joke, and singing your heart out.

BB: Do you have a favorite show from your past?
Jonatha: Well, there was one crazy one in San Francisco that was pretty fun, in ‘98 maybe ‘99. The audiences in general in San Francisco are out of their minds, they are really fun, and they will just yell random things at the stage. The spontaneity is pretty ripe there, so you can do anything. I think I ended up doing some sort of dance, impromptu dance number on stage and that was pretty fun. I loved playing in Paris. That was the summer of ‘96. I did like ten nights in Paris at this little supper club, and that was really exciting and terrifying but great. The Newport Folk Festival is right up there. That's really fun, looking out over the boats on the water. That was a couple years ago. I'm trying to think of a recent one. I mean, the shows in New York last spring were just spectacular, in terms of theatricality of it and the lighting and the moods that we were able to create and the intimacy of the theatre, that's got to be right up there. And then of course there was the Letterman Show, which didn't suck, that was very exciting. That was three summers ago. He was awesome, he was so lovely.

BB: Who are some of the big people you've played with? Who were you happiest to get the chance to meet?
Jonatha: I met Bonnie Raitt once, and that was pretty killer. She was lovely, and wicked normal. Marcus Miller, Joe Sample, Dave Sandborn, these are all people that I've sort of been lucky enough to be around a lot more recently. I loved meeting Neil Finn; he was great. He sang on my record. He was so dreamy, he came over and was just hanging, and he was like, “was that good, did you like that, how was that, will this do?” He stayed for dinner and we hung out and that was that. It was Bob’s idea to call him; I didn't realize they were such good friends. Bob brought it up, and I had been thinking, “wow, this would sound really cool with Neil Finn,” and then the next morning Bob said “hey, I think this would sound really cool with Neil Finn.” So I said yeah, but he lives in New Zealand and Bob said yeah, he's here a lot, I’ll give him a call maybe it'll work out, then the next week he was there.

BB: Any pre- or post-show rituals?
Jonatha: I try to stretch before shows, and that comes from my dance background. I just need to feel sort of limber and grounded before I can out there and sing. Singing is so physical. After shows I just try to guzzle water for ten minutes before I go out and start talking again and signing autographs.

BB: Do you do any other covers on stage?
Jonatha: I used to do this funk version of Girl You Really Got Me, with the band. That sort of developed impromptu one night. I forget where that was, but it’s pretty fun. Gets pretty raunchy.

BB: Has anyone ever heard the Jonatha Brooke cover of Creep by Radiohead?
Jonatha: No, but that is a good idea; although that is a perfect song I wouldn't want to touch it. But that's a good idea; I’ll put it in the book.

BB: Tell me about your audience. What are your fans like?
Jonatha: You know, they keep evolving and changing. I find they are more kids and parents coming. So like teenagers are kind of getting clued in, but they've been listening because their parents got the first record ten years ago and now the kids are on board. And their buying the new ones and bringing their folks along to the rockier elements of what I do. It’s kind of weird but very cool. 




Part One

Part Two

Part Three


*Pictures courtesy of http://www.jonathabrooke.com/

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