Initially, Jessica Pratt wrote songs for her own amusement, a hobby which helped to concentrate feelings in a secure, meditative fashion.
Then word spread. Birth Records' Tim Presley released the Los Angeles based artist's debut album in 2012, a collection of sparse yet hugely promising freak folk hymnals.
Armed with little more than a guitar and a four track recorder, Jessica Pratt managed to craft something genuinely distinct – wholly poetic and continually enthralling, the record gradually found a devoted audience.
So crafting a follow up came as something of a new experience for the American songwriter. Returning to the surroundings which initially embraced her, Jessica Pratt slowly constructed new album 'On Your Own Love Again'.
Out now via Drag City (Clash review HERE), it retains the sparsity of her debut album but there's a distinct confidence – whether that's in the focussed word play or the gentle way in which Jessica Pratt teases into the outer edges of her vocal range.
A rich return, Clash invited this unique talent to answer a few questions.
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The songs on your debut album were assembled over a long period of time – did suddenly having to work to a timetable place extra pressure on you? How did you deal with that?
I've come to realize over the last couple of years that I don't tend to work very fast. I may spend every day within a span of several months working on new stuff, but the amount of usable material is fairly minimal in the end. I like to be selective. There were times I worried about finishing things and getting the job done right with the time frame I had, but I was very committed to getting the new stuff out, so I focused as sharply as I could. That requires isolation as much as possible.
Did the success of your debut give you more confidence when approaching this new album?
I think it did. If songs you wrote and recorded years and years ago when you were first getting a handle on things resonated with people, odds are they'd like a more skillful and mature effort.
The sound is kept extremely sparse, were you tempted to expand?
It's funny because it doesn't sound very sparse to me. The warmth of the tape alone fills a lot of space, and it's certainly more layered than the previous record. I didn't feel the inclination to go into a studio and add a ton of stuff like percussion or bass. It didn't suit it. This record was definitely an exercise in an expansion of sound, it's just a bit more subtle.
The album was recorded at home, was it important for you to feel comfortable during these sessions? What do you think this gave you that, say, a studio wouldn't?
I think comfortability is important for everyone when they're making something. Recording the record at home wasn't a decision I labored over for a long time, I just knew that I worked well that way, saw what I needed to do make it and followed that path. You've got to be protective about these things because the slightest tweak can make a huge impact. And maybe that's even just someone standing near you. Studios can be immensely useful, it just wasn't quite time for that yet. Have to tame one beast at a time.
Are you a perfectionist when it comes to songwriting? How do you know when to let go?
I can tend to be neurotic, sure, but generally it's operating on feeling-vibing basis. I'm not often unsure of whether or song is done or not, thankfully.
Do songs tend to arrive complete during the writing process, or do you return/assemble them over time?
I think generally, the basic outline and shape of the song reveals itself and then everything else just sort of falls into place. There's the more thoughtful second half of the process which tends to be massaging words into the whole thing and putting curves in the right places.
Are you a fast writer, or do you find that songs take some time to fully emerge?
The speed of things varies depending on which stage of the process I'm in, but more than anything I just need a large enough window to warm up and move around in. There's no way to predict how long it can take to get connected to the zone.
There are wonderful sonic flourishes on the new record – what inspired the clavinet on 'Moon Dude' for example?
I originally wanted harpsichord for that track, as I used a Yamaha keyboard version for those little tinkering overdubs. Harpsichord access or rental proved to be less attainable than I'd imagined, so my friend Will Canzoneri, who also mixed the record, suggested we try his clavinet. It lives somewhere in a similar sort of regal register and worked the right kind of magic for the song.
On 'Greycedes' you dip into the lower register – quite a brave thing to do. Did you feel the song demanded this? What impact does it have, in your mind?
Singing, phrasing and delivery are probably the most intuitive parts of making music for me. It's a procedure similar to driving maybe; you're engaging in all of these manual processes without really being fully conscious of them as you're doing it. You've learned how to perform the necessary steps in order to keep your eyes fixed to the road ahead of you. That familiarity with what you're doing allows you to just go where it feels natural, without examining it.
Your debut release was never intended as an album, whereas this was designed with the LP format in mind. Did this change the way you wrote at all? What do you gain from the album format as an artist?
I think it was a fun, new luxury to feel I had been granted the permission to conceive of a group of songs in a more conceptualized fashion. In the end, it wound up being more about feel than forethought, really, but I did experience a strange sense of confidence and purpose in having a job to do. Like I was trusted with delivering an important message to a high-ranking individual.
Have you been playing these songs live at your shows? Have they evolved over time?
I've been playing them live, but in the last year have only toured for a very short period of time. I've gotten more comfortable with them live and 2015 will be a busy year of touring, so we'll see where they go.
You work in quite a solitary fashion, are there people around you whose opinion you trust and take on board with regards to your songwriting?
I think like anyone, there's a chosen cast of close friends I'll show things to. I've learned that even the most level-headed and thoughtful person isn't really capable of truly giving you the information you need to determine the fate of a song. You know what's right, it's in your gut. The show and tell thing functions as more of a therapeutic, perspective-gainer than anything else.
You've a remarkably distinct lyrical style, are you drawn to poetry? Have you written creatively in that sense (such aspoetry/prose) before?
Yeah, I wrote a lot of poetry, or things intended as lyrics that were written without music, in my early adolescence. I spent a lot of time reading at that age and words have always been important to me. I definitely wrote things in verse/chorus structures before I ever really played music. It's just what made the most sense to me and I guess I thought maybe I'd sing them one day.
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'On Your Own Love Again' is out now.