Interview with Genna and Jesse!

(Jesse’s answers first) *What got this band together and started in this business?* Both Genna and I have been involved in the business of music for a number of years, prior to the birth of this project. Genna hired me to play piano in her band, after returning to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009. That band was a quintet, and it did not last all that long. Genna and I began to perform as a duo shortly after, and we haven’t stopped. ggjo Where can people access your music on the web?* Just about anything you’d care to learn about us can be found at www.gennaandjesse.com *What is your musical background?* Our musical background begins with a love of songcraft. We both have elements of soul in our music, from Motown and Stax to the Philly Sound of the 1970’s. When we call our music “pop” music, it’s more like pop music of the ’70s than it is like today’s pop. We also have strong inclinations toward jazz, blues, musical theater, and folk, to name a few. *Where are you from?* Genna is originally from Lansing, Michigan and I’m from Philadelphia, PA. * How would you describe your music/art/entertainment for the public audience if they have never seen you before?* Heartfelt acoustic soul-and-folk-infused pop music singer-songwriter duo. *How long have you been performing live?* We have each been performing live for decades, but in this current format, we have been performing live as Genna & Jesse for three (3) years. *What does your family think of your performance and do they support you?* We have received tremendous support from our families for what we are doing. At times in the past, there have certainly been pressures on each of us to “do the more responsible thing,” which in reality means getting a traditional job with health insurance and such. This is an extremely common situation for artists of all types, which comes from family members wanting us to have the things that they have (security, home ownership, credit-based purchases) and finding reason to worry that those things are not priorities for us. The only difference between us and the many other artists who “settle” for making their art a hobby, is that we have simply gone and DONE IT. I think our families over time have come to respect this decision much more, even if they don’t always agree or understand. * What image do you think your music conveys and why did you choose this type of image for your music? (Please, do not avoid the image issue! We want the fans to get to know you better.)* Our image is one of honesty, of being our true selves. We don’t do much pretending with our music, which is not to say that we don’t fictionalize in our approach, but that we like to come from a place of integrity and real-ness. Our music is a lovely thing for someone to bring along on a long drive or road trip. We don’t hit you over the head with much gimmickery, so that what shines through are coherent well-written songs performed with an ear for harmony. We love to sing together, and that is often the first comment we get after a show, is how well our voices blend. *How do you feel about file sharing?* tipThis is massive topic, as there are tons of well thought out arguments on either side. On the whole, I am a fan of file sharing, as it is a more democratic way of distributing music than the traditional corporate model, and along with the internet in general, allows a person to find just about anything they can dream of in terms of music. I also believe that in many cases, file sharing is just another form of promotion, taking the place of radio in a sense, since radio has suffered from corporate consolidation. The problem arises, however, in that file sharing has helped to create an environment where people now expect to be able to get music for free. So this conversation has to also include YouTube and music streaming services as well, but I have found that the younger a person is, the less likely they are to purchase music. Unfortunately, the artists and songwriters end up being the losers in this arrangement, both because they find it increasingly difficult to get paid for their work, and also because music itself appears to have become devalued in general. If we were in a European Social Democracy, where artists like us were valued by society and provided with some economic security, this arrangement might work better.

Thinking back to the very beginning of the band, how do you feel about your performance today and it is much different for you now than when you first started performing?* Since we have been on the road almost constantly for the past year, our level of performance has grown in leaps and bounds. It’s sometimes difficult to gauge ourselves, but we are now returning to a number of venues after many months and we quite often hear something like, “You guys were so good last time, but you are even better and tighter now.” Playing a couple of hundred shows can do wonders for upping your level of performance, from the actual technical aspects, to our ability to read an audience and choose the right songs on a given night, to our general comfort with being ourselves on stage and in interacting with our audiences. We have a lot more fun now. *As an artist, how would you define SUCCESS?* Success is going out and doing it. Even if we had followed our initial plan, which was for a four (4) month tour, we would have felt successful having done that. So many folks never even take that step. Perhaps the best measure of our success is that we have continued to redefine what success means to us. On one particular night, we might call it successful to play a few hours of background music and to be well compensated. On another night, the success might not be a great crowd or a big payday, but instead come in the form of meeting a person who will become a friend, and ally, a house concert host, or something else. When we remain open to what that word means, we are constantly pleased and amazed at what we receive from the universe. *Have you recorded any previous CDs or posted any audio files on the Internet? (What type of recording process did you use? Who produced your recording?) If you have a current CD released, how long did the process take for you to do from start to finish?* As Genna & Jesse, we have released one full length CD and three (3) singles. Those can all be found at our website or by searching us on iTunes. I (Jesse) have also recorded an album called “Contents Under Pressure” which can be found in the places mentioned above as well. If you Google us, there are tons of unreleased tracks out there, as well as live videos, etc. The Genna & Jesse album, entitled “Give and Take,” was self produced in our (former) living space in Richmond, California. Having worked with some amazing producers, we fully appreciated the value in having a few truly professional pieces of gear, so we invested in a really nice vocal microphone and preamp. What you hear on “Give and Take” is essentially a living room record. We did run right up against a deadline, as we needed to have the tracks completed in time to manufacture CDs to bring with us on tour, so the mixing and mastering process was a bit accelerated. Our three singles, on the other hand, were produced by Andy Kravitz, and involved the two of us spending time in his studio in New Jersey – about a day and a half per song – and then communicating and collaborating with each other over email and mp3s as to what the final mix should sound like. Having a few pieces of pro gear has allowed us to work with people like Andy remotely, which in the case of one of our singles, “I Won’t Do It Again,” meant that we sketched out the song in San Francisco and then sent him some tracks. He then played drums and sent us the tracks. We then recorded horns and bass and vocals and all the rest around the Bay Area, and sent the tracks back to Andy to mix. Kind of like musical ping pong. *Do you remember how the idea of forming the band first came up?* I remember sitting with Genna at a bar in Oakland, listening to a friend of ours play, and talking about how it would be so much more efficient, if we ever wanted to tour, to do it as a duo. Lean and mean. Less mouths to feed, and easier to make economically viable than trying to feed five people. At the time it was more of a dream than a plan, but that is exactly what ended up happening. *What is your most cherished musical object?* I have a special relationship with my Guild D-40 acoustic guitar. I also have strong feelings for my Hohner D6 Clavinet, though it’s not realistic to have that out on the road with us. Our go-to vocal microphone is a Wunder CM7, which is always a treat to take out of it’s protective box, and a pleasure to sing into. *How has Social Networking (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) impacted your band?* Facebook has done wonders for our ability to promote ourselves. It is not the be-all end-all, of course, but it is certainly one of the essential tools for keeping in touch with fans, friends, and musical colleagues. It’s hard to believe that not so long ago, one would have to call people on the phone to let them know about a gig, or else send out tons of costly postcards. Now we can do so much via social networking. That said, we are not big Twitter people. Still trying to get a handle on how best to use it. *Genna’s answers:* *Who writes and produces the material for the band?*Jesse and I both write all of the material and produce a lot of it. Sometimes we’ll have a guest producer, like Andy Kravitz, who is really phenomenal. Songwriting is either done individually, or more and more frequently in a collaborative way. Writing songs together is really fun and seems to be a logical use of our talents. We both have our strengths and weaknesses, and together we can compose work we’re especially excited about. *Any embarrassing moments onstage?* We were performing at a venue in Hollywood, and it was a great opportunity in our minds because the venue was doing a three-camera shoot and we thought we could get some great live footage for promotional purposes. Jesse had introduced his song “Breaking Up the Band,” in a characteristically dry way. (The song is a slightly humorous “nightmare tour” story, and people like the song a lot, especially musicians who relate to the message.) I don’t think we’d even gotten to the chorus when a young woman walked onstage, sat down next to me and basically began to heckle us, saying how bad we were, that we were out of tune, that everyone could relax because she was there now to save them from our dreadful performance. The funny thing was that the audience, including the people that might have bounced her, thought it was part of our act. So nobody did anything! Finally, Jesse had to bounce her himself. I don’t know if the whole thing was embarrassing per se but it comes closer than any other experience. One of these days we’ll edit the footage and post the clip on our website. I’m sure folks will get a kick out of it. *Any other members in your family that are musicians?* My family is full of musicians. My dad is a professional flute and saxophone player. My mom taught elementary school music for many years. I have aunts and uncles who play professionally as well. Jesse’s parents are both musical people and his brother is a professional musician based out of Philly. *What instruments do you play now?* Jesse mainly plays piano and guitar, but he also will play bass, drums, and other odd instruments, especially when we’re recording. Although I play piano and guitar and a handful of other instruments, I’ve only used them for writing purposes since I was injured in an auto accident in 2006. I’d really been avoiding playing live (and just singing) for a long time because it’s just so painful. But recently I had a change of heart and decided to work through the pain and begin playing live again. So far we’ve mostly been rehearsing this way, with me playing a bit of guitar, xylophone and other random instruments that are less painful for me to play, and once we feel good about what I’m doing, I’ll start playing live again. It’s very exciting!

 

*What are your songs about? (What specific themes do they cover?)* That’s a big question. We’re very informed by what’s going on in our lives when we write, which I think is pretty normal. Since I’m interested in love and the juiciness of the human experience, I write a lot of relationship songs and songs that explore the fullness of being human, which includes a range from the terrible to the sublime. I’d say that because Jesse is very interested in what is happening in the world, especially politically, he writes more globally, and brings his activist spirit into his songwriting. We both love to tell stories as well, so there is plenty of that. Generally speaking, we’re both just people writing about what we see and experience, but our personalities shine through, making his songs a little more “east coast” – pragmatic, sardonic, sometimes biting, getting straight to the heart of the matter and often very funny. Mine are softer and oftentimes have more of a yearning quality. I’m the yin to his yang. And then you can imagine how, when writing together, all our combined qualities can integrate to create some pretty interesting material. *What are your immediate music career goals? (Next 1 to 3 years)* I love this question, because I love the way we approach our career goals and the way we live our lives. At this juncture, we are aiming to continue what we’re doing in a way that’s more and more sustainable each year. We LOVE what we’re doing, and wouldn’t change much. If we can manifest more space for creative time, that would be wonderful. Essentially, the goal is to play fewer shows, but more lucrative ones, and hopefully more and more house concerts, since they are our favorite shows to play. This will free us up to enjoy our travels more and just have fun! We go to so many incredible places and we want more down time to follow our whims and have adventures. We are also planning to have a baby in the next year and baby will join us on the road, so that’s pretty huge. With all of this in mind, we like to set clear intentions and then hold them lightly, because you never know what might happen to change your plans entirely! And we both value living a life that allows us to follow our heartfelt inclinations, so we don’t want to get too attached to any of our goals. *How do you rate your live performance ability? Do you feel better performing live or in the studio?* I think we both feel great about our live performance. We just keep getting better. That said, we play a lot of shows, so there’s a range of experience. We notice that sound and audience have a big impact on how well we perform, which is why we’ve become more serious about getting really solid sound checks and why we try to book as many “listening room” shows as possible. What’s most important when it comes to live shows is being able to be really present and appreciate each show for what it is. In the beginning, my criteria for a “good show” was that we play perfectly and that the audience loves us. I’m just laughing to think about it now. Such a recipe for misery! Because of course, you’ll never play perfectly and one might easily argue that that’s not the point. And you can’t control an audience’s reaction either. So after I experienced a little bit of suffering because of this criteria I decided I needed to change it. Now a “good show” is one where we’ve had fun. That’s something we have more control over. We’ve stopped trying to win over audiences and instead just aim to have a blast. And the cool thing is that without fail, if we’re having a blast, so is the audience. Performing in the studio is no better or worse, just different. We both love doing both things. They’re important parts of a very fulfilling whole. Personally, I bring my perfectionism (the same perfectionism I try to let go of during live shows) and I get really excited about constructing album-worthy tracks that I love every note of. We both love the process of opening up and trying interesting things and just letting our creative selves take the lead. *What are your up-to-date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News?* We’re currently touring all over the United States. We’ve been going since August of 2012. In early 2014 we will be in Europe and the UK. Our single Tumbleweed and Tonic is doing well over there and we want to do a dry run before the baby is born. We’re pretty excited about it. In the meantime, we’re in the middle of recording our next album with our portable studio. Good things to come! *If you had only five minutes on earth to perform one song that could leave a great impact on the world today, what song would you perform and why did you choose this particular piece?* I think I would pick Jesse’s song “Overlooking” because it has a real depth of meaning and suggests something very positive and important. A lot is encapsulated in the line, “Everything that we have now is everything we allow.” I just love the sentiment. If people could connect with the idea that they create their reality by allowing rather than pushing, and if everyone could connect with nature in a healing way, I think the world would be a better place, filled with happier, more empowered people. ** *When things seem to go negatively at times, how do you turn things into something positive?* Conceptually, it’s simple. In practice, it can be easy or difficult depending on a bunch of factors. What we do when times are tough is essentially to trust that things are unfolding in our best interest and to look for the hidden gift. There’s always one in there somewhere. Maybe it’s that we’ve learned a valuable lesson about what NOT to do. Maybe we’ve refined some aspect of our plan. Maybe what looks like something going “wrong” is actually some sort of blessing in disguise, an opening of some sort. If we always assume that things are unfolding perfectly, even the hard times have a lightness and optimism about them. *Do you currently have an agent, endorsement, record label, sponsor, etc.?* No, no, no and no. I think we’d be open to any of them but it’s not an active part of our plan. We actually like the way things are going, and we make a point to steer clear of the old music business paradigm in favor of something that we create ourselves that is ever-evolving. And we’re certainly not going to endorse something we don’t believe in. Someone once suggested we could get an endorsement with the energy drink Monster. No way. We’re a little too rebellious to go for something like that. And in the end, money in and of itself isn’t our aim. Our aim is to lead full, rich, meaningful, creative and fun lives in which we feel totally secure and provided for. Currently, we’ve got that going on so… why fix what ain’t broke? *Would you rather play shows to 3000+ people, or the smaller venues of 2-300 and why?* Generally speaking, it’s far more fulfilling to play smaller shows. I might even say a show of 2-300 people is a bit large. We do this music thing because we really want to have an intimate experience with people and connect with them in a real way. Once you’ve got a crowd of people, that becomes sort of difficult. Some bands get the best experience with large crowds because it fits with their energy. The more people, the higher the energy, and that’s what makes them tick. What makes us tick is the exchange of energy, the interaction that happens in an intimate setting like a house concert, and being able to connect with people in a very genuine and natural way. *How important do you rate the lyrical side of your albums?* Lyrics are very important in our music. There aren’t any throw-aways. We work to refine our lyrics the same way a poet might refine his or her prose, choosing words carefully and making sure that we’re saying what we mean to say. That’s another great thing about working in partnership. We’re there to encourage each other to create the best art we can, and that goes for lyrics as much as for chord changes and melody. *If for some reason you lost the ability to make and play music, what would fill that gap?* Speaking for both of us, since we’re adventurers and pretty Spartan in our material needs, we would probably try to create a life in which we could experience everything that matters to us – exploration, cultural immersion, interacting with the earth, meeting new people, and being spontaneous. There’s really so much that could fill that hypothetical gap that I wouldn’t know where to begin. *Do you have any advice for someone just getting started in playing music? Any pitfalls they should avoid?* Just follow your heartfelt desires. Trust them. It’s great to learn to play in a studied way, but you don’t have to. If anyone tells you that there’s one “right” way to be a musician, don’t listen. If there’s one thing I wish I had done earlier, it would have been to have walked away from the music business and to strike out on my own, like we are doing now. In my opinion, operating in a way where you’re waiting to be “discovered” by some entity that you perceive has some sort of power to do something for you is really dis-empowering. It’s sort of like waiting for daddy or mommy to do it for you. I would encourage all people starting out to find their source of power internally and to trust that they have what it takes to create the life they want. As artists, we can spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen, kissing people’s butts, selling ourselves out, and doing a bunch of little things that are not in alignment with who we are in order to catch some elusive break. Don’t waste your time. And now I’m going to totally contradict myself and say that if going mainstream and doing the things I mentioned above really get you juiced, go for it. It takes all kinds. I just like to remind people that there isn’t just one way to find your success as an artist.

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