10 Questions: Kate Jacobs

New Jersey-based songwriter Kate Jacobs’s fifth album Home Game is a return to recording from several years of the domestic life.

Taking a break from daily chores and errands, Kate took some time to answer our questions about the music, touring and her Radio Free Song Club – a monthly songwriting challenge shared with the likes of Victoria Williams, Laura Cantrell, Freedy Johnston and Freakwater.

Q: Home Game isn’t your first record, but it’s been kind of a while. Is that true? And why now?

A: It’s true, yeah. My last record came out in ‘98, so it’s seven years since my last release.

And I think it just got finished now, really. I’ve been kind of slowly, slowly working on it. I’ve been busy with kids and home things, and everyone who I work with in my band has also been kind of in that groove lately, so it just took a long time to put the pieces together. But finally, finally, they are finished.

Q: What’s changed in the last seven years as far as things you’ve noticed in either your own music or in the industry, or what kind of things that have been difficult to get back into it after that span of time?

A: Two things I think that change that kind of fit together were, one, my life changed just because I had kids, so I’m at home. I always tend to write what is at hand, what is going on, so I’m writing about domestic things – or have been; not necessarily about myself, but about what I observe from this perch. And the other thing is the different kind of possibilities that have come up around the Internet for musicians, which are really myriad and interesting, and fit very well for somebody who’s trying to work from home. So I would say those have all been good and facilitating kinds of things.

What’s hard to get back into is the mode of self-promotion, which you kind of have to do when you have a new record. And that’s always a bit of a – you always have to take a deep breath and find the nerve to do that, so that’s always challenging and maybe a little more so after I’ve been laying low for a while. But it’s also fun, and I’ve been looking forward to releasing this album ‘cause I think the songs speak to people – certainly to people of my generation and people who are in the same boat as me, and it’s fun to have that conversation and share what I’ve been observing about our lives.

Q: Do have any kind of favorites on the record or things that stick out as really cool?

A: The first song, which is called “Rey Master,” ostensibly about the Mets player, New York Mets baseball player, is sort of a favorite because it’s about being on the road with my band and the great affection I have for that time, which is certainly on hiatus lately. So it’s about driving the van and listening to baseball and being on the road, and also I just like the way the track came out. It’s really a cool track. So, I’m very fond of that one.

But there aren’t that many songs on the record, and they’re all very specifically tied to a person or an event or a story or… So I feel they’re all very separate and I have fond feelings for all of them.

Q: What does your creative process look like?

A: Oh, well, I’ve been writing a lot lately in an ongoing way because I have this project called the Radio Free Song Club, which is a club of writers who bring in a completed, recorded, written, brand-new song every month, and then we put it together in a podcast. So I’ve been very involved in the writing process lately, which is really fun. And I think it’s always been somewhat the same for me. I tend to write stories. I look around for interesting people and events and stories – not at all political or topical, but just things from life.

So my process involves keeping an ear out for something interesting that I think is song-like, and I start pushing around the facts of the story and always try to come up with a nice, hooky hook; and then often words and melody come together. Lately I’ve been doing a little more writing of words first, which is new for me just because I’m writing from work and writing fiction. I’m also sitting down and writing stories and then finding the music that fits with them.

Q: Where did the Radio Free Song Club come from?

A: That came really from the same thing I’m talking about, from being based at home. And I thought here’s the Internet, and we should do something collaborative and interesting with it. And a lot of my friends and colleagues, musicians I’ve known over the years, have also been at home, haven’t been touring as much, haven’t been recording as much for various reasons, so I thought we could gather a small group and have a song club, which would push everybody to write and present their work sort of in a collegial and somewhat competitive mode, because if you get people in your group who are good, everybody sort of challenges each other. You don’t want to send in a lame song, so that was my idea behind it.

And then I contacted Nicholas Hill, who’s a DJ, very sort of free-form DJ from around here, and we put it together as this podcast, which we just finished recording our 12th show, and it’s been really great fun. We have lots of guest members and guest appearances on the shows, and everybody’s been just cranking out songs. It’s very motivating.

Q: So is it collaborative at all? Or is it more kind of each person brings their own?

A: You know, it has not been specifically collaborative so far. I’m hoping and kind of waiting for that to happen. I wanted very little structure. We wanted it to be kind of a no-cash, no-structure situation, so we don’t have themes or suggestions or – people just write whatever they have going on. But I do think it would be fun too if some collaborations happen. And people talk about it, but no one’s quite been up for working. We’re all in different places, so it’ll have to happen by e-mail. But it’s been a little bit of – like I’ve sent some – just like a vocal track to someone and had them overdub a piano from some distant place and then send it back, and in that way it’s collaborative. We patch things together via fileserver.

Q: How did you decide to get into the music thing? Did you ever consider something else?

A: I was a dancer for many years. That was my thing, and then it kind of starting morphing into – in the early ‘80s in New York, I went from ballet to modern dance to sort of the post-modern performance art scene that was going on in those days and becoming more and more theatrical. And then in the course of the theater pieces, I was writing songs for those, and then more and more the songs just started to feel like the most interesting and accessible and vital part of the whole process, so everything else fell away and I just kept on with the song writing.

Q: Are you taking the album out on tour at all?

A: Not very much. I’ll do maybe some near-by things. I’m here in Hoboken, New Jersey, which is just across the Hudson River from New York, so there certainly is all of New York and the East Coast within easy access. But, again, I feel pretty home-bound these days and not much like a road dog.

Q: The kind of influences that I hear on the record are very kind of country based, what kind of stuff do you listen to when you’re just doing your thing at home and enjoying yourself?

A: Well, let’s see. Country – certainly country was a big influence for me initially when I started writing. Obviously I listened to music all my life, but suddenly when I heard a Loretta Lynn record – and I hadn’t listened to country at all growing up, but something about her record made me realize that you write songs. They don’t just come through the radio; they don’t just exist. I was not very tuned in to pop music, but I – you could just hear the writing in it; you could hear her life and her point of view and her sense of humor, and the whole thing felt so doable.

It really started me on a path to wanting to write my own songs. So I really started writing in a country vein, and then that has stretched out in all different directions since that time. But I listen to a range of things. I still really love classic country and soul, Motown, great singers. I really probably just mostly listen to jazz standards and the American Songbook kind of things, which some of the songs on this record are certainly influenced by those songs. I think like “A Sligo Lad” and “All the Time in the World” have that feeling of a jazz ballad.

Q: And is there anything else that you want to make sure people know or hear about?

A: Certainly that the album is for sale on my website, because it’s a self-release. They’re all available there, and they’re also available on iTunes and Amazon. But the hard copy of this album is only available from my website. You can download it other places, but to get the CD you have to go to www.katejacobsmusic.com.

Photo: Marjorie Galen

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