Rickie Lee Jones
The Grammy-winning singer heads to Ridgefield
Two-time Grammy winner Rickie Lee Jones will be performing at the Ridgefield Playhouse this Wednesday, August 12 at 8 PM. We had a chance to talk to her about her life, career and latest album.
Not too long ago, you moved from LA to New Orleans. How are you liking your new home? Anything you miss about LA?
LA was a dead end, I was second-guessing my musical choices. I was also so lonely there. In New Orleans people looked me in the eye and said, ‘Good morning.’ They’re not doing that in L.A. Dr. John first introduced me to New Orleans in 1989 when we recorded “Makin’ Whoopie” together. That visit made an impression. Creatively, things started to turn around for me here.
Tell us about your new album, The Other Side of Desire.
My fans will very clearly recognize it as a Rickie Lee Jones album. Despite its title, “Waltz de Mon Pere” and most of the songs on the album sound like they could only have come from me.
And for the first time, I involved fans in the recording process. I funded the sessions with a Pledge Music campaign and kept contributors informed about the album’s progress through a series of blog posts. Some big donors got a chance to visit the studio. If it would have happened at some other time in my career it would have been intolerable. But I thought about this album as a “family project,” and that helped me wrap my mind around the visitors. My family had just gotten bigger. As it turned out, every one of them was a really neat person. They were all OK.
You’ve said you took a ten-year break from songwriting prior to making this album. How has your approach to music changed since you first got started?
My writing process has always been a slow one in which ideas come to me, get written down, and over time some lines get built upon while others are removed and replaced. It’s laborious. So I used to only write when I needed to—for an upcoming album, but honestly that changed.
I’m still writing and pretty much almost every day, I’m still hearing music. I’m trying to tell myself that it’s safe to leave the levers open and keep writing and listening.
I notice The Other Side of Desire incorporates a lot of French, can you talk about that?
I have been wanting to use Spanish and French more and more. All these people to talk to, people who do not speak the English! The French thing, it sets me free in a way. It's also visceral, I find it kind of sensual, and I need that feeling.
The Lafayette connection, where people are speaking and writing in French and yet living very American lives, that's a pretty interesting place to live. I love their pride and their down-home thing. Singing the "Valtz de Mon Pere" with Louis Michot, well, the song was inspired by thoughts of his father and his family. He and I hit it off so deeply, it almost felt like it was other-life stuff. I don't really believe in reincarnation, but I do believe time is not happening linearly, so who knows what we are writing into the past from where we stand. I like French, and the Cajun French is friendly for me, since I will never speak French in the proper way.
Your music has always evoked a variety of genres. Are there any artists in particular who have influenced you?
Nowadays a singer-songwriter can do a cover record. That was forbidden when I started doing it. AND they can do jazz standards with a bit of '60s soul. I did that too. I made the connection between Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan, you might say. Because I was young enough to be able to love them both, I was made of them, and so whatever I did was my vision, and that is the only reason I was able to pull it off. I really do need someone to help me stay on focus. I have lots of ideas.
Vocally—more than anything—I refer to Al Green, or I strive for sly Sylvester Stone ease. Al Green, as I age, becomes so monstrously profound, as does Mr. James Brown. I heard a track of James singing a straight-ahead gospel song, very quietly, and it was as masterful as Al Green or Sly Stone. I feel kind of special just being one of the people who lived in these guys' time. But mostly, I guess I just try to sing the song in tune.
What is the best part about performing live?
The wonderful spontaneity, letting the show evolve as I take the temperature of the audience and the room. Though I write down songs on a list, I may not do them, and rarely do them in order… it’s to remind me—when I get up there I can forget everything caught up in the moment. I do sometimes find two or three song combinations that feel good for a few months, then they are over. I might open up with the same song two nights in a row. It’s not totally different every night, but it is different, both in song titles, and in how they are done.