While the name Jillian Rae is new to the dividers at the record store, the fiery violinist has built up quite the résumé over the years. Currently, she is working with local acts such as Brian Just Band, Corpse Reviver, the Blackberry Brandy Boys, and even a project featuring Ryan Young (Trampled By Turtles) and Nate Sipe (Pert Near Sandstone). While narrowing down the multitude of bands with whom she appears with on stage and on recordings, Jillian has been working on a debut of her own.
While taking some time to thaw from the frigid Minnesota weather, Jillian sat down to talk with Gimme Noise about her upcoming release show at the Cedar.
Gimme Noise: It looks like you have an exciting lineup, which includes playing with the Honeydogs.
Jillian Rae: Yeah. I'm still kind of starstruck that they're playing/opening for me. It's ridiculous if you think about it. When we set the show up and [Adam Levy] said he wanted to do it, I was just so excited. Everyone was asking if they were going to headline and it would just be our CD release show and that's what I assumed. So I started talking to Adam a little more in depth he was like, "No, we're opening for you! I'd figure we'd have an opener (Gallupstar), then we'd play and then you'd play." And I was just like, "Shut the front door!" I'm going to be dorking out about it until Saturday.
You're a pretty in-demand violin player. How many bands are you currently working with? How are you able to fit your solo project in between these?
About a year ago, I was in nine bands at the same time. That's when I really started to evaluating them [so I could] start my own stuff. I narrowed it down to about six. I'm having a hard time with [fitting everything] right now, but I'm thinking once the CD release dies down it will get better. This is my first time ever doing my own thing, but I've been playing out for a really long time. Some of these songs are really old and they've kind of happened over time; one of these songs on the record, I wrote like two weeks before we went into the studio. It was a nice difference between the areas in my life. A lot of the songs sound different, it genre hops, but I think it's totally me. If it's a reflection on who I am as a person into who I am as a musician, that's exactly it. I listen to a lot of music and I like to play a lot of different music. So mixed with super old and super new songs, that's how it all ended up coming together.
With all your other gigging and recording how long did it take you to get everything for your own project ready?
It's like going into [the Terrarium], I was pretty prepared from experience: good times to schedule, how long is it going to take to mix,when do I get my final CD. I actually thought I would release my album in October. A lot of people were asking why I waited so long when I had my CDs in hand the first week of August. I thought I didn't want to even book the show until I had them. I've experienced that [not working out]. I also wanted to hold out for the Cedar, which was just a silly thing on my part.
Recording at the Terrarium, did the environment of the studio effect your creativeness? Did you track everything live or seperate?
If I had never recorded a day in my life and just walked into the Terrarium, I would be beside myself. And I already was, it's such a beautiful space. It's awesome! Terrarium is pretty big, especially their main room, but the way they everything set up for that Allison Scott video, that was my first impression, it made it look like there were all sorts of different rooms. But it was just that main room with different dividers.
Going into the studio for this record, everyone in the band has their opinion. It was really important to me to try to get as much of a live sound as we could even though we're not going to be in the same room. We had some iso's and the guitar amps were out in a different room. We were all kind of in the same room and we tracked everything live for two days. It was ten tracks, but those two days went by really fast because we were playing the whole time. Every single song on the record, there was nothing that I had to overdub or fix because even though there were a couple little quirky flaws, that to me makes it more beautiful when you can tell it's real. The whole "Let's just punch in here and get one little thing"? Ah! It's like getting a nose job.
I think you're right, there is a certain sound to a lot of modern music that sometimes get's a little too digitized and overly polished.
I think that's what sets apart a certain era. I'm obviously a fan of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Hendrix. That stuff sounds to me, I don't want to say so much better, but yeah better than a lot of stuff. It's just raw and real. In order to do some of the effects we just easily do now, you'd have to press the tape and slow it down as you're recording live. I think that's incredible and it's such a cool art form that's getting a little bit lost. There's some people that realize that and can notice the difference and want that sound that isn't so grotesquely perfect.
Aside from it being the first song on your record, why did you choose to title the album Heartbeat?
That was one thing when I was figuring out which groupings of songs to put together. I had no idea what I was doing. I want it to fit together somehow but it didn't really sonically. Some songs are really country, other really aren't. Lyrically I felt like they were all songs from the heart, good or bad. That's kind of another reason I went with the name "Heartbeat." I just loved that song. I was so proud of writing that song I was just thinking "That's got to be the one." It was funny because it that how I ended up figuring out what [songs] to put together. I didn't really figure it out until that song was finished. I had been working on it a long time, but there's that middle break down, I wasn't too sure how we should go about it. When I was making the song list that's when I realized that's what these are all about, that's how I'm going to tie these together. I was so worried about whether I should pick my country songs or my rock songs. They're just heartbeat-related songs.
Speaking of the opening song, where did you get the idea to do the slow Eastern-European style bridge in the track "Heartbeat"?
I've had it in my head, not with that specific song, but I've always wanted to do that with a rock song. I'm a violinist first and foremost so I love gypsy music and that Eastern-European kind of deal. It's just a different way of approaching a minor scale. So I knew I really wanted to do that someday, but I think when the song really started coming together, I really figured out the chord structure. I wrote that song in Loring Park, actually. It was one of those summer days when I had time to kill and I'm just sitting outside eating, writing, and people-watching. The melody was there but I just couldn't figure it out. Then a few days later I just wrote all the music. I think it just happend. I knew it was a song that could have the breakdown.
Do you draw a lot of inspiration from people-watching, then?
Oh my God, YES! It's one of my favorite parts about living in the city, it's unbelievable. It's kind of inspiring to see what people have going on, it can be hilarious, it can be sad. It's such an emotional experience. I do really love that whole [Loring Park] neighborhood. The park itself has such a diverse group of people that hang out or even just walk through it. You can tell who the tourists are, who actually lives in the area and who doesn't give a shit. I'm from a very small town called Eveleth so I feel like I just crave to see individuality.
Are all of your songs from personal experience?
They're all pretty personal. Some of the songs are from my perspective, but they're not about me at all. I kind of like doing that once in a while, just writing about somebody else, but it's easier to be emotional about something if you make it from your point of view. Most of them are circumstances or situations I've found myself in. Some of them are very much from that teenage perspective, we can all relate to it.
Is it therapeutic for you to write songs about heartbreak? Does writing make you feel better?
I think I write way better when I'm sad or pissed off, but that might be with most people really. Some of these songs when I wrote them, or when I worked them up, after a while I forget that they're relationship songs. They're just angsty, or like "I'm in love with you" or "I'm having a shit day and this is what's happening" but it really does boil down to relationships. Someone once said sex, love and death are the most commonly written about topics, but it's what we all can relate to. If I ever get that "All you write are love songs" ...everything kind of is, it's just how you are writing it. I could go on forever on that, we can all at some point agree on it. Do you ever write something, and if you don't write it all in one shot, you put it away and come back to it a few days later? Sometimes I'll have to read more of what I wrote. It's not a song, it's like a journal or something. It's like, "What was I thinking that day?" It might not mean [anything] at all to you when you read it three days later.
How did you write your lyrics for this album? Do you journal and pull out words or do you really try to make a melody fit first?
I think I can say that I have a very sporadic way. I think my personality is exactly how I write, I'm either like, "Yay!" or "Don't talk to me" or it depends how I'm feeling at the moment. The two best examples I can give, like "Hanging On" I wrote that all in one shot, like the music and the lyrics it just all came out. I didn't have to come back to it at all. "Heartbeat was like an idea with the drum sound first. Then I started writing lyrics with a melody in mind, but it wasn't like 100%, I didn't quite know. I think I maybe wrote less than half of it and kept coming back to it. It really depends on what frame of mind I'm in. What works for me is the sporadic nature. My whole life is sporadic. I play in all these bands, I'm a musician, I gig, I do recording work and I own a music school which is my main bread and butter. Running a business, which I'm a musician, I don't have a business degree, I'm just taking it as it comes. I used to be a lot more diligent and telling myself I was going to spend all this time either playing or writing or maybe both. Now it's like, "I have 20 minutes of my time to do this before I have to go."
Do you ever sit down and force yourself to write then?
Sometimes yes, other times I'm driving in the car and you get this amazing melody or idea and you try to voice it. If I were to say "I'm going to decide this is my songwriting time" I don't think it would work for me everyday. It really speaks for itself over the course of the record, just because the songs sound so different. If I sat down and listened to it, post production, I could tell you which songs just came together or this one I had to do this, this and this. I think that's why each one has its own personality.
How did you go about choosing the instrumentation?
To me, each song had a flavor. Like "Not That Simple" I wrote that on piano. Knowing I wanted some type of organ sound and that we'd figure it out as we go. My first show ever with my band was end of August 2012. So we had been playing these songs for a little less than a year because we went to the studio in April. After that, I started to avidly book and we were averaging 3 shows a month. I just love to play and I thought, "I'm just going to play everywhere and I'm not going to be picky". So being able to play these songs live really helped with that. As we played, we made changed along the way.
So "Heartbeat" I wrote on guitar; "Hanging On," that one is hilarious, I wrote it on mandolin and I am the worst mandolin player ever. [Because the tuning is the same as violin] I knew what I was doing, but initially, that song in my head was kind of like an Allison Krauss tune. It was a lot slower and more of a sweet country-sounding song. I brought it to the band and the first thing we did was turn it into a Rolling Stones-type country song. It was just so much better, but each one kind of stayed and embellished on that original idea, or else the band [added to it]. It's so great playing with other musicians that you love.
Catch Jillian Rae Saturday, December 14, at the Cedar with Gallupstar and the Honeydogs. All ages, $12 advance, $15 day of, 7 p.m.
Tickets are still available here