Combining elements of folk, jazz, and 1970s pop, Lisa Jeanette takes inspiration from many different artists that she’s been exposed to over time.
Growing up as the youngest of nine siblings, Jeanette found it hard to define her influences because there were three generations of inspiration passed down to her. Books, TV, and posts on Instagram all find their way into her lyrics as well. She also found session musicians impacting her in the studio during the recording of her days-old album, Jellyfish on the Moon (which is slightly based off of a NASA experiment to study the effects of zero gravity).
Some of the songs are even based on historical fiction, with three songs depicting The Brahms Trilogy: the love triangle of Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, each song from the three different perspectives.
“Don’t Blame Me (Jolene’s Reply)” takes a different look at the legendary Dolly Parton song, as Jeanette switches point of views. Her holiday single on the album, “Mrs. Claus” featuring Vance Gilbert, landed #1 on the December 2020 Folk Alliance International Folk (FAI) DJ Chart, creating more anticipation for this album to be released. Gaining support from the top folk DJs throughout the country, the single and her “Kaleidoscope Folk” sound as she describes it, had helped place her album at #12 on the FAI Folk DJ Chart in December.
Jellyfish on the Moon displays the wide range of lyrical storytelling Jeanette works with. From playful and wistful to whimsical or bold, her producer Glenn Barratt of MorningStar Studio captured the energy by understanding her musical compositions and translating the eccentricity. The captivating production of the title track has you floating in space as she sings from a higher perspective. Musicians such as Jay Davidson, Gary Oleyar, and Michael G. Ronstadt added their flair to the pieces, while Ross Bellenoit (guitar), Erik Johnson (drums), and Chico Huff (bass) keep listeners engaged throughout the album.
We caught up with Jeanette to discuss the album and much more.
So where did you grow up, and how did your family have an impact on your musical taste?
I grew up in Kensington in Philadelphia, in a row home in the factory district, the youngest of nine siblings. I was exposed to the musical leanings of my parents and three generations of older siblings’ tastes in music, which ranged from big band, musicals, crooners, Motown, classical, 1970s pop, classic rock, and progressive rock. It all had an impact on me.
When did you realize you wanted to start pursuing a career in music?
When I was in high school, I played the double-bass (upright bass) in the orchestra and one of my mentors suggested I go to college for music. I ended up going to Temple University and getting a bachelor’s degree in music performance. At that time, I wanted to play in the Philadelphia Orchestra. I studied with Henry Scott, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and after leaving college I played in several local minor-league orchestras. That lasted until I could no longer sustain a livelihood and I started working a “day job,” and I still have one of those today that pays for my out-of-control music habit.
What is your songwriting process like, and was there a song on your new album that was the most challenging to write?
I am a very emotional writer. People always ask, “do you start with the words or the music?” and my answer is usually neither. I start with an emotion that I need to get out of my system. It is rare that I can write something good on a prompt. Usually, the prompt is my emotional state. “Our Face” was the most challenging song to write, mostly due to the subject matter, as it is about how as I get older, I look more and more like my father, who was a challenging person, so it is fitting that this song was a bit of a struggle!
How did you get hooked up with producer Glenn Barratt of MorningStar Studio?
I had heard several albums from fellow songwriters that came out of MorningStar Studios and I just loved the cohesive and polished sound they had. I also had an opportunity to sing on a friend’s album at MorningStar and got to meet Glenn and I had an immediate trust. The studio has a calm and ultra-competent vibe that fits me well.
While it may be (very) difficult to choose, do you have a song or songs you think will resonate most with fans, or that you’re most excited about?
It IS difficult to choose, however, as I’ve been performing these songs live, “Don’t Blame Me (Jolene’s Reply),” which is a reply to the iconic Dolly Parton song, has gotten the biggest reaction, and so far very positive. People also seem to like “Aging Like a Son of a B” and “Still You Choose Love” quite a bit. In general, people have also responded to the variety. It is rare that two of my songs sound similar, probably because I’m totally a full-fledged, diagnosed ADD person. Attention Deficit Disorder is a wonderful malady for an artist to have.
How did the idea of the song, “Jellyfish on the Moon”, come to you? Did you form the concept off of the true NASA experiment, or id the concept come first and the phrase come after once the connection was made?
I dropped in on my husband who was watching the TV show “One Strange Rock” hosted by Will Smith. They presented the story of NASA and the jellyfish and it resonated with me so strongly – that feeling of not belonging. We all get to that Talking Heads “how did I get here?” place in life at least once, if you’re lucky – more times than you can count if you’re me. It is “one strange rock” indeed!
What do you want listeners to get out of your music, and what messages or feelings do you hope to convey through your words?
Being an emotional songwriter, I hope that people are moved by my words and music. I want people to not feel alone – to know that their feelings are valid and may be better understood or at least felt with music. I hope, in general, it is a message of hope and positivity, although the contrast of sadness is required to really feel happy, so it’s all in there!
What has been a pinnacle moment or two in your career?
This album, for sure! It is the product of several years of getting coached by Vance Gilbert, honing my songwriting skills, and getting to work with Glenn Barratt and the wonderful musicians. It was both a big learning curve for me to do a studio recording and it was also just a blast. The past few years, and all the moments before that, prepared me for this in some way. This interview is my pinnacle right now!
Are there any shows or livestreams lined up this year along with the 2021 Philadelphia Folk Festival?
I am planning a livestream celebration of the new album on Saturday, April 3, at 4 PM ET and you can find details on my YouTube channel. I’m also playing Andrea Clearfield’s Salon on May 23. For more information visit my website.
What else might fans expect from Lisa Jeannette as we inch towards spring?
I made up a new genre for myself called “Kaleidoscope Folk,” and here’s why – my next big thing is to make a “jazz-ish” EP of originals. Jazz musicians would scoff at the notion that anything I play is jazz, but I like to color outside the lines as the song goes. I haven’t had time to flesh it out completely, but I’m hoping to begin work on that before too long. I’ve written a lot of songs, and I would love for more of them to be out there in the airwaves.