Liz Janes' new album Slow City is her first in six years. Recorded with Clinton Hughey (guitar) Burd Phillips (bass) and Dan Fahrner (drums) and released via tape on Flannelgraph Records, Slow City sees Janes crooning her way through nine pop-flecked surf country tracks with lyrics that unspool across the whole country. The best of these is “Chincoteague,” an ambling six-minute ode to home, family and adventure that pins dots across a U.S. map in Austin, Vegas, Half Moon Bay, Indy and out to Virginia before spinning into a furious guitar solo by Hughey. The real Chincoteague and nearby Assateague Island are a bit otherworldly already: wild ponies have run free on the island for centuries. In Janes' hands, “Chincoteague” becomes a swaying campfire song about some sort of heaven on Earth.
We called Janes before her show at the Hi-Fi on Friday and asked her to tell us about it. We'll have more about her new album later this week.
Here are her words:
“[“Chincoteague”] is a love story for my family. We grew up in Virginia, suburbs of D.C., and then we all grew up and moved away all over the country. My sister's in Half Moon Bay, my parents are in Las Vegas, and my brother's in Austin, and I'm here. Chincoteague was this romantic notion. This one summer as a kid I got to go out to this summer camp out on Chincoteague and frolic with the wild ponies. It left a pretty big impression.
“There were so many things that went into this song that tied up together. A good friend of ours lost a child. They came through town on a road trip with a friend. He had a really great story to share about the time that he spent traveling across the country with his friend being this transformative, liberating experience that helped him heal and take the next step. That made an impression on me because I spent a lot of my twenties just driving around sort of aimlessly around the U.S., just for the beauty of it, for the freedom of it. It always left me a different person, when I got to my destination. I feel like it's this quintessential American experience, to drive cross-country. It does something to you.
“So [“Chincoteague”] is a love song for my family. It's a road trip across the country visiting all the places where the people I love are, and then ending up in this magical place with flying ponies. I think it's pretty clearly also foreshadows a picture of heaven, of where you go when life is over.
Related: Read Scott Shoger's interview with Janes from 2011
“Indianapolis is the first place we [Janes and husband Michael Kaufmann] have ever lived that we stopped thinking about what's next. Our wanderlust just evaporated. I don't know where it went or what happened, but we sort of woke up one day and realized that everything we want or need is right here. We were very transient before we lived here; we would just pick up and move just for fun. We were not attached to any one place. Both of us had the experience of going off to college and our parents moving away from our hometowns. So there is no hometown. We just kept moving, and moving forward, and not really having any place to go back to, always building from scratch. That was sort of an interesting common experience to have.
“We were always talking about what job we will have next, and what city we will live in, and it was really entertaining and exciting to think about what would be next. It's been sort of mystifying and wonderful to realize that we just feel rooted and at home here. There's no reason for that – we're not from here. There's no family here. But we have felt embraced by the community, and we like the sense of community.”
If you go:
Liz Janes with John Kill and The Slacks and Hen
Friday, March 11, 8 p.m.
The Hi-Fi, 1043 Virginia Ave. Ste. 4