She’s everywhere these days: on the soundtrack of Fake ID (a film by local filmmaker Joel Umbaugh) and on the TV show Joan of Arcadia, on the pages of this month’s Indianapolis Monthly, online at jenniedevoe.com, on stage at Radio Radio in Fountain Square. Today, singer/songwriter Jennie DeVoe is sipping coffee with NUVO at the Scholar’s Inn Bakehouse in Broad Ripple, talking about her new CD, Fireworks and Karate Supplies. NUVO: You recently released an album, Fireworks and Karate Supplies. Can you talk a bit about that?
Jennie DeVoe: You know, I like all my records. I hadn’t listened to Does She Walk on Water in forever, but I listened to it the other day, and I was like, this is really good! A lot of thought went into it, a lot of tedious work on each song. But when I look back on that record, and on the others, they were a little bit painstaking, maybe? So I wanted the new record to be really raw. The goal was, be sincere. You know, I don’t think it’s their fault, but I think artists become needy. It’s like, unless you have something on the radio, you’re not in the game. But with the new record, I decided, don’t be so needy. Don’t be so desperate. Be the person who you set out to be as an artist. What came away felt like it was me — in my living room, in a little intimate forum.
NUVO: How has it been received?
DeVoe: It’s getting some radio right now, which has been a new experience! One of the songs on the album, “Don’t It Sound Good,” ended up being on this compilation CD put out by WTTS; similar compilation discs with that song were put out by KFOG in San Francisco; WGSR in Austin, Texas; a station in Akron, Ohio; Boston; New York City. It’s freaked out our album sales — we have sales everywhere! Anyway, “Don’t It Sound Good” is on these discs with Wilco and Lyle Lovett and Low Millions and John Mayer and Bruce Hornsby and Norah Jones. I’m the unfamous one — the person not on a major label.
NUVO: What is your greatest strength musically?
DeVoe: I think my voice and my lyric writing are probably my strengths, because they’re a little different from the norm … I hope, anyway.
NUVO: Who are your chief musical influences?
DeVoe: Lyle Lovett is probably my favorite all-around artist. He crosses country, jazz, blues, folk and pop, and he’s amazing at all of it. He seems very planted and confident. I don’t really write like him, but I’m inspired by him. As far as writing goes, Tom Waits is my other influence. I have told people that if I was not married to my husband, I would totally be married to Lyle Lovett or Tom Waits. They don’t know me, but I would totally stalk them until we had a relationship.
NUVO: I’m sure they’d like you.
DeVoe: Yeah, well, hopefully (laughs). As far as other influences go, Ani DiFranco is one. When I listen to people like Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Ani DiFranco, I remember, there are no rules. I think John Mellencamp is a brilliant songwriter, too. He knows how to craft a song, and he knows how to put his heart in it. You can tell when he’s got a bone to pick, or when he’s trying to get a message out. And of course, Bob Dylan is a great influence.
NUVO: How does the songwriting process work for you?
DeVoe: It’s funny, I saw Bob Dylan on 60 Minutes the other night, and they asked him the same thing. He was really honest, which I thought was refreshing. Instead being pretentious about it, like, “I was on top of a mountain and this light shined down on me,” he just said, “You know, I don’t know.” And that’s how it is for me, too. Well, some songs are me working through some personal experiences — there are a lot of things I write that no one will ever see. It’s a good way to get feelings out. But others, they just kind of come out of nowhere. You can’t try too hard to write one of those songs. It just has to come to you at a certain time.
NUVO: So your job is to be open to receive that.
DeVoe: Yeah. You almost are just sort of a vessel. It comes as an idea, and even though a lot of times it’s a personal inspiration, it seems like it turns into something else that is a little bit more worldly. Songs are just the perfect little movie, perfect little novel. It’s the perfect artform for me, for an ADD person. You don’t have to concentrate too hard.
NUVO: What do you love the most about your work?
DeVoe: Being on stage. I’m way more comfortable now on stage than I am off stage. I love telling stories on stage, engaging the crowd. I still get a little anxiety-ridden before shows. I’m always thinking, oh my God, what if nobody comes? It’s sort of neurotic. But I can’t wait to get on stage.
NUVO: During the course of your musical career, what were some of the best moves — or happy accidents, if that’s the case — you’ve made?
DeVoe: I think my whole life is a happy accident (laughs). Really, getting married to my husband, Rob, was one of the best moves I’ve made. If he wasn’t behind me, I don’t know where I’d be. Telling somebody that you’re not going to a day job anymore — you can’t have anybody making you feel guilty about it, and he doesn’t. I have flourished because of him. Speaking of quitting my day job, that was also a great move, but even working there [at Ripple FX: recording studio] in the first place was pretty smart, even though I was literally hired to pour coffee and bring donuts. Being in that studio, though, I felt like I was closer to my dream than ever before. And while I was there I was brave enough to say, hey, I can do voice-overs, I can sing. And the two guys who owned the studio, they gave me a chance. They were gifts to me, those guys, and I learned a lot working there. The best move, though, was staking my reputation on original music, and realizing that I may not get the huge corporate money, but people would eventually start hearing about me if they liked my music.
NUVO: What is your long-term vision for yourself?
DeVoe: I want to be seen as somebody like Lyle Lovett or Tom Waits or Lucinda Williams or Emmylou Harris. I want longevity.