In classic films, the setting is often established with a chorus in the background, a camera moving through the scene with care before landing on the ingénue. Singer-songwriter Jamie Drake utilizes many of the old Hollywood musical tropes on her latest single “Redwood Tree” -cascading vocal harmonies, a gentle whistle, and a harp. It’a the latest single from her forthcoming debut, Everything’s Fine, out September 20 on AntiFragile Records. Drake explains that the album’s title is tinged with irony: “So much of day-to-day life is optimistically proceeding as if things are going to work out, contrary to the evidence that things are really falling apart. Yet still we continue to tell ourselves that everything’s fine. It’s really just my way of lying to myself.”
Based in Los Angeles, Drake has spent the last few years establishing herself as the vocalist-to-call for dreamy, folksy stylings; she has collaborated with the likes of Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Mikael Jorgensen (Wilco), and Moby. But with Everything’s Fine, Drake finally presents a portrait of herself as singer-songwriter driven by both pop sensibilities and sweeping cinematic tendencies, both of which make “Redwood Tree” a “tentpole” on the album’s tracklist. The feeling of floating through reality displays itself beautifully on the track, its delicate arrangement meandering through a forest so lush, so thick and untouched by human hands, you never want to leave.
Listen to Audiofemme’s exclusive stream of “Redwood Tree” and read our full interview with Jamie Drake below.
AF: You told the San Diego Troubadour: “I always have melodies in my brain. For some songwriters the lyrics comes first; for others, it’s the melody. I’m more of a melodic hook person. The melodies come to me first most of the time.” Was this true for “Redwood Tree”?
JD: It’s funny you should ask because they did in a way – just not the way I normally capture sound. My collaborator and producer of 8 years, A.J. Minette, was over at my place that day to rehearse some songs and I was walking out of the kitchen I heard him playing something on his classical guitar that was pentatonic in nature and playful. He kind of laughed as he played the notes in a way that made his guitar sound like an erhu, which is a Chinese two-stringed fiddle, but what I heard was a really catchy melody that I felt needed to be paid attention to so I said, “Stop! Play it again. That’s a song!” I came up with the remainder of the chorus and verse and added lyrics and “Redwood Tree” was birthed in under an hour. It’s a testament to never knowing where your song can be born. Writers who take themselves too seriously can miss a lot of opportunities. I like to keep the channel open as much as possible – kind of like a child I guess.
AF: Do you visualize a story or a scene as the melody comes to you?
JD: When a melody drops into my mind it’s always more of a feeling I get – similar to how memory can take you back to places you’ve been and it feels cinematic because they are scenes from your life. I feel like I am being transported into a story or a scene that encapsulates whatever that feeling is I am having but I don’t physically picture that place; I hear it. This sensitivity is something I’ve had my whole life. I think it developed when I was really little as a part of who I am, but also as a gift to help me survive my environment. As I’ve gotten older, my physical sense of hearing has become even more sensitive. I suffer at times now from hyperacusis, which is a hearing disorder that makes normal everyday sounds unbearably loud. It’s like I’ll be sitting at brunch with someone and all the sudden I can hear the clanking of dishes being stacked back in the kitchen and it sounds like they’re being stacked directly next to my face. As I’ve developed this and struggled through it I’ve had to tell myself that this is in part the trade-off to being sensitive enough to tune into a frequency where hearing beautiful melodies is possible; that also sometimes I have to hear the brash sounds in life too. Thank God for ear molds.
AF: What gets you up in the morning? Do you have any artists or writers you regularly turn to for inspiration?
JD: The knowledge that I am living a story that is worth being told gets me up in the morning. That there have been many turns I have taken – some “wrong” – and even still I end up where I am supposed to be. I feel I have a source guiding and directing my steps that is very real. In terms of my actual process of waking, I love waking up slowly and going about my day at a turtle’s pace. The funny thing about that is that I used to be more like the rabbit, and pretty recently have been learning how to take care of myself differently.
A lot of my early musical inspirations came from Disney classics which have these lush orchestrations. The Little Mermaid was a particular inspiration when I was in the 4th grade; we watched it at school one day and I became obsessed with learning all the songs and acting out all the parts. I guess it makes sense then, to stumble across Randy Newman and discover his discography. Brian Wilson has always been a major inspiration. I listened to The Beach Boys in high school when everyone was into Alanis. I didn’t have a CD player until I was a senior in high school so the radio was all I had, and I preferred listening to an oldies station called WMSH in Michigan. I’d make mix tapes with just The Beach Boys and The Beatles on them and would send them off to my cousin Rachel, who was a lot better at finding newer artists to share. I got into Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell later in the game. When I was younger their vibrato was unbearable to me and now it’s my favorite. A friend told me I reminded them of Harry Nilsson once, who I’d never heard of and then became obsessed with as well. I love the fact that he was a songwriter first and then became a recording artist and everyone from John Lennon to Randy Newman was into him. Nilsson actually helped jump-start Newman’s career and didn’t really play a lot of live shows; what an interesting story he led. A more recent artist that struck me was Blake Mills. I saw him open for another artist in 2009 and bought the Break Mirrors album. I got into that at a specific time in life and love returning to this music whenever I want to remember the feeling of starting over.
AF: What music are you currently spinning at home?
JD: There’s an Ella Fitzgerald album I like to play that gets me going in the morning (The Rodgers and Hart Songbook). Part of the reason I always spin it, though, is because I’m too lazy to dig through my other records (ha!). A newer record I like to put on is Reminisce Bar and Grill by Walter Martin. He’s a new favorite writer of mine. His lyrics are witty and he’s got this vocal tone that’s almost like he’s talking half the time. I love the production too – how it feels less produced in this great way that sort of tells you he doesn’t take life too seriously. Beyond that, I’ve really gotten into making Spotify playlists to share – which has both reminded me of all the incredible artists who have influenced me as well as introduced me to artists I didn’t know about like Jessica Pratt, Mountain Man, Laura Mvula, Connie Converse and J.S. Ondara, who I have the pleasure of opening for later this month on the East coast. I love adding curve balls into my “Current Vibe” playlist as well like Dimitri Martin, who is one of my favorite comedians.
AF: If you could imagine your perfect show, where would it be? How would the show play (sober, jovial, etc)? And how would you like the audience to feel afterward?
JD: My perfect show would be at the Hollywood Bowl with a full string orchestra, dancers, background projections, costumes and lights – everything would add in to the show as it progressed forward. It would be a reflection of the life I’ve lived – which has been full of sadness and joy. I would want to take the audience on the journey of this life together: the pain and the glory of being human. Music for me is something I am propelled to share with others so that they can tap into their own experiences, to feel them deeply and find healing and hope.
Jamie Drake’s debut album Everything’s Fine will be released on September 20, 2019 via AntiFragile Music on vinyl and all digital platforms.
7/24 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe
7/26 – Northampton, MA @ J.S. Ondara with Jamie Drake
7/30 – Baltimore, MA @ J.S. Ondara with Jamie Drake
7/31 – Cleveland, OH @ House of Blues Cleveland
11/07 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
11/08 – Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theater
11/09 – San Francisco, CA @ Neck Of the Woods
11/14 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
11/15 – Bellingham, WA @ Shakedown
11/16 – Seattle, WA @ Ballard Homestead