Car ran out of gas. Bicycle got a flat tire. We’ve heard all the excuses – and some of us have even made them. In her first-ever music video, Kaiti Jones investigates the reasons we keep putting things off: “I’m always searching for seeds that I can sow/Am I a gardener if I can’t make things grow?/And these weeds keep coming for all I own/And I should pull ’em but I know I ain’t gettin’ around to it,” she sings, as she goes through her morning routine in the clip. The camera follows her beleaguered journey to the diving board of a swimming pool – she imagines jumping in, but doesn’t, shuffling away with a poignant metaphor for her inability to follow through.
Of course, for the scene where Jones imagines herself making the jump, she had to actually do it – on a crisp New England October day, no less. “I called my friend’s dad, and I was like, ‘Can you just keep your pool open a couple extra weeks?’ He was so sweet; he cranked the heat for a few days before,” Jones says. “But it was stressful – you can only do one shot of the cannonball. We probably have twenty minutes of takes of me almost jumping in and then being like aaah!” Her Blundstone boots came out of the water a few shades lighter, but frame-for-frame, the video was exactly what she and her director, Jones’ close friend Paula Champagne, had imagined – right down to timing the splash to the song’s final, full-band reprise.
“Gettin Around To It” is Jones’ upbeat tongue-in-cheek ode to being a lifelong, chronic procrastinator, examining the ways a lack of urgency can erode personal relationships without adding so much as a hint of heaviness to the song’s buoyant indie rock sound. “I was reflecting on the consequences of that inability to even do the things that we want to do, and that are important to us… in some circumstances, that can be fine, but when there’s another person on the end of it, they’re not necessarily on that time table,” Jones says.
She often writes songs over time, coming up with a few lines and letting it marinate until the rest of the story comes to her. She wrote the chorus about a failed relationship – one that she almost rekindled, but ultimately didn’t pursue until she’d missed the opportunity to do so. “By the time I put the rest of the song together, I had moved past that and didn’t really feel like that story deserved the whole song,” she says. “And this area of procrastination and shame around failing to follow through, it shows up in all these other ways, so I was more interested in fleshing out the song in a more holistic manifestation of this thing rather than doubling down on this one particular instance.”
Jones says her procrastination is usually born out of indecision, of always wanting to do the right thing and getting in her own way in situations where she feels uncertain. “This year, particularly being stuck at home, having a lack of consistent rhythm and structure, kind of exacerbated it and made me have a little bit more urgency about figuring [it] out,” Jones says. “It’s often rooted in fear of rejection, fear of making the wrong choice, fear of letting people down. I’m trying to understand myself more, and understand that making the wrong choice is okay.”
Luckily, fear didn’t stop her from putting the finishing touches on her forthcoming album, Tossed, out March 5th. She excavates relationship insecurities in “Light On” and “Desert Rose,” laments missing loved ones on “I Was Wondering” and “Big Yellow Moon,” and investigates her spirituality on piano-driven ballad “Mystic.” On the album’s title track, she brings rich, heart-rending detail to finding catharsis in the ocean waves on the day her mom began chemo treatments across the country; though intensely personal, her candidness is so piercing it’s as though these events might’ve happened to you. Though seven minutes long, “Tossed” goes by in a flash, a lone fiddle flitting above the sonic sea. “Daydreaming” and the album’s first single, “Weak Days,” meanwhile, reinforce some of the same themes in “Gettin Around to It” (“I’ll never say the wrong thing twice/But I’ll never say the right thing right,” she promises on “Weak Days,” while “Daydreaming” catalogues the scattered thoughts she’s gotten lost in). It’s hard to imagine a more honest body of work – and though it comes mainly from Jones’ perspective, it’s a beautiful reminder of the complexity within every person.
Part of the ease with which she was able to complete the record came down to working so fluently with her producer Daniel Radin of Boston “bummer pop” band Future Teens. Jones was a fan of his previous band, the Novel Ideas, and she was impressed with projects he’d produced for some of their mutual friends in the scene, like Hayley Sabella. “I haven’t always brought the most agency [to other projects] and some of that is just being a woman in recording spaces. Usually you’re with all dudes who probably know more about types of microphones and effects and all those things,” Jones admits. When she was recording her first EP some 13 years ago, she said it was hard for her to speak up, and sometimes that was because she didn’t really know what she wanted out the recording process. But, she says, “My experience with Daniel has been the best experience of real partnership, of feeling like the producer knows what I want and isn’t afraid to push me into new spaces, but is always going to respect [my choices]. Because I trusted him so much and because I just really love his vision, I was also more willing to try [his suggestions].”
That openness resulted in some of her favorite moments on the album – including the suggestion of adding the first stanza to the chorus of “Gettin Around to It.” She also had the opportunity to work with Austin musician David Ramirez, who helped with some of the writing and production on the single.
While her country-inflected 2017 debut full-length Vows was recorded in one week-long session in Iowa, Jones was able to meet up with Radin, who lives about ten minutes from her home in Cambridge, to work on songs for Tossed sporadically. “We recorded all the drums in December of 2019 in one day, in a studio out in Western Mass called Sonelab, because he was like, ‘This is the best room to record drums,'” Jones says. “Everything after that we just chipped away at Daniel’s house. And then the world shut down, so all of the vocals and fiddle on the record were recorded in my apartment – he just gave me the equipment I needed and I recorded it all, and my roommate is my fiddle player, so it was very convenient.”
Though it retains Jones’ folksy, confessional vibe, there’s a noticeable shift toward grittier guitar and a toning down of the pedal steel and banjo than the gave Vows a particular rustic twang, her rich vocals and genuine, tender delivery reminiscent of Phoebe Bridgers or Julia Jacklin. “I’ve really been wanting to get out of defined genres,” she admits. Though she’s found “a lot of support and development” in Boston’s folk scene, she listens to all types of music. “This record in particular [is] a little bit more indie-leaning, even though it’s like, what does ‘indie’ mean?” she jokes. “Sometimes labels around genre can be helpful to put words to things, and sometimes they can be kind of like limiting and put people in boxes that don’t need to be there.”
What’s been consistent throughout Jones’ career is her natural talent as a songwriter – she’s been writing short stories since childhood, growing up near Portland, Maine. She approached the instruments she learned as a kid (violin, viola, piano French horn, cello, and drums) from a classical, technical standpoint, but when she picked up a guitar in middle school after joining her church’s youth group band, everything changed. “With guitar, it was, how do I figure out a way to have this be a vehicle to tell my stories, and to start writing in more musical form,” Jones remembers. “It was an extreme privilege to be able to study all of those instruments and it’s laid this groundwork that then allowed me to be more creative.”
Jones attended college at Nashville’s esteemed Belmont University; though her focus was writing and philosophy, she relished the proximity to its music business program and state-of-the-art recording studios. When she moved to Cambridge, it was as an AmeriCorps volunteer, and for a while, her career in community development and youth outreach took precedence over music. “After a few years of just focusing on my community work, I was like, I wanna start exploring the music scene, and it was kind of slow going at first,” she explains. “There’s a great community of folk and indie singer-songwriters in Boston – I got really plugged in at Club Passim, an institution right down the street in Cambridge that has a historic folk scene. A little bit before my last album release [they] really embraced me and have supported me a lot. Really, it’s been the last three or four years that I’ve become more rooted and connected to the music scene and have tried to always keep expanding and growing, just saying yes to opportunities and building relationships and walking through doors that are open.”
A tumultuous 2020 – and the recent loss of her day job – have realigned some of Jones’ priorities, and she says listening back to “Gettin Around To It” reminds her of the things she’s no longer okay with putting off, like working toward social justice. She says there are some interesting parallels between procrastination and society’s collective failure to reckon with racism. “I also have been doing more work around racial identity and understanding the characteristics of white supremacy culture, and one of those is perfectionism – this [idea that] I have to get it right, or else – what if someone is upset with me if I get it wrong?” she says. “I think that gets in the way of action toward justice and toward progress. We see that all the time, whether you call it white fragility or just silence. I’ve been trying to interrogate that in myself in all these areas, whether it’s just like, me getting up and cleaning my room, or calling someone back, or if it’s having hard conversations around race and politics and justice.”
“I really can’t say, ‘Oh well, I’ll speak out on that later,'” she adds. “There’s a part of the song, the bridge, where I say, ‘Show me a single town, where my eyelids close when the sun goes down’ – that part is riffing on the adage of wherever you go, there you are. You can go to a new place, but you’re still gonna be dealing with yourself – until you deal with yourself.”
Like so many of the songs on Tossed, “Gettin Around To It,” has taken on new meaning to Jones in light of the chaos 2020 wrought on humanity. She addresses her insecurities and anxieties with gorgeous, sometimes gut-wrenching stories, but her approach to songwriting hasn’t changed. “The music that I have found freedom and delight in creating isn’t super musically complicated. It’s more about the story I’m trying to tell and how can I build something around that,” she says. “With every album, I want to expand who I’m able to share my stories with. My hope is always that, in writing about my own life, I can say things that are true and will mean something to other people, and help them.”
Along with the rest of world, Kaiti Jones is uncertain about what the future holds, but there’s one thing about which she has no doubt. “I’m definitely a believer in vocation, and feeling called to certain types of work,” she says. “And I feel very called both to community work and also to storytelling and songwriting, so I know I will continue to do both of them. I think they compliment each other – they are both true parts of me.”