By Brian Tucker
Given the choice Wonky Tonk’s Jasmine Poole prefers driving at night. There’s a certain atmosphere that forms around the loneliness of driving, where endlessly different environments can feel magical and spooky, often creating neon and starlit moments for a ghost moving through fresh real estate and never-ending highways. Its part of the life the singer-songwriter can’t get enough of – staying on the road.
“One for the Juke” from 2015’s Stuff We Leave Behind captures these feelings with its tender balladry, jabbing piano, and drifting ambient noise. It’s a fantastic song whose imagery marries heartache with the longing of the road. Poole sings, “I’m tied to these lines, I gave up the only one that I called mine” and “Its kinda funny how you’ll have no place to go, when your heart’s on the road.”
“I feel that one I resonate with most – giving up everything that normal people have so you can go from city to city, play for two dollars and no one gets it and it’s the hardest thing in the entire world. It’s about the things we give up for the things we love, that true test of love,” Poole says from Covington, Kentucky where the day there gifts multiple tornadoes and will find eighty degree heat giving way to forty-five the next.
“I remember the feeling of driving at three a.m. on the highway. You’re entirely alone, but peaceful and full of possibilities. Its dark everywhere and you make up whatever it is out there. The man-boy that most of those things are about had told me that heartbreak makes the jukebox play.”
Wonky Tonk performs at Satellite Bar & Lounge this weekend.
The album boasts a variety of songs and styles, perhaps the result of being recorded over numerous sessions and the participants involved in making it. “Cleveland” is a bar band raver, “Denmark” is a smoky slow dance, and album lyrics are loaded, like the brevity of “Life is a gift, romance a drug” from “Tennessee.” All in all, Poole considers herself a conduit for songs.
“They’re not mine. There’s something that’s going on – not a thought, not a melody, or lyric, just, I got to play. “Tennessee,” I don’t even know what that one is about. It’s really fun when people ask me because they tell me what it means. That idea of getting wrapped up in life, taking a step back and just remembering that’s it’s a dance and that’s all we can do.”
Stuff We Leave Behind is a great album, one where poetry and dusty truth-telling meets heartland country, ragged rock and roll, and long-ago alt-rock, all set against Poole’s fire-and-candy vocals. Poole doesn’t pull punches (see “Suitors”) and in an old interview stated that life is too short to pretend. I bring this up and mention John Lydon’s “only the fakes survive” quote.
“They’re Twinkies, right? The Twinkies never expire. I don’t have patience for baloney, I have none.”
She does consistently yearn for life’s magic. On a new song called “Peter Pan from Brooklyn” she says it’s a nod to a musician that exposed her to ethereal music and the inspiration of being young at heart.
“Make it magic, and remember to dance. Remember to question, and see things in different ways. I had a pretty rough childhood and most people say its all relative. Peter Pan was one of those things if I could just pretend that I was in another world, not fitting into your space and having another place to go in my mind. Being a kid and having those things is a good thing. So many people get lost and forget that very simple part – that wonderment that’s all around.”
Your debut is so many things in one serving, like discovering someone’s record collection.
Poole: It’s interesting, after all these years your relationship to the songs can change. Sometimes I write them through pain and you’re over it, and it’s kind of funny, sometimes it’s daunting to sing. You sing it long enough it has a new meaning for you. It’s definitely not the same kid. I mean, that essence is there and will never change.
When I was writing the one thing very prominent in my mind was that I will have to sing this to myself, if I’m lucky, every single day in front of people. I’d rather find the silver lining to write about so I’m not repeating myself into the past but more into some sort of lesson that was there. It doesn’t get too daunting, but it is interesting.
Tom Petty described songwriting as supernatural, don’t question it. Does a song come to you and you have to write it down?
It’s more like, and this sounds really silly, but it feels more like a conduit. They’re not mine. Sometimes there’s things that’s politically charged, or something that’s topical, most of the time I feel the need to play guitar. There’s something that’s going on – not a thought, not a melody, or lyric, just – I got to pay. I put my phone on and hit record and things come out.
We just finished our second record two days ago. We did the very last track and that was one of those situations where I sat down and it was written in about thirty seconds. It just came through me and we just produced it and made an entire track. It’s my most favorite one, maybe because it’s the newest one. I wasn’t thinking about it. Its strange because when I hit that record button I don’t know what’s happening and I’ll go back and listen to the song I’ll know every word. I always say conduit. A song is supernatural, if you open yourself up to it. It’s just going through me.
There’s colorful song lyrics, such as, “life is a gift, romance a drug” from “Tennessee.”
That particular song is an interesting one, speaking about conduit, its one of the most songs on the record direct in meaning. “Tennessee,” I don’t even know what that one is about. It’s really fun when people ask me because it tends to be everyone’s favorite and they tell me what it means. That sort of idea of getting wrapped up in oceans, and life, and taking a step back and just remembering that’s it’s a dance and that’s all we can do. A meaning that found its way…I think I was in a space when I was writing it where everything meant so much, and I was so young, and something else was telling me to chill the heck out.
“One for the Juke” has big atmosphere, like fuzz over the jabbing piano playing.
I personally think that that one was that way, as a conduit slash translator for a song. You just want to give a song the best life it can so most people can hear it. The construction of it, it started out just guitar. And as we played it more and more I understand what that song meant. Ricky Nigh, a local fella played piano on it which added so much to it. The atmospheric stuff, that record is all kinds of people. My friend Rob was really good at atmospheric noisy sort of things, but I remember the feeling of being on the road, you know, driving at three a.m. on the highway that you’re entirely alone but peaceful and full of possibilities. Its dark everywhere and you make up whatever it is out there.
It can also be super lonely, putting those elements into a normally traditional country song, fitting to help it translate to the rest of the people. It’s been so long since I did that one and it’s such a modge-podge of musicians and production that at this point I may be making stuff up I can tell (laughs). Also, memory is so fallible; I can’t even remember the day.
The sort of reflecting, I think that now that I’m thinking about it more, I feel like when you’re on the road you revisit towns and you revisit places on accident. It’s funny how you can on accident end up at the same rest area that you were at the last time you were there, these happy accidents, that reflection.
What’s your favorite time of day to be on the road?
Definitely driving in the night. I love the night. Driving the long distances, mostly because there are less people on the road and I don’t have to get so angry (laughs). Aside from that, when I go out on tour by myself, I love to go and try to get to a place early and explore. Or get up really early and go trail running or explore parts of the town. I’d love exploring during the daytime. Its, you’re just a slave to the road and the situations; it doesn’t work out either way. You drive in you load in, you play, and you leave.
Are you solo or a band for the Satellite show?
A trio. I have the High Life band. Alesandro Corona, he’s badass, he plays drums and Eric Dietrich who plays bass.
“I’ll Turn the Radio On” is an interesting way to open the record, it’s focus on singing, like a hymnal.
My grandmother, she’s been through two bouts of cancer and smoking cigarettes, she’s in the kitchen and I’m showing her the record and she pops in the CD and she’s trying to sing it through her broken voice. This very magical moment, I don’t know how long grandma is going to be there and the idea of you don’t know where to go and nothing makes sense anymore and you don’t have any one else, you get in the car and turn on the radio on.
Almost Famous is my favorite movie and there’s the scene where Penny Lane says if you get lonely go to the record store and visit your friends. It was this perfect situation where I can have an ode to my grandma.
It leads right into “Cleveland,” which is a rave-up.
Somehow in high school I got hooked up with the punk kinds and my whole high school career was in a basement at punk shows. What live music did to heal me was incredible. I didn’t play music until later in life. But that inspiration was definitely that. Even it were a small town, I never fit in. I never fit in to the space. It was always the one thing I always knew, some people say there were born in the wrong time period. I was born in the wrong area. Being in the wrong area, I let myself hate on myself and the area and go into a hole about it. Music and touring helped me finally out. I call music my vehicle, my vehicle for life, and explain myself.
Touring is totally just auditioning homes, finding my tribe that’s been scattered. There’s just something always in my soul, that didn’t pine for something bigger, pine for something better. Does that make sense? Some people are really good at being in one place, planting something and growing something huge. I’m not. I’m just a weirdo that can’t do any of the things that normal people do. Not so much that the grass is always greener, it’s just understanding that we are what we are and not trying to change that. But maybe, more surrender, and become more of it.
The album feels like the listener is the room with you, has a cozy “we’re invited” into the session feeling.
That record took so long to make. I met a fella who was learning how to record and he asked if I wanted to record. We started with that guy and I didn’t know how to record and it was a terrible situation. I didn’t understand any of it and it went on the way side. I came back home and finished college and I was moving to Montana. I thought, I have a handful of songs, I should finish that chapter. Be done.
I brought a band in to a recording studio and did a live take and on three or four (new) songs. That ended up being really good and then we moved to a different space and a different engineer. It was this full modge-podge, each engineer had to convert the files, it took three or four years, and five different engineers. Who knows how many people. It was very intimate moments and layering them all together eventually, like how you’re correcting stuff but you don’t know why, but one day, they just all go together. .
The new song, “Peter Pan from Brooklyn.”
I lived in Brooklyn for a while. There was a band we played with called The Antlers, in Cincinnati. In Brooklyn we were playing with them again. This guy, his name was actually named Peter, I just remember his songs being the first real…he introduced me to ethereal sounds for the first time, it immersed me in them, as opposed to rock and roll, punk rock, folk music. That kind of feeling, has that ethereal tone like Sigur Ros, which feels like magic. I remember sitting in the backyard in Brooklyn just grinding it, because it reminded of this magic and of expectations and things that go in your life how they don’t generally line up with reality. I’m dealing with the let down of the idea of a real life Peter Pan, trying to work through that.
Peter Pan, in this world of Twinkies and fake people who survive, just the idea of being young at heart, not losing the magic. Without magic, life is, personally, a bunch of bullshit. At least make it magic, and remember to dance, and remember to question, and see things in different ways. I had a pretty rough childhood and most people say its all relative. Peter Pan was one of those things if I could just pretend that I was in another world,
Neverland right? Not fitting into your space and having another place to go in my mind. Being a kid and having those things is a good thing instead of being immature or irresponsible as a general society would want you feel. So many people get lost and forget that very simple part – that wonderment that’s all around. I always think that when I’m on a plane. I’m like, how are all these people annoyed right now, we’re creating magic. I’m in the clouds.