ARTESIX August/Sept 2004
"A siren of the dark side…combining the intellectual eroticism of Baudelaire, and the cheerful ghoulishness of illustrator Ed Gorey, Jill Tracy spins intoxicating tales of mayhem. Plus, there’s -that VOICE!"
interview by Sasha Soren
What most inspires you to write?
It’s never any one thing specifically. It’s more of a sensory response to the immediate; a word or phrase, an image, a story, a mood, a fragrance, textures and colors, the allure of the unknown, the forbidden, anything that enables me to ‘slip into the cracks,’ venture beyond what confines people to the Everyday. It’s a process of living to honor the magic, being alive in that place, allowing the flame. My purpose is finding those trapdoors, prying up the floorboards…
How long does it take you to complete a new song?
There’s no rhyme or reason; that’s the beauty of it, the sheer randomness. Sometimes a song will manifest itself in minutes, other times songs will remain in fragments in notebooks for years.
Do you have any rituals or routines that help you w/the process?
I’ve learned that you can’t wait for inspiration; you have to earn it. You’ve got to work, be disciplined. Be true to your craft. Read great books! Immerse yourself in the discovery of new things. Live your art. The imagination has to be exercised just like the body.
Singers/composers: born or created?
A bit of both, really. People are born with a passion or an interest in varying degrees. For some, the vision is so singular and strong, there’s no question that they are born to create music. They breathe it. For others, perhaps family involvement, hobbies, or schooling has brought them to a conclusion that they want to pursue music as a job. There is a huge difference obviously between the two.
Have you ever based any of your songs on real-life incidents?
Yes. All songs begin with a seed of true life, be it from my own experiences, someone else’s, or a longing thereof. That sordid past life we wish we were still living.
What's the major difference between fiction and real life?
In real life, we won’t be there to know how our story ends! That’s the rub.
The most: honest thing anyone ever said to you was...
I’m a big believer in the fortune cookie philosophies. I tape those little white pieces of paper up everywhere. But I was taken aback when I stumbled across the quote: “Just when everything seems to be falling apart, in the grand scheme it is merely falling into place.”
Why do you think you happen to remember that?
Because it’s absolutely true! It makes you realize that you don’t know the magnitude of your own destiny! That phrase has helped keep me going through many a troubled time.
How did you happen upon the title of your first album?
Quintessentially Unreal was a phrase that kept living in my head; the song came about from my attachment to the phrase and what it denotes. The fact is that no matter how we perceive or pursue perfection, the quintessence of everything we aspire to, the reality will never be as good as the fantasy. Nothing ever will be. The ideal will always remain unreal. I love that song; it’s become an anthem for me, a song dedicated to dreamers. A song about not being afraid to admit that you long for something more. Resigning yourself to that fact. That what you really want can never exist.
What about the latest album?
Into the Land of Phantoms is the title of the album featuring my film score to F.W, Murnau’s 1922 vampire classic Nosferatu. There is that deliciously tense point in the film where the lead character is told to disembark the carriage. He is left alone to journey across a decrepit footbridge, a sinister landscape towering above him. The carriage driver whispers “We will go no further sir…into the land of phantoms.”
Do you start off with the title first, then the work, or the work first, which suggested a title?
It depends. Usually a song title will present itself early on, but an album title will reveal itself later.
Why do you prefer dark‚ songs to cheerful songs?
Happy isn’t really much of a stretch now is it? It’s easy and nice; it certainly isn’t perpetual or puzzling. But the allure of mystery, the dangerous seduction--that’s where the truth lives…under those protective layers of comfort and convention we hide behind. The courage to peel away those layers and indulge in what lay underneath,..to challenge ourselves-- that is far more compelling.
Why do you think music is *necessary* in daily life?
Quite frankly, music is not necessary in daily life. Sadly these days, people use music as a distraction, background noise, as an excuse not to engage, to cop an attitude, to ignore the present. We need to embrace the silent moments, tune into our surroundings and hear ourselves, our own thoughts.
What are the most important things a creative requires, apart from paper and ink?
The thickest skin in the world and yet the most sensitive.
What are some of the themes that seem to appear over and over again in your songs?
I often focus on the constant plight of the free thinker, the struggle of being yourself in a world that is trying its hardest to turn you into everybody else. Staying true to yourself; that’s the hardest and most glorious battle of all.
And aside from honoring the mystery, and that child-like sense of marvel, I strive to give voice to the fact that it’s essential to be confident in your desires! There is no need for a person to be afraid to be sensual, or to feel deep emotion, from rapture to agony. Those are all facets of the same diamond. You need all those facets to realize the full beauty of the gem.
What makes you furious/what really frustrates you?
Stupidity. People who are inconsiderate and clueless to everything around them.
What is something that genuinely puzzles you?
The fact that people continue to be brainwashed by the media, the mass marketing machine, politicians, and the manufactured cookie-cutter hype. Especially now that the tactics these corporations use are so out in the open! I have a hard time believing that the world is still so gullible.
Is there such a thing as writer’s block/creative block?
Oh yes, it rears its ugly head. After all, this is an intangible medium; you can’t schedule it and roll it out on an assembly line. The muse visits when she’s good and ready. Keeping things interesting, as a rule tricks her into hanging around more.
Who are some of your favorite influences (music, books, etc.)?
I think inspiration rather than influence; people who have left their mark in my life in some way. The list is always growing and changing. Here’s a few:
Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, The Cure, Steven Millhauser, Jan Bondeson, Bernard Herrmann, Chrissie Hynde, Nina Simone, The Doors, David Sylvian, Roxy Music, Alfred Hitchcock, David Bowie, Roald Dahl, Pink Floyd, Fritz Lang, Beth Gibbons, Alexander Scriabin.
Is there a particular song you wish you'd written?
Oh…I’d like to think I’m still working on that one!
What’s more important: words or music?
In the context of a song, I’d say both have equal weight. The music will always evoke the initial response, luring the listener to travel further-- into the lyrics.
Do you consider music to be a language, also?
My music is more like a portal, a vehicle to transport the listener into another realm. When I write, I’m conjuring a mood, a magic place, getting out of this world for a little while. It’s the grand escape. I love sharing that with my audience.
Who's the most interesting stranger you've met? (and/or never met again)
While I lived in Manhattan, I developed this theory that angels would disguise themselves on earth in the form of cabdrivers. (Not all cabdrivers, mind you!) They fulfilled their earthbound duties while carting fares. I had so many poignant, eye-opening, life-affirming revelations talking to New York City taxi drivers; it was truly odd. But the beautiful thing was, I never saw them again. Perhaps they returned to the heavens…or were stuck in the Bronx.
Tell us a little bit about the story behind the song:
From Pulling Your Insides Out:
Baby, mind the vultures
They’re circling round the bone
Feeding from the idols
They think they can draw blood from a stone
But the more the diamond glitters
The more it can deceive
The Truth lay in the treasure
Of what we disbelieve
Pulling Your Insides Out is a remark on the world and its feeding frenzy for mediocrity, that what glitters is false, fleeting and shallow…how everything that truly matters lay well beyond that phony world. But only for those who have the wherewithal to see it.
From Anything at All:
I’ll grant you the Nine of Cups on eleven rainy days
I’ll pull apart the lion’s mouth and I’ll make him sing your praise
I’ll challenge the great Houdini to a remarkable escape
I’ll amputate the fingers upon the Hand of Fate
I’ll do anything at all
Just to get closer to you
Anything at All attains that lovely storybook quality. It’s a collection of the most exquisite preposterous things you could think of to show how much you want someone. How literally MAD you are for them! I love creating a classic timelessness in my songs. Perhaps you’ve stepped back in time, but simultaneously it couldn’t feel more relevant to that very moment.
From The Fine Art of Poisoning:
it’s quite an elaborate scheme
the fine art of poisoning
the dose to comatose
not for the frail of heart
the vengeful must play their part
a friend to the bitter end
or so they say
nice and slow
misfortune will flow
peril in the nursery
it seems a tainted pastry
one bite what a dreadful fright
she was such a delicate little dish
a pleasant parlor gathering
quicksilver concealed in a ruby ring
two lumps or three
i have always adored bergamot tea
nice and slow
misfortune will flow
but who will know?
This song inspired the animated short film I later created with Bill Domonkos. I am intrigued by the dark corners of history, a big source of inspiration for me. I had been studying various methods of poisoning through the ages, and wanted to bring that to life, but still keeping the covert, ambiguous and simple nature of poisoning itself. It sneaks up on you, never revealing itself-- until it’s too late.
What are you reading right now?
There's always a stack. Let's see.
Oracle Night (Paul Auster)
The FeeJee Mermaid (Jan Bondeson)
Perfume, the story of a murderer (Patrick Suskind) rereading!
Carter Beats the Devil (Glen David Gold)
The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen (Clifford Pickover)
Victorian Murderesses (Mary S. Hartman)
When you're not writing/composing/performing what are some things that genuinely interest you?
I love reading, old movies, searching the second-hand bookshops for rare finds, as well as antique fairs for strange curiosities. I like traveling, charting the course of the stars, talking to strangers, keeping ridiculously late hours, and swapping stories over cocktails.
What's the biggest myth about being a creative?
That a person who is “talented” has some constant magical power…that fabulous ideas pour out of them at all times…that they can turn it on or off like a switch, no effort whatsoever. The truth is, just like any other skill set, a creative has to work hard and hone their craft. It’s a tedious job just like any other. The inner workings of it aren’t all that glamorous.
If you weren’t a singer/composer, you would definitely be...
Telling stories through some different medium. Books, stage shows, television/film.
What did you wish someone had told you when you first started out?
To not let yourself be held hostage by one particular dream.
From Albert Einstein: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”
Interesting fact that nobody knows about you yet?
That I have an ongoing love affair with the soy latte, but sometimes cheat with the soy chai. I've been cheating alot lately.
As big as you make it.
San Francisco Chronicle has hailed Jill Tracy as a “femme fatale for the thinking man.” She has garnered multiple awards, not to mention a devoted following for her evocative music, glamorous style, and curious passion for collecting strange tales.
Jill Tracy coos in a voice of cut-velvet smoke, ornately framed by her dark classical-cum-parlour piano, creating a world of opulence and danger, of magic and madness. As one critic put it: “You know it’s not safe here; but with Jill Tracy as your guide, you’ll be in no hurry to leave.”
Aside from her three critically acclaimed music CDs (Quintessentially Unreal, Diabolical Streak, Into the Land of Phantoms) Jill Tracy appeared on the Artists For Literacy compilation CD alongside Tom Waits, Aimee Mann, and Bruce Springsteen. Her song “Evil Night Together” won the SIBL Foundation’s international grand prize for songwriting. Her animated short film, The Fine Art of Poisoning, directed by Bill Domonkos, has won over 20 national awards this past year alone, meriting attention from artists like Clive Barker. Hollywood film industry veteran Joel Plotch sought out Jill Tracy to appear as herself in the new FOX short film Heavy Put-Away, which debuted in April 2004 at the Houston WorldFest International Film Festival.
Jill Tracy’s unique crossover appeal has found her appearing in such diverse publications as Electronic Musician, Redbook, Morbid Curiosity and USA Today. The same goes for her live show; she has performed everywhere from alternative rock venues, and swanky cabarets, to onstage at the legendary Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, where she has been invited to open the American Cinematheque’s Film Noir Festival for the last two years.
NPR’s All Things Considered called Jill Tracy “utterly intriguing…transporting you into a magical world solely of her creation.” LA Weekly raved, “very distinctive and exciting…Jill Tracy will fulfill your dreams of being tortured by beautiful women.” SF Bay Guardian wrote: “Like a film noir femme fatale, Jill Tracy is gorgeous; ballerina thin and Victorian porcelain pale…a stunningly hypnotic performer.”
She is currently at work with animator Domonkos on two further film projects, as well as developing some works for stage/television. She is also penning songs for a new album.
**Look for The Fine Art of Poisoning coming soon to DVD: It’s been selected as part of the Colorado Film Foundation’s Best Short Films of the Year DVD series and the New York City Horror Film Festival’s Killer Shorts 2004 DVD release.
Official site: http://www.jilltracy.com