Talks with Rena Jones
AV: Tell me about when your love affair with music began.
RJ: I would have to say my love affair with music began when I was very young. I took my first piano lesson when I was about 5 then started violin lessons when I was in the third grade.
AV: Was there a particular instrument that captured your attention early on and inspired you to become a musician and performer?
RJ: Violin was the first instrument that I really connected with.
AV: Was there a formal education for you in music at some point?
RJ: I studied violin Suzuki method from the third grade through some college then picked up the cello in my late teens and took private lessons with Michael Knapp in San Francisco when I was in my early twenties.
AV: When you think back to your beginnings what music of other artists/performers was it that inspired you in regards to your own compositions?
RJ: When I was younger I spent a lot of time listening to new music, there were many artists that inspired me for sure. Brian Eno, Shostakovitch, Dead Can Dance, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Massive Attack, DJ Shadow, Tosca, Kronos Quartet, Miranda Sex Garden, the Orb, Honestly, the list goes on and on.
AV: When did your interest in music reach a critical mass in regards to actually writing/performing your own compositions in front of an audience?
RJ: The first official live solo electronic performance I did was in Oakland, CA in the beginning of 2004. However, I had been writing my own music for several years before I stepped on stage as a solo electronic performer. Before that I performed in several bands and many of my friends pushed me to step out and perform solo. The first several shows I did I composed music for a dance troupe which we showcased at Burning Man in 2004.
AV: Tell me about some of your first forays into performing live music in front of an audience. Was the experience a success in your mind?
RJ: The first few shows went very well in my mind. There was already an interest in my music because of the work I had done with other bands like Lumin which had tracks released on Six Degree records. It definitely took some time to get used to being on stage alone though. There were definitely moments where I was very nervous and was always afraid the laptop would crash or something would go horribly wrong. Luckily, most of my shows have been very smooth though.
AV: Let's jump ahead a bit. How were you introduced to the genres of electronica/new age or ambient music? Was there anyone that you heard during this time period that made a light bulb click over your head with the thought that this is the music that I'd like to work with?
RJ: I have been listening to Ambient Down-tempo since the beginning. One of the first albums that really grabbed me was Brian Eno's collaboration with Jah Wobble "Spinner". There have been several moments that were like flashes though. One of the more recent moments was listening to OEM radio where I was turned onto Bluetech, Murcof, and many many other artists. Later on I became close friends with Bluetech and he turned me onto several artists specifically from Scandinavia that inspired me greatly as well.
AV: Tell me about your first two solo releases Breaking the Divide and Transmigration and how they came to be.
RJ: Breaking the Divide was partially the music I wrote for the dance troupe I mentioned earlier and eventually was self-released. After releasing Breaking the Divide I had spent a considerable amount of time in the San Francisco underground and was really enjoying some of the dance tracks that were being spun by many DJ's at that time. I felt that there was a missing element in a lot of that music though which was melody. I really loved a lot of the techniques that the artists were using but I felt it really lacked any soul or depth of emotion so I chose to write Transmigration in answer to that.
AV: Are you a hands on kind of person when it comes to the studio portions of taking your music from concept to performance to recording it? What do you like the most about the process of working your music in the studio to achieve that sound you are looking for?
RJ: I would definitely say I am a hands on person. I love to start with the real instruments whether it's a rhodes, cello baseline or a live drum kit and then eventually turning it into the computer and tweaking it in Reaktor or any one of the programs I use. Honestly, I love every aspect of making music from concept to finish. The moment that stands out the most to me is when the song begins to click. People don't realize how much work goes into producing music. It's when all the elements come together and you have the final palate for mixing that I feel like where the magic lies.
AV: What is it about electronic music that draws you to it instead of some other form of musical expression?
RJ: I love it all. I have played in many many acoustic bands and still plan on playing in them but I love what electronic music has to offer. I feel like electronic music opens many doors that can't be achieved with real instruments. On the other hand I also feel like there are limitations with electronic music as well and therefore I love to blend the real instruments with the electronics to keep that balance.
AV: You have a new CD out called Driftwood on the Native State Records label. How does a project like this begin for you and how do you know when you are ready to seriously approach doing a new CD?
RJ: I feel like everything clicks and you have a clear vision for what you want to express. When I started Driftwood it was like there was a light bulb that went off. I heard so much music that summer that inspired me and there were so many beautiful experiences that had happened to me that I just felt that I knew what I wanted to say.
RJ: If it's done well I don't really have an opinion. The only thing that bothers me is when people buy loop libraries and slap a prefabricated performance on top of a beat.
I do believe that you do have to be both a computer geek and a composer to write music this way. The amount of programming and advanced level use of synthesis does utilize the left brain more. However, in order to keep a nice balance of musicality and melody you have to be able to step into the right side of the brain and allow yourself to be lost in the music as well.
AV: What kind of music will the listener find on your Driftwood CD?
RJ: Well, it's hard to say. I mix a lot of different styles of electronic music. I mix a bit of glitch, IDM, broken beat, down-tempo with melody as the front. In all honesty when I wrote Driftwood I had no preconceived ideas of what genre my record would fall into.
AV: What's it like being a woman in the midst of a genre of music that has been pretty much dominated by men?
RJ: Ah the million dollar question. :) It is both maddening and amazing at the same time to be honest. It also depends on what day you ask me. I do honestly feel like I have to work twice as hard to get half the appreciation that other male producers may get. Almost every show someone comes up to me and asks who writes my beats which can get very old especially when the guy who played before me hired someone to write his beats put his name on it and no one questions it.
I don't really harvest any ill feelings about the situation but it is frustrating for sure. I think that there are just so few women producers out there that people have formed an idea of what role a woman plays in music and when a really talented woman producer comes a long it just doesn't click in their mind.
I would be lying to myself though if I didn't realize that it does also work in my favor at times as well. I feel strongly in pushing forward and carving a way for other women to step up. The thing that is exciting is when other women come up to me and tell me I have inspired them to take on production as well. When I get an email or a fan telling me this, it makes it all worthwhile.
AV: Did you have any images or emotions that you wanted to evoke with the music contained on Driftwood? Any significance to the title in regards to the music contained within?
RJ: Driftwood is a concept record. The imagery that came to mind as I wrote it was the life cycle of tree and the journey it would take across the sea. Each song is a part of that journey. From Star to Seed is the birth of the tree, Photosynthesis is the plant budding etc.
I wanted Driftwood to seem alive so that when someone listened to the album they could envision the elements and be pulled into that world. On the track Open me Slowly, there are subtle sounds that are supposed to resemble frogs and in The Passing Storm there are glitchy sounds that are supposed to resemble the sound of bark from a tree ripping and breaking in a storm.
Overall I really loved the concept that even in death there is life. That at the end of a tree's life cycle it still has form and has a story to tell.
AV: Was this a solo project that was yours from start to finish or did you have help from other musicians or folks behind the boards?
RJ: Driftwood was my baby for sure. No one helped in the mixing, recording or composition at all on this record except for one guest musician Laura Scarborough playing Wurlitzer on the title track Driftwood and Photosynthesis was remixed on track 12 by Slidecamp. I did have a core group of friends that I played the tracks to and asked for their opinions and advice. I think all musicians need that because it's very easy to get lost in a mix and not hear things that other people may hear especially if you have written and mixed it all yourself.
AV: What's it like performing electronic music live? How different is it from the process you'd go through if you got up on stage with a cello and played your favorite classical piece?
RJ: They are two totally different things. When I perform live with the electronics there are way more details to be present with. I have to be focused on the computer and when I am triggering loops and parts and the next song as well as creating live loops with the violin and cello and then manipulating those loops in the computer again. Having that many things going on at once leaves me extremely focused on what I am doing whereas when I play live with just the cello I tend to get lost and engulfed in the music and the instrument itself. Because I have been playing strings for so long it is second nature and I tend to even forget that there is an audience in front of me when I am just playing the cello or violin.
AV: Tell me about some of your work on other artist's projects that you are most proud of. Do they seek you out when they want to have you appear on a project that they are involved with?
RJ: I really loved the work I did with Lumin, Bluetech and STS9. There are several other projects that have not been released yet that I am extremely excited about but I have no release date at the moment on those projects.
There is definitely a circle of artists that I tend to hang out in and many of them call on me for string parts when they are working on something new. I tend to keep pretty busy with other collaborations like that and am always excited to work with those artists.
AV: You work within several genres of music in your compositions. Do you ever think to yourself while you are working on a piece that this is going to be a certain kind of music and then shape it to be that style of music?
RJ: Actually no, I tend to sit with an instrument or synth first and then sculpt the song around what I feel represents that piece of music or sound. I prefer to have the music unfold naturally than trying to force it into a genre or vibe. In my mind music is way to diverse and amazing to try to force it into one style. I strive to have each album and song a bit different but still be able to have a line that ties it all together.
AV: Have you been or are you going out on the road to do some concerts in connection with the release of Driftwood? Any dates you are particularly looking forward to?
RJ: I have already done a tour for Driftwood but plan to do several more shows this summer which will feature works from Driftwood as well as the new material I am working on. Most of the shows I am planning are in the works right now but I am very excited about playing Shambhala this year which is a beautiful festival in Canada.
I personally enjoying playing festivals a lot because I am often booked for several sets and get to relax and enjoy other peoples music in an outdoor setting as well. I am also booked to play a festival called Lightning in a Bottle which is in May and I will most likely go back to the U.K. to play the Glade festival which I am very excited about as well.
AV: What kind of feedback have you been getting about Driftwood? As an artist do you pay much attention to the reviews that pop up about a performance or a CD that you have out?
RJ: So far the feedback has been overwhelmingly good. I knew that people would like it but I didn't expect it to get as much attention as it has. I have to admit that when it was first released I was glued to the computer to see what people were saying. I am just happy that all the reviews have been good.
AV: What role has the internet played in getting your music heard and creating a buzz among potential fans?
RJ: I feel most of the buzz has been from radio, podcasts and word of mouth. Myspace has helped in turning a few new people onto my music that would have not found me otherwise but for the most part I would have to say that radio and podcasts have been the big push for this release.
AV: As a last question to this interview what is it that you'd still like to do musically that you haven't already done with the 3 CD's that you have out now?
RJ: I must say that I feel there will always be something new. The next album I would like to focus on working with singers more and I am also feeling the desire to split into different projects now and do several releases under different names and genres. Also, I have just moved into a large home with many many instruments and rebuilt my studio so I am eager to work on many new recording projects.
AV: Thanks for taking the time out of what I know must be a busy schedule to answer these questions. After hearing your CD I'm sure that you have a bright future ahead of you with your music.