To listen to Jonneine Zapata’s new record, ‘Cast The Demons Out’ is to listen to a record with an intensity I haven’t heard since Springsteen’s Nebraska. To see her live is to feel you heart and lungs filled with the smoky intensity of a performer who’s passion knows no boundaries.
Having just completed a tour with Mark Lanegan’s Soulsavers, she drew rave reviews in cities across the country who compared her with everyone from PJ Harvey to Jim Morrison.
We were able to sit down with her after an intense show in Dallas, earlier in the month. In person, she’s the nicest, most forthcoming individual you’d hope to interview. Deep inside her, appears an intense, brilliant songwriter who you need to hear.
TDOA: How’d you get hooked up with Mark Lanegan for the Soulsavers tour?
JZ: Lanegan and Duli from the Gutter Twins had been talking to us for a while and we have a good friend, Jason Reynolds at MySpace records who hooked us up. Sort of a bunch of little pieces came together at once and next thing we knew, we were on the tour.
TDOA: How have the crowds responded?
JZ: They’ve been great. I really underestimated the crowds in San Diego. They really get into their shows; lining up at 8pm so they can see the opening band. They come right up to the front of the stage and their so enthusiastic. People have wanted to meet us, get pictures with us, buy cd’s..
TDOA: I hear you had an interesting experience in Austin.
JZ: Absolutely! The bathrooms kind of blew up during the first bands set and water started flowing everywhere, so they cleared the club. By the time they got everything fixed and were able to reopen the club it was too late for us to do our set. So we set up outside in the back of Stubb’s, with Jeff using an amp for his guitar and plugged my mic into a little amp and about 150 people came back and watched us. It was a beautiful, quiet Texas night, with crickets chirping and these people were so happy to hear music and everyone had such a great time.
TDOA: There’s a lot of great YouTube videos of you. The chemistry onstage between you and the guitar player, Jeff is realy interesting. How did the two of you meet?
JZ: A friend of mine was a promoter at a club called Molly Malones in Los Angeles and she offered to put together a show for me. She started looking on MySpace for a backing band for me and found Jeff had just left another band, so my friend suggested that his new band and I do a show together. From that point on, Jeff and I started working together slowly. So it was truly through a MySpace find. I still think MySpace is the best place to find music. Despite what everyone says about Facebook, MySpace is where I go to look for music.
TDOA: There’s a chemistry between the two of you onstage in those early videos that’s really intense. Was there a relationship between the two of you?
JZ: No, but I think that anytime someone gets onstage with me there’s going to be some emotion showing between us. I love the way Jeff appears to be very understated onstage, so it probably appears that there’s something going on.
TDOA: But he’s not understated on-stage anymore!
JZ: No, he’s really intense onstage now. I really feel like he’s added to my style.
TDOA: A lot of the songs on your early videos made it onto the new album. Do you have new material?
JZ: Oh yeah, lots of stuff. I’ve written alot of new things and Jeff has done some things. I think you’ll see a new album from us soon.
TDOA: On your MySpace page, you’ve got some religious imagery. What role does religion play in your music?
JZ: I think that it’s played a role in my life which comes out in my music, because I’m expressing my life through my music. I’m in a love/hate relationship with religion. I feel people are so bound to it and there’s no getting them out. I have a certain amount of faith in the unknown and I wish those two elements could come together and there could be a lot more peace in the world. I’m very against organized religion. I went to Catholic school. We had religion class every day and in those classes they would say, “unless a Jewish person accepts Christ, they’d burn in hell for eternity”. Now that’s something I just don’t believe in. Isn’t that something you want to fight against?
TDOA: In the early videos there’s a sensuality to the live experience. The show I just saw tonight had a much more aggressive feel to it. What are you feeling when you’re onstage?
JZ: A lot of the time, I’m just listening to my voice. That’s the only thing I’ve got to let me know that I”m ok. I’m very lucky to be here. I don’t have to sleep on the street. I believe in being authentic and connecting with the audience.
TDOA: How do you feel about being compared to other artists like PJ Harvey?
JZ: I don’t mind. If you’re into music, you’re going to pick stuff out. It’s lead me to listen to her more. I’ve seen her perform twice purely because of the comparisons. But it’s not a style of music that I listen to. I grew up listening to my mom’s records which was 50′s music; doo-wop, Shangri-la’s, old Motown. I listen to a lot of Bruce Springsteen and Simon & Garfunkel. I’ve listened to The River, over and over to learn more about how he writes. I enjoy the rawness of PJ Harvey, but I love Americana style music.
TDOA: How has the L.A. media been in supporting you?
JZ: I think I’ve been lucky because LA Weekly has always liked me and they’ve been kind enough to give us a little push. Buzzbands LA has been on board. MySpace has helped us a lot.
TDOA: Do you aspire to be on a major label or are you terrified of being drowned by their control over your music?
JZ: Terrified. First, I don’t think major label would touch me. I’d like to be selling all the records and keeping the money. Not so that I can buy a big pool, but so I can pay my band, make records and keep touring. We’re in a van driving from town to town, sleeping in apartments of people we’ve meet through Facebook. Would I like to be sleeping in a hotel, every night? Absolutely.
Having said that, Laughing Outlaw Records is going to put out our record in Australia and that’s a really good, first step.
I’d love to sign to a smaller label, but they’ve got to like us. I’m going to do what I want to do and they’re going to have to accept that.
For more information about Jonneine Zapata, visit her MySpace page.
Bonus Video: I couldn’t find a good quality video of this on YouTube, but you must hear this song from her debut album.