August 31, 2020
Jennifer Willoughby writes arresting and irreverent poems.
“To be able to take a memory, a feeling, a trauma, and formulate it into sound or words is something akin to burning off calories in running, which is also cathartic to me. The movement of music, and the taking it outside of the internal realm into a more tangible, fluid and vibratory realm, helps to shake up stagnant places in me.”
Writing and creating music to express and move through painful experiences is absolute catharsis to me. To be able to take a memory, a feeling, a trauma and formulate it into sound or words is something akin to burning off calories in running, which is also cathartic to me. The movement of music, and the taking it outside of the internal realm into a more tangible, fluid and vibratory realm, helps to shake up any stagnant places in me. Definitely detoxing. Many an hour spent sobbing at the piano. And on the other end, I do love listening to depressing music for similar reasons. I suppose I like to feel … and deeply. As for the song about my assault, it felt right to document it in a rock song and also to scream out what I wish I would have said or done. The anger will always live on, but now it is just a little further outside of me.
Princeton is a rural community of 3,000 or so and I spent all of my school-age years with pretty much the same people until leaving town when I was 17. I moved through quite a few music friend groups in my youth—from the country hits of junior high that my friends were into with their 4H and car races to all that danceable late ’80s pop on KDWB spinning in the roller-rink. In eighth grade I had actually a rough ejection from a friend group that catapulted me—thankfully—into the more artistic crew. I met some friends who were really into music and I started listening to Rev 105, which thankfully reached us. My first big concert was Smashing Pumpkins on its “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” tour with The Frogs. My first small concert was at The Java Joint in St. Cloud and it was with a band named Bump, which, coincidentally, includes members of the band Low Ray, who I played a bunch of shows with a few years ago. Full circle. As for mentors, my mom isn’t super stoked about me sharing this, but she bribed me to take piano lessons so I got a lump sum of cash from fourth to eighth grade to take piano lessons from my neighbor. My mom is a pianist and organist and just always wished for her child to play the piano. During my early piano years, I took alto saxophone lessons, got an electric guitar in eighth grade and started teaching myself, and eventually took harp lessons as well. And tried drums and trumpet. I’ve always dated multiple instruments. Today I just acquired an accordion. In January, I started learning sitar. So yes. Music is in my blood and I love to dabble and am so grateful for the artistic, music-loving friends that rocked out with me. Also got really into raving in high school and early college. My first rave was in a warehouse in Minneapolis and Daft Punk was performing—pre-Homework so they hadn’t hit it. I love that memory. And I loved the underground wild brink of danger vibes that the raves held for 16 year old me. Thrill-seeker for sure. To go back to the original question, though, mentors came later, but music friends and lovers were always there.
It has taken a long time to integrate and truly live with a daily practice. This was something of a “lore” that I felt like I should have for most of my 20s. I was a psychology major in college and this idea of a daily yoga practice was revered in the more esoteric transpersonal psych classes I was drawn to. Somewhere around 2007 my daily morning practice became a cherished routine and I feel very strange and a little off if I don’t get to it. It has evolved over the years and with the amount of time available in each day, or how much sleep I was able to get. I would say that my practice, which currently involves asana or postures, japa mantra—recitation of a sacred sound 108 times, and a Balinese forgiveness/letting go/happiness manifestation prayer, has been a pillar of my functioning of late, especially in the weirdness of 2020. As for music, my routines have been oddly less seamless. I do have resistance to rehearsing and I always have. I struggle even now with sitting down at the piano or guitar. I know I must incorporate this into my routines, even my morning routine, but then it might take me three hours to leave the house. However, it will be worth it. I will start tomorrow.
Thank you! I am blown away and honored to think that these people added their magic to this new record. Molly is an auxiliary band member and it is a dream come true. Our coming-together really sank in due to yoga as she taught one of the most popular sessions at my short-lived yoga studio and I was truly floored to know that she respected my songwriting. We have some awesome stuff cooking. I admire and look up to her so much. And we are really comfortable together! Jeremy, kind of the same boat. I fancied him as a guitar master guru type that was somewhat untouchable. My former manager Mike Buenting hooked me up with him for this album and honestly for the first few recording sessions I was extremely nervous and felt constantly awkward. But that weirdness all melted and I just love Jeremy’s soul. Such a deep one, and a funny one; and a thoughtful one. A total honor and a pleasure to get to play music with him. Adam Levy. You know, I was a fan of the Honeydogs in my Rev 105 days in like 1994. I got their first album and loved it. When I moved back to Minneapolis in 2016 I took a leap and messaged him to see if he would teach me guitar since he shreds. And he did! We just had a few lessons but it was a hoot and he always shared coffee and conversation and was super chill. He heard a few of these numbers on the new album as they were shaping up during our lessons so it felt natural to ask. We had shared a few shows over the last few years and I deeply respect and admire him and his craft and brain. I am thrilled to be able to share musical space with some of my heroes. It is a dream come true. I am still pinching myself, and sometimes wonder if I am good enough for this. However, I trust that I have worked very hard, and the universe has heard my call.
There is a long, convoluted, somewhat despairing story about this song that I won’t get into. It already sings to it. However, it came around in late 2018. It is speaking to anxiety. Being so anxious, that one cannot get on a plane. All the former things one used to do, create suffering and turmoil and second-guessing. All of the attempts to make a life seem to fall away and fail. Friendships, love, business work, nothing working. But then, a shift. Something lifts. A sliver of forgiveness, an untie-ing, breaking open into throwing up your hands because the world is your lover. The world is constantly offering us opportunities to shirk away, or to say yes, or to say no if that is more serving for your heart. The questioning is what can kill, the second-guessing. I’ve spent so much of my life shirking away, vulnerable, sad, second-guessing, worrying. This is a song about trying to let go of that doubt and trust. I don’t recall when I decided that this would be the title track, but once it was written, it simply was. It was actually the final song that I wrote for the album. And every song fits in its container.
I’m faring well. I am healthy. I have a lot of space to do whatever I want, and yet still feel remarkably busy. When the pandemic first began, all of my work was gone. Shows, teaching yoga, teaching music, leading retreats. I had to completely rebuild in the Zoom zone. It was a steep and stressful learning curve but I’m doing OK with it. I’m mostly an introvert, although I do love people for the most part. I love to be alone and have sought many solo travels and always love the time to process and be with my own thoughts, my own writing, my spiritual practices, my running. I miss performing. I had the chance to do a live stream with my core band mates—Steve Price, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Richard Medek—for the album release and it was an absolute joy. I feel so supported and trusting in their musicianship that I can just let go and be suspended in the sound. I miss feeling the energies of people in a room. However my introverted self does get stressed-out by performing at times. So this is a welcome—and strange—break to think about the future … because I do really want to rock when we can.
India is incredible. That is one of their tourism slogans: “Incredible India.” The smells, sounds, sights. It fills my soul because of its intensity and depth; a place so unlike anywhere I have been that my tiny understanding will never fully know. It challenged every fiber of my introverted and solitude-loving being. I have so much to share about this place but it could take all night. I forever felt like I would never be ready to go there, and then I had a wonderful partner and met some friends (author Vineetha Mokkil, Lonely Planet recommended tour guide Jeremy Ottmann) and found an incredible yoga certification program in The Yoga of Sound. I just went for it, then, just went for the travel. I felt that I was a phony for never going there when I’d been teaching yoga for 10 years. I wanted to experience the roots. I must say, after going (twice now) that I still feel like I know nothing, but only know that nothing in a deeper way. That the excitement and allure and richness and reverence of this place have lifetimes to explore. There is nothing like witnessing cremations before your eyes while on a diesel-fueled boat on the Ganga. Traversing packed dusty streets with friendly cows a few inches away on either side. I can’t wait to go back. So much to say. Forever changed.
Ha! That is so good to hear. I truly do try to respond to everyone, with kindness, if warranted. That hasn’t always worked out so well lately. it takes a lot of time to personally respond to every comment. I have guilt if I don’t, though! As far as coming into a positive space on social media during these scary times, I just have one short answer and that is memes.
Ah! I speak for myself because I know we all have our own struggles. For me, I try and grow and grow. If I stay, I feel stagnant. However, for some, staying is safety and comfort and that is what we most need. We need stability and support. I feel like I have deep luxury and privilege and have that support. So I will push and try and break out into new territory. Music or teaching or … right now trying to write a book and play a sitar and deal with my complicity in white supremacy. I feel like my time on earth is short and half my life has flown by. Or maybe I could die tomorrow. I want to grow and feel and experience as much as I can in this life.
Taos was nourishing because there were no demands. I could sleep whenever I wanted, eat whenever I wanted, and it was encouraged to not “work” and allow this resting time to support creative urges. I, being me, had some emotional turmoil though, so while the external was relaxing, there is always emotional turmoil to dig into. I also felt deep reverberations from the earth, which inspired the song “Shit Storm,” an apocalyptic ditty about Mother Earth taking it back and we all at her mercy. So yes, songwriting can grow from that calm space of no demands. To sink in and allow for that spaciousness to penetrate and awaken all that is just under the surface … that just an absolute dream and I miss it every day.
That song pierced my heart big time around the Taos residency in 2017. I kept Sirius XM radio in my Jeep pretty much for the sole purpose of the Petty channel. Something about Petty’s duet with Stevie Nicks felt spot-on for me at the time. I have loved that song, but it really hit me then. Some songs do that … come at the right time.
Kickstarter and I are … complicated. It is a wonderful and motivating tool for artists and entrepreneurs. I have done five successful ones and I’m insanely grateful for that. It also is a total grind and so much self-promotion, which sometimes feels like begging. And yet, the graciousness and support I’ve received in doing these is so validating and humbling. Even the fulfillment “hell” of shipping packages for days … it is not hell but a heaven of remembering that these folks supported my work. The promotional efforts do help to build momentum for whatever the project is at hand. And the community that builds is very special and lots of supporters have been repeat customers. I am so grateful to all who have supported my work in these ways.
What is next for me? Oh, it is so uncertain. I hope to tour on the wings of this new album; I hope to lead retreats again. And yet this isolation and solitude is optimal for the eventual goal of writing a book.
August 31, 2020
Jennifer Willoughby writes arresting and irreverent poems.