Q&A: Singer-Songwriter Eliza Hardy Jones
Eliza Hardy Jones is starting the year off right. In addition to releasing her first solo record, the longtime Philly music fixture is hitting the road for a monthlong tour where she’ll be pulling double duty: playing keyboards for sultry singer-songwriter Grace Potter and fronting her own band as the opening act. Jones, of course, is best known for making music with the Buried Beds for more than a decade. The Beds started out as an Appalachian duo, just Jones and Brandon Beaver, and ended up sculpting some remarkably ambitious power pop as a full band.
Jones has also become an in-demand supporting musician, playing with the likes of the hard-rocking mewithoutYou, the experimental Mike Kiley, and the rootsy Strand of Oaks. And now here’s her solo debut, which sounds like none of the above. The self-released Because Become is electric and earthy, soothing and imposing — a singer-songwriter record with a trip-hop nervous system.
As always, Jones’s warm, crystalline voice and lyrical prowess steal the show. “Criminal” is the lead single — Stereogum spotlighted the track last month — but the most killer line is on “Watch You Fall”: “Like a disappointed mother loves her child but wants another …” Neko Case fans are going to dig this record.
I caught up with Jones via email as she was prepping for a big record release show at Boot & Saddle on Wednesday night.
You’ve been making music with a ton of bands in this town for a long time. Why go solo, and why now?
I wanted to figure out what my own voice sounded like. I play in all of these different contexts — classical, country, pop, indie rock — and I love them all, but I wanted to write and record something that had no boundary around what it “should” be. I also wanted to make something in a totally different way than I ever had before, let go of old patterns, try new things. I wanted to write music that was personal: songs that were my own words about my own feelings about my own life.
Produced by Brian McTear, Because Become features a number of artists you’ve supported in the past, including Nick Krill of Spinto Band and Teen Men, Dave Hartley of The War On Drugs and Nightlands, and Eric Slick of Dr. Dog. Is that just good karma and friendships paying off?
Friendship rules. Making this record involved lots of high-fives and ninja kicks.
Who’s in your live band?
For the Philly show I’ve got Pat Berkery on drums, Nick Krill on guitar, and Dave Wayne Daniels [from the Capitol Years] on bass. For the Grace Potter tour dates, I’ll actually be playing as a trio with Grace’s drummer Matt Musty and bass player Tim Deaux. It makes doing double duty pretty easy when we’re all traveling on the bus together. We’ll play my set, and then change into our sparkling GP gear and hit the stage again.
Because Become is gorgeous. Was there a certain sound or aesthetic you were shooting for?
I demoed all the songs at home and intentionally kept them simple so that the when we went into the studio I wouldn’t be attached to any particular idea. But I also had an aesthetic I was excited about. Like a dream sequence dance number with Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Chris Isaak, and Peter Gabriel doing underwater ballet.
If I remember correctly, you’re an unabashed experimenter, if not an outright perfectionist. Did these songs go through a lot of different phases?
I was determined to leave behind my perfectionist persuasions when making Because Become. I had really strict rules with myself to not tinker with the demos. In the studio we’d play around with a song for a bit and then just commit to what sounded good. There were a few moments here or there where I went back and re-recorded something, but for the most part what’s on this record is what happened in day one of tracking.
You played with Strand of Oaks on Late Night with Seth Meyers last year, right? What was that like?
It was fun! they had Swedish fish backstage and a killer red and black plaid couch. I couldn’t eat any of the sandwiches so they brought me a bottle of whisky. Seth Meyers is a cool dude.
Are the Buried Beds buried?
More like cryogenically frozen.
Tell me about “Criminal.”
It’s actually the very first song I wrote for this project, and I think it’s a nice introduction to the record as a whole. When I write, there’s usually an original inspiration, an image, a feeling, a memory, that sends an electric charge. From there the song expands. Sometimes it ends up being about something entirely different from where it began. This song’s original inspiration was Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus. I think both of these women are awesome feminists. Flawed and awesome. Aren’t we all.
“Weatherman” is mysterious, and gives me this lonely, chilly feeling, especially the line “You don’t have to hold on ’cause you’re already gone.” What’s this song about?
I’m so glad you asked. It’s actually about a Russian man who lives above the Arctic Circle at a weather station. There’s an incredible photo essay about him [in the New Yorker]. The photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva said, “I came with the idea of a lonely hermit who ran away from the world because of some heavy drama, but it wasn’t true. He doesn’t get lonely at all. He kind of disappears into tundra, into the snowstorms. He doesn’t have a sense of self the way most people do. It’s as if he were the wind, or the weather itself.” So I wrote this song about this man, and about loneliness, and about a life spent searching, and about myself.
Eliza Hardy Jones plays Wed., Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m., $10, with Jesse Hale Moore. Boot & Saddle, 1131 South Broad Street, bootandsaddlephilly.com.