Interview | Jessica Sligter wants YOU!

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At FFS we like to take a walk on the wild side once in a while and expand our horizons. For that, we’re increasingly looking across the channel to established and emerging European artists who are experimenting with technology and combining genres to create projects that push the boundaries of folk. We’ve previously championed Jenny Hval, Mina Tindle and Francois and the Atlas Mountains for their inventiveness and willingness to think outside the proverbial box.

This month we turn the spotlight on Jessica Sligter – an artist for whom philosophy and social activism go hand in hand with music. Second solo record, Fear and The Framing, was recently released on Norwegian label Hubro, and is unlike anything we’ve heard before. Free-wheeling between folk, country, jazz, traditional sacred harp music and the avant-garde, the Belgian Sligter has the old-world voice of Liz Green and Laura Gibson, the theatricality of Ane Brun and Kate Bush,  and the distinctly new world sensibilities of Hval. We caught up with Sligter to discuss improbable influences, and why she wants to come and play in your living room.

Hello, please introduce yourself and your music to the uninitiated.

Hi!  My name is Jessica Sligter. I’m a vocalist, composer, producer, and work primarily on my musical solo-project, previously under the name ‘JÆ’, but now under my real name. The music I make has moved through many realms, from free-improvisation to rock, from jazz to odd chanson. It has a strong folk-influence as well as pre-war blues and old religious singing, like sacred harp-singing. My texts are often a bit surrealistic, cinematic, but then again sometimes hyper-realistic and direct. I mix themes of a romantic nature with themes that concern contemporary cultural and sociological phenomena.

Tell us a bit about your latest release?

With Fear and the Framing I have ventured into new territory.  After my first solo-record, Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain, which was predominantly acoustic and had a lot of folk-influences, I made an album with the band Sacred Harp that had much more of a rock-feel. For that record I developed a more powerful, dramatic way of singing, and a more fantastical style of writing lyrics. Fear and the Framing became a synthesis between the worlds of those two records. The record is somewhat dark, psychedelic and straight-forward as well as odd.

What was your best ever gig?

I really enjoy house-shows. They have the most character, and are very loving affairs. In fact, I’d like to put out a call for house-shows. If you’d like me and my accomplice Viljam Nybacka to play a house-show at your place when we’re out on tour, drop me a line at [email protected]

What’s the worst thing about being a musician?

That, in order to share my music with more than a few people, I have to spend a lot of time behind the computer every day, sending emails and things like that. That’s not very comfortable. And unfortunately these days the results of all that effort get smaller and smaller. In terms of playing live, I would like to work more in collaboration with the people that enjoy my music, in the form of house-concerts and other DIY initiatives. It’s a joy to engage with them in such a direct way.

What inspires you?

People.

If you won a billion pounds what would you do with it?

… [no comment]

Which of your songs is your favourite and why?

When I’m in the climax of making a record, I tend to enjoy the work I’m making. This is somewhat logical, I guess, since I’m trying to make music that I like. But the natural process, sadly, is such that a while after the record is done, say round about when it’s finally released, I always grow more and more unhappy with that music. I’ll revisit it once in a while and hear more and more things I dislike. It’s a slightly depressing process, but in it lies a very positive message: I’m starting the process for a new record, and it sees me exploring further, digging deeper, and there will be different sounds and words that will embody the now current state of my being than are in the work I made one and a half years ago. It’s a humbling process, it puts you back in touch with the relativity of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art.  It’s a beautiful thing.

What are you plans for the future?

I’ve just started a collaboration project with a wonderful recording – artist, she’s a friend of mine. I won’t reveal who. It looks like we’ll be making a type of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, a project that manifests itself not only in music, but also in other forms. Otherwise I want to expand on the social events I’m organizing. They are now mostly in my own home, but I would like to do it in other contexts and countries as well, and to experiment with the shape they can take, and the matters they touch upon. Basically, I like to gather people, to engage with people, and to explore together how we can shape our intertwining lives.

Finally, we’re always looking to expand our musical horizons. Do you have any recommendations of bands or artists we should be looking out for?

First and foremost, Scott Walker is a major inspiration for me. He just released a new album, of which I haven’t heard more than one song yet, but I doubt it will be anything but inspiring. Then there’s sacred harp-singing. It’s an old Christian tradition from the south of the USA. Sacred harp-singing is not meant for an audience, so you sit facing each other, and you sing as loud as you can and without any refinement. The songs from the sacred harp-songbook break all kinds of rules of conventional counterpoint, creating a beautifully idiosyncratic sound. It’s remarkable that the current increase in its popularity comes largely from young people such as myself who are in fact not Christian.

Besides that, both Jenny Hval and Splashgirl are releasing new records and I’ve had the pleasure to hear some of them, and they both sound great.  Also my dear friends and colleagues Viljam Nybacka and Anat Spiegel have just begun recording their own solo-record. It’ll take a while before those are released, but do keep an eye out for their names!

Find out more about sacred harp-singing here

photo credit: Janneke van der Hagen

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