Courtesy Netflix / Daniel Cavazos – Jessica Pratt
Jessica Pratt performs during Netflix’s “The Highwaymen” showcase at South By Southwest in Austin March 9.
In a time where it seems the biggest and loudest get noticed most, Jessica Pratt represents a quieter emergent force. The folky singer-songwriter’s peers have lauded her, with Devendra Banhart selecting her for Holland’s Le Guess Who? festival in November and indie-rocker Kevin Morby tweeted he’s “happy to be alive at the same time that JP is releasing music.”
Even Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke weighed in, saying, “there’s something in her voice” while naming one of her tunes as a song he can’t stop listening to.
Based in L.A. now but raised in the scenic Northern California town of Redding, Pratt released Quiet Signs in February after joining slacker-rock hero Kurt Vile
on tour for a winter run of clubs like the Fox Theater in Oakland (1,622 tickets, $58,728 grossed) and two nights at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. (1,917, $59,427.).
“It was a great experience,” says Pratt. “I was very happy to be invited on that tour and I have a lot of respect for Kurt as an artist and performer.” Though her performances consisted of only herself and a backing instrumentalist, she was able to mostly silence, or at least quiet, the chattering nightclub crowds.
“I saw the shows at Brooklyn Steel with 1,800 people there and could hear a pin drop,” said Pratt’s booking agent, Eric Dimenstein of Ground Control Touring. “That’s just the power she can have, which I thought was impressive.”
“Any time I go into opening for another tour, I expect something to come up against,” Pratt said. “Especially when you’re a fairly quiet artist, it kind of magnifies the problem. But it was actually pretty good. I was ready for war, but it was totally fine. Some of the shows were downright quiet and some of it was pretty civil.”
Manager Lee Cohen said Brooklyn was extra impressive considering the market.
“It was amazing,” Cohen said. “Here’s an audience of probably the hardest ears to impress, and everyone was just super into it and really let her knock it out.”
The buzz is translating to bigger show offers, particularly one-offs, according to Cohen, who described Pratt’s shows as “quiet but she has a big sound.”
“It’s validating all the hard work,” said Cohen, who previously managed the Dandy Warhols and is current business manager for Mac DeMarco. “I think when we went looking for a new label, something like 12 different labels saw what was happening. That’s when it was very clear to me that, any tastes aside, clearly this is an artist that people want to work with.
“It was a great moment for her and she got to decide what she wanted out of the deal.” The new LP is an economical 27 minutes but long on substance, with the bouncing “Poly Blue,” the spacious “Crossing” hitting dramatic chorale heights and “This Time Around” mesmerizingly simple sonically but intricately melodic.
– Jessica Pratt
It’s a clear labor of love with many details and touches aided by co-producer Al Carlson and on new label Mexican Summer, allowing some more experimental studio arrangement to go along with her decidedly lo-fi-sounding approach.
“I was proud of [the album] when I was finished, after weathering many waves of self-doubt and over-analyzing things and all that, but I didn’t expect it to do quite so well,” Pratt said. “I thought people would like it, but it seems to have more of a universal appeal than I had anticipated.” Garnering rave reviews such as Pitchfork’s coveted “Best New Music” distinction, another big mention came from a more unexpected source in Milwaukee Public Radio. The station aired a segment called “5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To” with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.
“I love it. There’s this track called ‘This Time Around,’ it just came on when I was in the car the other day and I thought, wow,” Yorke told 88.9-FM. “I really like that and it’s dead simple, but there’s something in her voice. I’m like, that’s great. Finally!”
“I’m still processing that one,” Pratt says. “It’s one thing to have people you have respect and have loved for a long time to say complimentary things about you, but it gets funny when it’s someone who is very iconic and has some sort of inhuman aura about them. I grew up with Radiohead so, yeah, very strange but very amazing.”
Her upcoming North American spring run, which includes venues such as the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, the Chapel in San Francisco and the Park Church Co-op in Brooklyn, N.Y., was booked early and conservatively, Dimenstein said, as it had been a few years since she headlined or released new music.
“We set it up in rooms that were kind of conservative that we knew would sell out in advance – New York’s been sold out for some time,” Dimenstein said. “From there, we’ll come back and build upon that. Moving into larger rooms, it’ll get her into more rooms where she can present her music more appropriately, be it seated theatres or churches.”
As for growing the size of her band either in the studio or on the road, Pratt says it has to make sense. “I’m all for adding different sonic elements live,” she said. “But it’s a very delicate sound, and the more elements you have clashing against each other, the more difficult it can be to translate the sole focus of the thing. In the future I can see maybe adding some very light percussion or another element, maybe some sort of jazzier elements, a horn or multi-instrumentalist of some kind, but I don’t foresee a standard rock format in any near future.”
Cohen says going forward will be what enticed him to work with her in the first place. “She’s going to continue to make good music and grow an audience and stick around for a long, long time.”