ASK JOLIE HOLLAND on breaking TV habits


Just want to say, I’ve been enjoying your advice column so far, and saw your call for more questions. Here’s one question I’m sitting with: I struggle with how much TV I watch. I used to be one of those annoying people who felt super smug about not owning a TV until the internet ruined that for me. Now that my laptop is effectively a television, I have a very hard time exercising self control and not watching 1-4 hours of TV a day. I have other things that in an ideal world I’d would rather be doing with my time—reading, spending time with friends, cooking, exercising, but instead when I get done with work, or when I have a break in the middle of the day, I just put on Netflix. And once I’m watching, I have a hard time stopping. For years I’ve been struggling to reduce my screen time without much success. Any advice?

Dear Garth,

I feel you. It’s so hard to break habits. And TV shows are Designed to be addicting to maintain your interest, keep you watching those ads and product-placements. The addictive quality itself is bread-and-butter for the producers.

I suggest either making some time to sit down and journal, or making an appointment with a good friend to talk it out and take notes. First list all those things you’d really rather be doing, like you said: socializing, reading, cooking, exercising. And come up with some answers to these two questions:

1) What does watching TV do for you?

2) How can you fulfill the same needs with different activities?

You can come up with some substitute activities that are more empowering, more fulfilling. An initial time commitment could be useful as you start breaking the habit. You could say you’ll try alternatives for a week. Maybe you could commit to only watching TV shows with friends. (I did that once and still found it overly addictive!)

I imagine that your time with TV is meeting a lot of specific needs, so I’d list several tactics, and keep that list in notes on your phone or in your wallet. You want to be prepared to apply these tactics at the moment the need arises.

If TV is occupying the space for chill, low-activity consumption, any number of things might substitute well: a short walk, maybe doing a little errand on foot, a nap, meditation, some relaxing exercise like stretching or restorative yoga. Maybe even prayer would fulfill that need.

Consider whether TV is providing narrative in your life, and think about what could satisfactorily inhabit that role. I find cleaning the house or working out to be so boring that I don’t do it without listening to the podcasts or vloggers I follow.

My hero Ray Peat talks about how boredom has demonstratively negative biological effects. Try to make sure you’re not bored during this transition.

Now about the first list you made, of all those things you’d really rather be doing: socializing, reading, cooking, exercising.

All those things take planning and time commitment. Each of them are very unlike the ever-present TV show at your fingertips. Go to the library and order some books you’re interested in. Even if you don’t succeed in reading them, just having them on your nightstand is part of your habit-changing process. See if you can combine any of these activities: call friends and plan a cooking project, something interesting and engaging. Maybe start a little book club? Or buddy up to go to the gym.

I appreciate your question, since I am in need of breaking a similar habit. I find myself wasting time glued to the horrific news these days. I could be more proactive with educating myself about the issues I find most concerning, and figure out some concrete ways to be of service.

All the Best,
Jolie Holland

ASK JOLIE HOLLAND on Getting Your Groove Back


How do you get yourself unstuck? I feel like I am in a rut. I am not a musician, but a visual artist. I am having a problem to find the energy to get started or don’t know how. Lost my groove. Seeking advice.

Dear Artist,

I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling stuck with your artwork.

When you’re not getting what you want OUT of yourself, it’s time to reevaluate what you put INTO yourself.

As artists, we need to focus on self-care because our work flows out of our innermost being. I mean, Everybody needs to take care of themselves, but an accountant can power through their job without having a vibrant sense of personal unity. If we do heartless work as artists, our work will lack that necessary presence.

As artists, we need to be self-aware and hear our inner voice. We need to feel at home in an internal trance-space.

Try to make it a new habit to focus on what you might need right now. Think about what can feed your inspiration, and seek those things out.

Do you need more time alone? Are you giving yourself enough time and peace to work? Do you need to go see more good art? Do you need to take more walks in natural settings? Do you need to go camping or hiking? Do you need more or less time with family and friends? Do you need to deepen your meditation practice? Do you need to have more fun? Do you need more sleep? Do you need to change your workspace around? Do you need to set different goals, or use different materials with your work?

How can you listen to yourself more intently? Are you being kind to yourself?

Kicking yourself when you’re down is so normal in our culture that most people don’t even recognize when they’re doing it.

Often, it can be so hard to evaluate how you’re treating yourself. Imagine someone who loves you completely. Would they be mad as hell to hear how you speak to yourself? I know my friends would hate to hear how I talk to myself sometimes. Imagine self-kindness, and think about what that might mean to you right now.

I’m sure you’ve been looking for new solutions, ways to get out of your rut. It can be surprisingly difficult to figure out what you need. It can take a lot of trial and error. You might not arrive there instinctually.

To illustrate this point: I recently realized that a lot of my problems with exhaustion, insomnia, and lack of focus were coming from not eating enough. I started using a cronometer, and realized that during those times I was resilient, felt better and slept better was when I was getting more calories. If I get under 2500, I’m going to have trouble concentrating.

My friend who recovered from anorexia helped me figure this out. I told her I was getting 2100 calories, and she said that would not be enough for her to think clearly or to socialize, barely enough calories to sleep, and certainly not enough calories to work out. I started focusing on trying to eat more, and I found that all these things became easier. It’s not my instinct to eat more, but I need to do it. This is the beauty of having outside voices assist with self-care. Friends can help you see different solutions.

Wishing you a vibrant flow of self-awareness and creativity.

All the Best,

Jolie Holland

ASK JOLIE HOLLAND (on starting the Be Good Tanyas and how to join a band)

Dear Jolie Holland,

I am reading “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp, and she challenged me to answer the question, “What is your greatest dream?”

This is a question I try to avoid because it has seemed unrealistic in the past. After reading multiple books on creative living beyond fear, however, it is a recurring question demanding my attention. The first thing that comes to mind/heart when I consider my greatest dream, of course, is to sing and perform with The Be Good Tanyas.

I have been persistently practicing Frazey Ford’s harmonies with every TBGT album ever made for three years now, blaring your music through my seventies speakers to drown out the demonic metal band’s drums coming through the vents of my upstairs apartment. I have learned the guitar parts to most of the songs, and sing them frequently to the high plains of Wyoming.

I could partake in smaller dreams, like being a part-time solo musician. So this is what I have done. But I’ve come to know the hollow emptiness that comes with pursuing a solo act… It has been a hard path. I have been claimed “locally famous”, but it’s getting old. There simply is no other style of music, or any other artist, who causes so much wild dancing in my heart as TBGT.

My only question for you is this: do you think I have any hope in achieving my greatest dream? I can list all of my qualifications later.

Camille in Cheyenne

PS- I am also a professional violinist. 🙂

Dear Camille,

I’m not in any position to say whether you have hope of being hired by the Be Good Tanyas. I quit that band more than fifteen years ago now.

I was the original Be Good Tanya. I had a dream about forming a women-fronted collaborative band named after my old friend Martin “Obo” McCrory’s song “Be Good Tanya.” Trish Klein and I been playing together casually. Then, when I met Samantha Parton, I asked her to join us. We three were the Be Good Tanyas for a year before Ms. Ford started playing with us. I quit the band six months later (even before our first album was released) for reasons I won’t get into here. I suggested that the band rename themselves since I had removed myself. A rose by any other name would have sounded as sweet.

I even had visions of forming another women-fronted band by the same name, so as to realize my original dream. After all, the band was not very well known by that point. Samantha refused to change the name. I get it. She was mad at me for leaving.

I’m thrilled to have a new band with Samantha Parton. We just recorded a bunch of songs that we hope to release early next year. Sam has given us the wildly imaginative band name “Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton.” I had sly, sarcastic visions of naming us “Black Tanya” in the (very brief) tradition of lead singers’ offshoots from rock bands, i.e. Black Francis of The Pixies or Black YaYa of Herman Dune.

If it’s your dream to play in the Tanyas, I encourage you to sincerely propose to the existing members. I don’t really know how the Tanyas tend to accept members or side musicians, but I can tell you how that process has worked for me as a band leader.

Occasionally, people I don’t know have offered to be in my band, but none of those people lived near me. I can remember two different people who kept offering to join the band, but I didn’t even get a chance to speak to them for more than five minutes apiece. I met them on tour, so there was no time to connect. One of those guys sent me some really nice letters. The other guy actually sent me a beautiful violin. Those people lived across the continent. Distance was the main deciding factor, since we never even got to play together. A couple bands have proposed to be my band for specific tours, but none of that has come to pass. I’d want quite a bit of time to rehearse. I don’t just want to lead a band of musicians playing other musicians’ parts. I always want each member of the band to sound exactly like themselves.

People often Do join my band by offering to play with me, but those are musicians I know, or they are friends of musicians I know. I have rarely gone shopping for a musician, because I am surrounded by a multitude of incredibly talented players.

Confidence backed by artistic excellence, friendliness, persistence and professionalism are the keys that have worked on me as a bandleader. Both Jared Samuel and Justin Veloso offered to play with me many, many times over a handful of years before we started playing together.

It’s a big deal to put yourself out there, but it can bear beautiful fruit. I was nervous to ask Samantha Parton to start our new band. She could have turned me down.

There are other musical projects I’d like to work on outside of my bands, and your question inspires me focus on those ideas. I’ve wanted to offer my services to certain bands as a producer, a violinist, or a singer.

Whether the Tanyas hire you or not, I wish you profound satisfaction as a dreamer and as a musician.

Regarding your artistic dreams, I wonder how you imagine complete resonance? How do you want the end result to feel?

If the outer specifics of your dream aren’t met, it is my wish for you that you are able to realize the inner aspects of that dream.

I left the Tanyas because being in the band did not fulfill my original dream for the group. But as I continue to create new bands, I find that I am able to realize the central artistic vision which was the impetus for the Tanyas. It’s a real dream come true to put together this present band with Samantha Parton.


Jolie Holland

Ask Jolie Holland (cleanliness, our dearly departed)

Dear Jolie,

I hate cleaning, but I also hate it when my disgusting environment gives me rashes. Especially during the summer. Ickies! Black clothing and the occasional bath can only do so much! How can I stop the UN-sanity???

Exasperated in Eagle Rock

Dear Exasperated,

I feel you. I have hated cleaning most of my life, but lately I’ve come up with some methods that are working for me.

You can work from one or both directions, by trying to motivate yourself, and by understanding why you don’t want to clean.

I think you’ve got to inspire yourself to clean. That is, I’m not suggesting you bully or manipulate yourself into doing something you don’t feel like doing. Find some way to motivate yourself in a positive way.

Personally, I am really motivated by beauty. One time I had a big room to organize and didn’t know how to start, so I went out and got a beautiful rug. That was all I needed, really, to get in gear. The rest of the job came into focus around that center.

And it’s helpful to know why you don’t like to clean. I think I understand my aversion to cleaning. It mainly comes down to the fact that my evil stepmother was the one who taught me. She treated her husband’s kids like a tiny cleaning service on our court-appointed visits.

Unfortunately, I have to supplant her negative image with positive ones almost every time I clean. For instance, I think about friends I love who have a very good attitude toward cleaning. I bring my friend Elaine to mind. I remember her home, and the art studio where she works, and how good those spaces feel. She has an honestly positive attitude about cleaning. Incredibly, my best friend Tim likes to clean toilets, so he makes a good role model. In most Miyazaki movies, there are amazing scenes of triumphant, joyous cleaning jobs. Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro both feature ecstatic orgies of soap bubbles.

Another way to dissolve the mental block is by using timers, an album, or a podcast. The timer tells me it only takes three minutes to make the bed, only twenty minutes to do all the dishes and clean the hell out of the kitchen. Those few minutes loom so much larger than they really are. And it’s really nice to have a clean kitchen, a made bed.

And we can go at it from a philosophical angle: your home is for you. It’s where you make art, food, love. Your consciousness, your energy, and the lives of your loved ones are the true inhabitants of your home. Our stuff, our space is meant to serve us, not take up time or hinder our purposes. I think that fully expressing this reality can look a lot of different ways, because we all have different needs and purposes. A person can be a slave to their home, and on one end of the spectrum that looks like a pristine, neurotically fashionable place. The home is so aesthetic that it is useless. On the other hand you can have a hoarder’s place, where humans are subordinate to inanimate objects, squirreling through narrow trails in rooms packed with stuff. What does your space mean to you? How do you want to relate to it?

And lastly, make sure you have the right tools for the job. I’m allergic to synthetic smells, so I just use cheap borax for scouring powder, and I buy other well-made, non-toxic products whose smell doesn’t actively dis-inspire me.


Question. My folks have passed away some time ago. In one sense, they are further than far away. They are gone. Yet it seems like they are right here with me, have never left, and are somehow closer than ever. We converse. Am I nuts?

Dear Bill,

I’ve heard friends describe similar experiences, and I’ve felt the same. After my buddy Gerard Smith (of TV On The Radio) died, I felt him with me in a strange, omnipresent way. There’s that saying, somebody is not really dead if their memory lives on with those who have loved them. Humans are weird, ritualistic creatures, and sometimes our psyches work more literally that we might suppose.

One of the sweetest ghost stories I’ve ever heard was told to me by my esteemed bandmate Keith Cary. Keith’s old neighbor was madly in love. It was love at first sight, and they were married within days of meeting one another. She died in a train accident as a young woman, and thereafter for the rest of his long life, he said she came and slept with him every night.

The present global pseudoscientific monoculture is a tiny blip on the map of human experience. For most of our history we’ve had a stronger relationship with our ancestors, our dead, than we do now.

Just a few decades ago, we were taking care of our old folks at home, laying out dead relatives in the parlor, digging their graves, and in a lot of places in Europe, digging the bones back up and bringing them home after a few years.

I don’t know where you grew up, but I’m from Houston, Texas, where there are big Asian communities. So many of the restaurants and businesses have ancestor shrines with fruit and incense. Mexican culture is ubiquitous, so Dia de Los Muertos is a big celebration. It’s valuable to stand at cultural crossroads, to remember there are so many different stories about what it means to be human.

The DSM is our culture’s receptacle for definitions of the insanities, but the book changes so frequently. Homosexuals were recently considered crazy, and now there’s a psychiatric label for bratty children.

How do you want to relate to your consciousness? How do you relate to your loved ones? What does your life, your experience mean to you?

I think the question really is what’s more important to you: do you value a book like the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita or the DSM more than your relationship to your own consciousness? Who is the authority of your experience? Who better understands the complete context of your feelings than yourself?

My best friend’s mother was really brilliant. I never got to meet her, but I think about some of her sayings almost every single day. She taught her kids that reading the Bible was fine and good, but that it is of greater importance to be aware of how the divine speaks to you presently in “the Gospel of Now, the Book of You.”

Obviously, she was a religious Christian lady, but the clarity of her expression holds well in other contexts. Your own experience of your consciousness defines how you relate to authority figures, and it is always true that no one is capable of being a greater authority of your own experience than you.

ALL THAT SAID, there are obviously crazy people, people who have lost their one-pointedness. And if we’re talking about fine lines of certainty, we all know there are assholes in prison who believe God told them to murder someone.

There is a popular scientific faction today that ‘reasons’ away the existence of human consciousness. (I call those kind of people fundamentalist atheists.) I’m talking about famous intellectuals who profess that consciousness does not exist. Really.

And the pillars of psychology themselves, Freud and Jung could be judged batshit crazy by a few standards. Freud stood by his assertion to the end of his days that what was Wrong with people is that most of them had not fucked their parents. Really. The drive theory is perfectly insane. And Jung kept his hallucinatory visions private until his last book which he insisted upon releasing post-mortem. So what does ‘crazy’ mean?

Sorry if I’m not much help. You asked a really big question. Dr. Raymond Moody did extensive social science documenting near death experiences, and something he calls shared death experiences. He just put out a book on shared death experiences called Glimpses of Eternity. Near Death Experience Research Foundation, is an interesting resource and database of thousands of first hand stories from around the world. You might want to check some of this stuff out.


Ask Jolie Holland

Dear Jolie,

How do I deal with my constantly changing feelings about my songs and mixes? One day I love a song, the next day, I don’t like that same song. One day I’ve found the perfect place to put the snare drum in the mix, the next day, it sounds waaaay too quiet! If my tastes and feelings are always changing, then how can I decide when a mix or song is “right”?

-Mixed Up In Philly

Dear Mixed,

I think the real solution to this problem exists at that fine point where your art is yourself. Just like in the everyday flow of events where you’re constantly recontextualizing whether or not a certain impulse is a trustworthy instinct or an anxiety to be written off, your relationship with your music will reflect the relationship of your consciousness to your identity.

I always think of music like acupuncture: the same treatment will have vastly different effects on different people, or even the same person day to day.

Your dissatisfaction with previous mix decisions might actually signify that you’re not in the mood to be mixing some days. And you know, how you feel about yourself might be more pertinent information than the level of that snare.

The thing is, music is gonna sound different on different systems, so all you can do is ride the line and trust yourself to make the best decision.

You gotta keep making work, learn to feel that moment when you hit sweet spots. And keep focusing on how to trust yourself in and out of the studio, 24/7 IRL.

Some of the best advice I ever got about playing the violin was this: before you curl and contort yourself around the instrument, take a moment to feel your body straight and grounded. You *add* the instrument to your body.

You could try doing something like the same, in a psychological sense. Do your best to get a good strong sense of your state of mind before you mix a song.

Dear Jolie,

I am entering into a long distance relationship for the first time in my life – what are some long distance relationship “do’s” and “don’t’s”?
It is challenging. There is a high percentage of texting involved in over communication which can me problematic.
Texting can be a relationship killer.
Sweet nothings are fine via text. 😊
It dawned on me that many touring musicians end up logging quite a bit of long distance relationship experience.

Mendocino Joe

Dear Mendocino Joe,

You got that right. A touring musician usually knows a little too much about the LDR.

My present boyfriend and I are pretty chill about it. We spoke on the phone about 3 times when he was away for month, texting every day to say good night, neither of us needing the other to respond minute to minute. My boyfriend and I have a different kind of long distance relationship in that we have gone very long distances together. I’m typing shotgun right now as he drives.

On the subject of dos and don’ts: I don’t like to operate with rules in a relationship. I like it when it feels like my loved ones and I are creating our own relationships. I don’t want to feel like lowest common denominator popular culture is in on my private experience. The closest thing I’ve got to a hard, fast rule is I do my best to avoid heavy ‘relationship talk’ when either one of the party has been drinking.

So if was going to lay out any dos or don’ts for an LDR, I’d loop the texting rule in there too, for a grand total of three ways I generally refuse to discuss important shit, and that is drunk, tired, or via text. If it’s more than sweet, sexy nothings, that’s not a text. That’s a phone call, or an email if somebody wants to lay things out clearly.

In my estimation, text is a completely nonviable medium for any serious discussion. Out of respect for your big feelings, you’ve got to address them appropriately, in a way that allows for clear exchange.

If she really likes to hash heavy things out via text, I think you’ve got to be pretty firm to change that dynamic. Any time you’re asking someone to change something they’re used to doing, you’ve got to use a clear message with heartfelt, sincere repetition. My best friend shows me how to employ this method all the time. He compares it with how you relate to toddlers. You don’t just say no. You probably have to say no repeatedly with love, without tiring, and you probably have to offer an alternate course of action repeatedly (“I love you. Please call me when you get off work.”) Once she feels the energy flowing clearly in another direction, she will probably be inspired by how much more functional it is to avoid weighty exchanges via text. Alternatively, if she sincerely prefers styles of communication that make you uncomfortable, you’ll have to take note of that, and decide how you feel about it.

Our esteemed bandmate Jared Samuel adds “Don’t be too bashful or uptight to sext. Put your all into it. Maybe not quite all of your all.”

Then after thinking about it for a minute, Jared added, “Depending on how far into the relationship he might be, he should not demand or even expect monogamy.”

#metafanmonday: Sarah Nighswander

Sarah Nighswander is really one of the best fans I’ve ever had. I remember her and her girlfriend coming to my shows in San Francisco in the early days, two beautiful and stylish presences in the crowd. We had friends in common, and I was eventually invited over to their house for dinner. I was incredibly shy and weird. I remember I put on eyeliner before we went over to their place, and I spent the entire evening feeling self-conscious about wearing makeup (which I didn’t used to wear in those days.) My friend made fun of me later, which helped a bit. I was being ridiculously shy. It was the first moment that fans had been personal with me in a positive way. Up until then, my only interactions with people regarding my music were people I already knew, or strangers in a bar just saying this or that about what I was doing musically.
Sarah is an amazing cook, a great writer and a real comic genius. She keeps one of the coziest houses of anyone I’ve ever met, so to be invited to her parties and to be welcomed into her spaces (she kept moving around the Bay Area) was a really positive addition to my life. I’d been a bit of a vagabond up until that point in my life, and Sarah inspired me to bring more peace, coziness and a sense of sanctuary to my spaces. Sarah’s scene was really literary and artistic- people would read poetry at their get togethers, and share work. Sarah had a dance troupe that was equal parts mystical and comedic. I remember Sarah reading long stretches of Sylvia Plath, or her own chapters aloud. It was through Sarah that I met the great Sini Anderson, the poet and film director who would go on to make The Punk Singer as her first film. Sini shot my video for ‘All Those Girls’ when we both lived in New York City. Sini’s working on a powerful feminist documentary about Lyme’s disease right now.
It was because of Sarah repeatedly asking me to play Mexican Blue that I didn’t let that song disappear. I was critical of the song, perhaps because I’d only put fifteen minutes work into it. I guess I thought it wasn’t strong enough. I’m so glad Sarah kept requesting it at shows. She helped me see that you aren’t always the best judge of your work.
When Stoney Sharp cut this video for my song Mexico City, I had no idea what a luxury our budget was. It was just before the market was going to crash in ’08, to further decimate the music business, and put my musical career in peril. We flew my friends and I out to Joshua Tree to shoot it. Sarah’s carrying the horn. The beefcakey dude here went on to be expelled from my circle of friends by multiple nefarious deeds. The beautiful taller man was my boyfriend at the time, gorgeous multiinstrumentalist Jason Leonard who runs an antique poster restoration business called The Affiche Studio. Carey Lamprecht is the taller woman with the long hair and her violin. Carey’s a civil rights activist in San Francisco. She was just elected to the board of the Bay Area chapter National Lawyers Guild. I am so proud of her. The woman in the green dress is the fantastically talented Rachel Blumburg who was in my band at the time.

I have so much more I could say about this video: the altar to the dead is real. We placed portraits of our dearly departed there and got their smokes and booze or their favorite things to eat. I put Blind Willie MacTell, Mississippi Fred McDowell, my departed friend Buddy (as in my ‘Corrido por Buddy,’ and Townes Van Zandt on that altar. Here’s a stunning print Carey Lamprecht made of TVZ: image

Just like in the old days, I was feeling weird about wearing all that stage makeup in this video. Like Daniel Johnston says, I’m a sorry entertainer.

Thank you, Sarah, for being the best kind of fan (who saves my songs from my own brutal criticism) and for being such a wonderful friend.

meta-fan monday: Willee

This #metafanmonday falls on the winter solstice. So happy solstice, everybody. It’s the real reason for the season. My friend Timothy Freeman quotes his mother Nanny Burks Freeman who used to say “the true meaning of Christmas is that the Light is continuously being born in the manger of our hearts” which is pretty close in meaning to Om Mane Padme Hum, “the jewel is in the heart of the lotus,” that flower blooming out of the murky depths.

I took this picture backstage in Germany last year wearing this hat Willee gave me. The reason for this meta-fan monday is Willee. He gave me this gorgeous hat out of the goodness of his heart. It’s a Goorin Brothers hat: the wool is from Texan sheep. They dye the wool and make the hats in Pennsylvania. It’s a family business that’s been in operation since 1895. Willie was managing the Goorin shop in Oakland, California, and I was about to head to Europe on tour. All my winter hats were in storage a thousand miles away, so Wilee hooked me up.

Willee came to my Christmas show in San Francisco at that dearly departed venue Viracocha. Here’s a picture of Stevie and I backstage that night. Willee was there, but we didn’t get a picture with him. Stevie sang barefoot in a white kurta and suede pants, playing rock and roll songs about Jesus. With his hair down and his full beard, he was a vision of sexy Jesus.

A couple days later, Stevie and I stopped into Willee’s store to say hello. Willee had talked about giving me a hat, but I didn’t necessarily expect one. He offered us shots of bourbon when we walked in the door, and we had a far ranging, kaleidoscopic conversation while I tried on every hat in the place. Satellite of Love and Femme Fatal came on, and we talked about Lou Reed, still mourning him, still coming to grips with his genius.

I really couldn’t decide on a hat, and I was thinking I wouldn’t get one till I tried this one on. We’d overlooked it till last since its a man’s hat, but it suited me. It’s like a short top hat but it doesn’t have a costume-y vibe. It’s called a carriage hat.

One year later, all my stuff is still in storage. I’m in the Northeast, and I’m still wearing this great hat.

I collected feathers from my cousins’ rescued parrot Phoebe to send to Willee for hat decorations. Here’s Phoebe on the back porch with Stevie. Isn’t it supposed to be good luck to wear feathers from a living bird?
Thank you, Willee!

We’re looking forward to the next time we see you. You’re keeping me in good style and even better company.

This Christmas Eve, I’m sitting in as a secret special guest with Joanna Sternberg at Sunny’s in Brooklyn. Adam Brisbin, Stevie Weinstein-Foner and Jared Samuel, my bandmates who were at Viracocha last Christmas will be there too.

metafanmonday: Jason Tavares


This is a photograph of me in an intense state of unaccustomed bliss. I was at Jason Tavares’ HiFi shop upstate New York, listening to music on their gazillion* dollar sound system. I was overwhelmed with beauty. I had to get up and leave a couple times because the feeling was so strange and powerful. Imagine if you had never eaten ice cream, if you’d never had a massage. Hearing that top-of-the-line HiFi was an absolutely new sensual experience for me. I was so moved. I was afraid I might get teary eyed in front of people I’d just met.

{*By gazhillion I mean the systems they had up in the showroom were worth tens of thousands of dollars.}

Jason Tavares has been a consistent presence on my facebook page for years, and one day he said he was going to give me a HiFi system. I really didn’t know what to think. People can say nice things, and you don’t know what to believe. Without knowing him, I just tried to take it at face value and not expect much. But Jason is a really straight up, stand up guy, and he meant exactly what he said.

I finally met Jason outside the book of face by playing a house show tour. Jason suggested that we play a set in his wife Adela’s painting studio. It was an honor to be in her space. Adela’s a great painter. My bandmate Adam Brisbin and I played electric guitars with the amps turned down low, and we sang acoustically. That’s a pretty good way to go if you can swing it.

The next morning, Jason and Adela took us to the HiFi shop Jason founded, Adirondack Audio and Video in Queensbury. My mind was blown. I’d never heard recordings so clearly, except maybe in the context of mixing a record. It was such a powerful emotional experience for me.

Somehow, Eeyore like, I never expected to actually get a HiFi. But Jason is for real. He sent me every component, from a new turntable down to some sick-ass flat copper speaker cables. I had moved to Los Angeles in a suitcase, into a studio apartment, so I don’t have much. The HiFi really makes the place feel like home.

Jason tells me he’s sold many a gazhillion dollar, high-end system by playing my records, and that hooking me up with a nice HiFi is his way of giving back. I’m awestruck with gratitude. It’s hilarious to listen to low down recordings like The Basement Tapes on these speakers. You can hear so much detail and depth.

When I passed though the Northeast on tour opening up for my friend Gregory Alan Isakov, I got to see Jason and Adela again because they invited me to stay with them. Their four year old daughter Sophia is super shy and adorable. She had a song she wanted to play for me, so we all went upstairs to her room where she has a tiny toy piano, the same kind of piano I had when I was her age. Sophia plunked out this short melody on the plastic keys. It was terrific surprise to me, and neither Jason nor Sophia knew the significance, but Sophia played me a song I wrote when I six, actually the first song I ever wrote, on the same kind of toy piano I’d written it on. I hadn’t bothered to give the song a name until 21 years after the fact, when I recorded it as an intro on Escondida. It’s the ‘Tiny Idyll’ before ‘Lil Missy.’ I only recorded it because they happened to have the same model toy piano in the studio. It was just too uncanny, hearing this song I’d written as a child being performed by a child on the same instrument. I guess I overwhelm easily, and my life has been a bit overwhelming at times. I think I’m still taking that moment in, when Sophia started to play me the first song I ever wrote.

Jason just opened up a showroom in Manhattan. I highly recommend checking one of his shops out. Even if you’re not a gazhillionaire, you might need some amazing speakers or headphones.

Jason Tavares is a Prince and a great soul. I’m so grateful to have fans like him.

Jason’s HiFi shop is called Adirondack Audio and Video, Their two locations are Queensbury, NY and in Manhattan. The showroom in NYC is by appointment only. I think my band and I will put on a little performance there sometime soon. I’ll let you know.

meta-fan monday: Iñigo Arteta

This meta-fan monday, I want to shine a light on the wonderful Iñigo Arteta who lives in Germany these days.

My bandmate Stevie and I got to hang out with Iñigo in Freiburg, Germany at a festival we played in a big, beautiful circus tent. They had a grand piano on stage. It was fabulous. But I was first introduced to Iñigo Arteta via email.

Good press is good, but it’s useless as feedback. I receive the most meaningful reflections on my work as commentary from people who will never get paid to write about it. Iñigo wrote me concerning the violin I played on my album Pint of Blood:

‘About that violin… what can I say… I will let you know the whole story because it was the song itself (June) that triggered an avalanche of beauty among people that do not even listen to music… As one of Spain’s greatest writers and philosophers said when we were having a chat in his living room “That song condenses the reason why I listen to music, I can hear the famous Bach’s “Air”, combined with the honesty of Waits.”

Iñigo was hanging out with Antonio Escohotado, the Spanish writer, educator and philosopher, who is one of those druggy intellectuals along the same lines (in the English speaking world) as Terence Mckenna, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert/Ram Dass, or Graham Hancock.

Iñigo went on to say “I would love to hear you playing your fiddle, the whole history of beauty in music lies there when you play it, and of course also when you sing…”

He told me that on one occasion he listened to my song June more than two hundred times in a row. That song is really about how I felt as a child. I was so dreamy, playing outside every day in the woods or down along the bayou. It was so hot and flat in Houston where I’m from, that I would wish for mountains, imagining the thunderclouds as peaks. The violin track was done in one take.

I think this photo is from a show I played in Auckland, New Zealand? It was so cold on stage, I was wearing fingerless gloves. I believe that was the night I met Steve Abel, the great New Zealand songwriter and environmental activist. I’m playing the violin Iñigo was talking about. Its the first violin Stefan Jecusco* ever made. The bridge is one piece of ebony. It’s a strange and wonderful generator of overtones.

I like that violin because it suits how I like to play, that is, it lends itself to a multi-tonal voice. I wrote Iñigo back (trying not to be too pedantic) letting him know that’s how I play, that I generate similar tones on any violin, that it’s not just the sound of the instrument. He had only spoken about the violin and not my playing.

Female artists are often treated as though they are not the creators of their own work. My friend Vanessa Veselka, the novelist, tells me that her fictional writing is regularly assumed to be autobiographical. ‘Thank you for sharing your story, very brave of you,’ people come up to tell her after readings. And Veselka feels as though she’s disappointing them when she reminds them that her work is fiction. So this is a cross-genre problem. Even Björk deals with this: because she collaborated with a man, making beats on a few songs, the press assumed the man made all the beats on the record. I’ve worked with men as co-producers, and the press has assumed that the men were the sole producers. Grimes works alone because otherwise people will assume that men did her work. This dynamic is also expressed racially. My friend Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio tells me that Dave Sitek, the lone white guy in the band, is often assumed to be the producer. So the dynamic is about social power. Its a reflexive discrediting of the work of the disempowered. I’ve known very fine and well-meaning people to make these assumptions. It’s not the propriety of assholes and creeps. It’s just an expression of our sexist, racist culture.

Iñigo wrote me back:

‘Dear Jolie, thank you very much for the explanation regarding the sound of the violin… I did some research and a Polish guy says exactly what you have written to me. You and your playing style… It doesn´t really matter what you play, violin, guitar or piano. You manage to put your personal print on anything you play… and girl is it beautiful… It is like those cases when the result is more than just the sum of the parts, it transcends, leaving the pure essence to speak for itself.’

I’m so grateful to Iñigo for reaching out to let me know how my work has affected him, and for telling me what the great Spanish philosopher had to say. Because otherwise, I would have never known. Thank you, Iñigo! Thank you for feeling where I’m coming from, and letting me know.

*Stefan is a real force of nature. I’ve known him since I was a homeless teenager. I used his Zia Tarot images in the artwork for my album Escondida. Stefan makes Stroh-viols, banjos and basses, mostly for his own use. He’s a songwriter and bandleader, an incredible visual artist, and now he makes amps. He is the banjo player for the Dickel Brothers, tuba player with the Original Dukes of Hominy, bassist and bandleader with the Gibbon Family Singers, The Brotherhood Of The Orange Cone, and now Mangas. Stefan made an epic trilogy of records, the Syncretzia, all true story-songs from his life, but modeled after Dante’s comedy. TRAVAILIKA is Hell, ERGONOPOLY is Purgatory, and APOCLIMAX is Heaven. (Listen here: