Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass with Jennifer O’Connor




829presspass.jpgThere’s a certain directness about Brooklyn-based songwriter Jennifer O’Connor, a no-nonsense preference for Point-A-to-Point-B.

She’s the sort that tends toward the straight path, no detours or side roads, thank you very much.

Until music writers began noticing the characteristic continuously cropping up in her music, it wasn’t something she had ever realized about herself, but further probing bore it out.

“My friends were like, yeah, you are exactly like that,” O’Connor says. “I was like, okay, I guess I am.

“I’ve been told that it’s admirable, but I just think I have a clear way of seeing things. I don’t like to waste time with a lot of things that aren’t necessarily useful.”

And so, when the characters of her songs are sad, they cry. She doesn’t draw out their sorrow with Dickensian prose. The compositions aren’t simple-minded, they’re just simple. And, partly because you don’t need an advanced literary degree to decipher a labyrinth of metaphors in her music, they’re effective.

“When you go looking for a little light real late at night,” O’Connor sings in “Here With Me,” “And you don’t like the things you see. I’ll be right here waiting in the dark waiting for your knock. Oh, I want you here with me.”

Lines like those are typical of O’Connor, whose disenchantment with needless wandering is quite clear in the title of the tune “Bulls-t Maze.” You won’t find any overly elaborate eloquence to trip over, diluting her true talent for building connections to her audience through her honesty.

O’Connor’s no-frills approach allows listeners to hone right in on the plots and themes of her songs. Most notable among them is a recurring mention of relationships, both romantic and familial, and the sadness that accompanies their loss. On her album, Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars, O’Connor covers the passing of her sisters to cancer and a car accident. On follow up effort Here With Me, some more sunshine pours in with head-bobbing track “Daylight Out” and the romantic, I’ll-be-right-by-your-side title track.

“Most of the stuff on [Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars] was easier to write because writing was almost an escape at that point in my life,” she says. “It was one of those difficult times that everyone has to go through and I think my writing was a really positive thing that gave me a structure that I really needed.”

While one review in Spin labeled her music as “confessional,” for its overtly personal feel, O’Connor doesn’t entirely agree.

“I enjoy writing, but I don’t necessarily think of it as a cathartic thing. I don’t think of it as ‘confessional,’ that sounds too dramatic, like I was planning on sitting down and writing some kind of journal entry,” she says.

Despite the direct approach, she does like latitude with her music, particular with those she works with in the studio. On Mountain, she recorded with Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Yo La Tengo’s James McNew. The result was an album The New Yorker dubbed “near-perfect.” This time around O’Connor enlisted the help of producer John Agnello (The Hold Steady, Sonic Youth) and features The Hold Steady’s Franz Nicolay on squeezebox and some singing by O’Connor’s good friend Darren Jessee of Hotel Lights.

“If you do your own thing without a steady band, you can ask whoever to contribute to your records,” she says. “That’s one of the fun elements. You can bring in someone who can add something different.”

O’Connor will be playing solo when she plays Vienna’s Jammin’ Java this Sunday, but she anticipates hitting the road again with a full band in the not to distant future as she attempts to push her music career to the next level.

After all, it’s just like O’Connor to cut to the chase.

  • Jennifer O’Connor performs live at Jammin’ Java with Hayden Sunday, Sept. 21. Tickets are $14 and the show starts at 8 p.m. For more on Jennifer O’Connor, visit www.jenniferoconnor.net.