by Pinky Gonzales
Eilen Jewell is a local musician – singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, harmonica player – in the modern Americana vein, worthy of our attention. We mention her here in our column in the Weekly Dig. She and her killer band have just released their third (third time’s a charm!) album, Sea of Tears, which is one of those records that’s hard to take out of your player – especially in the car with the top down and the breeze blowin’. A recent review describes their sound as “where rockabilly, Chicago blues, café jazz, country, and swing collide and create a new musical galaxy.” They all also make their own southern-inspired “moonshine” – I’ve had the pleasure of sipping some of bassist Johnny Sciascia’s. Give a listen on Eilenjewell.com, buy a CD, or check them out on May 8th at the Iron Horse in Northampton. Being the fine gal she is, Eilen (pronounced EE-lynn) shares some good thoughts on booze, bars, and musical broads with us here:
1. What do you like to drink?
Kalimoxos! A kalimoxo is a Basque drink that is served in my favorite hang, Bar Gernika, in my hometown of Boise, Idaho (where there is a vivid community of people from the Basque country). You take cheap red wine–it has to be cheap or else it won’t be as good–and you pour it over ice and stir in an equal amount of Coca-Cola. It’s kind of like a poor man’s sangria, especially fabulous in the summertime.
2. Who’s a woman in music everyone should know and why?
Jessie Mae Hemphill! She’s an unsung hero. Her music is so amazing, I’ll never understand why she’s not a household name. I’m trying to do my part to change that.
3. Name somebody, past or present, you’d enjoy sipping a cocktail with.
James Joyce, because I imagine that everything he said would either fascinate me, disturb me deeply, or make me laugh, or all three at once. Plus, I’m not Irish at all, but I’ve never met an Irish person I didn’t like–or an Irish drink, for that matter.
4. Why is it that so many blues (etc.) songs have references to alcohol in them, and has any song ever piqued your interest in drinking?
I think a lot of artists mention alcohol in their songs because it has meaning to a lot of people, as do things like love and traveling. Almost everyone has some strong feelings about it. When I first turned 21 I was really starting to get into Bessie Smith. She sings a song called “Me and My Gin,” which I found amusing because it details the various mean things she does when gin is involved. One verse of it goes, “Don’t try me nobody ’cause you will never win / Don’t try me nobody ’cause you will never win / I’ll fight the army and navy, just me and my gin.” This is probably the reason I tried it out for the first time. Or did I try out Bessie Smith because I liked gin? I can’t remember, but the two are intertwined.
5. What are you excited about with the new release Sea of Tears?
I’m excited by our slightly new sound. With Sea of Tears we accidentally threw in some early rock n’ roll, and to my ears it works well next to our countryish/bluesish/rockabilly-type stuff on our first two records. I’m also excited to tour Europe again this fall and the rest of the country this spring and summer. Onward and upward!
6. You cover a Loretta Lynn tune on the new album, as well as have a side project/LL tribute band called “Butcher Holler”. What’s something you really admire about Loretta [besides her signing your guitar!]
She’s got a flawless, gripping voice. Her songwriting is quirky but poetic in a way that only she could pull off. I’ve heard it said that she has had more of her songs banned than any other country music artist, which I think is pretty awesome. With songs like “Dear Uncle Sam,” one of the few anti-war country songs in existence, and “Rated X” and “The Pill” which came right out and talked about divorce and birth control while they were still very taboo–man, she’s gutsy! I wish more people up there on the country music charts were keeping their listeners on their toes, rather than simply conforming to and confirming their flag-waving, bigoted stereotypes. Don’t get me stahhted.
7. What was on your mind when you wrote High Shelf Booze? [awesome song from last year’s release, Letters From Sinners & Saints]
High Shelf Booze is a song I wrote about one of my friends. She survived a horrible, messy break-up by going out, having fun and dating lots of men and women. I’m not sure whether it worked for her, but I guess the song isn’t exactly about pragmatic solutions.
8. You’ve done a lot of touring and traveling all over the world now. What are some of your favorite bars?
I know I will accidentally omit at least one and anger a few people, but off the top of my head….The Maple Leaf in New Orleans, Drink in Boston, El Sol in Madrid, Bar Gernika in Boise, the Tir Na Nog in Somerville (gone but never forgotten!), the Paradiso in Amsterdam, the Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain and the Oyster Bar in St. Francisville, Lousiana. Last month, when we were in Louisiana, one of the highlights of the tour was that the bartender at the Oyster Bar gave me and the band a free bumper sticker. It reads, “Gator Bit. If you hit the pit. The Oyster Bar.” We will forever puzzle over what that could mean.
9. Any tips on drinking in moderation?
I suppose my ability to moderate comes from learning the hard way. You have to respect the drink.
10. Do you have a secret weapon that keeps you going?
My secret weapons are positive thinking and negative thinking. Positive thinking comes in handy before the show, when I’m getting ready to go on stage. I visualize how I want the show to go, how I want to be and act, and that focuses my nervous energy. And negative thinking–also known as a jaded sense of humor–keeps me from taking things too seriously. It keeps me laughing at the stupid shit.
We’ll drink to that.