We recently got to ask a few questions of Jetty Rae, one of our favorite Americana singer-songwriters active today. It’s not her first rodeo on PledgeMusic so we tried to tuck into what separates here latest effort, Stardust from her previous one, Can’t Curse The Free. Read on to hear some songwriting insights and what it’s like to live in an airstream. Plus, be sure to enjoy a lovely little video from Jetty featuring a clip of “You Raise Me Up.”
· How did you get started writing and playing music for children?
It’s actually pretty funny that I wrote my first children’s lullaby album before I had any kids of my own. I had just completed two semesters of audio engineering courses, and I wanted a low-pressure project which I could experiment and practice my new skills with. So it was actually this very stress-free test of my recording and writing abilities. I pretty much wrote a song, then recorded it immediately after. At the time I was recording, I was living in Dexter, Michigan, and one of our good friends had two young daughters who I fell in love with. They came to all my shows and really liked my music. The first album I made was dedicated to them. They helped me realize that there was a group of kids who loved my music, and I wanted to make something just for them.
· What inspired the drastic move out of your house and into your vintage ’79 airstream?
There were many small things and one very life changing loss that led us in this direction. But to tell the full story, I have to start with my Grandma Jetty. Grandma Jetty (my namesake) lived in trailers and boon-docked up in the mountains her whole life, and my Grandpa on that side of the family also chose to live in a trailer. So living in a trailer is in my blood. I believe the move was precipitated by DNA as much as it was a life choice. Another factor that caused us to act upon this dream was our children. Touring after having kids was very challenging, so we wanted to always have a home base wherever my music led us. Having a home on wheels gives us an explicit freedom to live unconventionally and go wherever my fans are—all the while being able to provide a constant safe home environment. It’s been really awesome to play shows all over the US and Canada for fans that never would have seen me play live if it weren’t for my living situation. The loss I referenced was in 2012 when my husband and I experienced the death of our first child. Her brief life has impacted us more than anyone else. She showed us what truly matters, that stuff and things will not bring a life of fulfillment. We crave a life of meaning, music and adventure.
· Can you tell us a bit about the recording process? What was it like to record music in a trailer as opposed to using a conventional studio?
Recording myself is always challenging, in my opinion, no matter where I am because I don’t have any external feedback if it’s good or crap—it’s just me and it’s incredibly hard to think that what I am doing is good enough. Recording in the Airstream itself was a lot of fun and really very meaningful to me. When I recorded Stardust, we were parked at a National Park during a Tennessee Spring and the weather, the singing of the birds, and the light were great for fueling creativity. I also really loved working with my off-site producer Joseph Barker again (who produced my first lullaby album). Working with him is such a treat because I send him very stripped down songs, and he sends me back all of these elaborate layers of guitar, bass, piano, glock…everything. We have a really good working relationship, and he brought these songs to life in a way no one else could. We did everything by email and text, we were never in the same state, and we never even talked on the phone. That’s crazy now that I’m saying it!
· What kind of instrumentation can we be expecting on Stardust? Will it sound much different than your last album Can’t Curse the Free because it is geared toward children?
It’s definitely softer and sweeter than Can’t Curse the Free. It’s really laid back, whimsical, and there is an ethereal innocence in these songs. As far as instrumentation, it runs the gamut—strings, percussion, piano and even piccolo. It’s really fun folk-pop on some tunes, and even some covers. Most of the tracks are built around the guitar, ukulele and vocals. I’m a sucker for layered thick vocals. That’s really what people love about my kid’s stuff, so there are a lot of harmonies and choral layers. I got to do a lot of things with sound that I wouldn’t do for my other projects—there are bird songs as well as space FX—which really transports the listener. It’s not just a sleepy-time album. It sounds like baking cookies with your kids, road trips and snow days.
· You mentioned you were parked in a Tennessee National Park. Do you think your environment/living situation has played an influence in the creation of this album at all?
Oh, definitely! I’m inspired daily by the beauty around me, the many miles I’ve gone, and the colorful characters I’ve met along the way. However, living in a small space with children makes carving out time to be creative and write incredibly challenging. I have never had to fight for my art as much as I have had to in this season of living perpetually on the road and being a mom. The most adult song on the album is “Seasons Lament.” It’s inspired by my son who has the nickname Brown Bear. The song’s protagonist is a little bear who is having a hard time with the changing seasons and the lessons each one teaches. He doesn’t understand why things are the way they are—but he comes to love and appreciate life through the change, to see that there is something to love in every season and that every season has a purpose. I can remember sitting around the campfire by myself with my guitar in Quartzite, Arizona looking at the vast blanket of stars and picking these chords. There is such a strong emotional memory tied to that song because of the place I was in. I often wonder how many of my songs would never be if I had not gone these thousands of miles. The same is to be said of all my other recent releases.
· Do you have a preference over writing music for adults vs. children?
One thing I’ve never really liked to do is dumb down my writing or songs for children. They are able to grasp so much more than we realize, so I try to bring the same level of excellence and sophistication to my writing for them as I do for all my other projects. These songs aren’t just for kids, they are for families. For moms and dads and caretakers to sing to and with their kids. I have kids of my own now, as well as a lot of nieces and nephews, and I tried to write things that they would love…but at the same time, I wanted to make something sonically beautiful for the parents. There is a lot of musical tenderness in this album, as well as playfulness and adventure. My kids love the song I pilfered from the 1800’s Animal Fair! I took the first verse and added three of my own. So to answer your question, no, I don’t really have a preference. It all scratches the same itch to be creative and use my songs to touch people—their age is irrelevant.