Jackie Venson: The power of Joy

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Photo by Ismael Quintanilla III

Austin-born, singer-songwriter Jackie Venson is back with her latest album Joy. True to its name, Joy is an upbeat fusion of funk, soul, and blues melodies. Recently awarded the “Best Guitarist” title in the Austin Music Awards, making Venson the first African American woman to receive the award, this Berklee-trained songstress is continuing to turn heads wherever she goes.

Recently, Venson filled us in on her latest musical adventures, her new album, and shared some advice for young musicians and how she keeps healthy on the road.

“Jackie Venson’s ‘Joy’ is a funky, upbeat song that will raise you up and make you move.” 

Last year was a pretty big year for you, what were some of the most memorable moments?

Last year was full of touring and creative madness. I spent six months out of town—the most I ever spent on tour in my career. It’s extremely difficult to narrow it down, but I would have to say it’s between the first European tour, the month I spent in New York City and headlining Gruene Hall. The tour in Europe was unbelievable because the promoters paid for my full 4-piece band and getting to tour Europe with my band from America was an absolute blast. The month I spent in New York City was wild because I have never spent that much time there. I got to reconnect with old college and Austin music people who had moved there. I also got to busk for the first time. I know that sounds crazy that I would be excited to play for free on the street, but for an Austin, Texas girl, it’s simply an experience we aren’t used to. I played a slow blues in the rain in Times Square, and it was epic. Finally, what was so amazing about last year were the accomplishments on the home front. Gruene Hall is a legendary Texas venue and being able to headline it on a Friday night for the first time was extremely special for me.

Joy is an amazing album. It’s 20 tracks in all and full of incredibly powerful songs. What was your favorite song to work on?

I really loved working on “Afterglow and “Joy” because it was my first experience really buckling down on an arrangement, making decisions based on the rest of the collection of music, and really digging deep within myself for all of my accumulative musical knowledge. Working on those two songs specifically was intense brain food for me, and I am very happy with how they turned out. It was so great getting that experience that I am excited to approach more of my songs this way.

I really enjoyed the six “T” tracks, those brief interruptions in the album. What was the thought process behind including those?

Two reasons; I am a huge fan of Hip Hop, both old school and new, and segues are a staple of Hip Hop albums, i.e., classics like Notorious BIG and newer stars like Kendrick Lamar. I also really wanted to incorporate them into my record because I am a genre hopper, and I believe adding the transitions in will guide a new listener through the music and adequately introduce them to my style and vibe.

Where was the album recorded, and what was the recording process? Who were the producer and engineer, and were there any other artists on the album?

One of the songs was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, Tenn., but the rest were recorded in Austin, Texas at either ORB or The Bubble. I had a few different engineers—Boo Mitchell, Tim Palmer, Frenchie Smith, Eddy Hobizal, and Jas Nowicki, and a few different producers as well. There are no other artists featured on the record; however, the producers and engineers of this record were a huge part of why it sounds so great.

You’ve got a pretty grueling tour schedule ahead of you. What do you do on the road to keep yourself healthy and energized?

Honestly, I haven’t figured out a do-all, end-all system that keeps me healthily fed, well-rested, and guaranteed with energy on the road. I have figured out how to not get sick on the road, which is crucial, however, at this time, I simply do not have the budget for guaranteed healthy meals and a comfy bed every night. Sometimes I’m eating fast food and sleeping on the bus, sometimes I have a home-cooked meal and get to crash out on a memory foam bed—it’s the way things are at the time, and I am faithful in the future it will change for the better. For the upcoming tour, I am going to attempt to bring a cooler with me and stop off at grocery stores to have healthy snacks available, but who knows how long that will be logistically feasible. There’s only one way to find out!

What can fans expect?

Lots of smiles, a cool and unique instrumentation and stage show, dancing, guitar solos, and just a damn good time.

What’s your favorite song to perform live?

Hard to pick. I really like doing “Only Have You,” transition to “Never Say Die,” and then transition to “Next Life.” It’s like a three punch of really powerful and/or groovy songs, and it usually gets the crowd up and moving.

Any words of wisdom you would like to offer to other female artists considering a career in music?

There’s no road map, there’s no right or wrong, everything is a grey area, and if you don’t love music to the very core of your being, you won’t last very long.

Tone Talk [sidebar]

What is your definition of tone and how has it changed over the years?

Tone has always been and will always be in the hands of the beholder. I don’t think the brand of the instrument or pickups or anything has a lot to do with it. Whether or not the person is known for certain effects like distortion or fuzz comes into play as well, but even through that, there’s a foundational tone that exists only in the hands.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?

I use a Kemper these days. I love the different rigs available to me. I cycle between 15 different rigs on the Kemper—three different performances containing five rigs each that I toggle on the Kemper Remote.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

I like to go in prepared with ideas in mind and not anything set in stone. I like direction, but I also like the freedom to change course if the moment takes us there. The studio is kind of like a ride, you can go in with a destination in mind, but what’s going to happen on the way there can’t be predicted.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

I work with consistent instruments, and I practice and rehearse a lot. I also make sure to play as many gigs as possible, so I can feel at home on stage.

What does your practice consist of?

These days I’m preparing for my album release, so my practice sessions have just been running down the set. Before that, I would just think of stuff to program into the drum machine and just jam with it.

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