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Marching to Her Own Beat: Pi Jacobs on Resilience and Revelation in new album ‘Soldier On’ due out April 26 via Blackbird Record Label

In an evocative and heartfelt conversation about her tenth album, Soldier On, Pi Jacobs dives deep into the origins, challenges, and inspirations behind her latest musical endeavor.

In an evocative and heartfelt conversation about her tenth album, Soldier On, due out April 26, 2024, via Blackbird Record Label, Pi Jacobs dives deep into the origins, challenges, and inspirations behind her latest musical endeavor.

Born from the struggles and resilience demanded by recent years, this album emerges as a powerful testament to the art of persevering through adversity. With her characteristic blend of soulful blues and Americana, Pi explores the intimate process of songwriting and the dynamic synergy of recording with a band that feels more like family. She discusses the intricacies of working with co-producer Eric Corne, her diverse musical influences, and the specific songs that capture the spirit of endurance and love for life that define this album. Throughout the interview, Pi’s words reflect both a seasoned wisdom and a relentless passion for music-making, providing us with a glimpse into the soul of an artist who truly soldiers on.

. . . it definitely isn’t “back to normal.”

Pi, congratulations on your latest album, Soldier On. Can you share what inspired the title and how it reflects the themes explored in the album?

This collection of songs began during the pandemic and then the years of crawling back out. I know it was hard for everyone, but we musicians came back to a world with so many closed venues, audiences afraid to go to live shows, and a terrible economy — it definitely isn’t “back to normal.” It might not ever be, but what can we do? For myself, giving up just isn’t an option, but sometimes it feels like I’m soldiering on, as opposed to flowing with grace through my life.

In Soldier On, you’ve balanced deeply personal songwriting with vibrant full-band performances. How did you navigate the interplay between personal storytelling and the dynamic energy of the band in the studio?

Well, it starts with the songwriting, and I get pretty meticulous about that. I usually have to write thirty songs to get ten that are acceptable. When I have songs that I think are worthy, I demo them out on Pro Tools and try to give the band the most possible detail about what I’m thinking. The guys on this record are friends and long-time collaborators, so I trust them to bring their magic and that it will all come to life when we are together.

This album features performances that were tracked primarily live. How do you feel this approach impacted the final sound of the album, and what were some of the challenges and highlights of recording this way?

The record feels very ‘alive’ because it is…it was! With the team and studio that we had, I wasn’t worried about getting acceptable takes, just getting ones that were amazing! Honestly, the biggest challenge was the budget! A great studio, mics, vintage gear, producer, engineer, and players all add up. It’s worth waiting and saving for, though; recording is one instance where it really doesn’t work to cut corners.

woman wearing white suit standing against white wall
Photo by Karman Kruscke

You co-produced this album with Eric Corne. How did his vision and expertise influence the direction of Soldier On?

This is actually our first time working together, and it took us a minute to figure out our flow. I came in hot with some very specific ideas about what I wanted, and Eric came in hot with his massive experience and gravitas as a producer. In the first session, we tracked with Butch (drums) playing a classic drum set configuration. I liked that, but I wanted to try it with an “untraditional” kit — no cymbals and mostly percussion. I was adamant that we at least try my idea. Eric is super easygoing, so we did another session like that, and he ended up liking it. From then on, it was a beautiful, easy flow. Eric and I have so many influences in common. I grew up on the blues, and he has worked with so many great blues artists — even though this is not a blues record, the tones and organic-ness of it are similar.

Your music beautifully melds elements of blues, soul, and Americana. How have your diverse musical influences from California country to Laurel Canyon folksongs shaped the sound of this new album?

I was so very fortunate to grow up within an eclectic, creative environment. We were legit commune-dwelling, food-growing, pot-smoking hippies! Add to that, we were also a mixed-race family:  Filipino Dad, English Irish Mom, and African American Step-Grandma and Cousins. I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and music, and I absorbed it like a sponge. Now that I’m grown, I find that all of these different things just seep out into my own music, often without me even knowing it.

The album captures themes of resilience and endurance. Can you discuss a particular song that embodies these themes for you and tell us the story behind it?

My joke is that these are happy-sounding songs about really sad things! I wrote “Coyote” when one stalked my dog on a walk. It reminded me a lot of a friend who was dealing with cancer and the whole “Whew, it’s gone” and then “Oh crap, it’s back” dance that goes on with that illness. It’s not fun, but you fight with everything you have, and you keep fighting — not necessarily because you are strong, brave, or noble, but because you love life. I’m happy to report that both my friend and my dog are well!

I really love “Charlene.”

Do you have any favorite tracks on the new album? What makes them particularly special to you?

I really love “Charlene.” It’s about a mom who just became a ghost and is trying to reach her children from another plane. It was inspired by a terrible tragedy — friends of friends who lost their wife/mom very suddenly. I didn’t know them well, but for whatever reason, their story hit me. I cried like a baby when I heard it and then ended up writing this song. One day, when and if it’s right, I hope that this song can be of comfort to her kids.

What do you hope your listeners take away from Soldier On?

I wrote “happy-sounding” songs about sad things to cheer myself up and acknowledge some hard truths — it was a tough few years. I hope that I can inspire people to Soldier On when it doesn’t feel good. I’m so glad now that I hung in there. I’m feeling better now because everything does pass eventually.

Having been in the music industry for over two decades, how do you feel your artistic voice and musical style have evolved leading up to this tenth release?

It’s taken me a long time to understand how to make a record and to have the self-confidence to ask for the record I want, even demand it. This is record #10. I can point to records #1 through #9 and show you all of the moments where I caved, didn’t follow my instincts, or didn’t have the money to make the record I wanted. So far, this record doesn’t have any “cringe” moments, and that just makes me want to jump up and down with joy! Finally!

I can’t pick one because each instrument can inspire you in a new way.

You’ve shown a love for good grooves and robust instrumentation throughout your career. What is your preferred guitar for songwriting, and why does it stand out to you?

I can’t pick one because each instrument can inspire you in a new way. I also use Pro Tools and my trusty stomp box for writing, too. If you asked me to pick the most indispensable tool I own, it’s voice-memo! I have to note my ideas, or I forget them. Once I have a good idea, the idea tells me what guitar to use, what drum pattern to use, and what the chords are. But in case folks want to know, here’s a list of my guitars and why I love them:

Martin CEO-7:  A small body acoustic guitar with dark sounding, but a great support for my voice. Stays out of my vocal register.

Gibson L-00: A small body acoustic guitar that is very BRIGHT, great for sort of happy smashy playing.

Martin Jumbo JC16: A large acoustic guitar that has ALL the frequencies and sounds as big as a piano when I need a super lush sonic bed.

Gibson ES-125 (1954!): A hollow-body electric guitar that sounds terrible acoustically but plugged into a Princeton amp with a ton of reverb; it’s a classic! It’s like something that would be on an Al Green or Marvin Gaye album. This is a soul machine.

Epiphone ES-339 (1990s): This semi-holloy-body electric guitar can do rock, jazz, or blues, and sounds yummy. My favorite to solo on.

Martin 000 — This is a small, cheap laminate guitar that sounds great and is so easy to play that I end up using it more than any of the others.

Don’t know the brand, but this nylon string classical guitar I bought in the Philippines sounds amazing. Haven’t written on it yet, but it’s coming.

P-Bass — This is a copy of a P-bass, but it is decent-sounding for when I need to write down ideas.

Photo by Karmen Kruscke

Soldier On tracklist:

HALLELUJAH
Too HIGH, Too LOW
COYOTE
SOMETHING TO LOSE
SMOKE SIGNALS
SHOO FLY
MERMAID
MY LAST DAY
CHARLENE
SOLDIER ON
I DON’T FEEL LONELY

PRODUCED BY Pl JACOBS & ERIC CORNE

Tara Low

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