We last talked to Jess McIntosh of Joybird last spring when Maypole Music Fest was about to go down at The Empty Bottle. It was a candid interview (check it out) where we discussed her approach to music, how she got to Chicago, and the then-fledging project that has recently become Joybird. This week, Joybird drops a second record with a release party tonight, March 7th at The Hideout! Grab tickets for only $10. We’ll see you there for what is sure to be a great evening of local music! McIntosh took some time out of her busy schedule after returning from a vacation in Puerto Rico to answer a few of our questions before the release party.
JM: Jess McIntosh
It's been almost a year since we talked to you last. You've added a new member and have a new album coming out. Can you fill us in on all the Joybird happenings this year?
JM: Yes! Aside from the massively DIY undertaking it has been to build our album release, the biggest happenings I can gather this year have been the ones that aren't as concrete. As a group we have learned a bunch about who we are, how we can be better by trusting each other more. And by that I mean I'm letting go a lot - I've asked for so much more help this time which can't be seen as easily, but lives behind the scenes - in press release writing and art making, review-writing and tour planning, finance and project management - all those icky things I used to harbor great fear about needing to do all on my own have become things I can share the load with friends on. Friends who love thinking about things in ways I can't. Isn't that beautiful?? It takes a while to believe you deserve the help or whatever it is - love, belonging, respect, etc.
Arranging songs has become much more of a group effort; we all trust and love each other for our input and output. I should say we have also all grown other projects up alongside Joybird this year - every member of my band is in at least 2 other bands, and leads at least one of those bands. (Side note: Joybird's original three- Aaron, Jess and Bill, started a 5-piece electric Honky Tonk band this year, Horseshoe Bender, to be featured at A Day In The Country at the Hideout this summer!) What else? Joybird traveled over the summer and played some really great festivals - our favorite was Boats & Bluegrass in Winona, MN. We recorded a single in collaboration with Bloodshot Records for a special release in 2019, but that's a little under-wraps still, so nothing more on that. We added a new member!
Adding a new member happened so seamlessly and almost without consciousness - Emily Nott is our number four now, and she owns part of my heart. (We just got back from Puerto Rico together - she took me to celebrate my 30th birthday and I felt like a true queen.) I feel so lucky to have a rock-solid ring of talented collaborators by my constant-side in this beautiful city. I wish they could all be in the band every show. It's only been recently that my agency as a songwriter and my trust in the process has been strong enough to feel able to function as a slightly larger group: three felt like a solid, manageable number, and I never wanted to be in the position of not being able to pay my band fairly or communicate clearly, (things that start to feel out of control when the group is too big), but last fall we were taking some press photos for a string of shows we had, and I asked Emily to join the shoot since she was playing with us on the run. We got on a roll taking photos (with Rachel Winslow who is a goddess with a large collection of vintage cameras and mirrors and prisms and a gorgeous mind,) and all our favorite photos ended up being the ones of us as a four-piece. I remember looking at Emmy and saying something like, "Well, I guess you're in the band now!" But truly, I feel our sound is exponentially greater and closer to everything I could hope for the songs with her in the mix. All the time we listen to recordings of ourselves singing together and can't tell who is who.
This record has been a long time coming. Does this have anything to do with the title, Landing?
JM: I had a really hard time *landing* on a title for this album. (Sorry.) But in the end, it was just what I described above. Letting go, allowing for the soft place it is to land to trust in one another and all the freedom and protection from fear that equals. The amount of time that passes between records, and the expectation there is deceptive, and also, (in my case), much more related to the amount of projects my hands are busy with than a coming-in-to or pondering about this project or something. I've played and helped develop music for four theatre productions in that time (with the House Theatre Company of Chicago and Chicago Children's Theatre), maintained a roster of 20-30 private violin students, toured the West coast and southeastern US with Al Scorch, and play in no less than six other bands in Chicago on my evenings and weekends. So you could say Joybird is a mere drop of juice that squeezes out of my very full life-bag of fruit. ;)
You've got a ton of musicians backing the original trio on this record. How did recording compare to the sessions for your first record, Long Time Exhaling?
JM: The making of this record was as opposite as it possibly could be from the last one in terms of process. We booked 3 days in the studio to record 10 songs, and that was it. Doug Malone, whom I cannot speak highly enough of, recorded and mixed the album with us at his studio JAMDEK (formerly MINBAL). We had 2 days of live tracking and one day of overdubs for guest musicians Emily Nott (guitar, vocals), Sara Leginsky (banjo, vocals), Steve Doyle (dobro, electric guitar), Anna S. Jacobson (trumpet, french horn), Cass Pautler (clarinet), and Dan Andree (fiddle). Listening back to my first album, Long Time Exhaling (2016) I'm reminded how many months and years of time in different rooms and studios we spent piecing the whole thing together - just me and Bill Harris. We released it under the name Jess McIntosh mostly because it didn't start with the intention of being a record, or a band for that matter. It was a couple instrumentals I recorded for a silent film series (How Do We Sing?), and one or two songs I wrote that felt good to sing in the wake of a recent break-up. It was an experiment doused in overdubs and in-studio improvisation: it was a solo-project. Landing is a collaboration. It has intention and self-awareness and a band...with a name!
How excited are you to share this record with the world?
JM: Beyond excited. I feel like I'm graduating college again! I hope folks understand how much goes into this - this glorified business card of an object you can hold but probably not even play in your car anymore because CDs are obsolete. I'm sorry I can't afford vinyl. (I can't really afford these CDs either, so please buy them!) I'm selling screen prints with downloads included, and I designed, printed and packaged every aspect of these by hand for those who only want a digital copy of the music. And do you know what else? I can't wait to make NEW stuff. It's been a long year of creating only what I could fit in between, but I feel a strong tide of new material surfacing on my insides.
Are there any Joybird tour plans in the works?
JM: Yes! We leave the day after our release for a string of Midwest shows: Milwaukee, LaCrosse, Minneapolis (check joybirdmusic.com for more, or follow us @joybirdmusic on FB/Insta). We're playing with some incredible other artists and reuniting with old friends. We'll be waving hello to the Mighty Mississippi on the edges of my home-state of Wisconsin and when we return we've got a full couple months of shows in and around Chicago as well. I can't wait to see you out there!
Post Script: Two night’s before Joybird’s release party, Jess’s car was broken into. The thief claimed her backpack full of items for the show, plus important pieces for the packages she hand designed and was going to mail to her GoFundMe donors. The page is still accepting donations…