Unknown Mortal Orchestra recently brought their tour behind this year’s excellent Multi Love to a …
Live in Portland October 6 | The Fixin’ To
Jenny Logan is easily an impressive human being, even if you don’t count her prolific band presence (Summer Cannibals, Sunbathe, Deathlist, just to name a few). She has taught in the Bronx, acquired a law degree, and co-founded the XRAY.fm radio station here in Portland. I was able to sit down with her recently to discuss her latest album as Deathlist, Weaks. The record grapples with the mother of all issues and emotions: death. Around two years ago Logan was delivered the harsh news that her estranged father would soon be passing away from a rare blood disorder. While most people would shut down, Logan was able to internalize this situation and gift us with Weaks. Jenny Logan is a wonderful reminder of the strength and creativity of human beings.
ELEVEN: You’re putting out Weaks on your own. Why not through a label?
Jenny Logan: Well, I’ve worked with bands before that have been on labels. Really my only point of this project is to make music–I’m not trying to make a ton of money off it. For it to be worthwhile for a label to even put it out, they would want some promise of a return on it. I’m just putting out tapes. Summer Cannibals put out a record with Kill Rock Stars and I don’t even know if they’ve recouped it yet. We’re not planning a big tour; it’s like only 7 or 8 songs. I wrote it in the winter, and for me music is a form of therapy. I recorded them and I was like “Well now you have to put them out.” So I just did a short run of tapes and I’m going to play a few local shows.
11: What was the recording process like? Where did you end up recording this album?
JL: My friend Victor Nash has a home studio called Destination Universe. He has a science fiction library in the studio and this big beautiful recording studio.
11: That’s so rad, I love reading Philip K. Dick.
JL: Yeah there’s like times if you can’t pick a name for a song you can just get the title from one of the books. I met Victor like four years ago when I went to pick up my friend Nick Jaina and they gave me a little tour of the studio. I’ve made all the Deathlist records there. Sunbathe made a record there.
11: What do you think took the most time in creating this album?
JL: Well the most difficult part was that I sprained my shoulder two weeks before I was supposed to go into the studio. It was back when Portland was covered in ice and I slipped down this slope, it was so painful. Summer Cannibals had all these shows that I wasn’t able to play in. So I had these studio dates coming up and I was just like “I don’t know how I’m going to do this but I’ll try to figure it out.” After a couple weeks I could lift my arm but I couldn’t play standing up. The hardest part was playing the songs. The album is super stripped down. I had a different vision for it before but then I had to deal with this crazy physical constraint. So it’s pretty minimal.
11: Did you want a bigger sound for the album before hand?
JL: Yeah I kind of did. Devon Shirley (of Summer Cannibals) was going to come play drums and my roommate Harrison Rapp (of Divers) was maybe going to come play guitar and it was going to have a live band sound but by the time I went in I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to play so I didn’t want to drag all these people in, just in case. I ended up playing the drums with one arm and looping them together. The mixing didn’t take much time because there wasn’t a lot of live instrumentation.
11: Do you think that due to the sensitive nature of the album, it was better that you got to go in by yourself? Like you got to be more introspective?
JL: Yeah. It’s easier to go into that when there’s not a bunch of friends around. Like it wasn’t a party atmosphere. I think I was able to be more in my head. Also being in pain all the time everyday puts you in a weird place too. It puts a lot of things into perspective.
11: Has your relationship with your father changed at all after making this album?
JL: I did an interview in the spring about how I was telling this whole story about reconnecting with my dad because I thought he was going to die; I thought he only had two months to live. Then he just kept hanging on. I went to see him with the intentions of saying goodbye. But now it’s been almost two years.
11: So you are incredibly involved in the music scene–you’re in quite a few bands, you founded XRAY, you also do work for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for girls, what’s it like juggling all of that?
JL: So far it’s been fun. Sometimes it feels a little crazy but for the most part they are all different enough that I’m getting different energy out of each project. I really like playing with different people. I learn something new from every person I play with. I get to get inside the head of different songwriters. There are so many great, interesting musicians in Portland.
11: Yes! I was worried when I first moved here that the music scene wouldn’t live up to Chicago but I almost feel like it’s richer here.
JL: It’s very nurturing. I think bands help each other out here a lot. I went to a show the other night, Devon’s in another band called Dan Dan and they played at The Know, and the band after them was a funk group. It was such an eclectic combination.
11: I read that you and Maggie want to start a country band? Is that true?
JL: Oh yeah, that’s totally serious. Maggie has actually written a couple of country songs. We’re going to call ourselves Sunburn.
11: Who did the cover art for the album?
JL: My best friend passed away in May, and that was one of the last drawings he made, his name was Joe. The next album is actually about him.
11: If someone doesn’t know your backstory, they could listen to Weaks and interpret it as being about a significant other, are you ok with that?
JL: Totally! Pretty much all my songs are about relationships. I try to write lyrics that are a little bit vague so that I can continue to perform a song even when I’m no longer heart broken about one thing. My songs are more about painting an emotional landscape vs. telling a very specific story.
11: How is Weaks different from your other releases?
JL: This one is more stripped down and the lyrics are the most direct I’ve ever written. The most personal. I did also work with my friend Hutch Harris (of the Thermals) producing it, so there was outside input, which is nice. It’s good to have an outside pair of ears. He has a really good ear for drums. He also helped with little overdubs and stuff like that.
11: With losing Joe and your dad’s sickness, have you found yourself thinking about death a great deal or exploring spirituality at all?
JL: Yeah, I think about death all the time. I’d been pretty open minded about an afterlife or spirituality. I’ve never lost anyone that close to me; he was like a brother to me. When he died I didn’t feel his presence anywhere, it was just like he was gone. It made it seem pretty bleak. It didn’t seem to me like there was anything after. It’s not a bad thing but it’s my impression now. It’s made me become really clingy and nostalgic about my friends. I might tell my friends I love them too much.
11: What made you want to start XRAY? How did that all come about?
JL: I grew up in Davis and my older brother had a show on the college station. The guy who ran it–Todd Urick–and I became friends. So when I moved to Portland he was like this lifetime radio dude who had lobbied to the FCC to create low power FM licences for community groups. He was doing policy and helping out low power stations get started. My second year of law school he wrote to me and said “I’ve got this license in Portland but I live in California do you want to help me file some paperwork?” So I did. It was mostly helping them get non-profit status and convening a board because a non-profit has to have a board. The idea was that I would set everything up and then Todd would come up here and run the station, but Todd’s health got really bad and he wasn’t able to come up. So it ended up being me and three or four other people. I was the interim director and then it kind of snowballed into what it is now. It’s been a total group effort though to make it what is it now. It used to be just me and some people meeting in my living room.
11: What’s next for you?
JL: I actually have an interview with Teach for America coming up, so maybe that. »