October 23, 2011
The Sunday Session: indie folk from Jenny Gillespie with Shahzad Ismaily. Sound by Dominic Armstrong.
Born in Springfield, Illinois in 1980, Jenny Gillespie first picked up her mother's Martin guitar at 13 after years of classical piano study. Falling in love with the music of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Nanci Griffith, Jenny embarked on a path of writing and performing her own folk music. Though her style has expanded from straightforward folk to atmospheric dream pop, themes of intimacy, family, spiritual searching in a broken world, and connection with nature have always permeated the stories in her songs.
After a few years as a poetry graduate student in Austin, TX, where she recorded the alt-country EP "Love and Ammunition," Jenny moved to Chicago where she formed a band and recorded her first full-length, self-produced album, Light Year (listen) at Electrical Audio in Chicago in 2009. Driven by delicate piano and off-kilter guitar tunings, Light Year garnered comparisons to Bon Iver and Feist; her song "Hummingbirds" won Jenny a spot as a 2009 Williamsburg Songwriting Competition finalist. In fall 2010, Jenny reconnected with Darwin Smith who had mixed "Light Year" and they embarked on a two-month-long recording session for her second album, Kindred (listen).
Her new album, Belita, due out in early 2012, was produced by Shahzad Ismaily (Bonnie Prince Billy, Jolie Holland, Lou Reed), featuring vocals by Sam Amidon, guitar by Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) and percussion by Jim White (PJ Harvey, Cat Power). Says Gillespie, "The sound of the record brings out my purest musical impulses, my folk and classical roots, my world music and musical theater influences, and unifies them all with an intricate, warm and heady sound that I can only describe as 'acoustic paintings.' Some of the songs sound like electronica, but they are all played on acoustic instruments. And there's an openness and spaciousness to some of the songs that I have long defied...just me and a piano, just me and a doubled acoustic guitar."
Shahzad Ismaily was born to Pakistani immigrant parents and grew up in a wholly bicultural household. While he holds a master's degree in biochemistry from Arizona State University, he is a largely self-taught composer and musician, having mastered the electric and double bass, guitar, banjo, accordion, flute, drums, various percussion instruments and various analog synthesizers and drum machines. Ismaily has recorded or performed with an incredibly diverse assemblage of musicians, including Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Jolie Holland, Laura Veirs, Bonnie Prince Billy, Faun Fables, Secret Chiefs 3, John Zorn, Elysian Fields, Shelley Hirsch, Niobe, Will Oldham, Nels Cline, Mike Doughty (of Soul Coughing), Graham Haynes, David Krakauer, and Billy Martin (of Medeski Martin and Wood). He has also composed regularly for dance and theater, including for Min Tanaka, the Frankfurt Ballet and the East River Commedia. Recently he composed the score for the critically acclaimed movie Frozen River, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. He was also an artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA in 2008. Currently based in New York, Ismaily has studied music extensively in Pakistan, India, Turkey, Mexico, Santiago, Japan, Indonesia, Morocco and Iceland.