Haunted By Herself

music-2-pic-1508-jessica-prattJessica Pratt’s second album seeks to rectify the wrong impressions left by her surprise-hit debut

Anticipation is a new thing for Jessica Pratt. Her 2012 debut self-titled record, a tortured, disjointed ‘70s folk-inspired album, was a surprise hit in indie circles. Now her sophomore record, On Your Own Love Again, which was released on Drag City this year on Jan. 27, hit the market to a lot of eager fans. What they found, however, sounds like a totally different musician.

In a way, she is. On Your Own Love Again isn’t catching up with Pratt two years later—it’s been eight years since she recorded her first album, when she had just turned 18. The recordings were later discovered by White Fence’s Tim Presley, who released it on his label Birth Records. Music bloggers gobbled it up, but Pratt felt, even at the time, that it wasn’t a great representation of her music.

“It’s great because it’s given me opportunities for the future, but I’m excited to have this new thing clear that out of the way,” Pratt says by phone. “The majority of it was recorded fairly off the cuff in a studio where I didn’t really know the guy that ran it, and we were kind of on a bit of a time limit, and I didn’t necessarily get the impression that he was really into the music. It was kind of an uncomfortable setting. I was very un-honed.”

That album got her quickly affiliated with the freak-folk movement, earning comparisons to Joanna Newsom for her unwieldy, unpredictable, and yet seemingly trained voice. This comparison doesn’t stick anymore. Not only is the new record overall more cohesive, but Pratt’s singing is remarkably measured and cool.

It’s a simple and short folk record in the vein of Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and early Harry Nilsson, with songs built around her dreamy acoustic guitar playing and haunting voice, with some subtle instrument overdubs and carefully crafted backing vocals. While her first record struck a chord with indie record buyers for sounding like a lost lo-fi recording from some eccentric ’70s singer-songwriter who never was, she’s transcended any affiliation to freak-folk now with On Your Own Love, which transports the listener to a mysterious place with moody sonics, cryptic lyrics and intimate, gentle guitar plucking. It feels like the soundtrack to driving on an ocean-side road in California at dusk, full of emotions that you don’t have a name for.

Her lyrics, she says, are highly personal and reflect all the recent change in her life: moving from San Francisco to L.A., breaking up with her boyfriend, transitioning into life as a full-time musician.

“I write about what has happened to me, and the emotions that I’m feeling. I think that speaking about things very bluntly can be an interesting thing, but I think I’m really attached to things being abstract enough that it’s a little more malleable in people’s minds,” Pratt says. “I had all this stuff happening inside of me. I was long overdue for a period of concentrated music-writing.”

This gorgeous batch of songs is the first real example of what Pratt can do with a complete lack of distraction. Before, music had always been something she’d squeezed into the rest of her life, but when she moved, she quit her job, and even avoided most social interactions while working on the record in a period she calls her “self-imposed exile.”

“It took a while before I really had the confidence in myself that I felt like I deserved to have the free time to be able to explore and do this,” Pratt says. “Only now can I get to a point where I can fully acknowledge that this is my job and it should be my job. I’m really dedicated to find a way to make money doing this; otherwise, you’re just unhappy.”

INFO: 9 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 26, Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $12/Adv, $15/Door. 429-4135

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