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June 16, 2024

Is Jackie Venson the Goddess of Bluesfest?

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Jackie Venson is the muso we all want to be – talented, intelligent and smart and wise, open, and did I mention wildly talented and gifted and talented – she not just the whole package, she’s the entire gift shop.

I think she just might be…

I hadn’t even heard of Jackie Venson until Bluesfest PR guru Gaynor Crawford insisted that I speak with her (Gaynor knows best!)

I have to say Venson was one of the most delightful interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing, she is an incredibly talented and smart musician with some great insights into music and life.

I for one can’t wait for: A) her album Ghost in The Machine to come out next month – the innovations she is implementing are fantastic; and B) to see her at Bluesfest next year – and you, you’d be tripping if you didn’t get yourself down to Tyagarah to see this amazing woman.

Seven caught up with Jackie last week from her home in Austin, Texas, for a D&M about a tonne of things.

Jackie, you play incredible guitar – you have been likened to Gary Clark, Jr. – but you also have a very beautiful voice and you write some amazing songs, do you feel you are a guitarist/singer/songwriter, or a songwriter/guitarist/singer, or a singer/…? What do you feel is your priority? 

I think that the priority is always the songs. I think the songs are what separate artists from other artists. The songs are so so so important. And I think that they have an unlimited ceiling. I could be the greatest guitar player in the world, but a songwriter is going to pass me and go on to a whole other galaxy that I’m not even capable of getting to if I was just a guitar player.

Songs are everything, they are literally everything – they override everything. If you’re a great songwriter. You don’t even need to be a very good musician. Yeah. Like how many people out there are terrible to listen to singing? But they’re like, the greatest songwriters in the world?

Have you been to Australia before? 

No, never. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia because I heard that Australians are huge fans of the blues and rock and that’s not always true over here in the States. Actually, most of my fans are an older generation, it’s really hard to capture young people here when you play an instrument. Young people over here, they really like all the rappers and the DJs and stuff. And so when you show up with a drum kit and a guitar, usually it’s the people over 55, who are there.

I’m excited, because I’ve gotten a lot of support on the internet, from younger people and older people, but also, an overwhelmingly large amount of young people in Australia seem to be catching on to my stuff. That’s really cool. So I’m looking forward to kind of being in that atmosphere of people who are like that.

Do you play a lot of festivals?

I have been playing a lot of festivals these last two years. I haven’t really before that – I recently changed my representation and the festivals have really picked up. 

Do you find that your performance changes when you go from that intimate pub sort of gig to a festival gig? Do you approach the audience differently?

Yes, because I have to. When there are so many faces I can’t really zero in on people. And so instead of it being about however many individuals are there, the bigger the crowd gets, the more it’s like one giant blob of humans – but, I don’t want them to feel like one giant blob – I recognize that you are all individuals with all individual lives, so what I find is the biggest difference is, I don’t have as much stage banter. So, for a club show, I’ll tell stories – I’ll tell you why I wrote the song, but for a festival show, I just keep it pushing. I’m choosing really high-energy songs and it’s just one to the other. And, of course, I’ll talk – I’ll introduce myself, I’ll introduce the players, but it’s not as intimate. But whatever is lacking in intimacy is made up for in energy. I’m totally hyper. I’m feeling the energy of all of these people. It’s insane. 

So it’s different – it’s not worse or better.

So how many people are you bringing with you?

I’m gonna bring my mum, my tour manager, my husband, my drummer, and my drummer is gonna bring his wife… but It’s gonna sound like, ‘Wow’. Like there are seven of us. I’m a future girl and I like to use technology.

What makes your heart sing – what inspires you?

I’m alive. And I have to do something. And that’s pretty much what I run on every day. So I open my eyes and depending on what kind of day it is, it can be either really hard to get out of bed or not so hard to get out of bed. But even on the days where it’s really hard, where you open your eyes, and you’re just feeling terrible, even then I’ll lay there for like, 20 minutes. Like, I’m just gonna sleep all day. I feel terrible. But then a timer goes off in my brain and it’s ‘Okay! Gotta go. Gotta take a shower. You gotta go out.’ I’m alive. So I have to do things. It’s like this basic instinct, basically great, you know, to do things, to get up and I try anything. Even if it’s something really small. Just try.

It’s like a drive that was just built into me the way that you don’t think about breathing. So I need to go and try.

Are you having enough fun?

No, absolutely not! That’s actually a huge problem for me. It’s really funny that you asked me that question. I was just talking to my therapist and my team about this. I’m definitely not having enough fun. The stress-to-fun ratio is off-kilter. It’s about 70/30 – 70 per cent stress to 30 per cent fun. 

I have solutions in mind, but you’re asking me on Tuesday, October 17 at 6.14pm Eastern time. Am I having more fun than not at this time? No. But you know what? I have goals and ideas on how to fix it. During this offseason coming up I have a few months off and I have some ideas on how I’m going to make my life more fun going forward.

Can you give any clues about what those things are?

First thing is I’m going to establish a routine and I’m going to start doing fun exercise. Again, just walking around the neighbourhood, walking dogs, maybe maybe get on the treadmill and walk to some music that I love – just light, not strenuous, not break-my-body exercise. That’s the first thing. The second thing is I am approaching the next year of touring with a magnifying glass. I’m like, ‘what about this job is making it more stressful than fun?’ And once I answer those questions, that’s, that’s what I’m working on. I’m working on making next year less stressful for the reasons it was this year. Do you know what I mean? 

Sometimes you don’t really realise that your life has gone that way until you’re in the middle of it, living it. You wake up one day, and you’re like, ‘wait a minute – when I started this whole thing, it was fun and that’s why I was doing it. But when did it change? How did I get here?’ You know? Sometimes you’ve just got to take a breath and look around and take care of yourself.

People would look at you and think ‘Look at her. She’s talented. She’s touring the world. She’s beautiful. She’s living the dream. She’s doing all of these things. Of course, she’s having fun. Of course, she’s happy. But it’s always fascinating for me to get that insight that it’s work, and it’s stressful…

Yes. And here’s the trickiest thing about what you just said, about what people might think. You don’t know what they’re watching. What if they’re watching a video of me from five years ago? Nobody looks at the date of the videos they’re watching. They just see the video and they press play and they watch it. And so maybe in these videos people might think I’m having a great time. Maybe at that time I was. Maybe in that time period of my life, I was having fun and I did have it all figured out. But you know, times change.

Will we hear new music at Bluesfest 2024?

I do have a new album coming out at the end of this month, 30 October. It’s called Ghost in the Machine. And it’s a complete departure into jazz-rock – that’s what I’m calling it: jazz-rock. If you don’t like jazz and you don’t like rock, you’re not gonna like this album. 

What do you love about Ghost in the Machine?

What I love about this album is that every track has a corresponding outro jam track. So you hear it and it’s like what you would expect. It’s arranged and it’s well recorded. It’s hifi… But then what I noticed, when I didn’t have these in between jams, is that, one hifi, totally arranged very well produced track would end and then another one would immediately start, and you didn’t have any time in-between the last one and the new one.

So right when you’re trying to internalise all the musical information you got from the last one, the next one’s already starting. I found it overwhelming. I found it very overwhelming. The album was just like song, song, song, song, song, song, albums over. I’m like, ‘wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!

‘Can we have some time with each song? Can you like, play the song? And then after you play the song, can you kind of like, deconstruct it, and walk me through what the song was, while I cool down from hearing that song?’ And that’s what’s so exciting about this album. I’ve never done this before.

(Ed – maybe in the 60s and 70s when they forgot to turn the tape recorder off?)

I don’t think anyone is doing this and I think it’s because they are still formatting their entire artistic vision to a music industry that is completely collapsed and over – they still have this ‘oh the songs have got to be three minutes long’ or ‘we’ve got to get to the chorus in a certain amount of time’. I’m like, why are you applying 19-something or other rules to 2023 art? That doesn’t make any sense. Like, literally – why do songs need to be three minutes? Do you know why they used to need to be three minutes? Because that was all the technology of the vinyls and the players could handle. 

It wasn’t like they needed to be three minutes because music is supposed to be three minutes long, because art is supposed to be three minutes. It was the technological limitations of the time, so to carry that standard over 20, 30, 40 years, is absolutely unbelievable. We have Spotify playlists now. Songs can be any length. If they’re good, they’re good. Do you know what I mean? And so that’s the whole principle behind this album. Forget about rules.

I am so looking forward to seeing Venson on stage at Bluesfest 2024 – she has three shows: Thursday, Friday and Sunday. DO NOT miss her.

For more details, visit: www.bluesfest.com.au.

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