Jackie Venson: 'Do Everything You Do With A Purpose'

Oct 24, 2018

Austin, Texas-based guitarist and vocalist Jackie Venson performs at The Elbow Room on Wednesday, Oct. 24. Venson, who played piano from her earliest years, took up guitar while a senior at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since then, she's carved out a unique spot in the musical marketplace, infusing her songs with a blend of blues, R&B and pop.

Interview Highlights

You spend an awful lot of time touring and performing live and I wonder if you feel like R&B-based or blues music is something that has to be performed live to be fully appreciated.

I do agree and I don't at the same time. I feel like my strength is my live show, at this time, I'm working on changing that. But I've always gotten the best opportunities off people coming to my show seeing it and experiencing the energy of me or me and the band having that conversation on stage. It's really powerful. It's extremely powerful. It's really had to capture any other way. You try to show somebody a video, even if it's a really good video, really great audio, mixed and mastered, the videographer did a great job, they were at the show, it doesn't matter.

What I've realized in the last few years is that records and recordings are just as powerful. It's just a different medium. You can't approach the studio the same way you'd approach the stage show.

There are a lot of records out there that are very powerful. That people will probably listen to forever. I literally head Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" in a grocery store the other day. I think that song came out 50 years ago or something like that. Every time you hear it, don't you get happy?

Oh yeah.

It's extremely powerful and there's a lot of records like that.

Do you ever sort of worry about the advancements in technology overtaking the excitement of records like that?

The ingenuity isn't lost because no matter how much technology we have, no matter how easy it is to make a record these days, at the end of the day, if a record's powerful it's going to rise to the top and if it's not, it won't. That's the end.

Even if it does somehow find its way to the top, someone pays the way for it to be on the Top 40, how long is it going to last? Is it going to be played in a grocery store in 50 years? Probably not. No matter what, the people who really put thought and care into making a great record, that record will be heard and depending on how amazing it is, it will never die, whereas a live show is a fleeting moment, all the time. As soon as people leave the building it's over.

I think that the technology we have is really great and I think there's more ways to have ingenuity with the technology but I also think that people need to use restraint. If you don't really need to use this $25,000, don't use it. If it's not being called for on this song, then don't use it. Don't use it because it's this top-of-the-line cutting edge piece of technology. Use it because it's the sound you're going for.

What I suggest is that people get familiar with the equipment they have available to them and then do everything they can with said equipment. Don't do everything just because you can. Do everything you do in the studio with purpose.

I know so many people who worry about a great stereo system and I've never—look, I make my living working in radio and I've never had a great stereo system because, to me, if it doesn't sound good on a one-speaker Magnavox from 1979, then it's probably not going to sound good anywhere.

That's what a great record is. A really great record from 50 years ago is going to sound just as good on a stereo system as it will on a laptop. It's not about how nice the bass amp was or how great the microphone was on the snare drum. It's about who mixed it, who wrote it, what's the song about, what's the arrangement, what's the meaning behind the song, what's the intention behind singing the song, how did everybody feel when they recorded the song?

There's so much more that's beyond just pressing record and getting it mixed and mastered and a lot of people approach it that way and so a lot of peoples' records probably don't sound very good. And by very good I don't mean they didn't play well. It just sounds trite, like they just recorded it to record it. Did they think about the arrangement? Did they think about when it was going to end? Did they think about whether it was going to be long or short? Whether the vocals were going to be really loud and the drums were going to be really quiet? Maybe just the kick drum was going to be really loud and the snare was going to be quiet.

There's so much that goes into, it's insane and you just got to follow the vibe of the song. When you write the song, you ask, ‘What does this song call for?' You gotta take it one song at a time instead of, ‘Hey! We gotta record a record and I've only got 10 hours.' No, you can't approach it like that. That's going to shine through. People are intelligent. Humans are intelligent. Even if they don't know anything about music, they're intelligent. They're going to hear something and they're going to know in the first 10 seconds whether they like it or not. They might not be able to articulate why but they're going to know. That's just what you're dealing with. You gotta put something into the records or else they're just not going to go anywhere.

Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.