Influences Playlist: Jess Cornelius

These are the 15 albums that influenced the LA-via-New Zealand singer-songwriter's new album, CARE/TAKER, the most.

Music Features Jess Cornelius
Influences Playlist: Jess Cornelius

Earlier this month, New Zealand-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius channeled something truly awing on her sophomore LP, CARE/TAKING. Across 10 songs, Cornelius does astonishing work worth devouring. It’s a heightened flavor than what she made with her old band Teeth & Tongue, as tracks like “Laps in the Drugstore” and “People Move On” get up and move in their own rock modernism rather than simmer in a vat of piercing electronica. Both entry points are great, but CARE/TAKING finds Cornelius taking each side and filling her own sound out alongside collaborators Mikal and Steven Urgo.

And the work is poetic (“shining like a blade inside a fresh wound”), fearless and demanding of your full attention. She laments a global turmoil and reckons with life-altering responsibilities in the wake of uncertainty. “Tui is a Bird (The Work)” marches forward with throbbing strums, while Cornelius’s vocals warble upwards. On “Back to the Mainland,” she slows things down to a pace we’ve come to know her for, and it’s a rapture worth settling into. “I want this to feel true, but I can’t feel it for you,” she sings out, and it makes a home in your heart and your bones. It sounds like some grand, devastating finale to a film or a lifetime and you believe every word Cornelius sings and you feel each of them deeply.

In our latest installment of Influences, we’ve asked Jess Cornelius to compile a list of 15 albums that influenced CARE/TAKING the most. Check out her picks below, which include Lana Del Rey, Grace Jones and PJ Harvey.

The Weather Station: Ignorance

Tamara Lindeman managed to make a climate change record that you actually want to listen to and that’s really impressive in my book. She writes around ideas in this really nuanced way, never hitting you over the head with it.

John Lennon: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

One of my all-time favorite records. I didn’t realize until I looked it up recently that it was written after John and Yoko undertook primal scream therapy. That makes sense. It sounds very much, to me, like John Lennon was writing it for himself. I don’t think I’d ever heard a ‘rock’ musician
sing about parental abandonment before. The whole thing feels like he doesn’t care whether anyone else is going to like it.

Sarah Mary Chadwick: Roses Always Die

She’s got lots of great records, but I always come back to this one. I would watch her perform in Melbourne when I lived there, and just weep into my pot of beer. She uses super minimalist drum machine and brutal honesty and this voice that has a beautiful ugliness to it.

Bill Fay: Bill Fay

The first time I heard Bill Fay was through the song “Be Not So Fearful” off this record. A friend sent it to me, and it just broke me in two. The arrangements on this album are so over-the-top and great, old-school big-money studio style. And of course, there’s the whole story of the record not selling and him being dropped from his label and disappearing and reappearing 40 years later… It’s depressing but heartening, too.

Split Enz: Waiata

Growing up in NZ, Split Enz is sort of part of the fabric of my musical education. It wasn’t just the great songwriting and exuberant delivery, it was how they looked and dressed and danced that made an impact on me. And they could be so many different things once.

Lana Del Dey: Norman Fucking Rockwell!

Someone passed this record off to me because they’d been given it and wasn’t interested in listening to it. Lana is one of those artists that people want to dismiss but her talent is undeniable. She’s so good at creating a very particular world: melancholic, cynical, indulgent and sometimes weirdly relatable.

Ty Segall & the Freedom Band: Freedom’s Goblin

I watched a lot of live Ty Segall + Freedom Band shows after meeting Mikal (while I was opening for Ty on a brief run of shows), and then started working with him on the CARE/TAKING record. The Freedom Band always blows my head off live, but listening to this record was inspiring because of all the sax and horns on it, a lot of them played or arranged by Mikal. It’s strange because I’d already written the song “The Surgeon” (from CARE/TAKING) and demoed it using a bunch of fake trumpets before I met Mikal. It was a fortuitous coincidence because it was really my first foray into using brass heavily in a song, and then I met someone straight
after who did it all the time. Once we started working on the record Mikal replaced the trumpet parts with saxophone and made the arrangement ten times better.

Grace Jones: Nightclubbing

Just such an incredible combination of Grace Jone’s attitude and sexual power with Sly and Robbie’s dance magic. I think this record influenced my early albums (as Teeth & Tongue) more than the recent work, but she’s always around somewhere.

Meg Baird: Furling

I listened to this non-stop when it came out. Meg is such a force. Fragile and powerful at the same time.

Night Shop: Forever Night

I love Justin’s lyrics and he’s so good at writing simple, catchy songs that make you want to dance. My daughter loves this record.

Matt Sweeney & Will Oldham: Superwolves

Mikal made me a mix tape while we were making this record and it had ‘My Body is My Own” on it and I probably listened to that song 900 times.

Mary Lattimore & Paul Sukeena: West Kensington

Mary and Paul made this record while I was living around the corner from them in Echo Park during the pandemic. We were all in lockdown, I had a little baby, and they had a front yard where we could hang out together. It was a memorable time and this record reminds me of that.

PJ Harvey: To Bring You My Love

The first PJ Harvey record I ever listened to and I’d never heard anything like it at the time. “C’mon Billy” has that driving guitar strum that I think makes it into my songs still, and she was just so mysterious and untouchable to me.

Gun Outfit: Hard Coming Down

I knew this band from around LA and then during the pandemic I found this record at Old Style Guitars and listened to it a lot. They’re understated and under-appreciated, there’s so much feeling and restraint here and just a very cool sound.

Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains

I always astounded me how David Berman could be so funny and so heartbreaking at the same time, it’s a perfect combination. My friend worked on this record and was going to be in the touring band, so it was obviously a big shock when Berman passed. This was on repeat for me while in the early stages of writing CARE/TAKING. I don’t know if any of it shows up though. I should be so lucky.

Check out a playlist of songs pulled from Jess Cornelius’s album picks below. Her album, CARE/TAKING, is out now.

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