Jessica Pratt needs coffee. Not, like, to survive, but for the sake of our interview, she assures me all will run smoother if she has a cup. So we spend the first quarter of our time together walking the streets of Echo Park in search of caffeine, discussing her songwriting origins.
“I feel bad for people that read interviews,” she says, feeling like she has told the same story many times. “If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.”
And indeed, the story that resulted in her debut self-titled release has been repeated ad nauseam: Tim Presley of White Fence was a friend of a friend. He had a label and wanted to put out her long-before written-and-recorded songs, to get them out into the world. She obliged, and people surprisingly took notice. “I played, like, two shows a year,” Pratt says of her time before her self-titled was released. To say that its success changed the course of her life would be fair.
“That was a very validating experience,” Pratt says about Presley’s release of her album, but she never wanted to dwell on the compositions gathered for it. “Those songs were so old by the time that album came out that I’d already had time to develop and write other songs. So, I didn’t really have insecurities about how to follow it up. More so, I was chomping at the bit to get new shit out. I feel like an adult now, where I was more of a child then. This album has been a long time coming.”
This album is On Your Own Love Again, her first release recorded with the intention of being an album, out this week on Drag City. It isn’t a dramatic sonic change from what she has previously released, but there’s hardly the semblance of a static artist.
“I lived in San Francisco for seven years and was very happy,” she says of her move to Los Angeles before the making of the new album, a part of the mass exodus from the bay that has been widely reported on. Most of the new album was written and recorded in her time in L.A., though a few songs to date back to her Northern California time. She calls those “a bridge from the first album to this one.”
But moving is not something new to Pratt. Her childhood was characterized by many changes of scenery, from Seattle to Iowa to New Mexico to California. Pratt describes her mom as a “pretty freaky lady” with “broad taste,” and recalls always being into music, growing up listening to “Tim Buckley and Frank Zappa and Iggy Pop.”
“I was kind of a loner as a teenager, so it was easy to dork out on things,” Pratt says. “When I was 15, my brother took a brief interest in playing guitar. He bought a Stratocaster that he played for a while. I played around with that a bit, learning basic chords. Eventually I bought my first guitar at a thrift shop, a classical acoustic. I listened to T. Rex and Donovan and other pretty things and began composing my own songs.
“I feel like Mac DeMarco has a similar story, of just doing shit, fucking around because it feels natural, and it’s kinda funky or whatever.”
It is November and the kind of Los Angeles fall day that people from other regions don’t really imagine. You can be comfortable in a coat or in a t-shirt, in pants or in shorts. The weather is, essentially, perfect.
“I like that the sun is all clouded up,” Pratt says as we find a spot on the lake in the literal Echo Park. Yeah, it’s almost Thanksgiving and we are sitting outside by a lake watching ducks and cranes fish for their lunch. Her pale white skin matches my own, and we are both unashamed to revel in our avoidance of too much sunlight. We discuss the Los Angeles music landscape, which Pratt has embraced and feels a part of despite her short time in the city. With San Francisco’s modest music community imploding, Pratt praises the “underground scene that harbors true weirdos” in L.A.
Of these Angeleno “weirdos,” Ariel Pink has gained notoriety of late, and it is somewhat a surprise to see Pink thanked in Pratt’s liner notes for On Your Own Love Again. “There’s no story there,” Pratt says. “He is just someone that is very important to me. Everyone has that person that came to them at a formative time, that makes you realize that you can do that thing, because that particular version of a thing resonates with you. I had that experience with him, and it definitely changed how I felt about music, how I approached music, and how I wrote music.”
Pratt’s relocation to L.A. was hardly smooth. She struggled to find work, and she “went through a lot of personal shit” when she first arrived. “Los Angeles is a very isolating city,” she says, acknowledging she knew that before becoming a resident. “There is kind of a clubhouse mentality in San Francisco, where psychically you are never alone, which can also be very distracting. Los Angeles is very destination-oriented.”
“It was a hard, dark time when I first moved here,” Pratt says, “but, it was balanced by really cool shit. I saw great shows, and I met great friends who make really interesting music and art. There is a very palpable sense of uniqueness and diversity in this city that doesn’t exist to the same extent in San Francisco. If you are surrounded by people like that, you think it is completely okay to immerse yourself in your own shit, too. That’s just what people do.”
On Your Own Love Again is the result of this immersion. “It’s a fairly traditional template I’m working off of,” Pratt says, “songs about romance and love and loss and shit, which are all things I dealt with when I moved to Los Angeles. You go through your own darkness and you try to put it into terms that other people can relate to. Everyone is hurting all of the time, and a lot of times it involves another person. I hope that people pick up on the common threads, that the lyrics are not too obtuse. But, I think people get it.”
“Everyone wants to be understood,” Pratt says, “and while all art is subject to interpretation, I would like my music to emotionally resonate in some way, and for people to take something away from it.”