Over the past few years, Jennifer O’Connor has established herself as a fine writer of emotionally direct yet catchy songs, including a pair of albums on Matador Records. Her latest album, I Want What You Want, features a cyclical structure, some of her strongest songwriting, and guest appearances from the likes of Kendall Meade, Richard Baluyut, and Tim Foljahn. Following a tour with Foljahn, O’Connor checked in with us over email to talk about the making of this album, her work with label Kiam Records, her current reading, and more.
The album begins and (almost) ends with variations on “Another Day” — did you have that structure in mind going in?
I did not have that structure in mind going in. I didn’t even have that song going in. Up until right before the last few days of recording that song was just the poppy version at the end of the record, sans vocals or lyrics. It was an instrumental – and the first piece of music I had ever written on piano. At the very end of recording, I wrote lyrics and a melody over the instrumental track and then decided to record an acoustic version too (most of my songs usually start with an acoustic version, so this time it went backwards). I realized after writing the lyrics that it was one of those songs that kind of encompass what the whole record is really about – and it’s where I got the title of the record from, so I thought bookmarking the record with the two versions of the song was kind of a neat idea.
How did the making of I Want What You Want compare to the albums that came before it?
This record came after a period of doubt about whether or not I would make another record at all, so in that sense it’s very different from the others. All of the songs, in some way, are about that questioning, coupled with some songs about a friend who was going through a difficult period of his own. The whole thing is kind of about that parallel struggle. My struggle, his struggle, your struggle perhaps, but we kind of all want the same thing, or at least, that’s what I imagine…”I Want What You Want”….
When did Kiam Records begin?
Kiam Records began in 2002 when I self-released my first record. It sort of went away for awhile but came back in 2007 when I started releasing music by people other than just me. I have put something out every year since, sometimes two things a year! The company is really just me, so the release schedule is fairly limited but I really love doing it. It will continue and grows with each release.
On I Want What You Want, you work with other musicians who are solid songwriters in their own right (Kendell Meade, Richard Baluyut). Do you ever — for lack of a better word — workshop new songs with your peers?
I do, but not as much as I’d like. I did a songwriter series for awhile at Rock Shop last year, which was meant to do that very thing, but it fizzled out after a few months. I do send songs back and forth with Vinnie from Choo Choo la Rouge (also on Kiam). And Amy Bezunartea, (also on Kiam) goes to a monthly songwriter’s thing with some friends, which I think I’m going to crash next month. I think getting together with other songwriters is a really valuable thing to do.
What have you been reading lately?
I just got the Kristin Hersh memoir which I just started and am waiting for my copy of the Bob Mould memoir to arrive from WORD. Today, I think! I’ve also been reading this book called You Must Remember This…Popular Songwriters 1900-1980 – I usually read a few entries before I go to bed.
I’m in a music book phase right now. I tend to get obsessive and read several books at once. I was on a books of letters phase for awhile (Bukowski, EB White) and now it’s back to music. I might move on to fiction in the summer.