Jasmine Poole, aka Wonky Tonk, is undoubtedly the most interesting person I’ve met in 2015… but the moniker is already kind of a spoiler… In fact, she’s the most charmingly interesting and interestingly charming person I’ve met in as long as I can remember. She bears more than a passing resemblance to a John Waters heroine. She does the whole Americana-shoved-around-by-punk thing, but with LSD levels of cartooniness… but the songs are really good in the most sincerely beautiful manner nearly any contemporary singer/songwriter has managed to muster. Her work most closely resembles those years in the ‘90s when the alt rock stars of Lollapalooza’s second stage were tinkering with iconic figures of country and folk.
Poole, or Wonk, has been at it since 2008, yet her debut LP, Stuff We Leave Behind, just dropped earlier this month. In that interval she has played alongside Royal Holland, Billy Wallace, and The Stick Figures; started a hip-hop group; and toured Europe with Solveig Sandnes… in addition to much else… In the end, the long-in-the-works album rings of the perfect combination of the enchantingly youthful, unhinged aesthetic of the best songwriters of alt rock and indie pop and working-class poetics of the all-time great songwriters of the American south (Think some potent cocktail comprised of early Tegan and Sara, a less pompous Mazzy Star, and those days when the girls of Luscious Jackson were kickin’ it with Emmylou Harris… although she also admits to being a fan of more recent PHILTHY favorites like Jessica Lea Mayfield and Those Darlins.)
I recently got a chance to know (and, dare I say, cosmically connect with) Jasmine Poole, or Ms. Wonk, who told me about where she came from and all of the ingredients that have gone into her own personal aesthetic.
Izzy Cihak: So you’ve been at it in the music industry for quite some time now, despite the fact that your debut just dropped. Not to start with a huge question, but what have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
Jasmine Poole: Yikes! All of it? The fact that people listen? Getting called “Wonk” on the street by strangers. Playing with Langhorne Slim, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Sunset Rubdown, Guy Clark, Those Darlins. Getting to meet magical people and travel around tellin’ stories. Having an excuse to wear a costume at least once a week. All of it!
Izzy: Have you had any particular favorite reactions to your work so far? Are there any people that you feel best “get” you and what you’re doing?
Jasmine: Oh man, (knocking on a forest of wood) everything has been so kind! I love that everyone has a different favorite song, and it blows my mind every day when someone messages me thanking me for the tunes and that it is all they listen to I am like “wtf, y’all listen to this in your free time, holy crap holy moley omg whaaaaaaaaa.” I reckon everyone hears what they want to hear and sees what they want to see, and in that way I learn a little about myself with every reaction. Brian Baker, who wrote an article in Citybeat, really made me feel nervous and vulnerably empowered for how much he saw of me and wrote to the universe: “In conversation, Poole seems incapable of that level of calculated deliberation, preferring to live in a moment that is perpetually new and unexpected. When asked about the evolution of her career in general and the new album specifically, Poole’s first inclination is to laugh.” I can’t recall exactly which outlet (sorry) said “Wonky Tonk will just as soon spit in your face as kiss you on the cheek…” I read it and had a tinge of panic…. “Has this person known me?! That’s about right but I didn’t think the record let on… yikes!” Haha, all in all I just am excited someone is listening 🙂 That’s the beauty of tunes, I don’t write for me, I write because I have to. It’s about an individual’s experience with the music, not me. I just am the one given the chance to share them. #endseriesofrunons
Izzy: And is there anything you think is especially important for fans and potential fans to know about your aim as an artist?
Jasmine: Well shitfire, my aim is to connect. And to listen. And to travel and to do what folk artists do and write the peoples’ songs. I reckon that while I write tunes that are very personal, I write them as universally as I can with anecdotes spread here and there. I want to tell our story. The growing up, the growing old, young, hurt, strong. In that way, I am more of a show-not-tell kinda gal. In the words of William Miller from my favorite show, Almost Famous, truthfully, “I just want to be cool.” Also hugs, real hugs, gosh I love ‘em.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the most significant influences behind your debut LP, Stuff We Leave Behind, both musical and otherwise?
Jasmine: Oh gosh, this was a long and treacherous road; I am obsessed with Peter Pan… or at least the notion of nurturing the child inside and keeping imagination engaged as our numbers grow bigger each year. This album took tooooo many years to finish, and for that it documents the evolution of growing up and loss of innocence. Learning truths and knowing them and then realizing truth is flimsy and you knew nothing at all…until you know again and so on and so forth. Musically… influences? Well I love Loretta. I love Modest Mouse. John Prine and punk like whoa… Musically, however, I didn’t strive for anything except what the song asked for. At all costs I stay true to the song because that is all I can trust. Love, lost love, and motion were the impetus.
Izzy: Do you currently have a favorite album track? “Cleveland” might be my favorite track of 2015… It totally reminds me of an Americana take on Grrrly ‘90s Alt. Rock… So pretty much like Tanya Donelly at her most badass.
Jasmine: I want to hang out with you in real life, like whoa. It sounds like we might have a bit of fun by your language at least. The most magical part of music is hearing what song is everyone’s favorite, and what they bring to it. I love that music is up for interpretation from individual experience… this means the more is listened to, the deeper its roots grow. “Cleveland” was about this time I was in… Cleveland, with Eric Cronstein, who was recording my record. His roommate had a blind date at Applebees and asked us to come along incognito for protection. Well, I was only 19 and it was after 9 and they wouldn’t let me in to an Applebees at 19-years-old without my mom. So after giving me the business they made me sit at a table alone where I sullenly drank a crappy lemonade. I got the bill and it was a $6 lemonade! I was so enraged that I had to write a tune which then spread to corporate notions so on and so forth… know you didn’t ask this. I loveeeee that you love it and you have those descriptions , makes my face hurt from smiling. Anywho, my favorite track changes all the time but I reckon it would have to be “One For The Juke.” It was one of the last songs I wrote and for that it was more enveloping than specific on person or place and it felt like perspective. I really was going for Ravonettes-meets-First Aid Kit.
Izzy: So this is a pretty personal question, not really relating to your music, but I understand that you’re really into the French New Wave (Your Facebook told me, haha.), which is like kind of my favorite entity of alltime, behind probably only Morrissey and Marx. So I’m curious, are there any New Wave films or filmmakers that you’re an especially huge fan of? Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? By William Klein is my #1 favorite film of alltime, but Masculin feminin and Breathless by Godard also crack my Top 5 (Early Truffaut, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnes Varda are also some of my favorite cinematic entities.)
Jasmine: We should continue this off paper forever! Godard everything, to be predictable but for good reason. “All you need to make a good movie is a girl and a gun.” But really I love Lola…I lived in Nantes for a bit while going to school in Denmark… Nantes brings great memories, plus it is female centered and adorned with fairy tale notions. I love fairy tales. And women. And France.
Izzy: Speaking of visuals, you have exceptionally amazing style, so I’m curious what is it that inspires your fashion, if that’s the kind of thing you even think about? Do you have any particularly significant style icons?
Jasmine: 1. Thank you for the kind words about style. You know I grew up pretty poor and got used to having one or two outfits for a week; when I got a little older I started to become aware that this was not normal and felt the weight of people’s eyes on me. So, realizing this was something due to my life situation and age I could not really change… I embellished. There’s a woman named Ruth Cruz who had an album called If you can’t fix it, decorate it! So that is what I did. I look to 58-year-olds for their fashion sense these days and try to get in that mindset of this is cool, this is cool, this is cool. Do they go together? Who cares, they are cool! And probably sparkly.
2. I mean, Loretta Lynn. Jenny Lewis. Zooey Deschanel, and cartoons.
Izzy You have an upcoming CD release party. What can be expected of the live show? I’m imagining something pretty fucking cool… Are there any live performers that you find to be especially inspiring?
Jasmine: Oh gosh, well after a recent interview with Citybeat I did some soul searching and found out that I needed to get a little more Wonkified, so I started playing this guitar branded by Titos that I found in the basement of a speakeasy I used to work in just so I could use my Acoustisonic amp and not have the daunting task of trying to sell it. A silly electric through an acoustic amp… I am working on the tone and some vocal tricks but since Cincy is so over-saturated with musicians with their own projects, which are great, it is hard to maintain a band. So in order to stray from the naked Jenny from Forest Gump feeling I get from being a solo girl with an acoustic, I decided to try to Billy Bragg it up solo girl with eleeeeeectric. It sounds silly but since I switched from Birmingham to LeRoy (my guitars), people stopped seeing me so Country…which is great because I love being between the lines.
As with any show, who knows what to expect! I never know what I am going to play or do until I get up there and feel the energy of the crowd; then I cater (or try to) to them. One of my ultimate favorite performers and friends is the one Langhorne Slim…and David Mayfield. I have seen Sean (Langhorne) perform through so many emotions and every time is unique and magical. Once his amp blew up (sorta) and he didn’t even falter, he unplugged, motioned to his band and seamlessly finished the song, and set, on the floor amidst the people. #effing magical courage and passion.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you? What can we expect of Wonky Tonk in 2016? Any chance of some East Coast dates?
Jasmine: My ultimate goal is to Wonk Up the world…. “now wonk it out, now wonk it out…” New Years is my ultimate fav. Every year instead of a resolution I make a motto like 2014 “The year of the letting go and kicking ass,” 2015 “The year of Be Free,” I reckon 2016 is “The year of the Wonk.” I am currently working on my second EP with Grammy Award winner Brian Olive and a 2D music video for a song off of that album which… at this point is leaning towards the name “All My Ghosts,” however, I won’t know for certain until all of the songs are alive. So, long story short, I plan to finish that record and then tour relentlessly pushing Stuff We Leave Behind while All My Ghosts is being mixed, mastered, and all that blah de blah, which I learn this time around takes forever. So tour, tour, tour. Boots. Glitter. And a new record with some surprises in-between. I am still trying to find a booker, but I plan to hit all the Coasts and the ‘Merica in between… that might be overzealous but hey, a girl can dream.