Jennifer O’Connor released two confessional, emotionally wrenching records on Matador Records, but when all was said and done the Brooklyn indie-folkie had little to show for it besides exhaustion and an empty bank account. She put music on hold to do odd jobs around the city (“bartender on Broadway, freelance writer, transcriptionist, personal assistant, eBay seller, etc.”); the musical, economical and emotional struggles ultimately produced her bustling fourth album I Want What You Want (out November 8 via her own Kiam imprint). The first single “Running Start” features O’Connor on bass, guitar and an especially colorful acid-washed synth part, singing a biting, one-sided conversation that she says is mostly about her relationship and her mother. However, the song could easily double as a song about employment, one that hits hardest for prominently featuring the popular post-graduation malaise mantra “Don’t you worry about it, I’m sure it only gets better.”
What is “Running Start” about?
“Running Start” is the last song I wrote for the record and it came about in a very unusual way. We had recorded a completely different song called “Leave Me” that I had written as an exercise for the Tower of Song songwriter series I did earlier this year. After we recorded it I realized that it didn’t really work with the rest of the record, musically or lyrically. My drummer Jon Langmead lives in San Francisco and he had flown in to record his drum parts and was long gone, so I had this feeling like I didn’t want to waste his drum track. I decided I was going to try to write an entire new song based around his drum track. I just put the drum track on repeat on headphones and wrote around the stops and starts.
What inspired it lyrically?
I think because it was the last song I wrote for the record, the lyrics are kind of an amalgamation of all these other ideas going on in the record. I’ve been doing a lot of running, which is where I think the idea of running came from. Parts of it are about my relationship, parts are about my mom who is sick, parts are about things its really hard to explain in words but it kind of feels like ascension or transcendence which I tried to express through melody in my vocal line and in the synth part that comes in the middle of the song: This is my favorite part. That keyboard sound was a total experimental found sound accident that I just played on a keyboard that was in the studio and we filtered through a few things. And it really kind of made the song, I think. I think that often the last songs that get done in the studio are often the best or most exciting, and I think that’s why I wanted it to be the first single.
What are the challenges in moving from a record label to self-releasing?
Well. Releasing a record is always challenging, no matter who puts it out. I have been running Kiam since my first full-length release in 2002 and have been putting out other bands in the years since. Matador did a lot for me the last couple of records and I am very grateful for the boost they gave me, but in a lot of ways, releasing this record on Kiam actually feels less challenging. I get to make all the decisions and don’t have to feel pressure to be anything other than what I am.
Your bio talks about your years doing odd jobs between records. What’s the worst job you had in that time?
Well, I was a bartender on Broadway, which I actually really liked. But at the beginning of the job I had to do something called “rovering,” which is actually carrying around a big tub filled with soda and candy and water and selling it to the people in their seats before the show started. It was really hard work.
There’s a limited, hand-numbered edition of the CD coming out for sale…
We are releasing a CD of I Want What You Want in a slip case that I am going to hand number and send out around Christmastime. There won’t be more than a few hundred pressed up. I may release a more standard CD package next year and vinyl as well, but this original edition will be different than that and limited in quantity. I’ll probably write little notes and whatever else suits my fancy when I’m making them up. I’m also happy to send them as presents for the holidays.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York City?
I think the one I may hold closest to my heart was my first “real” show in the city. I think this was in 2000. I had just started playing out and had been playing a bunch of shitty bars and open mics and then my friend Matt McDonald booked me to open for Kristin Hersh at the Knitting Factory. We both worked at the Knit at the time, he was the booker and I was the promotions manager. It was my first time playing before an actual audience, I think. It was great and I sold a bunch of my little homemade CDs and Kristin clapped for me at my sound check.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?
Well currently I’m really liking this new pizza place in my neighborhood called Paulie Gee’s. They have a pizza called the Hellboy that I highly recommend.