Joanna Newsom Is Done Reading Blogs

By Scott Lapatine / May 10, 2010

Joanna Newsom becomes less of an enigma with each interview. The polarizing songwriter is Under The Radar‘s spring cover girl and between the pages is an enlightening ten page spread: a far-reaching interview conducted at the Bowery Hotel in February by Chris Tinkham accompanied by photos from Crackerfarm (example above).

Stereogum has covered Joanna’s professional career with much scrutiny over the past six years. We have been fair (and perhaps sometimes too fawning). I’ve never met Joanna Newsom, but I admit I’m amused when our commenters get her attention. UTR‘s piece is not online, so I have transcribed only the most relevant excerpt. I hope the mag understands, and that you are compelled to purchase it after reading this…

Via Under The Radar:

Ever since the release of The Milk-Eyed Mender, Newsom has been aware of how she and her work are scrutinized. The heaps of critical praise that her debut received coincided with the mounting influence of music blogs, and while much of the attention on Newsom was incited by genuine admiration, discussion about her singing and look often overshadowed appreciation for her musicianship. Because of her distinctive voice, her fondness for vintage dresses, and the fanciful imagery of songs with titles such as “Bridges And Balloons” and “Peach, Plum, Pear,” she was tagged with terms like “elfin princess” and “wood nymph.” However, Newsom was more concerned about how her music was being perceived.

Newsom admits to being “vulnerable to the call of the Internet” and knew that fans were ascribing titles to the unrecorded songs that would appear on Have One On Me. “When I was playing new songs, people would refer to then by these titles that I hadn’t referred to them by, and they would do it real authoritatively, like super know-it-all,” she says. “It really annoyed me.” But in September 2009, Newsom called it quits and stopped reading about herself, recognizing it as destructive and dangerous. “I’m a girl, and I’m human, and so probably the things that get to me the most are just when someone’s like, ‘that girl’s ugly,’ or ‘stupid,’ or really playground shit,” she confesses. “Everything kind of affects me somehow if I read it, but that’s the stuff that drains your energy the most. Anything that engages the work is something that you somehow can step away from. I’ve read horrible, scathing reviews, and some of them are kind of good, kind of well-written, and occasionally they’re even funny. I remember with Ys, there were a few things that I read that made me laugh a lot, that were tearing it apart but making really good points. And somehow that doesn’t hurt my feelings as much. But there’s a class of insult that you can’t engage with at all, and you can’t defend yourself against in any way, and it just resonates with a very primal part of you. No one wants anyone to think they’re ugly and stupid, so somehow that’s the stuff that gets me.”

“I might just be talking about it and someone would point out, ‘What the hell are you doing spending one second of your time caring about what some dumbo in some far-off state has to anonymously say about you on a blog that five people read? It’s just a waste of energy. Regardless of what it was that made me realize once and for all that I needed to not read that stuff, it was one little episode that was representative of a whole larger truth, which is that no matter what I read on the Internet, whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ it still makes me feel weird. It’s counterproductive. Even something that is a glowing review still leaves a weird taste in my mouth.”

The piece also describes Joanna’s formative years as a 5-year-old (!) songwriter in Grass Valley and later as a NoCal sk8r girl during junior high. And, of course, the time her roommate, Golden Shoulders’ Adam Kline, gave Joanna’s “demo” to Will Oldham. You know the rest…

Under The Radar #31 is available for purchase right here.

One final bit of irony I have to share: in explaining her motivation to accept Ray Tintori’s invitation to star in MGMT’s controversial “Kids” video, Joanna says, “My New Year’s resolution [for 2009] was to start being less of a hater.”