Into The Pitch With Jessica Pratt

Samuel Hess

Into The Pitch With Jessica Pratt

Samuel Hess

I’ve long thought that Jessica Pratt’s music is the closest we’ll get to hearing what sound was like when we were inside our mothers’ stomachs. Cooing, bubbling, gleaming: Hers is the music of the intrauterine. Pratt plays as though she’s house-training sound itself, singing somewhere in the phonic region where meaning delays itself. Untethered highs and skidding lows, it must have been what the world sounded like in utero.

“I am calling out to you from another place,” she sang on her 2012 debut, an album which sounded like an artifact discovered by accident. Calling from “another place” has been a hallmark of Pratt’s work, whether 2015’s vaguely haunted On Your Own Love Again or 2019’s menacingly beautiful Quiet Signs. Pratt’s “other place” has never quite sounded like the world of logic in which most of us live, but rather a calling from someone just about to wake up, or be born.

Here In The Pitch, her latest, marks a subtle change in sound and temperament. There’s a slight crunch to Pratt’s fourth album, a shrewder sense of atmosphere, a greater lucidity. The vaporous sound of her previous albums has given way to some definition. Listening to Pratt no longer sounds like hearing someone in a kind of incubation, but like hearing someone dream a terrible and beautiful dream from the bedroom below.

Speaking to Stereogum from her home in Los Angeles, she relayed the headspace that went into making her most embodied album yet, while likening her music to sleeptalking: “You know, if somebody tells you you said something in your sleep, you’re like, ‘I guess that makes sense.’ But it also is sort of this uncanny feeling, like it’s coming from another source.”

Just to ease us in here: In the movie of your life, what role would Paul Dano play?

JESSICA PRATT: Probably the mailman.


PRATT: Or, if you wanted to get pretty deep, when I was a teenager I used to go to this hippie bookstore slash record store in my hometown of Redding, California. There was this very precocious guy who worked there who was probably 16. He was an insane Zappa head, like unhealthy levels of obsession. I was into the Mothers Of Invention, but I didn’t know everything. He lent me his entire CD collection. He also had an insane vinyl collection. So I feel Dano could play a role like that, like a punishing music guy.

Do you think Dano’s a Zappa Head?

PRATT: I really don’t. I don’t see that in the cards. But I do think that he has an innate nerdiness, like he could be the guy in High Fidelity that comes in and asks about the Beefheart records.

I have no good segue into the more sincere questions.

PRATT: Let’s just go with it. I feel good.

OK, here goes: What experience are you trying to recreate in your music, or what feelings are you trying to seek out?

PRATT: Major case to case. I feel like the things that I’m trying to zero in on are almost dictated by the music itself. I think sometimes you have vague notions of a thing you might be interested in or you’re aware to some degree of the various influences that are sort of culminating at any given time. But I never sit down to write. Maybe I’ll try to sit down and write something very specific, but I don’t think it’s ever worked. The songs that stick are the ones that just really bubble up from whatever cosmic soup is happening that day. The sound and the rhythm of that thing is sort of dictating what direction it goes. And it’s almost like you are sort of a second party to it. Obviously, part of your critical mind is at work, but it feels like a totally unconscious thing, like sleep talking. You know, if somebody tells you you said something in your sleep, you’re like, I guess that makes sense. But it also is sort of this uncanny feeling, like it’s coming from another source.

Do the sound and symbols that emerge in your songs ever take the form of meaning years down the line?

PRATT: Yeah, I never feel that way in the moment, ever, but it is one of those things where it’s like reading an old email or letter you wrote to a friend. You see your younger self and the trials that you were dealing with are so painfully obvious in what you’re saying, but at the time, they weren’t clear. I mean, God, in the last few years I’ve been revisiting older material of mine, like my second record or my first record even, because things like anniversaries keep coming up. You know, they feel so embryonic, but also very sure of what they are at the same time. It’s a very unusual feeling, because I think you look back on your younger self as generally not being as capable as you are now — or like, I guess, ideally that’s how you feel. It’s like a little kid saying something very profound or prophetic, but they’re just going on their intuition.

So if you are following this intuition, how do you know you’re going in the – this probably isn’t the right word – “correct” direction when you’re writing a song?

PRATT: Yeah, I think correct is the right word. And actually, it’s funny that you use that word because I’ve been using it a lot in the interviews I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks. It just feels like the most appropriate word despite it sounding somewhat clinical. I was listening to some David Lynch interviews and he uses that word a lot, which I thought was funny. But as far as how I know, yeah, it’s just like how you know anything. Like how you meet someone and you can tell you’re going to be friends. It’s just this very innate sort of feeling, it feels good and it feels correct. And there’s nothing causing any tension or doubt. It just feels like this very fluid thing.

How about incorrect choices? Are there any songwriting habits of your own that you try to curb or cut?

PRATT: Yeah, I think that there are incorrect choices in the sense that I think making music or art is always going to involve some trial and error. I think sometimes when the idea of a thing starts to take on more significance than just the raw, pure thing itself, that can lead me astray. Over the last few years, working on this record, I learned a lot about cutting things short.

Are you more aware of your audience now? And is that a challenge for you and the music you’re writing?

PRATT: I feel like the more ears you have on your music and the wider your audience grows, the less specific it feels. You’re made aware of more people than you would have ever imagined. And not just numbers, but types of people. Like, maybe when you first start out, there’s a predictable nature to the kind of people that are going to be listening to your music just based on proximity and the kinds of people that are already into a small label or whatever. But once it starts to get out there more I think it becomes easier in a way to dull your mind to anything outside of what’s necessary to create something.

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How has true love affected your creative process?

PRATT: It’s been very beneficial for me. To put it in a very practical way, I think I do my best work when I’m feeling solid and happy and not weighed down by life and all of its emotions. I think that having a partner that you can have an exchange with about all of these things does help lighten the load. Matt [McDermott] is a very grounding person also. He’s very earthy, while I feel like I am a person that is prone to feeling adrift. To feel tethered has ultimately, I think, been very good for my music.

Here In The Pitch does sound more tethered, more embodied to me than any of your previous records.

PRATT: Yeah, I do think that that’s totally correct. I think in your mid-to-late 20s or early 30s, you’re just stomping through life, trying to understand your relationship with everything else and often dealing with various struggles. And I think maybe as time has gone on, I’ve gotten a handle on some of that stuff. So the process of making this record felt a lot more embodied for sure. I also describe the record as very earthy. It feels more tangible. When I hear songs off the last record or the one before that it feels like a miasma of sound, even my voice sounds like a whisper, or more watery. I feel like the new sounds on the new record feel like something you can hold in your hands. It’s more emotionally obvious. It’s interesting to note the change.

Do you have concrete memories of writing the songs on Here In The Pitch?

PRATT: Yeah, I think I have concrete memories more than any of the other records. And maybe that’s because it’s the most recent, but I think more so, I’m becoming more and more aware of what I’m doing with each album, of knowing my tricks and trying to expand on what I’ve already done without forcing a certain kind of approach that feels overwrought or synthetic. I was also trying to enjoy the process a little bit more. Typically, making music for me is this very emotionally loaded thing. Maybe that’s why it’s been beneficial in the past to be almost on autopilot emotionally, where it’s just this cathartic experience that you’re not fully present for, because it makes it a little easier to deal with the experience of being highly self-critical, which I think is very necessary for me to make good work. But that’s also something that comes with a certain amount of emotional difficulty when you’re learning to mold something into a shape. It’s very difficult to divorce that process from your own ego and your own self perception and feelings of worthiness.

I’ve always experienced your music as something very insulated. Your first album in particular felt divorced from any kind of musical tradition. But with Here In The Pitch, you can sort of trace a historical thread. To me, it harkens back to a time when Tropicália influenced American pop. It feels as though your musical influences are affecting the work much more consciously here — is that the case?

PRATT: Yeah, I think you’re totally right. The first album was the most automatic and unexamined kind of approach to music. It’s just songs that I had written over a given period of time, recorded in a studio, in a situation where it was like, “Just get in and get out.” I was listening to a lot of music at that time, but I agree that the music feels insulated from that.

I am interested in the history of many things. And also I think that recording in a studio in a proper way with time to luxuriate and all pushes you toward that sort of exploration. I was really wrangling with the particular nature of the sounds, not just going straight for the emotion, but also trying to get the texture and the sound and the atmospherics all very much what I wanted them to be. A lot of that was influenced by the music that I was thinking about when I was making it.

Just to pick up on the album title, what made you want to gesture towards the darker undertones of the album?

PRATT: You know, that’s a good question, and one that I haven’t really been able to fully illuminate for myself. And I think that that’s probably a good thing. I think it’s an interesting sort of conflict to me that I’m making a record in which I feel maybe the most able and clear-headed I’ve ever been, and there’s more of an overt acknowledgment of these darker layers. Whereas in the previous records, the darkness is there, but it’s far more ethereal and smeared. I think that I am like a fairly anxious person and somebody who tends to default to negative ways of thinking. And I think maybe when you deal with that, you can almost be drawn to those things in a strange way. It’s like someone with a lot of anxiety watching a horror movie. It doesn’t make sense on paper but there’s this sort of primal attraction to it, like your brain is preparing yourself for something.

I also think, in a very general sense, the reason that a lot of art works are intriguing is because there is some kind of conflict of light and dark happening. If you didn’t have the darkness, I don’t know if you would really be pulled into it.

[Pratt looks out of her window] I’m looking at the California terrain, and I’m thinking about the history of the West. It’s a dark world we live in. I don’t know if it’s healthy to think about that as much as I do, but it seems to be materializing in the most concrete way that it has on this record. And I think that the title is an acknowledgment of that, but I wouldn’t even say that it was like a fully conscious thing. And then this sort of goes back to some of the questions earlier about my awareness of the underpinnings of the music as it’s happening, or only in retrospect. It’s always in retrospect.

Here In The Pitch is out 5/3 on Mexican Summer.

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