Tiny Vipers, aka Jesy Fortino, recently released her Sub Pop debut Hands Across The Void: It’s a spare collection of patient, painterly acoustic folk with an at times teeming, droning undertow. Actually, “folk” doesn’t accurately describe what she’s doing. Take your time with it. Songs like “Campfire Resemblance” and “Forest On Fire” (check the furious psych-noise exit) or the compositionally ambitious 11-minute “Swastika” (Current 93, anyone?), require headphones and careful listening to catch the buzzing, noisy, and faintly whistled textures. Or, on pieces like “The Downward,” Fortino utilizes silence as an equally powerful tool (emptiness as a way to fill the palette). But then, there’s no real need to fixate on backgrounds if you’d rather just play attention to her shape-shifting voice, which is alternately resonant, shot with a dusky Marshall twang, on the verge of quietly shouting, or airy with a Colin Meloy reediness
Hands Across The Void caught me off guard when I received it, and has slowly become one of my 2007 favorites. The process has reminded me of first listening to Milk-Eyed Mender before Joanna Newsom had officially arrived, that mystery turning into something obviously important. Fittingly, “On This Side,” the album’s slightly mannered, Newsom-y second track follows my discussion with Fortino.
Of course, she’s at Quit Your Day Job for a reason: When not recording Tiny Vipers’ gems the 24-year-old Seattle songwriter’s a longtime employ of various restaurants. Currently it’s a Mexican place housing a Mexico-themed bar, but her experience stretches back to the Beanie Baby era at a McDonalds in Washington State … and beyond.
STEREOGUM: How long have you been at the restaurant … bar? Scott mentioned you were working as a bouncer of sorts, too. Can you explain your duties?
JESY FORTINO: About three and a half years. I roll Burritos and wash dishes. I used to ring up the burritos too but not anymore. I also work in the bar where I serve drinks a couple days and barback. I mostly clean things and watch drunk people be drunk.
STEREOGUM: Thoughts on the ‘you can’t get good burritos outside of San Francisco’ attitude? You mentioned living in Oakland awhile, so figured you’d be able to speak from both angles…
JF: I don’t care about burrito politics. I like tacos. The food at my work isn’t authentic at all, but it’s okay I guess.
STEREOGUM: Do you have previous restaurant experience?
JF: I have tons. My first job was at Skippers in Issaquah, Washington. I used to serve all you can eat fried fish and then clean up and wash dishes. I worked at the Renton Skippers, too. I worked at McDonalds during that whole Beanie Baby craze — I mainly did drive through. I worked at Round Table Pizza for a while. I worked at this little yuppie coffee shop in Issaquah. I was a baker for a year when I lived in Oakland. I worked at a shitty seafood place called the Athenian Inn in Pike Place market for a while. I have also worked in a few arcades.
STEREOGUM: I forgot about Beanie Babies. That must’ve been madness for awhile. Any fond remembrances of the fad? And how’d you end up working at the arcade?
JF: It was crazy! People would offer me money for some of the back stock babies, which was nice because they don’t pay well there. I ended up working at an arcade that opened in Issaquah called Illusions and I was okay at fixing the games and rides so they made me a technician. And then other arcades hired me.
STEREOGUM: What’s Issaquah like?
JF: When I lived there it was a little different then it is now. When I lived there I used to hang out with this group of kids that had nothing in common besides the fact that we all worked all the time. The Round Table kids would hook up the McDonald’s kids and stuff like that; we would trade each other for food and hang out at each other’s work. After work we would all end up at Denny’s and sit there and play cards and hang out all night. I used to take LSD and hang out in the parking lot or something. Not that exciting, but whatever. Everyone was super broke all the time. When I worked at the arcade everyone hung out there and got really competitive over video games. I had the keys to all the games so i could give everyone credits. It was rad.
There was this crappy house I lived at down SR900 with eight other people that was a total shithole — but it was cheap. The same crowd of kids who hung out at Round Table Pizza lived there. We didn’t really have anything in common besides fast food jobs. Everyone would fight with everyone else. Girls would get in fist fights over weird stuff. One of the girls who lived there always accused me of using her eyebrow brushes and face wash. I could never convince her otherwise. She was three times bigger then me so I just stayed away from her.
People would always hang out in the living room, smoking weed and cigarettes. There was a trailer across the creek and they would throw parties sometimes. We would go over there, but they were nuts. I think they were up to something…
Issaquah is surrounded by forest and mountains. I would spend alot of time in the woods. I would take LSD and go into the woods behind out house all the time. I was convinced there was a demon who lived out in this tiny cabin i found up on the mountain.
STEREOGUM: Ever get recognized at work?
JF: Yeah, people will be like “thanks Tiny Vipers” when I give them their drink or food. It’s embarrassing.
STEREOGUM: Have you come up with a snappy/witty way to respond to it?
JF: Yeah I go, “Oh, okay” and look down. Pretty witty.
STEREOGUM: You’re heading out on tour. Can you imagine going on tour and not returning to a day job?
JF: Nope. Not at all.
STEREOGUM: Finally, how does work relate to your music? You certainly come across a bunch of people. Have any customers inspired a character/emotion in a song?
JF: Nope, my job has nothing to do with the music at all — well not in that way at least. I am not inspired by the environment, or the drunk yuppies who go there. I have thought about that a little lately. I think that my jobs are very lame and uninspiring. But to the point where I feel an urge to find meaning and express real emotions even more in what time I do have off. So in a second hand way maybe my job does inspire me to create. Being stuck somewhere that is gross and being talked to by the owner or customers like you’re a disposable idiot inspires me to try my hardest to create meaning, beauty, and respect for other people as well as myself when I don’t have to be there. Working is just something you have to do and everyone has some form of ritual that allows them to take off the uniform and leave all the frustration of the service industry there at the end of the day. Other wise you’d go crazy. Art is mine.
Hands Across The Void is available via Sub Pop.