Things which initially seem a one-off can often, happily, be the foundation of something which subsequently proves to be the opening shot from a significant and singular artist. So it’s proved with Jessica Sligter.
Her first album, Balls and kittens, draught and strangling rain released by Hubro in February 2011 under the alter ego JÆ, was intense: a collection of quiet dramas exerting an inexorable pull. Musically, there were fragments of inter-war cabaret, jazz, the folk of Judy Henske at her most dark.
Overall though, it hypnotically framed Jessica’s slippery voice in a setting that made use of tuba, violin, whistling and a musical saw. It was peculiar and lovely – with a slight air of creepiness – but didn’t (and still doesn’t) sound like anything else.
Back then, as a debut, it wasn’t clear whether this would be followed up and if it was – would the promise be delivered on? It was, which is why this is being written.
Her recent album, December 2012’s Fear And The Framing (released under her own name), was fabulous and is covered here. Between the two, she recorded Window’s a Fall, a great and intense album as (or with) Sacred Harp where she sang all the songs. It wasn’t clear if this was another guise (like JÆ), a band she had formed or was fronting. Equally mysterious was that she’s from the Netherlands, yet on a Norwegian label.
Seeing her play a terrific solo show coinciding with the release of Fear And The Framing was impetus enough to find out more.
Jessica says she used JÆ “because I was doing several projects at the time. It felt like using my real name would wrongly suggest that this one was the only one that really represented me, and completely so. Too much pressure, somehow. The pseudonym gave me this small sense of distance that was very functional in first starting on this solo endeavour. Now that I feel more secure in this role, it seems natural to switch to my real name.”
Of Sacred Harp, she explains that she co-led the band “with two musicians from Oslo, Juhani Silvola and Øystein Skar. After our first the band played a bit but is now on hiatus because of mismatching schedules and the fact that I've had much less time in Oslo the past year than I had before, and had to prioritize my solo work. We are still very excited about the idea of making work together. For me this band is the perfect way to fulfil my somewhat darker and harsher fantasies.” On Sacred Harp’s Window’s a Fall’s Horses for Sophia she told of “a true dirty maiden…with her evil little mind, little slut…reveals her raunchy sticky breasts and her damp yearning gash, tramp, whore”. It continued.
But why was she in Norway? “I was studying jazz. I started out leaning towards the alternative, but steadily moved towards free improvisation and an aesthetic inspired by rock and alternative pop, always focusing on my own compositions instead of standard jazz-tunes. At the music academy this was not appreciated, but also outside of the academy I couldn't find an environment that really connected to my musical vision and provided nourishment and support. Then an Icelandic friend of mine - trumpet-player Eiríkur Ólafsson, who has played with Múm for many years, and is now on tour with Sigur Rós – tipped me about the Norwegian record label Rune Grammofon. At that time, it was a revelation for me. I didn't know anyone in Holland who made such music. So I took a flight over there, went and stood outside the music academy in Oslo and started talking to people who I thought looked like they were in the jazz department. That way I quickly got introduced to the scene there, and I felt like it was perfect for me. So I moved there.”
The leap of faith taken by moving to Norway is reflected in Jessica’s unfettered music, where listeners are challenged by lyrics that can be explicit, personal and induce discomfort (like Jenny Hval) – delivered with disarming intimacy. Sudden shifts in musical tone are also like being deposited in unfamiliar territory with no safety net.
“I inadvertently apply a certain intense concentration when I play my own music,” she says. “The atmosphere probably lies inside that. I think most of it lies in the voice. This is human flesh-on-flesh vibrating, it's the ultimate embodiment of human communication, coexistence and procreation.”
Also only on Kieron Tyler worlds of music:
- Eplemøya Songlag - Möya Og Myten: Interview With Norway’s Musical Story Tellers
- Fonal Records / Shogun Kunitoki
- Helmi Levyt - Finland’s Voice Of Love And Madness
- Hubro Records – A Welcome To Norway’s Bold: Interview With Andreas Meland
- Frida Hyvönen - To The Soul, And What Came Before
- Imandra Lake: Seesamseesam
- Joensuu 1685 and Brad Laner on Splendour Records
- Mari Kalkun
- Mr Peter Hayden And Born A Trip – Interview With Finland’s Guiding Light On The Horizon
- Papir - IIII: Interview With Denmark’s Non-Hierarchical Instrumentalists
- Röövel Ööbik: Young Godz Have Fun
- Seksound – Estonia’s Enigmatic Label And Tartu Popi Ja Roki Instituut
- Susanne Sundfør: A Night At Salle Pleyel
- Susanne Sundfør: Spot Festival 2010 And The Brothel
- Susanne Sundfør: The Silicone Veil