“I promise I’ll stop thinking so much…be headless as that torso out in the garden…”
So goes the final verse of the song “Evil Eye” on Jenny Gillespie’s new record, Chamma. Perhaps this lyric sums up the thrust of this new collection of songs—a collection formed by a newly intuitive songwriting process, when “losing your head” can actually lead to the reclaiming of your heart.
After writing for a year and coming up with ten or so songs, thinking she wanted to record live in the studio with session musicians in Los Angeles, Jenny realized in early 2013 she was doing more of the same she’d explored on 2012’s folk-prog EP Belita and completely changed directions. Inspired by bands such as The Books and Ela Orleans, Jenny began walking around in her former hometown, Chicago’s Humboldt Park, capturing found sounds on her iPhone—groups of children and natural objects, as well as snippets of conversations with friends and family. She also started to see her iPhone as a creative tool—using the iMaschine app to create ideas for beats, and constantly recording melodic ideas on her voice memo app. From these early experiments, Chamma was born.
For 2010’s Kindred and 2012’s Belita, Jenny worked in studios with producers (Belita was recorded in NYC with Shahzad Ismaily and featured guitarist Marc Ribot). For this project, she felt compelled to return to her own producing skills which she first exhibited on 2008’s delicately wrought chamber-folk album Light Year. Working mostly in her Lake Michigan home north of Chicago, Jenny wrote music in a whole new way—writing as she was recording. This technique allowed Jenny to feel out the essence of the songs, cutting and pasting parts, in a collage manner similar to Jenny’s mixed media paintings, some of which grace the design of Chamma. She invited guitarist Emmett Kelly (Bonnie Prince Billy, The Cairo Gang) and percussionist Joseph Adamik (Iron and Wine, Califone) to add their own unusual instrumental voices to the proceedings in surprising turns such as Vietnamese horn to “Lift the Collar” and marimba to “Child of the Universe.” Lyrically, Jenny drew from the emotional experiences of the last two years of her life, which included much personal upheaval, both positive (getting married, discovering meditation and Buddhism) and negative (a miscarriage, a few betrayals by friends), as well as a month-long trip she took through Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan. (The title of the record comes from the name of a Tibetan Buddhist goddess who is known as “Loving Lady.”) Towards the end of the project, Jenny was newly pregnant and in the middle of moving to San Francisco, but she committed herself to finishing Chamma.
Months into the recording process, Jenny recognized the electro-folk palette of the record was missing something—some kind of cinematic “oomph.” Already planning to call on her friend Arnulf Lindner for bass, who was based in London and the longtime bassist for singer Heather Nova, the two decided to take the collaboration even further. Lindner had been wanting to create orchestral arrangements for a record, and this seemed to be the perfect fit. Working with London engineer Steve Cooper, he imbued the record with a haunting, muscular orchestral backbone, with harp, trumpet, viola, and cello. Across the Atlantic, a musical friend was brewing the perfect touches for an album close to Jenny’s heart. Chamma is the culmination of years of musical and personal exploration, layered and heartfelt, born from a place of loving songs into existence.