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Jill Jack's back at The Ark, supporting 'Songwriter Sessions'
07 February, 2010
AnnArbor.com - Martin Bandyke

Appearing at The Ark this coming Saturday will be Ferndale-based vocalist and guitarist Jill Jack, who recently released the most ambitious project of her career, a live album entitled “Songwriter Sessions.”


This CD and accompanying DVD feature Jill Jack and her band in concert during 2 shows last April at the Hartland Music Hall in Hartland. Along with guitarist Billy Brandt, keyboardist Dale Grisa, drummer Ron Pangborn and bassist Nolan Mendenhall, Jill’s live shows also featured numerous special guests, including Colin Linden on electric guitar. Linden, whose resume includes work with Emmylou Harris and Bruce Cockburn, also played a key role behind the scenes in making the final product come out just right. Played before a group of devoted fans at an intimate venue, “Songwriter Sessions” is the perfect showcase for Jill Jack’s heartfelt tunes and warm, tender voice. We spoke by phone recently to get more details about her latest release.


Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in pulling off this ambitious project?
A: It was the hardest one to do; I felt like I was at 9 centimeters and pushing forever (laughs). It was really difficult to get done and wasn’t coming out right. The biggest challenge in getting this together was the mix. When I had this beautiful vision of recording, that was the artist in me, not the engineer in me. I don’t have the engineer in me; that was Colin Linden, who was a great help. It was hard to get a mix from a place like the Hartland Music Hall; it wasn’t made necessarily for live recording, and it took a lot of massaging to get the sound right. In a studio you have more ability to change things. But I wasn’t willing to overdub anything at all on this.


Q: And you really kept to that promise? A lot of people don’t realize that most so-called live albums have a ton of studio overdubs on them to make them sound better.
A: That kind of pisses me off, ‘cause it’s false advertising! There are notes on there where I cringe when I listen, but that’s the beauty of the record. You want reality there, and you give them what you promise. If there was a really bad moment, we might pull a guitar out of the mix, but we wouldn’t overdub anything.


Q: What made you want to record these shows at the Hartland Music Hall? What’s so special about that venue?
A: I just have this strong intuition all the time, and when I get my head out the way of things, it usually works out. My guitarist Billy (Brandt) and I did an acoustic show there, and it was this warm venue that I’d never been to in a town I didn’t know existed. It was an old building, it had vibes, and I hate working in a studio. I love my fans, and I thought this way I could bring fans in and let them see how much work goes into a record. They were seeing the engineers behind a curtain, the video guys. I wanted something different. And if I don’t challenge myself, then the product will be just what’s expected. I wanted to make it hard on myself; it keeps me motivated to be better.


Q: So you were presenting new material with a fairly large band, all of it being recorded and videotaped live. Did you ever feel overwhelmed during the midst of it all?
A: It was definitely a matter of conquering the fear. I lost a lot of sleep. Between wondering how was I going to pay the band, pay the engineer, how how how, and then thinking what if it sucks, what if you get the takes back and they’re god-awful. Facing fear in life has been the number one thing for me. You know what, I could die tomorrow and I can say I did it; I really tried.


Q: How did you meet up with Colin Linden and get him to work with you on this live recording?
A: That was an accident. I was opening at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 2008 and his band Blackie and the Rodeo Kings were performing there. Some guy walked into our dressing room and he said ‘hi’ and it was Colin Linden. Then I was backstage watching him play and (The Ark’s) Dave Siglin told me that if I could get this guy to work with me I should. Colin and I kept bumping into each other at other shows, and I sent him an e-mail and asked if he was available for this album. He said ‘yes’ and it all worked out. I had worn all the hats for the entire production of the album, including the writing and rehearsals, and it was great for him to come in and take the reins, then jump in and play these incredible guitar licks.


Q: How did you manage to look so relaxed and confident throughout these shows? A lot of artists being taped and filmed would freeze up and not necessarily be at their best.
A: I have huge faith in God; my drummer Ron works in a church and he always says a huge prayer before we go on. I just take life as something that happens and you can’t always control it. My dad always told me that people don’t pay to see my problems on stage, they pay to forget theirs for a night. I took that to heart and I always go on stage thinking ‘are those people having fun out there?’ When they do, it bounces back to me and then I’ve done my job and I’m happy. I totally forgot the video people were there. It’s much easier to be on stage than to be in the real world.


Q: This won’t be your first time headlining at The Ark. How do you like playing there?
A: My favorite show was the one I thought would be the biggest failure. It was in January of last year, and there was around twelve inches of snow, a humongous snowstorm. We were driving there and seeing cars off the road, in the ditch. My drummer called and said, ‘are you insane, nobody’s going to be there!’ But a guy had e-mailed me from Grand Rapids and said he was driving in and I told him we would be there, even if he was the only person we would play for. So we arrive and there were two hundred plus people there. I remember thinking, ‘you people are insane, I never would have driven through that s**t to see anybody!’ We had people from West Virginia, Ohio, from all over, so I put on the longest show of my life that night. People still talk about it. My bass player said ‘I’m almost 60 and you almost killed me,’ and I said that if Bruce (Springsteen) can do it, you can do it. It was a lot of fun!


The Jill Jack Band performs at The Ark on Saturday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m. Event details can be found on the AnnArbor.com calendar.


Martin Bandyke is the 6-10am morning drive host on Ann Arbor’s 107one. Follow him on Twitter and at his web site


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