In Conversation with Jackie Venson

Jackie Venson is an Austin-based singer-songwriter, a virtuosic guitar talent, and a lively and engaging stage presence. She started out as a classical pianist but switched to blues guitar and went on to do a Bachelor of Arts in Composition and Studio Production at the Berklee College of Music. Her live album, Jackie Venson Live, is set for release this fall, but you can watch a video from it, “Back to Earth,” here. Recently she took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about her background and personal approach to music.

What role did music play in your childhood?
I began classical piano lessons at the age of eight and, ever since I first completed a song, it began this gravitational pull that still continues to this day. I was still a kid and still wanted to go outside and play, but I also had this desire to keep learning and completing songs. I was always torn between being a kid and wanting to be a musician.

Who had the most?and best?influence on you?
My parents and my piano teacher. My mom was always so excited to hear me play for her; she was and still is the most captive audience. My father’s a professional musician, and just watching him do his job and stick with it for decades is an unbelievable inspiration for me. My piano teacher taught me how to focus and really make the most out of my practice sessions, thus helping me, to this day, hone in on my craft.

What was the most incredible musical experience of your life?
Performing and improvising on the guitar. I always loved playing the piano but a part of me always felt so attracted to lead guitar. When I perform on lead guitar it’s as if I’m filling a gap.

If your musical life were a movie, what kinds of scenes would make you laugh? Or cry?
Laughing would be when I played my first solo in front of people on the guitar at a blues jam and people actually hooted and hollered. I felt like I was doing so badly and everyone was so enthusiastic. Crying would be all the times I’ve been down on myself and doubted myself, which happened quite a bit while growing up.

What’s your favourite instrument to play and why?
Guitar because of the energy it draws out of me; it’s electrifying.

What do you like best about the loop pedal?
The freedom it gives me to do my thing and get down without needing a band.

Do you remember your first encounter with blues?
Sitting in the back room watching my dad’s band rehearse. It was indescribable, I was very young.

Did Berklee prepare you well for life as a professional musician, or did you have to learn on the job?
Yes it did. It taught me hard lessons about expectations and dealing with disappointment. It also gave me a very thick skin, which is a must-have for the life of a songwriter and perfomer.

Is Austin a creativity-enhancing city for you?
Absolutely. I need a positive environment to thrive and Austin is just that.

How easy is it for a woman to break into the music industry?and stay there?these days?
It’s kind of a trip the way people are comfortable undermining me; also it’s hard to get people to pay me what I’m worth. Sometimes I have to team up with men and have them speak on my behalf just so I can get the things I need. Overall it can be an advantage because there ain’t many women doing what I’m doing so it can be a great way to stand out.

What advice do you have for other female musicians?
I’d advise any woman to prepare herself for men who feel they can walk all over you because they just see you as a “pretty little lady.” Don’t put up with any disrespect, never settle, and, mostly, don’t feel as though you need to apologize.

What conditions do you require in your life in order to go on being creative?
Positivity, love, support, and, most of all, sunlight. Lots of it!

If you had an artistic mission statement, what would it be?
To present to the world a sound and a body of work that only I can present. I don’t want to spend my only life on this planet trying to duplicate someone else or creating art for shallow reasons. I’m all me all the time, baby!

Tell us about your current and upcoming projects.
I have a big show in Austin TX coming up. I will be doing a live recording of my next album on February 28th at Strange Brew, Lounge Side. The album will be called Jackie Venson Live.

Do you have anything else to add?
Thank you for the interview opportunity? I’m very grateful!

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.