Tara Jane ONeil
Musician and renowned artist Tara Jane ONeil has one of the most unique, unclassifiable sounds. Under K Records, she is touring the East Coast this fall. Her upcoming performance at The Space in Hamden on Oct. 26 will surely be a memorable one, full of experimental and soothing songs. Her fifth LP, “A Ways Away” was released on May 5, 2009 and she looks forward to sharing her original music with the world. Her words of advice: “Come to the show. And bring a tambourine!”
The Chronicle: How did you get started as a musician?
Tara Jane ONeil: I started playing my friend’s guitar when she was taking guitar lessons when I was 13. So, that’s where it all started.it was just for fun. It was kind of always for fun until I was in my mid-20s, even though I’d been playing in bands for a while. I mean it’s still for fun. But it is how I make my living. I didn’t start out like “Oh, I’m going to be a traveling musician.” That was not my intention at all. This whole life is kind of a weird mistake.
The Chronicle: What did you grow up listening to? Any specific influence on your sound?
TJO: I’ve always listened to lots of different kinds of stuff. When I was a kid there wasn’t too much music in the house. So, it didn’t have an imprint on me. I don’t know. I mean I’ve always kind of been a hybrid. I used to go to punk rock shows in Louisville in the late ’80s, but I’d also listen to psychedelic music from the San Francisco scene in the ’60s. And now I just kind of listen to everything. So, there’s nothing definite for sure.
The Chronicle: So, you play guitar. Are there any other instruments you play?
TJO: I play bass, and I play drums, and I play all kinds of small little sound makers. I mean, I kind of play anything to a certain degree. Except for brass instruments. I could never play a brass instrument. But, everything else I can at least fake. But, the things I’m good at are the string instruments and the drums.
The Chronicle: Did you pick them up pretty quickly when you were learning them?
TJO: Yeah, I think that’s part of why I can’t play horns because the string instruments came real easily. And now when I try to pick up something else, if it takes a long time, I just don’t have the patience.
The Chronicle: What’s your favorite place or venue that you’ve played at?
TJO: I don’t know! I’ve played thousands of them. Well, actually, there’s this amazing temple outside of Osaka, Japan, which was, I mean even if I weren’t playing it would probably be my favorite place I ever visited in my life. It’s this monk who built several underground rooms, and had this beautiful and then we played in the temple and he played too and it was amazing. [The monk] played three stone bowls and he was really cool. It was a little scary when I was playing because he was sitting right next to me, and he was this crazy ass monk, who built this beautiful place and I had to play music in front of him. So, it was a little scary but he was very nice. And, then he played his bowls .and if he doesn’t like the music, he doesn’t play. So, I guess he liked our music because he played his bowls later. That was probably the best place.
The Chronicle: What’s your favorite song to play live? What song is most meaningful to you?
TJO: I like to play the last song in my set. It’s called “Dig In.” It’s the first song on my record because that’s when I throw the tambourines out to the audience and then we become the Ecstatic Tambourine Orchestra. And, I play the song and then at the end we all kind of play together and I can kind of improvise off of what the audience is playing. That’s my favorite part.
The Chronicle: Not to put you under one category, but how would you classify your music?
TJO: I wouldn’t. I mean people sometimes call me a singer-songwriter but I don’t identify with that at all. I definitely sing and I definitely write songs, but I do a lot of phonics playing, also. I’m uniquely interested in songs and in sounds. So, it gets confusing for me to figure out what I am. Someone once said experimental folk, which is probably closer than anything else I’ve heard. But, I wouldn’t really classify myself.
The Chronicle: Can you describe your songwriting process? What do you find easiest to write about?
TJO: Well, usually what I’ll do when I’m writing songs is I’ll be doodling on my guitar and then some doodle will stick for a few days and then I’ll sit down with it and it’ll develop. And then, words come later. Structure comes later. And then all of the arrangement and phonics stuff comes usually during recording time. It’s very rare that I’ll actually write a whole song in one sitting. It’s awesome when that happens, but it usually takes a while. And, then sometimes you’ll forget about a song. There’s a song on my record called “In Tall Grass.” I started writing it two years before I recorded the record and I’d just kind of forgotten about it, and then it came back up and I made it really different, because it was, you know, two years later, and I was in a really different place. And, it worked better. Sometimes that happens too. You write something down and wait for it to mature or whatever.
The Chronicle: Is there anyone who has been particularly supportive of you along the way that you want to acknowledge?
TJO: Well, yes, I mean a million people-the people that put out my record and the people who’ve played with me over the years. If I had to do a shout out that would be thorough and if then it were thorough it would take up the entire copy space of your piece. But, I’ve had a lot of help with Touch And Go and K Records, everybody there is very supportive and believes in what I’m doing and makes it possible. So, that’s a pretty big deal.
To learn more about Tara Jane ONeil visit tarajaneoneil.com.
Contributions by Matt Busekroos