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Austin blues guitarist Jackie Venson discusses her transition from piano to guitar, finding her voice as a blues guitarist, and her new album Joy

Austin blues guitarist Jackie Venson discusses her transition from piano to guitar, finding her voice as a blues guitarist, and her new album Joy
 
Austin-based Indie/Blues artist Jackie Venson has made a name for herself over the past few years as one of the best female blues guitarists on the scene.  Drawing comparisons to Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse and Gary Clark, Jr., Venson has put her heart and soul into perfecting her craft, captivating her audiences over the years with her blend of Soul, R&B, Blues and truthful, introspective lyrics.  Enthralled with music since the age of 8, Venson‘s father, who was a professional musician for 40 years, was a huge role model for her growing up.  Venson grew up playing the piano, but after graduating from Berklee School of Music in 2011 with a degree in the production, songwriting and arranging side of the industry, she made the decision to switch to guitar, transitioning from the world of classical music to the raw and gritty world of the blues. Her live performances are full of emotion, genuine soul and a meaningful connection to her audience.  
Venson has become an integral and beloved fixture in the Austin music scene, with May 21st having been recently named “Jackie Venson Day”.  She also recently won the award for best guitar player at the Austin Music Awards, being only the 3rd woman to have ever won the award.  She made the decision last year to release a song and accompanying video each month, with the collection of songs to be included on her forthcoming album Joy, due to be released on April 5th.  The album is a reflective record for Venson about choosing joy over unhappiness.  
With plans to start writing her next album, a tour in May and the release of a live album, Venson will have plenty to keep her busy!  You can follow her and stay up-to-date with all album news, new music and upcoming tour dates, as well as stream and purchase her music and purchase tickets to her album release show via the following links.  Check out her video for “Joy” below.

 

You recently released the title track to your upcoming album Joy, due out on April 5th.  What can you tell me about the song, as well as the inspiration behind the album?

 

The song is about choosing Joy over unhappiness and it happens to also be what the record is about. Throughout the record I sing about my life experiences with pain, love, growth, and heartbreak. Some of these experiences almost broke me but I was able to channel them into music.  This is me choosing Joy over pain.

You were recently named “best guitar player” at the Austin Music Awards.  What was that experience like for you, as well as being only the 3rd woman to have won the award?

 

It was pretty electric, pun non intended. Austin is a guitar town to the max. Throw a rock and you’ll hit an incredible guitar player, so to be voted the best means literally the world. As far as being the 3rd woman, I am excited and proud to represent in that way for all future women.

What inspired your decision last year to release a new song and accompanying video each month, which you would then compile into your upcoming album?  How has the response been to the monthly releases?  Do you feel that the frequent releases help to keep you engaged with your fans?

 

The response to the new song and video every month was definitely well received. I was inspired to do this because I wanted to be consistently engaged with my fans and give them as much music as possible without making them wait years between projects. Gotta keep up with the rappers. They drop a mix tape every other week! The plan worked swimmingly and I was able to always have something in tow for the fans.

Your father was a professional musician for 40 years.  What kind of a role model was he for you growing up?  What kind of advice did he give you when you decided to pursue a career in music? 

 

My father was a huge role model for me for sure. Watching him run and lead a band was invaluable and definitely reflects in how I run and lead my band. Some of the best advice he ever gave me was his emphasis on self sufficiency and operating as lean and mean as possible. He told me that I needed to be very picky about the people I allow to be involved in the band and that the best case scenario is for me to learn how to operate completely alone. The show must go on, no matter who decides not to show up to the gig, and longevity is much more likely when one is dependent on few to none.

You attended Berklee College Of Music, graduating in 2011, and studied the production, songwriting and arranging side of music.  What led you to pursue those particular studies and how do you feel the knowledge has served you in your career?

 

I wanted to learn something I hadn’t before and I wanted to acquire new skills to possibly use later. I completely succeeded in that, learned a bunch of stuff about arranging and production and regularly use it to produce my songs both live and in the studio.

Your previous EP, Trancends, is described as containing your strongest songwriting to date.  How do you feel that your songwriting has progressed over the years? The EP also gathered all of your “social fight love acceptance” songs into one collection.  Do you tend to seek out themes when you make an album?

 

I find that the themes for the albums come naturally. I don’t force it. I simply put a collection of songs that vibe well together and the theme makes itself apparent. I believe my upcoming LP Joy will give Transcends a run for its money when it comes to songwriting. This is because the production and arranging on this upcoming record is higher quality and more mature.

You have said that your decision to play the guitar was a business decision at first.  You played piano for years before picking up the guitar, and rather then drawing comparisons to Alicia Keys,  you wanted to stand out and there were very few female blues guitarists.  Was there a specific moment that you can pinpoint when playing the guitar became a labor of love? 

 

The first 2 years were so brutal and I was so bad that I had a hard time loving it. I often wondered why I switched. However I was all determination and knew I would get through it. I just accepted it for what it was and practiced. When I started going to blues jams, desperate for guidance, is when it switched from a calculated decision to a journey and ever since then it’s just become a part of who I am. The biggest lesson I learned was not that I chose a different instrument, rather I chose a different life. This realization then turned it into a passion and ever since then that’s what it has been.

Last year you set up shop in NYC for a month in order to “move the needle” on your career.  What was that experience like and what led you to choose NYC?  What do you enjoy and find inspiring about the city and the music scene there?  Have you found it challenging to make a name for yourself outside of Austin? 

 

It is very challenging to break out onto the world stage, and I knew that going in. I chose NYC because over the years I have had to keep turning down opportunities that came my way in the city because I was never there long enough. I decided i would publicize the fact that I was going to be there for a while and then see what came my way. It ended up being a whirlwind of press appearances, gigs, and serendipitous meetings. NYC is always moving, always buzzing, and always up and I find that very inspiring.

You’ve said that in order to stand up to men as a blues guitarist, that you needed to find your voice.  What has your journey been like in doing so?

 
It’s been like one long, never ending gig. In order to find my voice I have to search for it and in order to search for it I have to play. For the last 8 years I have played the guitar as much as I possibly could, traveled at least 100 days every year for 5 years on tour, and met so many people. I don’t know how my brain retains all of the information. I think that this over-drive approach is how I will find and maintain my voice. Sleep when you’re dead!
What can you tell me about the development of “Jackie Venson Live On Thursdays”? How did the idea for the live stream come about and how has the response been?
 

I wanted to be able to reach people that I couldn’t physically travel to and wanted to shed my new sampler set up. The response has been excellent and I plan on continuing to do it, however probably not consistently after May because I will leave on tour.

You will be having an album release show on April 12th in Austin!  What can people look forward to with the show?  Do you have anything special planned?

 

It’s the biggest show of my career thus far at a super coveted and historic venue in my hometown. The show means a lot to me. I will be filming and documenting the entire day, and I also will have some surprises when it comes to the instrumentation and the presentation of the music. There’s gonna be a big thing at the end. I can’t spoil it though, sorry.

What’s next for you? 

 

I get started on my next album in mid April and will work on this in May as well and then take a break from it as I tour. I also will be coming out with a live album this summer, the recording of my big show at Gruene Hall. I’m excited about it all! Thanks for reaching out and featuring me and the new music!

 
 

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