Three years ago, Jessica Pratt was a warm soul cloaked in the Gothic drapes of a witch’s robe. Today, she’s grappling with the emptiness of major life changes. The Californian singer-songwriter has an intense but small following, one that cherishes the soft folk songs she purrs in darkened bars. But Pratt is more than her vocal melodies, although her voice in and of itself is nothing short of an age-old fable. It stings with an uncertain sharpness akin to Joanna Newsom on a good day. It’s lush the way Joni Mitchell’s flows effortlessly. Now, on her sophomore full-length On Your Own Love Again, the Drag City musician is getting more intimate, more open, and more adjusted to love filling the void of those who left.
On Your Own Love Again was written at a time of dissolution. Jessica Pratt’s long-term relationship ended and her mother passed away, two major losses that left a cavernous gap in her mental and social well being. Things of that importance leave people too stunned to work. Trace it back to her willpower or her wisdom; whichever it was, it allowed her to saddle herself on the workhorse quicker than even she expected.
“In my case, you can only process so much immediately,” she says quietly. “You have to unconsciously tuck part of it away so that you can continue to function for a while. Maybe I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, but I was definitely aware of what was happening. I went into a bit of an on silent mode. In a weird way I feel like it lent me a raw sense of focus.”
So she did what any 27-year-old left on their own does: uproot. San Francisco dried its eyes to wave goodbye as Pratt left for the high profile vibes of Los Angeles. She was, all at once, totally friendless. “I was able to isolate myself completely,” she says. “It was lonely and depressing, but it was actually a perfect situation in which to work.”
The title alone implies it’s either incredibly sad and hollowed in its isolation after two important love figures subside, or it’ s a very therapeutic healing sense. For Pratt, it’s both. “When I was writing [the album title], it was a vague, unconscious sentiment yet concrete enough to represent a lot of different things,” she admits. “I love that about it. It was an unmediated selection of words that just sort of happened.”
Her new home in Los Angeles is vast and harsh, especially compared to the vegan-friendly, knitting hippie, eco-friendly startup setting of San Francisco. “It was a big simultaneous shift,” she says. “I hadn’t spent a ton of time here, but came knowing it wasn’t going to be as much of a nest as San Francisco is. Everything is small and accessible there; it’s a Disneyland scenario where everything is within an arm’s reach.” As such, several album cuts take direct notice of the environmental change. “Game That I Play” and “I’ve Got A Feeling” unravel with a bitter air absent on the charm of her self-titled debut. It isn’t directed towards the city, but rather is the city rubbing off on her. “Any new place can throw you a curve in ways you don’t expect, but I never held that against the city,” she says. “I recognized that it was a normal transition period of moving to a new place and exploring.”
Thankfully she had a longtime friend at her side, her guitar, which she taught herself how to play at age 15. “I played the same shit for a long time,” she laughs. “I didn’t follow the normal trajectory of learning how to play guitar the way a teenage boy would. There was no trying to learn a Metallica song or Black Sabbath. I just played guitar alone for the first 10 years.” From Incredible String Band to John Martyn all the way to Leonard Cohen’s nylon string appeal, Pratt was hooked on the intimacies of acoustics. The warmth of their music had her allured. “I don’t know if I was consciously trying to replicate anything,” she adds, “but there’s definitely stuff I listened to a lot that effected it.”
Pratt’s early material spoke for itself. Tim Presley of White Fence was so captivated that he founded Birth Records solely to release her 2012 self-titled debut. In the years following, her cult began to amass. Opening for the likes of Grouper and Julia Holter as years ticked by, Pratt stayed the same: a redhead with thin lips crouched on the flat top of a bar stool, moving minimally, if at all, while finger-picking her way through songs that quieted the rowdiest pubs.
In 2015, she’s the same songwriter, but she bears tougher, love-scorn skin. “I want things to be interesting and colorful, and maybe posses some kind of darkness,” she says when I bring up the undeniable allure of “Strange Melody”. Her sly insert of Duran Duran’s downward vocal spiral in “Hungry Like the Wolf” acts like a wink and a nod from across the bar. “I realized after the record came out, only once someone pointed it out, that it sounded similar,” she says. “I liked that it was in there. When you listen to a lot of music, aka existing in the world, you’re inundated with constant sounds and images. It’s interesting what comes out sometimes as a result.”
If that means music that’s comfortable in its own loneliness, then Pratt should keep pushing herself through losses of love. Hypnotic spells like hers should never end.
JESSICA PRATT W/ RYLEY WALKER. TUES 6.23. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMMONWEALTH AVE., ALLSTON. 617.779.0140. 9PM/18+/$10. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM.