Wendy Jo Girven says she has a “hobo heart”. The singer-songwriter lists her influences as Gillian Welch, Doc Watson and The Carter Family and she has the back story to match, growing up in rural Pennsylvania with “a love of Doc Watson and the American highway”.
Her debut album The Last Secret is an alluring mix of sparse lo-fi folk, country and blues. Her voice is soft, and I daresay sultry at times – along the lines of Shelby Lynne or Shawn Colvin.
Wendy Jo has traveled the US honing her craft, with a long stay in Alaska before settling in Maine, but her time on the road shows. She is quite adept lyrically – with themes of love, loss, longing, traveling, home, and chasing dreams simmering throughout the 11 tracks, making The Last Secret a very strong, if not a sincere and unpretentious debut.
We caught up with Wendy Jo to answer some questions. Oh and if you’re interested in hosting a house show, drop her a line!
People say I sound like….
I’ve had a few people tell me that I remind them a bit of Norah Jones, which is a very high compliment. I think it depends on the song and the mood, but I’ll take it. She’s absolutely great!
Tell us about the scene in Maine…
I live in a pretty rural area of Maine with a hard winter, so a lot of live shows happen during the summer months. In particular, we have a really active summer population so there is live music happening from May to September. That translates into many sunset filled ocean side gigs for people who have traveled from everywhere. Winter tends to be quiet, but it’s also a good time to create and write.
In Portland, there’s always great live music happening. There is a strong scene for local bands and emerging artists, plus they are getting really great acts touring through these days at several venues like Longfellow Square and the State Theater. As a songwriter, Maine has a fairly active community to help create exposure. Distance can be a challenge, but we get used to it here. As a relative newcomer to the area, I’m still learning about it all, but people have been really welcoming to my music and my new record.
What music has had an influence on your sound?
I grew up in the woods in Pennsylvania and we listened to a lot of country music. I mean, real county music like Doc Watson. That music had a profound influence on my life, those haunting ballads from the mountains. I feel a real connection with old-time music and bluegrass also, to some extent. In addition to songwriting, I play the banjo so it’s always in the back of my mind. Of course, there are a long list of songwriters who I admire and listen to frequently that influence me. Gillian Welch, Jolie Holland, and Lucinda Williams all come to mind. Also, Loretta Lynn!
Tell us about your live show…
I tend to do a lot of solo shows, which are a bit toned down and quiet from some of my recordings. I like performing in spaces where the lyrics can come forward to be heard. If you see me live, I think that you’ll experience a genuine connection. I really want to have a relationship with the people listening. Music pulls us together, you know.
What influences you lyrically?
Everything! Of course, love and all its trappings. Religion,family, the weather, the highway…. I once drove from Pennsylvania to Alaska via Oklahoma by myself and when I feel dried up on ideas I pull out my notebook from that trip. I write down notes everyday of things I see, lines that come to me. I always have a running list. A series of little observations and circumstances usually get the pen flowing. Also, I read a lot which helps the lyrical creative flow. I even took a poetry class last summer while I was finishing up writing for The Last Secret.
Best concert I’ve ever seen…?
I got to see Doc Watson in concert a few years before he passed away. He was incredible, even in his old age. An amazing guitar picker to be concert, but his voice has always stood out most to me. I got to go to that show with my dad, who feels music in the same way as I do. Something in Doc’s voice and they way he could convey a song really struck me that night. Pure, humble, and sincere singing.
If you could pick any time to travel back to for music, where would you go and what year would it be….
I suppose if I could be there with the Carter Family on some front porch in Virginia circa 1927, that would be pretty neat. In general, there is a lot happening in that era that I’d have liked to have seen firsthand as far as music reaches.
What tunes are currently on heavy rotation for you…
I am loving the new Jason Isbell album, Something More Than Free. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Wood Brothers while I’m in the car. They have such a great vibe! I think I listened to their song “Postcards from Hell” three times this morning. I’m pretty excited for the new Dave Rawlings Machine album, Nashville Obsolete. Gillian and Dave songs are always rattling around my head and through my radio speakers. Born to Run just turned 40 years old, so that’s gotten a lot of play time at my little barn, too. When I was a little girl, I was sure that Bruce wrote the title track for me.
If you could open for any band/artist right now who would that be and why?
Abigail Washburn! I love her music, both solo and with Bela Fleck. She has an unconventional style and has brought a new presence to the banjo with her songwriting. Plus, I’d just love to sit and talk with her. I think I could learn a lot from Abby.
If you could only bring ONE record in the tour van/bus/plane what would it be?
Circle Unbroken, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1972)
When you’re not playing and have some time off, where could we find you…
Probably in my kayak or maybe up a mountain. I love to be outdoors!
From the Random Question Generator:
What part of your daily routine can you not function without?
I have a morning ritual of lost car keys.
What’s up for 2015/2016?
Songwriting! I was in the studio for half of 2015 and then playing lots of gigs around Maine, Vermont, and Pennsylvania during the summer. I’m looking forward to getting the album more airplay and spending a winter with some new songs. I’d really love to do a house concert tour in Spring 2016.