Jesca Hoop Charms The Music Box

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When I walked into Jesca Hoop’s dressing room at The Music Box, I felt at ease immediately. Perhaps it was the familiar, intoxicating scent of my favorite hairspray, or perhaps it was Jesca’s faded Andrew Bird tee. Or maybe it was the larger-than-life singer herself, whose unusually magnetic persona seemed to barely fit inside her diminuitive frame. We chatted for a few minutes before the show, and I had no way of knowing that this genuine ingenue would be just as extraordinary onstage as she was offstage.

BnB:Who was the first artist that you remember really getting into growing up?

Jesca: Probably The Beatles. I think so: that I really dug into anyways. I have a lot of artists I love but it was my first independent pick. I liked Madonna and The Beastie Boys, but…actually no! It was The Beastie Boys. That was the first record I ever bought.

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Who was the first artist that you remember really getting into growing up?

Probably The Beatles. I think so: that I really dug into anyways. I have a lot of artists I love but it was my first independent pick. I liked Madonna and The Beastie Boys, but…actually no! It was The Beastie Boys. That was the first record I ever bought.

I would have never guessed that after listening to your music.

Yeah, we have what we like and then what we do.

Your sophomore album Hunting My Dress was released in July, and you were quoted as saying “this is the first time I really took control of my life”. What did you mean by that?

Of my career: not necessarily my life, but my career path. I took my own money and put it into the campaign and paid for the record myself. I own the record, I’m licensing it here in the US. We’re set to make records under the same label for worldwide distribution after that. It was the first time I made a true investment in myself to that degree.

Your style has been equated with Bjork and Joni Mitchell. How do you respond to those comparisons?

I think it’s more important for people to listen past the comparisons, try to hear what’s individual about what I do. It’s hard to move away from comparisons, and I understand the purpose of comparisons, but they’re only so accurate, you know?

So where are you touring next?

I go back and do some dates in Spain, and then I’m going to work on some homework in the writing process. Then I’m back here again towards the end of the year, and I’m not quite sure what’s happening at the beginning of 2011.

Where do you want to go? Do you have an ideal tour in mind?

I’ve been doing it. I haven’t been to Japan yet, so I’d like to go to Japan. But I’ve been doing what I want to do.

Guy Garvey of Elbow lent his vocals to ‘Murder for Birds’ on Hunting My Dress. Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

I want to talk E [Eels frontman] into letting me do something with him. I’m going to talk him into it, we’ll see how it goes (laughs). He doesn’t know yet.

After these few but informative words, I left the maze of dressing rooms and headed back upstairs to wait for the show to begin. When the curtain came up, Jesca stood out like a beacon in her red tartan dress and mile-high hair (thanks to the hairspray I smelled earlier). Flanked by a male guitarist and a female backup vocalist, she began the show with ‘Murder Birds’, a beautiful folk ballad with trilling crystalline falsettoes that gave me chills. Her voice stretched out and away from the stage, and her gut-wrenching aria prompted more applause for an opening act than I have ever heard. She graciously accepted, purring “Hello Eels fans. Nice to meet you. Hello to those of you with whom I’m on my first date.” Her warm, dewy voice was barely heard over the constant catcalls coming from her gentlemen fans. She had no problem keeping the scoundrels in check, as when one yelled “We love you Jess-i-ca” she quickly returned “I love you! Does your name have an ‘i’ in it? Because mine doesn’t!”

Her banter was witty and biting, much like her vocal style. She is one of the few artists I’ve heard who have absolute control over all of the possible sounds their instrument can make. Jesca‘s voice is as finely tuned and honed as any proper instrument should be, and her ability to rasp and coo as well as she lilts and shouts colors each song more unique and brilliant than the last.  I absolutely loved the dark cabaret number ‘Money’, during which Jesca put down her guitar and used both hands to help illustrate the song’s lyrics. I could feel vibrations under my feet from all of the toes tapping along with both vocalists’ snapping fingers. Midway through, she embraced her fellow vocalist in a dancer’s pose, and they twirled across the stage in an impromptu tango. She closed the show with the title track from her album Hunting My Dress, a haunting folk ballad whose fragile melody lingered into the silence that followed.