"Great Music and a Great Hang" with Jen Hartswick
Photo by David Shehi
Jennifer Hartswick was still a Vermont high school student when Trey Antastasio approached her about adding some trumpet to his solo release One Man’s Trash. Since then she has continued to perform with Anastasio and appears on the recently-released TAB at the TAB disc. However at this point Hartswick is an established bandleader in her own right, with her third album set to hit next year. In the following conversation she tracks her development, discusses some unreleased Trey Anastasio Band studio sessions, talks about her Umphrey’s McGee connection and shares what she has planned for the coming months.
So, you have a new album due to be released in the Spring of 2011. Your past two albums explored very different genres – the first being a funk, soul mix and the second a collection of jazz standards. Can you talk about the direction you took with your third album?
It’s a little more oriented to the first [album]. It’s kind of a soul, R&B record. It’s a “less is more” version of that project. It’s just five people – the quintet, the rhythm section and me – and it’s kind of sultry, sultry and R&B oriented.
What musicians are featured in the current lineup you’re playing with and how did the band come together?
Well basically, I’ve been sort of collecting in my mind over the last ten or fifteen years who I love working with and playing with. So it’s Nick Cassarino on guitar, who I’ve been playing with for the last ten years; Dezron Douglas on bass, we met in college, so we’ve been playing for the last ten years; and then there’s two different drummers, there’s Russ Lawton whose been playing on half of it, and then a drummer from Chicago named Cory Healey who guest appeared on some stuff; Joe Dividian is on organ; and Bruce Squire also came and did a few tracks with us on organ and piano.
So Rob Marscher [who is now in Hartswick’s band] is not featured on the recording?
Rob isn’t on the actual recording. He was on tour at the time we recorded.
How did you and Rob first meet and when did you approach him about joining your band?
I’ve been a huge fan of Rob’s since Addison Groove Project. He’s such an incredible musician and he was doing double-duty playing bass in one hand and incredible keys in the other. So we go really far back. I’d say 10 or 11 years that I’ve enjoyed his playing and him as a person.
We’d been talking and trying to do something for that whole time. [Laughs]. So it was probably right when we recorded the album and we knew we wanted to get something solid together. So I’d say about a year ago we really started talking about having the band be a band. Everyone’s so busy that it’s hard to get everybody together, especially with him as a new dad and a touring musician. I mean, it’s really difficult for everybody but it’s nice that everybody wants to do it.
Is this band lineup permanent, and if so, when did it solidify?
Yeah, the permanent lineup is Nick Castarino, Dezron [Douglas], and Rob [Marscher] and Nikki Glaspie on drums. And it solidified probably four or five months ago when we started booking shows and were actually able to get commitments from everybody. Nikki’s tough because she’s in Beyonce’s band. So, we kind of have to work around her schedule.
When you were recording the new album did you invite any guests into the studio to help you out?
The only guest we really had was Tony Barba who’s a tenor sax player from New York and who actually had just moved to Chicago when we were recording the album. So it was nice to have him be a part of it.
So no guest appearances from any of the other TAB members?
No, just Russ Lawton. He played on half of the album.
Is that because you’re trying to distance your solo work from your work in TAB?
No I don’t try to distance anything from anything. I am who I am and I’ve done what I’ve done and we all love playing together. Any reason for any line-up or lack thereof is because of people’s schedules. So you can either put it off because you can’t get exactly who you want for your whole life [Laughs] or you can just go ahead and see what comes out of it. And, we ended up with a really incredible record that I’m actually really proud of. The band sounds great. But, there’s certainly no intentional distance.
So what was the timeline like with the new album? When did you first begin working on it and what was the songwriting process like?
I kind of go through phases of writing a lot at once, and then I’ll spend a few months not writing. But I spent probably three months writing a solid 15 or 20 tunes and narrowed it down to the ones I really wanted to do. With recording I’m always very fast. I don’t see the need to spend forever in the studio. So when everything was said and done we probably spent two weeks in the studio.
How do you personally approach writing the songs?
It’s different every time. I really have no formula. I will say that the way I write tunes the most is if I’m in the car by myself on a long drive, which happens a lot. So I have my little “handy dandy” recorder and I’ll try and flush something out. For the most part it’s really all different, but I do write a lot in the car.
What was the recording process like?
I always record live. All the tracks are always live. I feel really strongly about that. We were in a really incredible studio in Chicago in a really incredible live room. And, you know, a lot of those guys are from the East Coast, so we flew them in. And a lot of them I hadn’t seen in a long time. So, it was a really good hang and I got to show them the city. And it was the same deal, we spent maybe four days in the studio that first leg.
Nobody knew the songs ahead of time too, which I think that kind of gives everything a fresh taste. We had a rehearsal the day before we went to the studio and I showed them everything and everybody kind of gave their input, “this should go here, that should go there” – it’s a very democratic process. And so we go in not really knowing what’s going to happen and we just take whatever happens. There’s one song called “Ocean Floor” that we just did one take of; there isn’t a second take. It was just one of those special things and it tends to be people’s favorite song on the album. So I guess it worked.
Are you the sole songwriter or is the rest of the band contributing?
It’s my work. And then as far as arranging goes I kind of open up the floor to whoever has ideas and everyone tends to have ideas and I love that because it becomes theirs.