Jonatha Brooke :: http://www.jonathabrooke.com
When MCA Records contacted Jonatha Brooke four years ago mid-tour to terminate her contract, she wasn’t about to give up. “It really sucked for a few weeks,” says Brooke, who began her career as one-half of Eighties folk duo the Story. Although the prospect of managing her own career was daunting, Brooke says, “It was the most empowering decision I ever made.” Since then, Brooke has continued to record and tour, and in 1997 she founded her own independent label, Bad Dog Records, on which she has released two albums, including her latest, Steady Pull.
In addition to managing her career, writing songs and touring, Brooke also manages to maintain a tour diary on her Web site, www.jonathabrooke.com. “I’m thrilled beyond belief,” says an ecstatic Brooke of her progress and of the new album. “I have these little butterflies, like on the night before Christmas.” Brooke’s voice gains excitement when she talks about it; commenting on her favorite part, “to be involved in every aspect of this record,” which included everything from the arrangement of the songs to helping out with producing. “This record is a real proving ground for me,” says Brooke, “as a writer, a player, a performer.”
The independence didn’t come easy. At first, MCA offered to continue her contract — if Brooke agreed to make some compromises on her next album. But Brooke was put off. According to Brooke, she faxed the label a proposal for a six-month trial period — in which she would continue artistically on her own and the label would support her tour — after which it would decide whether to stay with her. But the label did not respond. Brooke found the experience to be both an insulting and liberating one, all at the same time.
Compromise wasn’t an option for Brooke, who describes becoming a musician as something that was “inevitable.” The strong-willed Brooke started playing guitar at the age of twelve. “I got a guitar for Christmas and I just sort of funked around,” she says. Brooke began writing songs in college and she sang in the school vocal group. She counts Bonnie Raitt, whom she used to play along to, as among her strongest influences.
For inspiration when writing songs, Brooke draws on her personal experiences, which she also “peppers with fiction.” Though bits and parts of a song might stem from impromptu moments or “quirky things that happen along the way” (she mixes in notes jotted on napkins or on a dictaphone that she carries with her at all times), Brooke does most of her songwriting when she’s home in seclusion. She says that a song or a rhythm can spark from anything from an idea to something she may overhear on, say, her way to the bathroom.
Steady Pull is a collection of Brooke’s most poetic vocals and emotionally charged music. The potency of her voice is revealed on the soulful “Red Dress,” and storytelling skills shine through on the nostalgic “Lullaby.” Other standout tracks include “How Deep Is Your Love?,” boasting up-front vocals and rhythmic beats, and the snappy, clever “Out of Your Mind.”
Brooke has a new band based out of Los Angeles, where she lives and does most of her studio work. She doesn’t have a preference for touring alone versus with a band, but does enjoy the freedom of playing alone because of the degree of intimacy she can build with an audience. However, she says that with a band “the dynamics are just that much broader.”
Response from the new album has been positive, says Brooke, and she remains tirelessly optimistic:
“I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”
ROLLING STONE REVIEW – KERRY L. SMITH (May 4, 2001)