The Junior League Band, fronted by the sultry songstress Lissy Rosemont, is set to release Jelly Roll, the third full-length album on their label Beaver Records, July 16th at the Rock and Roll Hotel. AON had a couple questions for Lissy, and she was more than happy to share some background on the album, her chance meeting with Sarah Siskand and the fact that her wedding planner is terrible at booking shows. Be sure to listen to her new single below, “So I Want Out”.
AON: Festival season is upon us. What are your plans for summer appearances these next few months?
Lissy: Well, I’m getting hitched the day of the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival in September, so we had to turn that down. It’s unfortuante, because last year we had a lovely jam session in the parking lot of the Super 8 with a bunch of the other bands on the roster and plenty of moonshine. Then, I’m on my honeymoon during Festie, the Artists Farm new festival with the Infamous Stringdusters in Charlottesville. It’s highly likely we will be at the Newport Folk Festival, or a last minute appearance at FloydFest in late July. And we have already played my family’s fiddler’s festival over Memorial Day Weekend. Based on the tour schedule our summer appearances are plentiful (from Nashville’s WSM Music City Roots, and Atlanta’s Eddie’s Attic, up to NYC and thru the Carolinas, then back out West after my honeymoon) but the festival planners didn’t know to call the wedding planner, so … next year!
Tell us about the new album, especially the direction your writing took.
This project, the Junior League Band and each of its albums, are my babies. With Oh Dear (debut album released in June 2007) The Rosemont Family Reunion had just split, and I wrote most of that material in the aftermath of that break up. There was this drive to it because I was seeing for the first time if I could write songs on my own – feeling out this thing I could feel welling up inside me, wanting to come out. Looking back, I think that album is a beautiful coming-of-age for me, as a musician and as a songwriter. I needed to know once and for all if I could do it on my own, having been somewhat discouraged in the prior band. So, I gave it a go, and got my wake up call, knew I had landed as a songwriter and a musician last September 2009. I was on stage at the Paramount Theater in Bristol Tennessee with seven other songwriters as part of a panel hosted by Darrell Scott. There were 450 folks in the crowd listening to us “songwriters” talk about how we write. Darrell introuduced the woman next to me, Sarah Siskand, who I never knew, or heard of. He went on to explain she has written songs for Alison Krauss, Randy Travis, and a few other big names. If anyone was looking at me, they would have seen my mouth drop. There I was, on a songwriters panel of eight, next to this woman who has written literally my favorite song that my favorite artist performs (“Goodbye Is All We Have” by Alison Krauss). And I was asked to be on a panel with her, not to mention Darrell Scott, Sam Quinn (of the Everybodyfields) and the others. It was an enormous compliment. And a startling moment for me to realize, yes, indeed, I was a songwriter. I’m doing something right. Hell, I’ve gotten here.
You’ve certainly been busy between projects.
It’s been two years since we recorded the last album. For a project I started three years ago, I’ve learned a lot in these last two years – crash course in the music industry for a girl who went to school for physiology. Since we had two albums under our belt and my father was sick in Atlanta, there was not a huge rush to put out a third, and so I gave myself a looser deadline, moved home to Georgia to help out, and enjoyed having more space all around to write … and fall in love. I literally met my fiance at the CD release of the last album (although he missed the show on account of showing up too late) – our first smooch was backstage at the Black Cat. Needless to say, I’ve been a little preoccupied since.
When I met Jim Avett last year, he challenged me to write some songs he could produce – sort of got my ass in gear to get to editing thru all these melodies I was hearing in my head. Ultimately, he wanted more “tears in the beer” tunes, and there I was, all in love, writing poppy upbeat love songs, so I kept them for the Junior League Band and Jim and I decided to do a solo album together down the road when our schedules permit (we’ll get moving on some ideas for that this late summer when we tour together). But then there I was with a ton of songs I could do my “Junior League thing” with. When Jay-Z’s lawyer, Michael Guido, called me in February 2010, saying he was interested in my band, and liked my tune “Gin”, can I come to NYC to meet him and can I do more of that type of “Gin” sound please, that lit the fire to get moving on a new album to pitch to Guido … and here we are with Jelly Roll.
Readers should know, no album has ever had the same line up of players on it. For awhile, I tried to “have a band” like the ones I loved growing up (Pearl Jam for example.) But that wasn’t in the cards for me early on, both Devin McGaughey and Dale Manning who helped me get this moving left D.C. for graduate school before the first year of the band was over. Having learned my lesson with the Rosemont Family Reunion, I’ve let my players know as they come on board that ultimately this is my project and band. There was a time I wanted that “band as family/garage band since high school/all one unit” thing, and we had a period where what little money we made, we split equally, we were gearing up to write songs together. But folks kept quitting or moving on or away to bigger and better things, and it breaks your heart and was making me want to quit.
So, in an effort to keep the project going, I made a call to hire my players. Keep it professional. They are very talented D.C. musicians (and sometimes North Carolina, NYC, or Georgia), they get paid, I’m pleased with the music, there’s a lot less drama. It’s been working for more than a year now, so who knows. I am the only person that has been consistent on every LP and EP we have put out at this point is myself. Next in line is my brother who we call “Redtag”. He is a brilliant writer, and he gives me songs he’s written to use with my project. Will Waikart has been a very reliable asset to my project as well. From playing drums, and percussion to engineering the mixing sessions, he is a professional player, and a talented musician. Honestly, there are a ton of gems on the team. Sadie Dingfelder is one smart publicist, as well as a classical trained violinist turned fiddler. We bounce around town playing all sorts of shows together – from the 9:30 Club in January to little benefit shows on H Street NE. She’s up for anything and is a dear friend. I’ve loved discovering John Lee – hands down the best guitar player I’ve had the pleasure of playing with. He’s got his own project, the John Lee Experience, and has been opening on his own for the Disco Biscuits. So to have him with us when he can make it is a major treat. I love to sit back and just watch him go. Brandon Kalber is a talented bass player, upright and electric – also has an awesome band called Poor But Sexy. He’s professional, and easy easy going. Ian Thompson brings the rock on the drums, as well as the giggles in the car and at practice. They were all excellent in the studio, and are easy on the road. Similarly, Gary Prince is an excellent guitarist, Faye Petree and Rurik Nunan are super talented fiddlers. Not to mention Erik Lawrence, of the Levon Helm Band, on the sax. Erik rangled in the rest of Levon’s horn players, Clark Guston and Steven Bernstein (of Sex Mob). Im a lucky lady to get to play with these talented folks. I have an incredible manager, Ashlee Jean Trott, who helps me keep my head on straight and manage all these details. So the ride has gotten smoother – hallelujah. It’s tough to know what your doing in this industry. Most folks I know in bands didn’t go to school to become the leader of a band.
Your penchant for traditionals is well known. Anything you’ve unearthed recently that you’ll be playing on the new album or otherwise?
You know, I recently remembered this one old tune called “I Came to Take the Hurtin’”. My dad used to sing it all the time. I’m on a hunt to find the songwriter. It sounds like a Hank Williams tune, but it’s not. I’ve asked all my honky friends, including Jeff Place (archivist at the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings where I work part-time) and even HE has never heard of it. Jeff Place knows everything. So I’m wondering if my dad picked it up somewherew down South when he used to play, or if he wrote it. He never wrote songs that I am aware of, he always played covers of the Delta Blues guys, so it could be a wild revelation if it indeed is.
You feature a lot D.C. locations in your DIY music videos. Where did you have the most fun shooting?
We had a blast two weeks ago at Malcolm X park shooting the “Jelly Roll” video with Howard filmman Olise Nwachukwu. I tried to get the “Soccer in the Circle” organizers in on this shoot and go down to Dupont for part of the shoot – but the timing didn’t work out. As for Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park, that Sunday afternoon drum circle just does wonders for walkerbys. What a fun phenomenon that total strangers go to a public location and dance with each other! Makes me happy. I used to wish in junior high and high school that the whole cafeteria would break out into musical – like how they do in Grease and Bye Bye Birdie. Alas, it never happened. However, the Malcolm X Park drum circle and public dancing that naturally ensues is almost better.
You make some pretty strong promises on Jelly Roll. How long are you really prepared to “love the guy that steals your heart with every smile”?
It’s looking like forever!