Molly Schnick has moved through many musical genres in her career. She started as a 14-year old punk in Berkeley, California, playing guitar in the short-lived but admired Lookout! band Raooul. Years later she and friends in and around Sacramento started playing together as Out Hud, one of the original electronic, dance-punk bands. Schnick sang in that band, but her primary instrument was the electric cello. Out Hud eventually relocated to Brooklyn, had a devoted following, put out two albums and multiple singles and splits, and then broke up. For the last few years, Schnick quietly and with devotion put together her first solo album, under the moniker Jean on Jean. The album was released on Kanine Records in February and Jean on Jean plays three upcoming shows in California. Schnick took some time out to discuss dance music, her new album, what it’s like to be a solo artist and why she’s a Brooklyn girl.
Q. Why the name Jean on Jean?
My friend Maddy, who was in Raooul with me, moved to NY (from CA) a few months before I did- in 1996. Before I got here she would call me and tell me all about the city. She said that a lot of people in NY wore “jean on jean” meaning a denim shirt and jeans. I thought it was such a funny phrase and I couldn’t imagine what that looked like but then I got here and lo and behold she was right- it was kind of a hip hop style at the time.
I always thought it would be a good name for a band cause it seems like someone talking about themselves- like Dylan on Dylan. This interview is Jean on Jean on Jean on Jean. (Ed. Note: Thanks for the title, Molly!)
Q. What’s it like being a “solo” artist, after so many years in bands, like Out Hud and Raooul??
It’s both liberating and lonely. I miss the feeling of “us against the world” and all the inside jokes and stuff. I was always super confident about those bands because the other people in the band believed in it too, so I knew I wasn’t the only one. At the same time I like being able to do whatever I want musically.
Q. Tell me about recording your debut album, “Jean on Jean.” How did you do it and was it all you playing everything?
I started recording songs on my own while Out Hud was still together- just in my room on my computer. That was like 4 years ago. After we broke up I got more serious about recording and eventually showed some of my songs to my friends Joshua Ryan and Eric Emm, (aka Brothers) and I ended up mixing the record (and re-recording some of the tracks) at their studio- which was really really fun.
It’s me playing most of the stuff but my boyfriend Rafael Cohen played a lot of the keyboards. And I think Eric might play a guitar somewhere on the record and Josh plays drums on “Tonight.”
Q. You’re playing a few shows in California. Will you have your band with you?
I am going to be playing solo. I’ll be playing guitar and I think I’m going to have a drum machine that I control with my feet but I still have to figure out how to use it… (TOUR DATES)
Video and Mp3 after the jump.
Q. What’s in the works? Are you writing new songs?
Yes I’m writing new songs. It took me a while to start writing again but I have 2 new ones now.
Q. Do you work with other artists or bands? I know you played cello on a Free Blood song…
I love playing on other people’s songs. I played cello on a few Free Blood songs, which is super fun cause they are my friends and they record at Brothers studio with Eric. I’ve also played on one of Bean’s records and on the last !!! album. It’s totally satisfying but I don’t have any regular people that I work with.
Q. You are unique in that you play an instrument that is historically more suited for classical music. Was it difficult to navigate your terrain?
It seemed pretty natural to me. The hardest thing about playing the cello in a louder setting is it feeding back. I had an electric cello in Out Hud but it’s not great sounding and it looks totally lame.
The kind of pop music that I was listening to when I was writing the songs on this record has a lot of strings- stuff like Judee Sill, Marvin Gaye, and Colin Blundstone so it seemed pretty natural.
Q. What is your songwriting process? Do you write songs on the cello?!
I write songs on guitar usually. I think I’ve written two songs on the cello but they were a little show-tuney. I learned how to play the guitar when I was 8 so it’s more natural for me- even though I’m probably a better cellist that a guitarist. I didn’t start playing the cello til I was 14- which is sort of late for a classical instrument.
Q. In Jean on Jean your sound took a distinct turn from your previous sound, how do you explain that?
I was totally traumatized by Out Hud breaking up and I think this record is pretty reactionary. I had spent 10 years concerned with beats and I felt sort of betrayed by beats, if that makes any sense, so I made a record with NO beats. Plus I was definitely the least funky member of Out Hud and I always felt a little behind the curve so it was nice to get to make a record that was concerned with things I actually felt like I was good at- melody, harmony, setting a mood, talking about feelings etc..
Q. Talking about feelings…this really explains a deep divide between “dance” music and singer-songwriter music and even rock and pop music. With dance music and beats, as you say, it seems the emotions come from the visceral sound, and not the lyrics. Do you prefer one or the other??
I prefer to write songs like the one on the Jean on Jean record but playing live in a dance band in totally thrilling- a highlight of my life thus far.
Q. You’ve lived in Brooklyn for how many years? How does a California girl like you adapt? Was it easy?
I moved to New York when I was 18 and moved back and forth from California a few times until I was like 21 when I settled here for good. So it’s either been 12 year or 9 years depending on how you count. It was not hard to adapt cause New York has always been my spiritual home. I was never laid back enough for Berkeley (which is where I’m from). I miss the easy access to nature though but I go back to CA a lot.
Q. Do you feel a part of a scene in Brooklyn?
I guess I did at one point but not any more. I have lots of friends that I see a lot but it’s not the same as when I was 22 and going dancing all the time and always seeing the same people.
Q. Out Hud in my opinion was one of the first bands to mix punk sensibility with electronics and tribal beats. Not to mention the added cello! How did the band veer in that direction?
We just really liked to dance so it seemed obvious to us that we would make danceable music. Once we moved to NY (in 2000 I think) we were exposed to really awesome classic house music so we started playing with a drum machine and it just sort of evolved from there.
Q. What do you think of all the current bands that make dance rock?
I don’t really keep up with much of that- I still like !!! . (Ed. Note: Members of !!! were also in Out Hud). I also really like Tanlines but I’m not sure they have much of a rock influence. (Ed. note: Eric Emm, of Brothers and Tanlines, plays in Jean on Jean on occasion).
Q. What music are you listening to currently? New or old?
Here’s what I’ve been listening to:
Bill Callahan’s new record “Sometimes I Wish we Were an Eagle”- I love all of his records.
Neil Young “Everyone Knows this is Nowhere”
Bob Marley “Uprising”- Growing up as a punk in Berkeley I thought Bob Marley was lame cause hippies listened to him but I was totally wrong- he rules.
Mayer Hawthorne ” I Wish it Would Rain” This song sounds like the Delphonics or something but it’s from now. Usually I’m wary this sort of nostalgic exercise but I really love the era this guy is referencing and the song is totally good so I’m into it.
Las Palabras “Calma Mi” single- This single is coming out next month – it’s Rafael’s solo project in Spanish and it’s so pretty.
Q. What else do you do besides write and play music?
My job is designing sewing projects for a blog called purlbee.com so I sew a lot of quilts, bags, napkins, baby stuff, etc. It’s an awesome job.
Q. Where in Brooklyn do you live? Have you always lived in generally the same neighborhood? (I think I remember you once lived in Park Slope….)
I live in Williamsburg. I lived in Park slope for bit but mostly I’ve been around the Williamsburg area.
Q. Many of the songs feature interesting instrumentation, how did you come up with ideas for that? Castanets and bird noises??
I’m a big believer in working within limits- I think it makes you more creative. So the reason for the instrumentation is that those were the things I had lying around the house. I’ve got a cello, some guitars, a few percussion instruments and a keyboard so that’s what got used. And the bird sounds are just me whistling!
Q. You mention being part of a scene, and missing that. Those feelings run through your lyrics as well. Is it mainly age and experience that moved you from the group party thing to the solo homey thing? What else?
I don’t know really. I’m not one of those people who never goes out – I still do lots of things outside the home with other people, just not in the same way. What is fun to me has changed- For instance I like waking up early- and I’m more OK with that now than I was at the time I wrote the songs.
Q. Were other members of Out Hud traumatized as you were? Why did you break up?
I don’t mean to say that I was traumatized because the rest of the band did something bad to me. I was traumatized because I had spent my whole adult life up until that point totally dedicated to this thing and I felt like it ended like I had nothing to show for it- I wasn’t a real grown up person but I also wasn’t an active artist anymore either. I don’t know if the rest of them were as traumatized as me- I’m a middle child so I’m kind of sensitive.
I’d prefer not to talk about why we broke up- we always refer people to our last record- there are clues on it.
Q. What is Phyllis Forbes doing? (Ed. Note: Forbes was a member of Raooul and Out Hud).
She’s going to school for writing and she’s very talented, so you’ll probably be hearing more from her.
Q. You said you were a punk in Berkeley…putting out records on Lookout at age 14 definitely proves that. What did it mean to you? How was it doing that and being so young?
Those records are so funny and I always love seeing pictures of us then. We were such bad ass mean kids. And Lookout was the coolest thing to me at the time. I loved their bands, so I was totally thrilled when Larry wanted to put out a record with us.
Here’s Jean on Jean’s video for “Tonight”
Jean on Jean: “Tonight”
click the above link.
Jean on Jean: “Tonight”