jennifer o'connor

photo by gail o'hara      

jennifer o'connor

jennifer o'connor is a smoky-voiced new york songwriter, bartender, ebay enthusiast and all-around pop girl extraordinaire. we caught up with ms. jen at the magician on the lower east side in the early days of summer.

chickfactor: when did you write your first song and what was it called and what was it about?
jennifer o'connor: it was in 1996 and it was called "circus" and it was for a band I had just joined—well, it wasn't even a band yet. I didn't really play music yet. this guy told me I should be in this band. I went to an open mike with him one night and played bass, then the next day I wrote a song. it was sort of about playing music. it was in atlanta, right after college.

cf: did you want to be a singer when you were little?
jen: not realistically. I wanted to be a basketball player. music was always my favorite thing but I didn't really think of it as something I would ever really do. I played basketball from age 9 to 20.

cf: what was your first concert?
jen: van halen in 1987.

cf: they were so past their prime!
jen: I know. it was right when hagar joined the band. my first small club show was the replacements in 1991.

cf: first record you bought?
jen: probably "physical" by olivia newton-john. I used to buy top 40 singles every week. I used to have a notebook and write it down, the top 40.

cf: me too!
jen: you did that? I listened to it on my walkman and I would figure out which ones I wanted to go buy.

cf: you grew up in the south?
jen: I grew up in a small town in connecticut until I was 13, a really small town. we moved to florida before I started high school.

cf: when did you play your first show?
jen: after I moved here. it was at acme underground. I sent out a bunch of tapes after I moved here. that was in '99. I tried to get shows at better places after that.

cf: what's the best venue in nyc?
jen: I like, I play at the knitting factory a lot, it's not my favorite, but I worked there. I like southpaw.

cf: has anything really embarrassing happened onstage?
jen: the last show I played was pretty embarrassing. a few weeks ago I played a show and there was no soundcheck as usual and it was the guy's first night doing sound. I started playing and there was no guitar and somebody went to help him. they turned the guitar on and it fed back really loud. I picked the quietest prettiest song first. I spilled beer and thought I was going to electrocute myself. the snare was moving on the drum kit behind me. just a series of bad things.

cf: what did you do at the knitting factory?
jen: marketing and promotion. I wrote to writers such as yourself trying to get them to come to shows or preview shows. flyering and stuff.

cf: when's the new album out?
jen: I don't know. the beginning of 05?

cf: do you record at home?
jen: a little bit. ultimately I would like to have the ability to do it all at home. I would like to have someone do the levels.

cf: are you bartending these days?
jen: no. I was. I really liked it but I was drinking a lot. I quit cause there was a gas leak in the bar and they weren't fixing it and it made me really nervous.

cf: no one smokes anymore, it's not that dangerous. do people smoke after hours?
jen: and even before.

cf: people are breaking the law?!
jen: they are, they do. a lot of places in new york start smoking around 2. but I haven't had a cigarette in 18 days. but I want one right now.

cf: what's the best bar in brooklyn?
jen: I like o'connors which is right down the street from me. I don't go to bars that much.

cf: why would you want to play solo anyway? isn't it scary?
jen: it is scary. I do it because...when I first started playing I was in a band and I don't know. I like playing in a band but I also like having more control. I don't like to rehearse so having a band...and I like playing with different people. I can't commit to it. I like being able to do it when I want to do it. maybe eventually I'll have a band but I like having it mine. plus when I was in a band I had some situations with other members, it's hard to play with other people. I wasn't treated very well in some instances and I guess I hold a grudge.

cf: you played at the new york party for the saddest music in the world, the fabulous guy maddin film. who won?
jen: did anybody win? I think I won. I was the saddest. no, it wasn't a competition.

cf: there was a similar party in london, and they had a lot of crappy bands who weren't nearly sad enough for me and I thought competing to see who was the saddest.
jen: we did have to give away tickets for the movie but that was the only contest of the night. kendall's set was pretty sad too.

cf: what song do you wish you'd written?
jen: there's a lot probably. "your song" by elton john. although I always think it's weird that he didn't write his own lyrics.

cf: even weirder that courtney love hired bernie taupin to write some lyrics for her.
jen: yeah! so weird. she's just, sad.

cf: were you a fan?
jen: huge fan. huge hole fan. huge nirvana fan. I was in my freshman year of college when the whole nirvana thing broke. I saw hole in 94. she was a mess then. she was talking to the ceiling and talking to him. I wish I'd written a lot of elliott smith songs. dylan songs. mark eitzel songs. I hung out with him one night on the lower east side, me and him drinking for hours, it was fun.

cf: what are your songs about?
jen: death. endurance. continuing. I used to write more about love and stuff but I don't do that much anymore.

cf: what about driving?
jen: there's a lot of driving and moving in my songs. I write a lot or come up with things when I'm driving. I like new york better with a car actually. I don't feel trapped as much.

cf: are you still doing the ebay thing?
jen: I do that and I do a little promoting for bars.

cf: do you buy or sell stuff on ebay?
jen: I sell stuff. I can't afford to buy anything! mostly I look to see what sells. I do mostly music stuff but I like it because I have a revolving record collection. and this time of year I go to a lot of stoop sales in brooklyn and find stuff. it's like having a record store without having to buy anything.

cf: what made you the most money?
jen: I sold a couple of loren mazzacane connors records for $200 or $300 to jim o'rourke! it was pretty exciting. and I did a good deed because they're using them to remaster and make the records.

cf: you couldn't just give them to him?
jen: I didn't know he needed them! he has the money! two records I sold allowed me to pay my rent and continue working on my music.

cf: you're the middle man.
jen: I'm a recyclist.

cf: I hear you signed to red panda records.
jen: it's a big up and coming indie label.

cf: why did you choose to go with them after that huge bidding war.
jen: I love the idea behind it and the people running it and I trust them.

cf: what's in your fridge?
jen: romaine lettuce. tomato paste. seltzer water. milk. that's it.

cf: what were you doing touring france? are you big in france?
jen: I used to know a lady in new york who's french and moved back and she was helping put on a festival in lille and they wanted to do a night or a series of nights of new york artists and they liked my record so they flew me out there and paid me.

cf: didn't you play a ladyfest once?
jen: I didn't make it. I was supposed to play ladyfest richmond.

cf: didn't you play one in new york?
jen: I was on a compilation but I didn't actually play.

cf: what's the pop scene like in nyc?
jen: I don't know. there's so much here but most of it is williamsburg type stuff. I haven't found much of a community but I think red panda might change that.

cf: who's your favorite new york band?
jen: I don't know. I suddenly like the yeah yeah yeahs—they were on mtv awards the other night and it was so gorgeous.

cf: aren't they from new jersey? have you ever dreamt about a song and remembered it?
jen: I do but I don't remember it to write it.

cf: have you had a dream with rock stars in them?
jen: I've had dreams with courtney love and nirvana...oh, you mean a hot sex dream?

cf: have you had a hot sex dream with someone you really don't like?
jen: oh yeah.

cf: what melody is stuck in your head?
jen: that britney song "toxic."

cf: do you like any mainstream bitches?
jen: not really. I listen to a lot of mainstream hip-hop. I like the franz ferdinand single. I didn't buy it but I listened to courtney love's album at the jukebox where I worked. didn't really stick for me. I probably should buy it—the last album was like that for me at first too.

cf: if you buy it maybe it'll keep her out of prison.
jen: it's so sad, it really is. did you read that interview in something online? I couldn't believe how sad it was. she's broke.

cf: not another behind the music story.
jen: that's what it was like.

cf: kurt must sell a lot of records. sounds like she hasn't done a very good job of managing her money.
jen: no, she hasn't. that's exactly what the article is about.

cf: it's kind of embarrassing to be a celebrity and to talk about that stuff in public.
jen: I guess that's part of the job.

cf: she doesn't hold back.
jen: she doesn't hold anything back.

cf: if courtney love asked you to be in her band would you do it?
jen: you know it's funny that you should ask that. did you know they took out a full page ad in the village voice last year for a bassist. and I thought about it for a whole day. the ad said they wanted somebody who looked a certain way.

cf: a goth metal chick like auf der maur?
jen: I was like that's not me.

cf: they could do your hair and makeup.
jen: they wanted someone who behaved like flea but didn't play like flea or something.

cf: why do you think they wanted a girl?
jen: um, I think that's pretty cool. that's something I waffled about if I put a band together. I prefer to play with women if they're good. it's easier. my first band was with two guys and that's part of the reason I don't want to have a band anymore. some bad shit happened and I think it was in some ways because I was a girl just learning how to play. I'm not saying all guys are like that because they're not.

cf: do you like to sing karaoke?
jen: not really. I'm kinda shy about it. I like watching people.

cf: what's your sign?
jen: scorpio.

cf: ever been to a psychic?
jen: yeah.

cf: what did they tell you?
jen: stupid shit. when I lived in florida a while ago, I wanted to find out if I should move back to new york. said I was going to be very famous and rich. of course I'm still waiting for that. have you been to a psychic?

cf: hasn't everyone? are you going to check out the spongebob movie?
jen: I want to.

cf: who's your idol?
jen: sleater-kinney. as a group.

cf: all three of them?
jen: yeah, they're great.

cf: better than hole?
jen: they're better than hole.

cf: they're definitely better than hole. who's your favorite writer?
jen: I like michael chabon a lot. I read the mysteries of pittsburgh in high school. I read a lot of music stuff. I just read the bob dylan bio.

cf: you have any phobias?
jen: I don't like to fly. I don't like heights. I don't like the subway. I have a lot of anxiety issues in general but I'm working on them. I don't like elevators either. I don't like to feel like I'm out of control even though I'm really not anyway.

cf: who do you have a crush on?
jen: I have a crush on the brenda character on six feet under. I also have a crush on the amy character on judging amy. she's sexy. david berman. I love him.
kendall: maybe gail can introduce you.

cf: talented man.
jen: is he a jerk? I used to have a big crush on carrie brownstein but I think I'm over it. don't print that.

cf: right, we won't. off the record. you're the first one to have a crush on her.
jen: I'm more interested in corin at the moment. I really like the song she wrote about her kid. they're good rock stars.

cf: who would you want to collaborate with?
jen: the guy from neutral milk hotel. kevin shields. dizzee rascal.

cf: what are your top 5 records?
jen: the self-titled elliott smith record; bringing it all back home; what would the community think; blue; american water; plastic ono band.

cf: thanks jen!

jennifer's new album, the color and the light, is out soon on red panda: redpandarecords.com/standard_view.asp?portfolio_id=1105.
jenniferoconnor.net