NPR says singer-songwriter Jaimee Harris “is poised to be the next queen of Americana-Folk, a slightly edgier Emmylou Harris.” We’re excited to host her as part of The Rancho La Puerta Folk Festival. She was interviewed by the Festival’s co-host Carissa Stolting.
Carissa: Your new album, Boomerang Town, has been called “nostalgic” only insofar as nostalgia is a subconscious longing to return to the past to heal old wounds. The title track tells the story of a long family line of addiction and abuse, with characters all living in, and never leaving, a small town. The song’s main character promises something different to himself – to get out. Wondering if there was a turning point where you personally recognized the power of music to help you move forward/out/up? And do you believe music actively helps you heal these older wounds in yourself and others?
Jaimee: When I was eight, my family moved to a suburb of Dallas. I was bullied for the two years I was at that school. One day, I heard a group of popular girls talking about the talent show. They wanted to sing “Wide Open Spaces” (by the Dixie Chicks) but couldn’t find a karaoke track. I inserted myself into the conversation and told them I could play guitar for them. I’d played that song hundreds of times in my bedroom. It was at that moment I realized music could help me survive previously terrorizing social situations.
I don’t think I consciously knew why I was drawn to music, but it has always been the biggest obsession in my life. Now, I think my soul was reaching for songs that helped me understand the world around me and not feel so alone.
I believe the power of being a songwriter resides in that the songwriter is a writer. We write every song from the perspective of a narrator. Even if the narrator is “me,” it’s me three minutes ago, ten years ago, or twenty years ago. Just that little bit of distance allows us to go deeper and alchemize some of the most painful moments in our, our others’, lives. The best way I found to tell the most honest experience of my hometown was from behind the eyes of a 17-year-old boy who works at Walmart. I had to allow that narrator to come through in “Boomerang Town” in order to get to the deepest truth of my experience.
We all have the power to tell these stories. As listeners, we instinctively put ourselves in the shoes of the characters in the song and are able to experience empathy. I think that’s where the healing comes from.
Carissa: In an interview, you said you consider songwriting a spiritual practice. I wonder if you could elaborate further on this idea of songwriting as a spiritual practice, and what the act of creating does for your spirit?
Jaimee: I feel a responsibility to the art of songwriting. It’s been my experience that when I try to force my will on a song it greatly reduces its full potential. If I am able instead to allow the song to guide me and tell me what it wants to be, it’s able to have a bigger impact. It’s not just about very heavy or “deep” songs, this also applies to songs with humor that are asking to be born. Approaching the art form in this way allows me to remain connected, I believe, to a power much greater than myself. The more I am in conversation with that power, the more joyful and meaningful my life becomes.
Carissa: Although you’ve released several albums previously, you’ve said that Boomerang Town feels like the first… that now you are truly owning your identity as a songwriter and musician. What makes this album feel so different and identity-confirming?
Jaimee: I actually feel like Red Rescue was my very first record, as an artist. I’ve been writing since I was thirteen but didn’t release my first record (Red Rescue) until I was 28. Alternatively, Boomerang Town is the first record I’ve released with the support of a distribution label, radio, and PR. So, this to me feels like a broader introduction to the world. I really do think in album terms, more than artist terms. A lot of my favorite artists experiment with all different kinds of sounds and styles of records. The songs inform the sound and arc of the records. Genres are weird, but I think I am going to be an artist who always identifies as a songwriter and a folk singer primarily but will experiment with all sorts of sounds.
I will say for Boomerang Town, I have never worked harder on a song cycle in my life. I feel I have grown tremendously as a songwriter from Red Rescue to this record.
Carissa: Will this be your first time at Rancho La Puerta? Would you share a few self-care practices that are effective for you? And any thoughts on what would make this a restful, restorative week for you?
Jaimee: This will be my first time in Mexico, and I am thrilled! During the lockdown, I finally had enough time to establish healthier habits which my chaotic schedule or lack of willpower had not enabled me to do previously. I am looking forward to writing my morning pages in the sunshine, getting in some workouts, and just taking in the beauty of the land. As an independent artist, the admin side of this job is quite heavy. I’m looking forward to staying off the emails for a bit and just being in resonance with fellow songwriters.
Carissa: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Ranch community? A sneak peek into an upcoming release, project, or tour?
Jaimee: I’m pretty much always on the road! You can find out where in the world I’ll be at jaimeeharris.com/tour
I’d also love to share that I was thrilled to complete an ambitious project for Boomerang Town which was to have a music video created for every song for the record. Every person who made a music video is also a songwriter. I’d love for folks to check out the videos!