Jo Bartlett | Interview | “Every word and every note is honest”

Uncategorized June 10, 2024

Jo Bartlett | Interview | “Every word and every note is honest”

Jo Bartlett is a multifaceted artist whose creative journey spans from founding the Green Man Festival to her musical collaborations in ‘It’s Jo and Danny’. Her latest album, ‘Ghost Tapes 1 to 9’, showcases her deeply personal approach to songwriting, drawing from her own life experiences.

Bartlett’s artistic evolution can be traced through her exploration of different sonic landscapes, from the experimental nature of ‘The Cut-Up’ to the introspective depth of her latest release. Despite her diverse ventures, Bartlett remains committed to authenticity and honesty in her artistic expression, evident in her dedication to creating genuine, heartfelt music. As she continues to navigate the realms of creativity, Bartlett’s impact on the music scene is undeniable, leaving a lasting impression with each new endeavor, including her involvement with the Wake Festival.

“Every word and every note is honest”

Your new album, ‘Ghost Tapes 1 to 9’, was just recently released! Could you share a bit about the inspiration behind the title and the overarching theme of the album?

Jo Bartlett: I started writing songs and getting ideas together for the album two years ago. It’s actually the first time I’ve written lyrics. I knew I wanted to challenge myself to do everything – writing, playing all the instruments, and recording at home on my laptop. My confidence was boosted by the fact that people like my blog and are saying they enjoy my writing. I thought, “if I can write my blog, surely I can write lyrics?”. These lyrics are often made up of memories – people in the “stories”are no longer with us, so the idea of ghosts came to me. I started Googling, thinking these songs are from the very center of me, I thought my “soul” but “soul music” has already been taken! After a while, I came across an article about “Operation Wandering Soul” – a propaganda campaign and psychological warfare effort exercised by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. They used “ghost tapes” including Buddhist funeral music and eerie sounds – they played them at night in an attempt to prevent the Viet Cong from resting. They also numbered the tapes ‘ghost tape number 10’ for example. I decided my recordings were ‘ghost tapes 1 to 9’. I am an insomniac, so the idea of being unable to rest resonated with me too.

Your single, ‘Drawing A Line,’ is a mesmerizing blend of synth and introspective lyrics. What drove you to explore this particular sonic landscape, and how does it tie into the album’s narrative?

I don’t have an exact idea of how a track will sound until it’s finished. I start with the guitar and a guide vocal and then build on top. When I have recorded enough, I start stripping away. I realized if I mute my original guitar parts it leaves far more space which gives room for the synths and bass guitar. As soon as I played the synth bit in the middle, I knew it was right. I like watching people’s reactions when they hear that bit; they immediately sit up or smile. Lyrically it’s about how desperate I can feel in the middle of the night but I calm myself down knowing I am loved and I love.

You’ve embarked on various creative endeavors, from founding the Green Man Festival to your musical exploits with ‘It’s Jo and Danny’. How do your past experiences influence the sound and direction of ‘Ghost Tapes 1 to 9’?

The album is made up of truths – every word and every note is honest. Therefore, my whole life is represented, that’s why I was thinking “soul music”. My whole personality and past are reflected in the album.

Your journey with the Green Man Festival is truly awe-inspiring, evolving from humble beginnings to a cultural phenomenon. How has your time with the festival shaped your approach to music-making and storytelling?

Funnily enough, I have yet to write any music or songs about the Green Man, our adventures while building it, or the sour experience we went through to finally not owning it anymore. It was such an important factor in the lives of Danny, myself, and our children (who were babies when we started it). Our journey developing the festival and its huge success has obviously shaped me fundamentally, so it must be in the music somewhere.

We’ve heard whispers about The Wake festival, an exciting new addition to the music scene. Can you shed some light on your involvement with the festival and what attendees can expect from your performances?

Danny and I decided early in 2024 that the time is right for us to start something new. We went through a tough time last year and came out of it thinking “you only live once”! The Wake as a name is a reference to that. It’s also a celebration of life. I have been promoting gigs since I was a teenager and the lack of sharing live music left a gap in me. We did try once to start something new, post Green Man, but the timing was wrong. Now it is right! The Wake will be a small, intimate gathering this year – hopefully growing over the coming years. It’s just one day for 2024. We are really excited – we were always on the lookout for a new site and at last found one. What’s lovely is, it’s owned by my old boss, Maurice Bacon, from when I worked at Ultimate Records in London, in the ‘90s. Maurice and I have known each other for over 30 years! The atmosphere in his woodland area and surrounding fields is beautiful. We are totally thrilled that Gruff Rhys is headlining. The Super Furry Animals were a very important part of Green Man. We lived in Wales when we set that festival up. I think it’s important to live near the site – The Wake is close to where we live now, back in Surrey. We will have several areas of live music, talks, DJ sets, and a children’s area. Every performer is wonderful! It will be quite acoustic and psychedelic. From the beautiful music of Emma Tricca to the Krautrock synths of HOO. The talks feature Richard Norris (The Grid / Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve) who will also play a DJ set in the bar tent. There will be locally brewed craft beer and Pimms too. I really can’t wait!

‘Ghost Tapes 1 to 9’ is described as a deeply personal album, drawing from your own life experiences. How do you navigate the line between vulnerability and empowerment when sharing such intimate stories through your music?

I didn’t really think about it. The main thing for me is that it is a totally honest artistic document. People have picked up on the moments when the lyrics are vulnerable, and I’m pleased they are listening.

“The music went linear – it blew my mind”

Jo, in our previous interview, you delved into the creative process behind ‘The Cut-Up’. How does your approach to songwriting and production differ between ‘The Cut-Up’ and your latest album, ‘Ghost Tapes 1 to 9’? Are there any recurring themes or sonic motifs that bridge the two projects?

I taught myself how to use the Logic music recording software because I realized it wasn’t financially viable for me to keep going into recording studios. This learning process initially produced ‘The Cut Up’. I found it easier to cut up cassettes I had of various things – live Buzz Club recordings, old demos of mine, digitalize them, put them in Logic, mess with them and record music under them. The songs on ‘The Cut Up, ‘Our Reward’ for example – the lyrics are still Danny’s – we used to write all our songs together. I found a typewritten sheet of words he had written that we had never used and made ‘Our Reward’ with them. I knew after that I wanted to write my own songs, rather than more experimental music. I needed to learn how to record my vocals and acoustic guitar along with the synths, beats, and bass guitar. I am so proud of how it turned out and delighted people are enjoying it. I’m not an engineer, I just close my eyes, headphones on and fiddle with the various EQs etc until it sounds correct. I really enjoyed working on the vocals – often double tracking with effects on one vocal and blending them until they sounded right. I had a revelation the night I was working on the first two tracks I completed – ‘I Don’t Want To Hear Any More Music’ and ‘I Waited A Year’ – that was the night I first muted the guitar tracks. Suddenly, the music went linear – it blew my mind. I realized I had done it! Luckily no one was in the house that night as I played those two tracks loudly over and over!

Finally, what do you hope listeners will take away from ‘Ghost Tapes 1 to 9’? And what’s next on the horizon for Jo Bartlett, the visionary behind the music?

I want as many people as possible to hear the album. It makes me so happy when people contact me to say how much they are enjoying it. I have only played one gig with this new sound of mine – last year when only five tracks were finished. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it live. I mainly played bass and sang to the beats and synths that are on my laptop. I’d like to play live some more. I haven’t started thinking how to follow it up yet, in many ways I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done so I’m happy to wait until inspiration hits me!

Klemen Breznikar

Jo Bartlett Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Bandcamp / YouTube

‘The Cut Up’ by Jo Bartlett | Interview | Album Premiere

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *