Spider is the best thing to happen to folk music since Joanna Newsom, and maybe even longer than that. Spider is New York singer-songwriter Jane Herships, and whether you've heard of her or not she's been sweeping the internet's music elite with her self-released album, The Way To Bitter Lake. As I've listened to the album, I can't help but ask myself why more music doesn't sound like this. Shouldn't music always be beautiful like this? All I know is that this album is the only thing I've listened to in the past few months that's made me bleary eyed.
Jane Herships isn't exactly sure of everything she does. She's not acting too sure anyway. But that's okay, because that's why I'm here!...to tell you she's a sure thing. As sure as they come. This artist is one of the most tender and gentle souls I've ever spoken with, but she insists she loves "to rock". How charming is that? I've had this interview for a month now, but I kept poor Jane on the phone for over a half an hour, and that makes for one long interview to transcribe. I did it for you, though, folks. I asked every question I could possibly think of, and I think you'll find that by the time you're done reading this interview you will know Jane very well, and you'll see just how well her music echoes of her personality.
If you're unfamiliar with Spider's songs, you'll find 2 juicy downloads at the end of the interview, and a bunch of links to other blog posts about her.
How are you today, Jane?
I’m fine, thanks. Where exactly am I calling to?
You’re calling to Omaha Nebraska...
Is it nice there?
Sure...I guess. I’ve lived in Chicago, L.A., and San Francisco as well. I guess it’s small by comparison, but...
Yeah. I’ve got some questions here, and you’re going to have to correct me if any of them seem misinformed cause I researched as best I could but...
There’s not a lot of information. It’s ok. I’m looking at these plants in my garden, and there covered with these crazy...things!
Don’t you live in the city [NYC]?
I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. So I have a little back garden.
It’s like an overgrown mini-jungle.
I would think that would be much better than just having everything look urban and "city-like" all over the place.
Yeah. I prefer it this way. Absolutely.
[A helicopter flies loudly in the background]
Can you hear me okay?
Yeah, I can hear you just fine. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you grew up listening to bands like The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and other rock bands.
Yeah, total classic rock. I think the first introduction to music I had was some Beatles tapes that my dad gave me when I was about twelve. Beatles 1967-70. I think I listened to it for a year straight because it was the only tape I had.
When did you start listening to this very beautiful, hushed, strummed music that you now play? Cause it’s very different, to an extent, than those bands you listened to growing up.
I should say Joni Mitchell is another musician I’ve listened to, but I was introduced to Indie Rock in college. I’m not a music nerd at all. Actually, I’m probably the opposite. I didn’t listen to music for a very long time. I just listened to things like NPR, and a lot of classical music–though I don’t even know the names of a lot of composers. I like Chopin a lot. I listen to Court and Spark [a Joni Mitchell album].
That’s an amazing album.
Yeah, I listened to that about nine-thousand times cause I got into Belle & Sebastian, (That probably had a big influence on me), Cat Power...You know, your typical, more mainstream Indie Rock.
So you’re not necessarily listening to Iron & Wine, Diane Cluck, and other comparable artists?
I definitely do now. I guess I was thinking back to my more formative years, and what amounted to my first knowledge of music. It was all that classic rock stuff. I didn’t even know about that other stuff, because we didn’t have the internet like we have today, and I was super-young still. So the way to delve into more unknown music was to go to the record store with my friends and find older stuff. Psychedelic Rock and all that stuff. We tried to find things we’d never heard of, so we had to go to the mall.
Okay then. Here’s a hypothetical question that might go more into that. If you were eighteen years old today, moving into your college dorm room, what bands' posters would you hang on the walls?
From today, Joanna Newsom, definitely. She's a big favorite of mine. I do like Iron & Wine. Nico, not Neko Case (I haven't had time to listen to her new album), but the other Nico...um...
...I've got a list here of supposed influences that other people have mentioned. Would you like to hear some of those?
Vashti Bunyan? You know I've honestly never heard her before, and I get a lot of comparisons to her.
Um...I've seen her play. I think her music is beautiful. I've definitely listened to her before. I don't know if I'd call her an influence. Maybe, an inspiration. I've only been doing this [playing professionally] for about a year and a half. I saw her perform at a show right around the time when I was beginning to do this. To see a woman stand up and play these quiet songs in front of a really nice, polite, respectful audience was really inspiring. You know, she has a lot of passion when she plays, and that's really great.
You've been playing publicly rather extensively for the past year and a half, correct?
I played my first show ever, by myself, with these songs in December of 2004 at the Sidewalk Cafe in New York. So I'd really never done anything other than playing at a coffee shop in college a few times. Aside from that, years had gone by and I'd never done stuff like that before [December 2004]. One of the reasons I've been playing so much is to get used to it...to learn how to do it.
What did you go to college for? You had a band or two before college, right?
I played in a band in college for three months [laughs]. We had one show. [laughs more] We were called The Irl. Then I began playing with a band about three years ago in New York, called Numb Numbers. We were a practicing band. We practiced and practiced until we got really tight. Then we played out [in public] for about three months, and we broke up. [laughs] Then I had another band, and we did about five shows. It was a girl rock duo called The Burners. It's hard to find time, so we haven't played in a while. That's the extent of my musical history.
You're doing a publicity campaign through email, sending out info to several different people. What made you decide to go that route now, and to "push it" at this point?
I don't really know. I guess I see other people doing this for a living. It seems like a wonderful thing, to be able to do this for a living, be able to do something that you love. I have no idea what it takes to do this, but I know a lot of people have teams of people working with them, all kinds of stuff. [laughs] I'm kind of just pluggin' along blindly, [laughs] going on suggestions of friends. Basically, why not?
Well, you're doing a wonderful job. I bought the album off of iTunes a while ago... [planes fly overhead very loudly]
Wait. There's a plane...there's actually a lot of very loud planes going by. Ok...what was the last thing you said?
I guess I was just saying I bought the album a while ago off of iTunes and it kind of shot up to the top of my "Most Played" list pretty quickly.
Oh, thank you.
Yes it's wonderful. Would you be offended to hear that your album is really to listen to while doing lots of different things, as ambient music for unwinding...to listen to or just to play in the background to set a nice mood? Because it's very somber. Is that something you're okay hearing?
Absolutely. I set out to write songs that definitely mean something to me, to write evocative music, but I equally wanted to write accessable music. I want to write interesting music that people will respect, and hopefully I've pulled that off. I always wanted to write satisfying songs.
Where does the moniker 'Spider' come from exactly?
A friend of mine, who I was playing with and had approached with the songs I had already written (his name is Steven, and he's played drums on a couple of songs on my record) had suggested it as a name for his dog. Or, if he had a son, he would name him Spider. We'd really been changing the name, playing out a lot, changing the band's name. This was last spring. We'd been changing the band's name every week or so. So it seems like as good a name as any, and it's kinda stuck. I actually had a horrible phobia of spiders. So when it became the name it began to mean something to me because I think I had a horrible phobia of playing music for a really long time. I don't know if I should go deep about it, but we thought it was a cool name, and we were starting to play some rock songs.
If there's something so deep about that you don't want to say, that's fine...
No, it's actually simple. It's a "facing your fears" thing. After a while it took on the meaning for me that you can't be afraid of things. I think for a long time I was really afraid to play music, even though it was something that I’d really always loved. I kind of shied away from it for a really long time. It’s not like I love spiders now, or anything., [laughs] but I’ve actually gotten over my fear of spiders a lot.
It would be lazy of me to categorize your music with terms that might get thrown around (especially in New York) like ‘Anti-Folk’ or ‘New Weird America’ unless I knew that you identified with terms like that. But do you ascribe any genre or subgenre name with your music? Are you comfortable doing that?
I have no idea. The guy I used to play with in Numb Numbers said we played ‘Modern Rock’. Maybe ‘Soft Rock’? [laughs] I listen to Lite FM [a NYC radio station] a lot, though. I usually just tell people it’s ‘Indie Folk’ for lack of a better genre.
[At this point, my recorder was running out of room, so I asked to stop it for a second so I could delete some files from it before we continued through the questions. Unfortunately I forgot to hit ‘record’ again until a few minutes later. So I don’t have the exact transcript of those few moments, but I believe I asked Jane who she would want to have a tea party with if she could pick anyone alive or dead. She answered Eleanor Roosevelt, which is where we pick up…]
…you know, there’s something very honest about her.
You released ‘The Way To Bitter Lake’ independently, right?
What made you decide to release it independently? And are you looking into any labels at the moment?
Well…I don’t even know how to begin a conversation with a label. I think for my next album, which I’ll start to record soon, there are some labels I’d like to contact. It would be wonderful to have a label and tour, have tour support and everything. I think that would be a great help and opportunity. But I kind of had this thing [the album], and when I was done with it I wanted to…[laughs] I think with the internet and the way things are today it just seemed so feasible.
I see. So do you have any offline distribution set up at the moment? Can people buy your music at a certain store?
I am selling at about ten independent record stores right now, but it’s been growing. When I go to cities I try to visit record shops, definitely. I’ll probably be doing more of that soon.
Towards the end of ‘Maggie’s Song For Alice’ you have this ‘Melt-your-face-off’ guitar solo come in, which is in total striking contrast to the rest of the album (albeit a wonderful and, possibly vital contrast). What made you decide to change things up in that way, at that point on the album?
Well, it just kind of came out that way. In the band I had played with, Numb Numbers, I was the lead guitar player. I didn’t sing, and I didn’t really write the songs, but I got to shred. And with the other band, The Burners, it was totally a girl rock-duo. Actually on the next album there’s going to be a couple of rock songs on it. I love…to…rock! [laughs] I know that sounds silly. The latter songs didn’t really fit in on that last record, except in that one element.
What was it like for you to play at this years South by Southwest Festival? How did that opportunity come your way? What were some memorable experiences from that?
That was a blast. I had never been before, but I heard it was different from previous years. Now it seems that everyone and their mother who has a garage can have a party. Basically some friends of mine were having some parties, and Peter and the Wolf (with Whiskey & Apple Records)…um, I got to play on his bill with another amazing artist, St. Vincent. I am really glad I got to see her.
South By Southwest has really opened up some opportunities for non-label people and independent artists. The amazing thing is that you pretty much just go to shows all week, and everywhere you go there are people there. Even if it was in the smallest "Tacoria" [taco joint].
Did you get a pretty good response from the people that heard you play?
Yeah, I had a really nice response. Everyone was really warm, and the parties themselves were just great. I got to play with Brightback Morning Light, which was really wonderful. That was just a completely outside party that they were nice enough to come to. You know, they had just come from playing to open for Belle and Sebastian, earlier that day. [laughs] Then there in some, you know, random girl’s back yard.
Almost every major music blog that I can think of has posted about you recently. None of them seem to have said anything that wasn’t really good about you. Have you noticed any recent surge in publicity? Do you get more emails from people visiting the site recently because of that?
I’ve definitely noticed a small, steady climb in all that. Yes.
A year from now, where would you like to be professionally?
I would just like to always be playing music. I would love to have a band. I would actually really love to collaborate with other people. I’ve been working on my own project now for about a year and a half, and I really miss playing in somebody else’s band. [laughs]
Do you enjoy writing as much as you enjoy playing?
So, in the future, with these collaborations you'd like to have a hand in the writing aspect?
Yeah. I think that comes naturally, but I guess what I miss about playingwith somebody else is...and maybe it's just the mood of what I've been writing, but I feel like I've been focusing on the guitar. Acting as a guitar player with someone else is really interesting. I really never thought of myself as a guitar player. I thought of myself as somebody who knew how to play guitar and liked to sing. Being in a band where we practiced three times a week, and having never used a guitar pedal before--using pedals for all sorts of things--I really grew as a musician. I remember one day I realized, "I'm a guitar player!" [laughs] It's a really good feeling. You know, I really like that.
Am I correct in thinking that you picked up guitar at the age of fourteen, after going to band camp? Is that right?
No, I went to a YMCA camp in the Poconos [laughs]. My best friend at the time was going there, and there were always cute boys playing guitar while sitting around the fire. [laughs]
[laughs] Well, that's perfectly understandable. It's surprising though, because there are many girls who own acoustic guitars because they know boys who can play them, but they don't necessarily know how to play them. So it's interesting that you could start that way and wind up being an awesome guitar player.
It was a struggle. It was hard because I came home from camp, and I was like, "Mom! Dad! I want a guitar!" And they said, "...no." We had already tried with piano and violin, and band class, and everything else. And they were not into it. It wasn't until about six months later, when one of my mom's friends said, "Hey, we have an old guitar in the basement, and Jane can use that one." I got myself one of those little books, The Beatles: Learn to Play Guitar. Then I worked at it.
What is the name of the album, The Way To Bitter Lake, about?
Well, I had bought my friend a preasent. I had gone to a kind of 'junk shop' up in New Hampshire, and I bought her an old journal because she loves old books. Written in the back of it, probably one-hundred years old, was, "What is the way to Bitter Lake?" or something like that. It just really struck me as a beautifully suggestive place. It seems to fit with a lot of my songs. There not all about actual people-- a lot of the ideas have happened to me--but there a little bit more ethereal now, I guess.
So what does the writing process look like for you?
I usually play into a little tape recorder that I have, and then I listen to it play back. Sometimes I'm walking around the city and some little melody will strike me. I write in a journal, separately.
And final announcements, words?
I'm going to be recording soon. I'll record over the summer and hopefully have some things for late fall.
Awesome! Thanks very much.
Spider - The Bitter One.mp3
Spider - Maggie's Song For Alice.mp3
The Official Spider Site
Spider on MySpace
GorillaVsBear's Post on Spider
*Sixeyes's Post on Spider
Cable and Tweed's Post on Spider
Yeti Don't Dance's Post on Spider
Rbally's Post on Spider
Palebare's Post on Spider
CYSTSFTS's Post on Spider
Sweetheart of the Radio's Post on Spider
Village Indian's Post on Spider
A Robot Commeth's Post on Spider