Wellington-based multi-instrumentalist and music teacher Jhan Lindsay saw the release of her debut album ‘Jhan Lindsay and the Chattelaines’ late last year. The album’s creation was a 17-year journey that also spanned many different musical influences and genres. Aleisha Ward met with Lindsay to discuss those musical pathways and her creative process.
Photo: Vanessa Rushton
Hailing originally from Auckland, Jhan Lindsay moved down to Wellington to attend jazz school in the late 1990s, and has been at home there since. The long generative process of her recently released debut, ‘Jhan Lindsay and the Chattelaines’ dates back to her arrival in the capital.
“In the winter of 1999, which was my first Wellington winter, I wrote Emerald and that was a longing to see the green come back on the trees. So I started writing some of the songs that are included on the album way back in 1999, and started performing them at open mic nights or acoustic nights in Wellington at Indigo or Treehouse… There was place called The Space in Newtown and they had a night called Girls In Space, I think, which was showcasing female songwriters, which is probably where I first got a foot in the door to do this.”
Lindsay’s musical influences come from all over the place.
“It depends what I’m doing. If I’m singing jazz it’s going to be Johnny Hartman, Billie Holiday. If I’m playing saxophone it’s got to be John Coltrane and Stephan Grapelli. Jimmy Garrison [on] double bass – my favourite!
“But, when it comes to writing original music, particularly the music and the sound related to the album, definitely Portishead. Portishead’s a massive influence. Bic Runga as a Kiwi is definitely an influence as is John Psathas. People who I like listening to currently would be Saali Marks and Tyson Smith in Wellington.”
The concept of the album is live takes, only one of the songs includes a vocal overdub.
“The only things that were recorded separately at all were the backing vocals. Everyone was in the same room – the strings, the guitar, mandolin, me singing, and [drummer] Reuben Bradley was in the Vault, with a glass door so we could communicate, so we’re actually together in the same space. If one person got it wrong we had to stop and start again.”
Indeed the recording and the album itself was started and stopped several times.
“I’ve got boxes of audio files and raw studio sessions, I’ve got tapes and reel-to-reels strewn through storage and still on file at different studios, but I finished it this time [with help from] a Creative New Zealand grant. I had quite an urgency to get it done last year, because it’s recorded at Munki Studios [the studio’s Taranaki Street building was demolished in November 2015]. Munki Studios is run by Mike Gibson who’s the dude, he’s such a guru of sound, and capturing sound, so I really wanted to do it at Munki with Mike.”
The item that her backing band is named after – a chatelaine – is central to the album’s aesthetic. A personalised chatelaine, created by Wellington jeweller Odette Anscombe-Smith, graces the cover of her album.
“A chatelaine is the woman that runs the house, or the device that the woman wears with all the essentials to run the house – the keys, the thimbles, and so on,” Lindsay explains.
The chatelaine on the album cover features items that are very personal, some of them gifts, and hold a lot of meaning to Lindsay. Her backing band is a similarly eclectic collection featuring Hannah Fraser on violin, Ruby Solly (cello), Mike Hogan (guitar/mandolin), Terry Masters (guitar), Tom Callwood, Sage Kamaru and Pania Simmonds all adding bass, Reuben Bradley and Darren Sigley on drums with Victoria Ferry, Lisa Tomlins, Keely Turuwhenua, Eliza Benge and Nicole Andrews providing backing vocals.
It was Lindsay’s mother who named the backing band The Chattelaines.
“You can never name a band – someone else has got to do it for you! Everyone’s got their own sound, their own style. Their instruments have different voices, different timbres, different strengths. I have three bassists on the album, that’s an example of having a plethora of people to work with, but that’s the chattelaine. Every person has a different voice to bring to the album.”
During the working day Lindsay teaches music and voice at a number schools in Wellington and Wairarapa. She regularly plays and sings as a soloist and with trios and quartets around Wellington doing originals and jazz standards. Her old dub-reggae band Project has recently had a reunion and she hopes to keep playing with them.
“I’m playing at Tora Tora Tora Festival in March and I’ve a few little tours planned to deliver the music to the nation.”
While her album is very strings-based, she is looking to expand the palette to incorporate brass and reeds in the arrangements for a second album – that she says already in the works. It will include compositions that did not make the cut for this album and is also likely to be more instrumental compositions rather than straight ahead songs.
“By the end of 2017, it’ll definitely be done by then. It’s not going to take another 17 years! I give it 17 months!”