This interview was conducted by Phil Nazarro via email in August 2003, and originally published in the second edition of The Phish Companion.
Jen met Trey when she was 17, and still in high school. Dave Grippo introduced them when Trey was looking for a trumpet player for One Man’s Trash and Story of the Ghost. They kept in touch over the years, and when he put the six-piece band together he called and asked her to do a tour. She has been in the band ever since.
Phil Nazarro: I’ve read that you come from a Classical background and only discovered Pop music in the last few years. Did you feel comfortable right away doing the R&B-type stuff on your solo recording? Was it a learning process?
Jen Hartswick: There are some things that I’ve come across in my life that just seem right. This music seems right to me at this point in my life. I think it’s just a matter of diving in headfirst and trying new things, which is what we did with Fuse. I think diversity is the key to making and keeping things fun. A year from now I might be immersed in tap dancing and country songs, who knows?
PN: You have played an amazing amount of instruments. Can we get a complete list?
JH: My first instrument was piano, then I moved to clarinet, flute and sax. Tuba came next, and then finally trumpet when I was 10. I still play a little flute and piano.
PN: Where do you stand now as far as broadening your musical (listening) education?
JH: I try to listen to things I feel will benefit my weaknesses. I figure that I have a lot of ground to cover with both past and present. Right now I’m addicted to Jeff Buckley. Last month it was Kathleen Battle, and before that Rachelle Ferrell. Three extremely different musicians, but it’s all a wonderful education. Kathleen Battle is the most outstanding opera singer that has ever walked the earth, as far as I’m concerned. If her album “Grace” doesn’t bring you to tears you have no soul. Rachelle Ferrell is by far the most versatile singer I’ve ever heard. Her album “First Instrument” is a more straight ahead jazz record, and the more recent album “Individuality” is slick, heavy R&B. It’s an amazing record.
PN: As far as Jambands go, what have you heard that you like?
JH: Honestly, I have no idea what a jam band is. You always get into tricky territory when you are trying to categorize music, and a lot of things get lumped together under the term “jamband.” That being said, I listen to a lot of Soulive, Bootyjuice and Addison Groove Project. Do they fall into that category?
PN: I asked that question with a grain of salt. We often banter about the merits of the term “Jamband” when we write about Phish. But in the interest of the book… can we please hear some opinions on Phish’s music through the years?
JH: You’re not going to like this answer. I just don’t listen to Phish. I know I should… it’s on my list of things to do I’ll get to it some day.
PN: Do you prefer playing large or small venues?
JH: I love playing small venues. So much of what it’s about as a band is watching people and connecting with them. There’s no vibe when the audience is half a mile away. I’d take the Stanley over a “Verizon Wireless” center any day.
PN: What single element makes a show for you the most? Is it the venue, audience, musicians, or something else?
JH: I think it’s different for everyone, but for me it’s the musicians. I get such a kick out of listening to everybody evolve and watching the chemistry on any given night. That’s not to say that the audience isn’t an enormous part of what makes a show for me, because it is. Getting to see complete strangers smiling and laughing and dancing because of something I’m a part of is such a beautiful thing.
PN: Was there an intimidation factor going from theaters in winter 2001 to large, outdoor venues that summer? As far as acoustics, audience, improv, etc. what kind of advice did you get from Trey and other bands members about playing live in a larger place?
JH: It’s all intimidating to me on some level, whether I’m playing for 20 people or 20,000 people. I don’t think there’s anything quite as wonderfully intimidating as Red Rocks; not only because of the history of the venue, but just the sheer vulnerability you feel, knowing that you’re completely insignificant standing on that stage. It’s a very humbling experience.
PN: How does one deal with this feeling?
JH: I’m still trying to figure that out.
PN: When improvising, what makes one version of a song longer than another? Do you actually say as a band “We’re going to work this one out tonight because we’re excited about this and need to know where it can go?” Or is it all in the mood, performance, and/or exchange of ideas?
JH: Nothing is ever planned. We don’t usually talk about the music unless it’s in the past tense. “Man, that “First Tube” was nasty when Tony dropped out and Cyro and Ray took over.” If the band is feeling it, we’ll play one tune all night. That’s a threat. You know we’ll do it.
PN: What is your input as to the actual composition of the material in both Trey’s band and in the Phish sessions you’ve done?
JH: Most of my input in Trey’s band comes in the form of vocal harmonization and random horn quips. I think we all have basically the same role once Trey writes a tune. We get together and learn the basic structure, then we all add the things we’re good at. If Russell feels a horn line between verse A and verse B he’ll show it to us and we’ll harmonize it. It has become a formula, because it works well. The recordings I’ve done for Phish in the past have been orchestrated pretty thoroughly, so there wasn’t a lot of room for composition.
PN: Can you offer any details about how the horns coordinate in Trey’s band? Does one of the horns lead?
JH: I think we all take turns leading. Whether we’re off stage or on stage, we’re listening to what’s going on and writing an impromptu line to enhance what’s happening.
PN: If you could play with any one person (living or dead) who would it be?
JH: Louis Armstrong. No contest. The man is responsible not only for making some of the most amazing music in his time, but some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard to this day. He paved the way for every jazz musician after him and every trumpet player after him.
PN: Can you offer some thoughts on your own project… where do you hope to take that?
JH: We’re having such an amazing time with the Jennifer Hartswick Band. It’s a combination of some of my favorite musicians who also happened to be some of my oldest and dearest friends. Ray Paczkowski, Dezron Douglas, Dave Diamond, Russ Lawton, Andy Moroz, Dave Grippo, Christina Durfee, Alex Wolston, Luke Laplant and Conor Elmes. Half the band is from my hometown. We’ve been playing music together since we were eight years old. This band is oozing with great chemistry, not to mention funk and soul.
PN: Can you share with us one funny or interesting road story. I’m sure there’s plenty.
JH: We were on our way to Pittsburgh, and while you may never believe it, there’s a wee bit of tomfoolery when the ten of us get together. Now, I’ve been told that my Tweet impression is second to none, so Trey was begging me to sing “Oops, There Goes My Shirt Up Over My Head.” I began singing it, Trey started dancing like the white boy he is, everyone was singing along and gettin’ down; it was a scene. Loud, obnoxious mayhem. With one flashy move Trey managed to knock a full wine bottle from a counter five feet high onto my big toe, shattering the bone. So now every time I catch a glimpse of my foot there’s a scar where the bone poked through the skin. Thanks, Trey.
PN: Free Space: Is there anything at all that you would like to say to your fans that you have never been given the chance to say?
JH: I just want to say thank you to all the people who have been so fantastic over the past few years. The positive energy is ever flowing, and doesn’t go unnoticed. Thanks also to everyone who comes to hear my band – I hope you guys are having as much fun as we are.