Jenn Ghetto of S: Q&A

Last Saturday Oct. 11, the Motley Coffeehouse at Scripps College hosted two wonderful
musical guests, S and Colleen Green. Needless to say, the show was awesome, despite some weird sound hiccups and the generally confusing vibe caused by the
house lights and presence of chairs.

Talking about the show isn’t actually my main focus
this week, though. Instead, I managed to catch up with Jenn Ghetto of S during her afternoon in-studio performance at KSPC for this music column’s first-ever
interview!

Ghetto has been something of a
cult figure in indie music for almost two decades now, both as a member of
defunct sadcore outfit Carissa’s Wierd and on her own as S. Over the past two
years, she has turned S into a full band and reunited with former producer Chris
Walla (former Death Cab for Cutie member, as of August) to release Cool Choices, which came out earlier
this year on Sub Pop offshoot Hardly Art. The record maintains her usual
sadsack affectations but adds the poppy driving force of her new band. I sat
down with her to talk about how that came about.

TSL: So, how did this whole
Cool Choices phase happen? What was
the impetus for getting a full band together?

Jenn Ghetto: I think just feeling a little crazy, being like, “I want to do something totally different. I’m ready for a band.” I had enough
manic energy at the time to just say, “You and you and you! Let’s make a band!”
I mean, we all wrote for about a year together, so it worked really well.

TSL: How did this
particular lineup come together then?

JG: I met Zack, the drummer, when we were teaching at a rock
camp together. It was at the same time that I decided I needed a band. He plays
metal and punk, so I was like this is a little mellower, but we just got along
really well. I had known Carrie and Betsy for a while, and they were both
interested. They’re all in bands around Seattle, so we were just hanging out.
It was really natural.

TSL: How did you get Chris
Walla back into the picture? Have you guys been in contact all these years?
[Chris worked with Jenn on a few Carissa’s Wierd records back in the day.]

JG: I actually hadn’t talked to him in years probably. I didn’t
even know he was living in Seattle at the time. Last thing I heard he had been
in Portland, but he had actually moved back and built this studio. And I was
just like “I
have to get Chris to do
this record.” But he’s just not on the Internet and his management’s hard to
find, so it was just me trying to track him down. But we finally connected and
he was super into the demos.

TSL: What was the
songwriting process for this one like?

JG: It’s pretty similar to what it used to be, but especially
for this one, I took way more time writing. I used to just be like, “Okay, that’s
it. That’s the song. All right let’s go.” Now it’s like, “Maybe this doesn’t need
to be here.” I edited a lot more.

TSL: What was the
gestation period like, then?

JG: The whole thing took about two years.

TSL: I’ve read in a few of
your other interviews that you’ve always been a fan of big pop artists like
Ke$ha and Katy Perry, and with
Cool
Choices being the obvious candidate for your “pop record,” would you say
that your relationship to that kind of stuff has changed over the years?

JG: I mean, I’ve always loved pop, but I think I really pay more
attention to the production now. Now it’s like, “Oh this song is good, but it’s
better because of whoever produced it.” And just thinking, “Is this possible in
S? Is that too much?” Not that I really want to make a Katy Perry song, but
just having that touch in there. That’s what this one was about.

TSL: And finally, I know
this can be a tough one, but as someone who’s been in this game for a while and
has a sizable catalog, it can be hard for new listeners to know where to
start. So without committing to calling anything your “best,” what would you
recommend as a sort of ‘entry point’ for someone who’s never even heard of you?

JG: Honestly, I guess this
record: 
Cool Choices. I feel like
it’s the most accessible one, so if you like this one, you’ll be way more
likely to get into the others. I mean, if you start with something like
Puking & Crying, you might just say, “Whoa. I cannot handle this record,” and turn it off.  

Gage Taylor PO ’16 is majoring in media studies and philosophy. He is the electronic music director for the 5C radio station KSPC, and his first concert was NSYNC. 

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