Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Jerry David DeCicca. Please read more about Jerry from his website (www.jerrydaviddecicca.com) before reading the interview that follows.
Jerry David DeCicca is the singer-songwriter from The Black Swans and producer of records by legendary outsider songwriters from the 1960s and 1970s like Larry Jon Wilson (Monument Records, Heartworn Highways), Ed Askew (ESP-Disk, 1967), and Bob Martin (RCA, 1973).
Jerry’s debut solo album, Understanding Land, is being self released on Tuesday, May 27.
How do your personal and social identities affect the songs you write?
I want my songs to represent who I am and what I believe. I don’t write songs with anachronistic language, unless it is a metaphor, because that isn’t true to my life experiences. And I try to write songs that aren’t already in the world. All these things make for a recipe not to sell many records.
Who and what have been your primary creative influences?
Friends, reading, life experiences, animals, food, daydreaming, and lots of music. I’m inspired by mainly by outsiders—people that have been marginalized by the conventions and commerce of the world. Those are the voices I’ve always found most compelling and urgent.
I have enjoyed the titles of all of your records. What is the process of coming up with titles like for you?
Thank you. Sometimes it will be a title track that I feel encapsulates the record. But that’s a lot of weight on just one song. Other times it will be one line, like Occasion for Song. Or, with Understanding Land and Sex Brain, titles that function as an umbrella to the songs that are somewhat evocative.
The Black Swans’ 2012 album, “Occasion for Song” has been described as dedicated to Noel Sayre, who founded the Black Swans with you. I appreciate the beautiful vulnerability and depth of emotion on that record. How was it to make that album? Was that part of the grieving process for you?
It was the grieving process. I opted to write that record over therapy. Writing it allowed me to contain my emotions and thoughts by shaping and re-shaping something raw into something containable, musical, and definite. As far as recording it, most songs were first or second takes to avoid experiencing the material over and over.
Have you performed any of those songs in front of audiences? If so, what was that like?
Only the lighter ones. The heavy ones only live on the turntable.
The Black Swans’ style has been described as Americana. What do you make of this characterization and how does it fit with your solo work?
Well, I get that people need labels to give context to all this junk that floats around and clutters the universe, so I try not to be too hard on those sorts of things and accept that it’s ok for some descriptions to lack exactness. We were never really what people wanted who are fans of that tag. The same could be said about my solo album. When people say they are fans of Americana, it usually refers to something more immediate, loud, and self-affirming than what I do. I’d be happy to take that label if the people that have it now that sell a lot of records would take “Those Who Trivialize the Human Condition with Song” instead.
I am loving your debut solo album, “Understanding Land.” The record sounds even more introspective than some of your work with The Black Swans. How did making this album compare to working in a band?
Thank you, so much! Making a solo record allowed me to invite many new voices and maintain more focus on my voice/acoustic guitar. With a band, you’re working in a defined group of people to create a collaborative voice out of one person’s songs.
Though your new record is a solo album, you have continued working with some great musicians including Andy Hamill, Spooner Oldham, Will Oldham, and Kelley Deal. The harmonizing sounds great. What was the collaboration process like?
Well, I asked people I love and admire to be a part of something. I just asked everyone to be themselves and everyone did a wonderful job. I feel very lucky to have so many special people to help me.
Your partner, Eve Searls, duets with you on this record. How was that experience?
I met Eve a long time ago because I loved her voice. And she’s toured in versions of The Black Swans and sang on the Ed Askew album I produced. Finally, I get to hear her sing on album of my songs! She’ll be on the next one even more. We harmonize in all aspects of our life together.
You recorded this album in London. In what ways does a sense of geography and place affect your music-making?
I was mostly alone. I walked down unfamiliar streets. I was constantly getting lost.
“Understanding Land,” even in the title, contains themes of landscapes and climate. How does the natural world affect the music that you make?
I’m not so much a great outdoors person, but I do see us all as tiny specs and, like the natural world, we’re constantly in motion, internally and physically.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Another Bad Dream.” What inspired this song?
Thank you. It was inspired by a very bad dream. I left out the scariest parts. I was happy to wake up and drink a cup of coffee.
You have produced other artists’ albums as well. What was it like working with Ed Askew on his record, “For the World?”
Working with Ed and the gang was such a positive and wonderful experience. I love being able to help someone realize the best in their music, which is how I view producing. Ed has so many beautiful songs. It helps having a big fan clarify what makes them so special because, as songwriters and band members, we’re often too close to see the forest through the trees.
In what ways is your music feminist?
In my music and life, I avoid the clichés of gender and history. Those things hold us all back. One of the most powerful political tools is not participating in things that bring us down.
What is your life like when you are not creating music?
I’m always creating music in some way– always scribbling words, searching for something new on the guitar. When I’m not touring, I’ve supported myself with jobs in the social services field for the last 6 years—vocational rehabilitation and mental health education in the public school systems.
On what projects are you working on next?
I’m neck deep in the writing for my next solo album. And I recently moved to Texas, so that transition is still taking up a lot of time. I’m looking forward to touring in the fall.
What feedback do you have for aspiring musicians?
Make music you love without expecting it to be sustainable. Limit your time on the Internet. Be polite. Engage with music unlike your own. Travel. Make healthy choices. Drive slow.