Perfect Sound Forever


Article, interview by Brett Abrahamsen
(February 2024)

Jessica Bailiff debuted in 1998 with Even In Silence, an excellent, drone-heavy work whose best moments recalled the likes of Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Bardo Pond, and the lesser known ambient shoegazers Windy and Carl. Though undoubtedly a fine release, Even In Silence was merely a prelude to her 2002 self-titled masterpiece, Jessica Bailiff.

On the surface, Jessica Bailiff is a quieter and mellower affair than Even In Silence, but the degree of psychological turbulence is much higher. The album has a ghostly, hallucinatory quality that at times, the minimalist instrumentation only enhances. The disc begins conventionally enough with the Lisa Germano-meets-Liz Phair "Swallowed," but soon becomes creepy and sinister via the epic dirge "Hour of the Traces." "The Hiding Place" is even better: it is blissful and terrifying all at once, with an unseen phantom presence menacingly breathing "under the bed". "The Big Hill" mines a similar territory: it is both a childish lullaby and a brutal lament of suicidal agony. "Disappear" brings the heavy guitars of Even In Silence back to the forefront, with a haunting melody and "Venus In Furs"-style groove that gives the track a raga-like intensity makes it one of the best songs on the album. But the album's ultimate triumph is probably "Mary," an eerie, mystical track that, as this interview reveals, is an auditory simulation of extreme grief. The final track, "The Thief," is perhaps the most unusual and minimalist track of all.

Following this release, Bailiff continued to put out solid work and she has never sold out or compromised with the music industry. She says in the following interview that she doesn't care if her music is remembered, but at least her self-titled gem deserves to be.

PSF: How do you rate your own music? Perhaps you could assign a star rating to each of your albums.

JB: I couldn't rate my own music. Each album captures a very specific era in my life, and where I was creatively. "Even In Silence" was an incredible experience, recording at Low's home studio in the middle of winter. Parts of it were also recorded in Texas with Daniel Huffman. So having the memories of those experiences woven into that first album will always make it super special. At the Down-Turned Jagged Rim of the Sky is a favorite because I worked really hard on those songs and the recordings, and I felt I had pushed myself in new ways. It was an absolute thrill to be so wrapped up in the process of making it. The artwork was done by Odd Nosdam. He somehow visually captured exactly how the music felt to me - stepped the whole thing up another level.

PSF: My favorite song of yours is the sublime and otherworldly "Mary," which seems to penetrate previously unexplored layers of consciousness. Who is Mary? Did you write the song with this person in mind?

JB:Thanks for saying that. Mary is a fictional character inspired by a real person whose husband had recently died, and she was having a hard time coping.

PSF: Are you disappointed that you are not more "famous"? Do you feel, in any way, misunderstood, artistically speaking?

JB: Fame isn't important. The biggest disappointment is the capitalist system that makes life so incredibly hard for way too many people. I'd rather be out touring and recording, but putting my music "career" into perspective - it's not sustainable. Plus, I struggle with environmental issues like travel, making products that will likely end up in a landfill, and streaming. There are people who enjoy what I've done, and I love that sort of connection. Music is subjective, if someone doesn't like what I've made, it doesn't matter. It's not for them, and that's fine.

PSF: You were "discovered" by Alan Sparhawk of Low. What are your thoughts of Low's music, and how did it influence your own?

JB: It would take writing a book to answer this question. I'll just say that Low is one of the most innovative and generous bands of all time, and I've been very lucky to know them and to work with them.

PSF: What is your all-time favorite album? Song? Musician?

JB:That is so difficult, I can't name just one of any of those things. But this year's vibe is Fever Ray "Radical Romantics," PJ Harvey "Inside the Old Year Dying," and Niecy Blues "Exit Simulation."

PSF: What are your political/religious beliefs? Do you have any insights you wish to share with humanity?

JB:I believe in kindness and compassion.

PSF: How do you want your music to be remembered in the distant future? Do you think your music was in any way innovative?

JB:Everything is ephemeral. I don't really care if anyone remembers my music. It's hard to know if it was innovative to others, but at times it was to me.

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER