Even if you think you know Kendall Jane Meade from her time with Juicy, or her stints with Helium and the Spinanes, Mascott might surprise you. A country-spanning cast of supporting players notwithstanding, Mascott is ultimately just Kendall. The name? A mascot, after all, is a good luck charm, and the nervous Meade wanted to wish herself good luck. She originally used the French spelling -- mascotte -- but dropped the "e" because it seemed too pretentious.
Though last year's Electric Poems EP hinted at great promise, fall's Follow the Sound delivered in full. At once wise and wonderful, it's a little bit Liz Phair (sans angst) and a little bit Dusty Springfield -- thoroughly modern, but refreshingly girlish at the same time.
My first meeting with Kendall Jane Meade took place over the summer. We'll call that the "lost" interview -- a conversation shared with Meade's ex-Juicy bandmate Meggean Ward, held on a busy sidewalk full of curious passers-by. It didn't really work (though the discovery that Splendid's minidisc recorder resembles an antique vibrator was intriguing). After months of attempting to reconnect by phone or e-mail, I wound up grabbing a hasty meal with Kendall prior to a recent Chicago performance. Fledgling interviewers, take note: interviews and meatloaf sandwiches do not go well together, and if you think the interviewee already dislikes you, attempting to eat a sandwich while talking won't improve matters at all. But if this article encourages you to pick up Follow the Sound, it wasn't entirely in vain...
· · · · · · ·
Splendid: What happened to you between Juicy and Mascott? How much time actually passed there, and what made you wake up one morning and say "Now I'm going to be Mascott"?
Kendall: Well, when Juicy broke up I was a little confused about my life and the direction my life was going to take, so I moved home to Detroit, lived with my Mom... I had a bunch of debts from living in New York so I worked at my dad's car dealership. I pretty much worked every day. And the songs kept coming -- I know that sounds really pretentious, but I kept writing them. And the beautiful thing was that I was writing them for me. I wasn't writing them and wondering "What's the band going to think of this?" Y'know, is this too emotional? Is this too sad and intense for the band? I didn't have to think about that anymore. So I started enjoying it, and being really free with my writing. Then the opportunity came for me to play with Helium, so I went on the road and kept working on the songs -- while I was on the road I wrote lyrics and stuff, and then when I got back from touring I recorded. I would record demos all that year while I was in Detroit, with friends, but it was nothing serious. That's how Mascott started. And then I thought of a name for my slow, sad songs.
Splendid: So why record as Mascott instead of just saying "Hi, I'm Kendall and these are my songs"?
Kendall: Because Mascott was an experiment. It was just for me. I wasn't proud enough to say "This is me". I just didn't want to do that. It was much easier for me to do it in the "character" of Mascott.
Splendid: Okay. Now, since Follow the Sound was produced by Jim O'Rourke, I'm sure a lot of people go for the typical "What was it like working with Jim O'Rourke" question. I'm going to try to sidestep that by asking what is it about Jim, Jim's production, Jim's presence in the studio and so forth, that makes him a guy people want to work with?
Kendall: Well, I'm not that great of a person to ask that question to because I pretty much only buy old Bob Dylan records and folk stuff, and by chance someone gave me Jim's record, Eureka, and I was like "Oh, I'll check this out." I was blown away. There's this song called "Woman of the World" -- it's the first song, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. And I thought "God, I wish I could make music like this," and I just became really into that record. Then I found out much much later that Jim had produced Edith Frost's Calling Over Time, which is one of my favorite records, and he does a lot of Smog stuff that I really liked, and it just was kind of circumstance. He's just...he's so gentle, and he knows how to get beautiful sounds very quickly, and he's really a music lover and it shows in everything he does.
Splendid: So are there any points where you're listening to your own record -- I assume you listen to it -- where you stop and think "Oh, that's Jim's bit. Thanks, Jim."?
Kendall: It's just one of those things where...well, I know, listening to it, that the fact that it sounds really beautiful -- that's what he did. He made it sound really pretty. But he was very... it's my stuff. My arrangements. It's Jerry and Noel playing their parts, and then when Jim comes in and plays guitar and piano and stuff, I think, "Oh, that's Jim," his playing. But the whole vibe of it is very much his style. I guess. Everything...it's all about him, and it's all about Mascott, and it's how we came together.
Splendid: One of the things that I think stands out about Follow the Sound is its lack of affectation. Were there ever points in the studio when you'd worry that maybe you were sounding too...precious?
Kendall: Well, Jim's not into loading too many tracks on --
Splendid: I'm not limiting this to Jim.
Kendall: Well, in general I was really free with this recording, and I let whoever I was playing with play whatever they wanted to. If I had some ideas I'd let them know, and we'd just go from there. There were a few times where we had to... But no, it was pretty simple. Everything was recorded a day or two after the people learned the parts. It's very fresh. There wasn't time for us to have it be laden with tracks, because everyone had literally just learned the songs. That's what I love about it -- it's capturing the songs and the people who played on them in their purest form. But one thing Jim O'Rourke is aware of is the importance of not adding too many tracks. I'm a big sucker for organs and keyboards and stuff, but we recorded only what was necessary for the song.
Splendid: Do you try to carry that spontaneity with you on tour? I gather you've been recruiting the bands you're sharing the bill with to back you up.
Kendall: Yeah, it just sort of happened this way. I didn't have enough money to bring a full band on the road, and Gordon Zacharius, with whom I'm playing, has a band called the Fan Modine, and he's one of the most artful people I know -- he's a true musician, and we're on the same wavelength of "Let's just play with whoever. Let's see if the people we're sharing the bill with want to jam with us." Almost every night we've done that and it's been really cool -- it's been a lot of work but it's been really fun, and it takes the anality out of touring. You don't have to be perfect.
Splendid: You can relax into them.
Splendid: Your songs have such a narrative feel, and such a true-to-life feeling...they're so vivid, sometimes, that it seems like they must be drawn straight from your own experiences. Are they? "The Costume Ball" in particular seemed so realistic...
AUDIO: "The Costume Ball"
Kendall: Well, that song is a modern-day New York City fairy tale, and the reality of that is that in New York City...basically it's a real life fairy tale, and Cinderella...the way it's recorded makes it sound like it's this wonderful, beautiful song, but really the girl is pining over this guy, and they wind up getting wasted and she walks home after this one night stand. And that's modern-day living. And the heroine chooses to think that there's still a connection going on. That's how she goes about her life, and it's kind of beautiful.
Splendid: (Le Grand Magistery labelmates) Stars worked with you on that too, right? How'd that come about?
Kendall: I sang backup on Stars' new record, called Nightsongs, and they were like "We want to give you money," and I said no, just produce one of the tracks on my record, because I knew I was having this crazy style on the record where I had a bunch of people record me. So I just went in there, basically, and I recorded the Rhodes part, I sang the lead, and then I went to Chicago to record the rest of the record...and Stars sent (the finished song) to me. They created the entire song around what I had done. It was amazing. And Torquil Campbell was just "feeling it" in the studio, and he just became the character in the song. I love it -- it's my favorite part of the song.
Splendid: It's definitely one of the strongest songs on the record.
Kendall: Thanks. They're wonderful, and they're really cool. They brought in Chris Dumont, a friend of theirs who's a great guitar player, and James Shaw, and this guy Fleming Rothhouse to play real drums with the drum machine -- they took such care in creating the songs, and to me it's a testament to our friendship. I love it. It's great.
Splendid: The album closes with "I Really Wanted You". Tell me how you came to do that song.
Kendall: After I recorded in Chicago I was hanging out with (Le Grand Magistery's) Matt Jacobsen, and he knows that I love a lot of seventies guitar pop -- Nick Drake, Judy Collins and all that stuff, and he was like, "Oh, you have to check out this guy Steve Tilston." And he gave me his tape, and I was like "I really love this one song, 'I Really Wanted You'" -- it was related to something that was going on in my life at the time, and it was a great way to end the record. Matthew really encouraged me to record it, so I did it with Mario from Shoestrings, another Le Grand Magistery artist. He lives in Detroit, and we asked "Hey Mario, can we come record this?" So Mario and I had a lot of fun playing organ and putting it together...it was great. I like it.
Splendid: Do you think it fits in well with the tone of the songs you've written?
Kendall: Yeah, I do. Yeah.
Splendid: God, what a stupid question. I apparently like asking questions where I can get a yes or no answer, and then we can both sit and look really awkward while I scramble to think up something else to ask you.
Kendall: I know, I felt really bad after I said yes, so I'll elaborate. Basically, that song...Steve Tilston's really talented, and I wish that I could've written that song, but I felt that the vibe of it, and the sentiment, was similar to what I was feeling with all the other songs on the album. So I recorded it.
Splendid: All-righty. To get beyond the music itself for a moment...I was intrigued to notice that the album plays up your...like, personal glamour.
Kendall: Really? The songs?
Splendid: Just the album art. All the pictures...and every article I've seen seems to show you being either really kind of sultry, or else doing that indie rock girl "pensive" thing.
Kendall: (Amused) Really?
Splendid: Yeah. Or so it seems to me, anyway. Maybe I'm a little detached from it. But have you found that at a lot of shows, there are a whole bunch of guys in cardigans and chunky glasses parked in front of the stage, just kind of staring and slack-jawed?
Kendall: Not really. I mean...I don't know. I haven't really been on tour that much for these songs. Usually I feel like I personally know every person in the audience. Maybe in the future. That's not really my personality. Photo shoots are really really awkward and really disheartening, because it's so not about the music. Sometimes I feel like the photos don't represent me...and whatever. I can't choose the photos in the magazine. But the ones on the record...like you're probably talking about the one on the back cover, with me drinking wine. I just thought that was really funny, because I was really stressed out about the photo shoot, and the photographer was Italian. He said "Oh, Kendall, relax, have some wine, have some pasta." And I pretty much have no makeup on, it's a really casual shot. And I'm really not that much of a partier -- I love a glass of wine every so often, but I thought it was really really funny, and it was such a snapshot of the moment. I thought it represented the way the album captured the moments of recording. It just looked like a snapshot; the CD booklet is full of snapshots of everyone else, and this just happens to be the one that I was in, but Matthew blew it up really huge on the back cover.
Splendid: Well, not trying to seem like I'm coming onto you or anything, but do you ever look at the picture and just think, "Damn, I'm hot!"
Kendall: (Laughs) No. That's probably my biggest fault in life, that I really don't think I'm too hot. I do like the songs on it, though.
Splendid: Yeah, I wasn't trying to stress the photos over the songs or anything. They just surprised me when I first opened the record.
Kendall: Why did it surprise you? Because it didn't fit with the songs?
Splendid: There's something in that wine-drinking picture that follows you around the room. Most of the pictures are mellow and all, but the picture on the spine and the wine picture seem to make this sort of burning eye contact with anyone who picks up the CD.
Kendall: Well, Matt did the "eye" photo. I hate the eye thing. He did it so radio promoters would find the record quicker on the shelf. Originally I was like, "I don't want any pictures of me on the record," and now there's a photo of me on every inch of the album, and it's kind of strange.
AUDIO: "I Really Wanted You"
Splendid: Let's get away from the pictures thing now. The Philadelphia Enquirer compared you to Dusty Springfield. How do you feel about the comparison?
Kendall: Well, I don't really know her very well, but what I do know is amazing, so that was a huge compliment. Basically if you say almost any sixties pop singer I'll be psyched about it. I think it's great. She tells narrative stories, and that's probably what they were getting at more than a vocal similarity.
Splendid: One final quick question: Juicy covered Don Henley's "Boys of Summer". What Don Henley song could Mascott do best?
Kendall: Probably "Heart of the Matter". I'd probably do it really slowly. I'd probably ask Joan Wasser to play violin with me. It'd be very slow and we wouldn't have any guitar and it'd be a capella and drive everyone crazy 'cos it's so long.
Splendid: Okay. That's it. We're done.
· · · · · · ·
· · · · · · ·
George Zahora has stopped caring.
[ graphics credits :: header - george | live photos - george :: credits graphics ]