Eliza Hardy Jones

QRO talked with Eliza Hardy Jones about her new album 'Pickpocket' & much more....
Eliza Hardy Jones : Q&A
Eliza Hardy Jones : Q&A

Outside of the works of Sofia Coppola, Diablo Cody, and the Weird Sister blog, the anthropological artifacts of girldom have rarely been taken seriously in any consistent way within the confines of pop culture. Historically speaking, the world has most often either scoffed or shrugged wherever the harder feelings of the so-called softer sex have dared raise their interdicting periscopes above the silently-agreed-upon social waterline. Full-on womanhood fairs even worse, grown babedom bitten with a bitterroot taste that women themselves frequently lack the language to make real for themselves or those around them. Even in view of all the progress made in recent years toward resetting the chess board of expectations and perceptions for the feminine lived experience, anything that moves too closely to the cambium layer of a woman’s grief seems still not to fit into the bucketfold of our maladroit and male-driven mélange. They say worried money never wins anyway, and Eliza Hardy Jones, thankfully, did not wait for the dice, the day, the right words, or the “given” right to sing of the waves within her woman-rites, both those of passage and those of pain. Pickpocket, released on April 19th, serves as Jones’ second full-length solo endeavor and uses the obituary form to talk animatedly of the world’s most alive secret subjects, revealing the hunches and slow epiphanies that could be saved both women and men if we could eventually build a world that knew how to discuss hard femme truths in an adaptogenic rather than an adjunctive way. Pickpocket is a power-rummaging swipe at a first portal to such a dame-designed domain of dreams, and proves Jones to be a woman without need for dirigibles or viaducts when it comes to finding bright jouissance in the noiseless nocturnes of nativity and its inversion that she, at one time, felt could knock her entire life over, out, or both.

As polyjamorous Philadelphians go, Eliza Hardy Jones comes coolly carrying every chiming credential, and two or three more all of her own creation, just for jigs, jazz, and jollies. Her background as a founding member of bands like Buried Beds and, since 2022, the guitar and keyboard witchery she has lent as the lone female contributor to The War on Drugs, means Jones has a recording resume and performance palette no hundred boxes of crayons could approach for color. Assisting fabled Philly drag queen Martha Graham Cracker with her 2019 Lashed But Not Leashed offering and donating her skills as the vocal coach for members of the Philadelphia Eagles and their immensely popular A Philly Special Christmas Special album – a wondrously atypical gig which saw her sportingly teaching noted Eagle team favorites such as Jason Kelce, Jordan Mailata, and Lane Johnson how to harmonize – the unique lines she has drawn out with the rastrum of her musical life and the reserved readiness of her red-hot demand makes for a nacreous and admiration-torquing trajectory of tunes and tales. Atop all of the illustrious above, you may have additionally heard Jones’ ube-langka flavored filigree cavorting under and within the familiar sounds of other cherished artists such as Strand of Oaks, Grace Potter, and Iron and Wine, all of whom have been happy recipients of her gracious willingness to do a bit of foreign sonic soldiery whenever called.

Though the rotary cannon of her musical talents stands enviably stochastic, Jones herself is even more of a versicolor siege engine and naturally defies all reduction down to one thread of creativity, or even one spool of applied interest. Since her first solo record entitled Because Become was released in 2016, Jones’ other big independent arts production, her Song Quilts, have come to represent something of a fully fabric-based Foxfire. Relaying her rather ingenious idea of rhythm as “the distance between moments” in music, and using her own self-designed musical notation methodology called the Resonant Anchor System (which depicts rhythm as shape and pitch as color), Jones went in world-spanning search of what Scottish writer Christopher Rush described as “the slow old tuneful times” of his fishing village in St. Monans, and she has been creating exact musical transcriptions of songs in quilts that now hang in a permanent exhibition at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln Nebraska, allowing viewers to see what those songs look like in a corporeal and functional format. As the granddaughter of Mary Hardy, founder of the Scottsville’s Center for the Arts and the Natural Environment in Virginia and the grand-niece of a great-aunt light opera singer who performed well into her eighth decade, Jones derives from a lush line of woman-creators with intrinsic ties to the pastoral world and an ingrained sense of the importance in preserving traditional and material history. Her folktales-to-textiles quest resulted in artistic residencies in both Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, wherein she drew upon the knowledge of women from the Russian Arctic as well as the American South to give songs without known origins a striking visual life. Listening to her explain this one-of-a-kind project from the heart will warm yours interminably.

In many ways, Pickpocket is the musical completion of that emotive, connective practice. Rather than demonstrating how sound can appear in a colorful, material form, she is showing how summiting the fiercely impalpable and endlessly mutable emotion of grief sounds. Just as when she has sought out new stewardship for the workings of the makers of old, this is a record that sought ghosts, wraiths, specters, poltergeists, phantoms, and shades–but only so that they could be sat together at a reflective garden party purpose-thrown to celebrate life.

Eliza Hardy Jones

Mother. It is such a glyptic appellation that has, of late, received that sad, meaning-sapping milking that becomes of any word relegated to consumptive internet slang, and it is a word always arriving as a raptorial impasse, no matter what way the state of being it describes is approached. Pickpocket approaches it as a deadstock medley of sherry-colored sounds wherein the grief in question is formally announced as the thief, and drawn as Dickensian in its tidal touchlessness as the evasive child Jones was both physically and spiritually chasing ahead of and during this record’s composition. The wee and wanted thing she could both see and not see just ahead of her on the glassy lavender road of a cellular, rubicund, ancient feminine wish became a replete and resplendent record written, recorded, and produced by Jones herself and longtime collaborator Nick Krill. Pickpocket centers most of its motherwards musings around a lost pregnancy that Jones endured after years of vicious fertility treatments. Patching in a princely parade of close friends and musical collaborators that includes Grace Potter, Daniel Hart, Charlie Hall, Dave Hartley, Anthony LaMarca, Matt Musty, Brandon Beaver, Joshua Stamper, Severin Tucker, Time Deaux, Jordan West, Benny Yurco, and Ben Alleman to address a subject emphatically close to heart, Jones sat amidst her sewing projects as she sonically stitched the rudiments of the musical quilt that would become Pickpocket, and in its song-shaped squares she presents the colored pebbles she pulled from the sanctum sanctorum of her innermost spirit, made from the materials she found in the cruel corners and cutaways of the jagged road to maternity.

The world summarily wants women to make countervailing crackle-candy out of the consequences of a chaos they neither created nor chose. People in power and even pseudo-pleasant passersby encourage women artists in particular to take on a cute little cubist cast of mind about these insurmountably round and circular events that routinely occur (and are collectively ignored) within the all-encompassing female experience, as though women were bound to some strange, paternally-posed law of omertà when it comes to any unveiling of the unique pain wrought by our generative power–a power, it must be observed, that men do not have. Those same non-investors and un-comprehenders always expect a pithier ‘pickpocket’ where the theft is to be mentioned at all if they are to empathize with the tears that don’t stop even when a woman is smiling. The proverbial “they” insist on a certain scumble coat for this kind of sadness. Eliza Hardy Jones is to be praised for too many attributes and actions to list here, but perhaps most handsomely for her unbending refusal to give anyone any such thing with either her record or her rightful response to what happened to her body, her children, and her life as a result.

Lead single “This Is The Year” decants with an undiluted demo vocal that ended up on the record because Jones knew she could internally survive the outward singing of such a strife just the one time. The sheer microscopy of her lyrical lasering here puts one in mind of what Paul Lynch once said of William Faulkner: “His noticing is unsurpassed.” “Long Winter Shadows”, an ode to Philadelphia’s John Heinz Wildlife Conservancy, is a song with nary a shadow in it but rather all the harmonic harbingers of a lost-and-found 80s fantasy movie gone skybound. Jones’ husband appears as a blue heron in the snow and Daniel Hart (St. Vincent, Broken Social Scene, The Green Knight) hangs icicle-like strings that seem to glow way out past the belief of any salvation.

Ballad for the Barren” conjures the isolated, childlike croon of Joanna Newsom as it deals in the sense of identity tied to motherhood for women who want it, and the guitars arrive as wavelets of wonder – a song that begs (and deftly answers) the question: If you knew how these stories would end, would you even press the shutter on the imagining of any of it? Would you hit send? “Sunday Morning”, a lost song originally composed by Jones’ relative Ned Bartow, a composer who had died of leukemia in his thirties, arrived to Jones as an accidental single line provided by her father, with the invitation for Jones to finish the song Ned had started. Bringing a song from someone departed to life, singing for a spirit that is not here any longer to sing for itself (another echo of the baby hovering in both the foreground and the background mist) made another fit and familial anthem both for Jones and any woman who “wears her anger like a crown.” That Jones and her father later found the completed version of what Bartow had written meant, as Jones puts it: “There are two Sunday Mornings in my family now.”

Eliza Hardy Jones

Counterfeit”, a song of infrangible beauty about fake, flimsy, breakable things that Jones executes here with the help of some of the sturdiest people in her life–Matt Musty, Jon Levy, and Solomon Dorsey–turns on a telling “it’s not me/real” refrain with the equivalent to antigravity waterfalls of sound running up a mountainside instead of down. “Fall To Pieces” follows on with its portamentos, modular synths, and the affectionate warning to all those still affixed to their elected affectations: “You’ll be singing eulogies to who you thought you’d be.” As a testament to the level of musicianship Jones both exudes and attracts, Matt Musty and Dave Hartley appear here as the rhythm section that never met! With so much of a song’s undercurrent defined by the bottom end, generally speaking a great deal needs to be exchanged in a physical and intuitive sense between drummers and bass players. That these two could create this kind of synergy without ever having been in the room together says more than any awed writer could about their caliber of immeasurable musical excellence.

Like so much else of what Jones’ hands put out into the world for the enjoyment and edification of others, “Rosie Lee”, about the anonymous quilter Rosie Lee Tompkins, shines a frank funnel of sunshine onto the face of an otherwise unseen woman unknown to too many, while, with its chanty huff-breath at the beginning, “I Know How It Ends” chronicles how good the flat hierarchy of groupthink seems to feel to some folks, and how extraordinarily badly that always seems to go. Much like its Beach Boys counterpart, “In My Room” carries no inflatable whimsy whatsoever. “God bless the bloodshed,” it unapologetically proclaims just as the vocal oscillations in the chorus let any listener quickly recognize that violence may indeed be the theme, but wings to get above it are the thing. “Every Little Girl” lilts like the song of a cigarette girl of the 1920s sat out back of the cinema she has just quit. Instructing the bad boys and all the bothers they bring with them to “play your games with a new heart” and making sure all Disneyfied parties in this Cinderella story know she is “not a bird who is looking for a song,” Jones highlights the harms that come to born theme park princesses merely for being what they are, and she does this sounding for all the world like a sloe-eyed Sleeping Beauty boredly watching tide-riders on a patio in Yalta. In a word: transportive.

Women’s bodies tend to stay bent around whatever they are missing, and in the landscape of Pickpocket Jones was missing something gargantuan, and something that tore at the tenderest parts of her sense of her own female identity. The grievance of child loss, and protracted child absentia where a child is wanted, is a distinctly feminine rejection plot written by the woman’s own body, a forcible decoupling of not just woman from child but woman from self in ways that are wanton in their sabotage of all the aforementioned. This body-betrayal is biological in both nature and feeling, but deeply ethereal in meaning and, like a fogbow, comprised of the bleakest possible grays that are somehow equally suggestive of a new rainbow spectrum of emotions. There lives a highly inosculating kind of love in this kind of death. Women hosting it are living in freak weather wherein they are made to feel unfairly acarpous, and the balms even the best load-bearing loved ones and most well-meaning commentators commonly offer them often further ferment the overall sense of forsakenness felt by the woman under the storms themselves. All this whilst the global discourse around fertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, and all other forms of involuntarily terminated or never-realized pregnancies remains determinedly dyspeptic and virile. It was Lord Byron himself who said “There are many more die of the lancet than the lance,” and in the case of what gets said and done to women in the voidscape of creating children or catching themselves from the cliffs of devastation after losing one, this truism takes a one-louder meaning as both the lance and the lancet in this lacerative radius ring are held exclusively inside the woman’s own internal ecosystem. What tuneful tree could ever hold a basilisk that big, breathing that kind of arable poison from a coil inside the boughs?

Pickpocket asserts itself as a direct and detonating answer to all of this hardship and horror, and one meant to change the calculus of the colour-inverted conversation around anguish by focusing the numina in the nuance and never shying away from the necropoetics in new birth. Spangled with regret, it inhabits a fragrant and solitary space unknown to many women, and all men, but Jones bites through its toughest tribulations with the canids of a fruitarian. The curious cruncher of what to call Jones’ uniquely fire-frosted, antique-inflected, aural augury has been an overheady one long before the crystalline clouds of Pickpocket showed it off so eloquently. Elfin Folk? Hidden Porch Music? However one might refer to it, this is sacrosanct, unassailable, and unadorned womanhood presented like it was by preceding dignitaries in the field such as Leonora Carrington or Cindy Sherman with her Untitled Film Stills. Jones gives grace and gentility even to that which has nearly destroyed her. If Pickpocket were a person it would be Julie London, and if it were a song it would be “The Girl From Ipanema.” The record’s premise and its execution are upside-down twins, looking with love and longing at one another from mirrored worlds that will never touch, though remain as close to conjoined as it is possible to be without merging. This is the album the spirits on the other side of the veil would make for we the living if we could but hear it over the deep-decibeled din-sin of our own selfish sadnesses when we lose things as big to us as Edna St. Vincent Millay’s work in progress, Conversation at Midnight, which was burned in a hotel fire on Sanibel Island, Florida in 1936.

QRO patched in with Eliza Hardy Jones to pick both her pockets and her thoughts about all of these things, and everything else from motherhood manifestos to maker culture:

Eliza Hardy Jones

QRO: Thanks a million for taking time out of your multiverse of a schedule to chat with us, Eliza! I’ve been so looking forward to this time with you, and I know you’ve got just a few things on right now that you could have been doing instead of listening to me yammer away!

Eliza Hardy Jones: Hey Dana! It’s so nice to talk with you, as it has been a wild couple of months!

QRO: Not to throw the first of what will inevitably be a helpless number of puns at you right out of the Minute One gate, but you’re weaving some pretty intricate and outwardly disparate threads in a way that I have never seen done before, girlfriend!

EHJ: [laughs] Ah, I love a good pun!

QRO: Me too, and am always hunting the worst-best ones I can find! I am also always hunting women like you to feature. I’m forever with my telescope out for girls and women who are very actively trying to preserve something, and that includes themselves. You’re putting out a lot of art that people can learn from. I’ve been very moved by this particular record and some of your stories around it, and my little symbolic mind may be too literary but the fact it has come out in April when, to me, it feels very much like a winter record is something!

EHJ: It is definitely a winter record!

QRO: Yes, high blues and ice everywhere! It is also a record of ghosts, mentors, dreams, and spirits, as I hear it. I’d love it if you could just talk us chronologically through the making of these sonic seeds you planted in a literal and figurative cold time. I think the first single, This Is The Year, is Neko Case having a secret tipple with Jesse Colter, very late at night someplace undisclosed – road women talking mother things.

EHJ: Oh, I love that image, that’s great! Such women for what is definitely a very womanly record. I went through a long struggle of trying to have a baby and fertility treatments. As I’m sure you know, the relentlessness of fertility treatments is such a difficult process. To have had an experience of coming to the end of a process that hard, and having had some pretty major losses along the way, having lost a pregnancy and having had an ectopic pregnancy, and coming to the running out point where I was realizing how much it had taken from me, how deep in that grief I was, and how much of myself I had hidden away while I was going through that. I think writing this song was about “this is the year that I learn to let go.” I was telling myself, “you’re going to tell the story of the year and leave it behind.”

“This Is The Year” is also a song I wrote very much for myself. I just demo-ed it out, sang the lyrics, played the guitars, and thought to myself, “Well, if I release this, I could rewrite some of the most intimate or intense lyrics,” but I just didn’t. I then thought I had to do the keeper vocal, but I just couldn’t sing it again. I couldn’t say the words again. Luckily my dear friend, Nick Krill, who was my mix engineer and really helped with some production, I called him and asked, “Do I have to sing it again?” And he said, “Absolutely not, don’t sing it again; it’s perfect just the way it is!”

QRO: That’s spectacular that he got it, the magnitude and the mania in the whole thing. There is nothing more vital than a friend who gets things without any need for schooling or footnotes. Especially a guy faced with an experience he knows he will never personally have. More of that, please!

EHJ: Yes! And I think he was right; I love the vocals on that song now and no longer think I needed to do a “real” version. That is the real version.

QRO: You kept the human truth in it for sure. Sometimes when things are rehearsed, even sparsely, something goes out of them that you’d wish to keep. I love that you had the valor to be that vulnerable and didn’t seek the pain-relieving distance that a lot of people would have.

EHJ: Yeah, and I will say that I was definitely nervous about this song in many ways because this is not a story that we tell. As women, families, people, we don’t tell the stories of our lost dreams, and specifically miscarriages. It’s been wild that, since the song came out, I’ve had so many people reach out to me to tell me their own miscarriage or child loss story. There’s something about me saying it out loud that has made other people think, “Well I want to say it out loud,” and they’re just telling it to me. I always tell people who share with me how honored I am to bear witness to their stories and that I hope it felt good for them to tell it.

I was telling myself, “you’re going to tell the story of the year and leave it behind.”

QRO: Well, you empowered them to make it feel normalized because, as you say, there are so many things that women are taught to make unchallenged taboos of, all of which happen to be ridiculous and largely patriarchal nonsense things. That healing magic you gave those others is the reward you get back for being so honest.

EHJ: It feels magic! What’s interesting is that a lot of the people who have written to me have been men, and I do feel that a loss like this is shared by everybody in their own way. Everybody is taught to keep this secret, and the woman is taught that this is her burden, but it’s everybody’s burden. It’s been a beautiful thing to feel like this song is maybe giving people a chance to look at their own loss that they survived.

QRO: No question, and what you really see in that recognition is the inversion of the old “it takes a village to raise one child” adage, which I totally agree with. If it takes a village to raise one, a village will surely feel the loss of one as well. It’s just a thing people have tried to train themselves not to notice, unfortunately. Speaking of noticing, can I also tell you how much I can’t get over the line, “this is the year that I learned the names of the neighborhood birds”….I cannot tell you how much my little poet’s heart sings to that Romantic notion!

EHJ: [laughs] It’s a very literal line! I spent a lot of time looking at birds and trees, I bought a bird book, I learned how to identify them–and it was more than just learning what a cat bird is, I started naming the birds. I’d be like, “Oh, there’s Elwood.”

QRO: That’s one more notch on your impressive pastoral living belt, lady! One of my great-aunts used to do that too. She would be looking out the window as she made biscuits and say, “Look, there’s Josphine!” And Josephine was a cardinal. You also make rather beautiful mention of a blue heron in the second track of this album, which means I have to tell you that, for reasons that are still utterly unknown to me, I’ve been seeing herons absolutely everywhere since December of last year, one of them even blocking my way on the road one night as I came home from a concert at 3am. It’s become my latest animal totem. I had a chapbook publisher with “heron” in the name contact me and the whole nine, then here you come with your husband characterized in your song as a blue heron in the snow! They are said to symbolically represent purity, strength, and long life. I know you’ve called this song “Long Winter Shadows,” but I don’t see or hear shadows in it; I see Krull and The Land of Faraway!

EHJ: Wow, I love that! You know, I was spending a lot of time taking these long walks at the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge and watching the shadows get long. Just that moment of knowing that, as of December 21st we’ve done it, we’ve had the darkest day, but you know that you still have January and February to get through. So, you know you’ve passed the hardest moment, but also that the cold is still coming. You know that it’s going to get worse, but you know the worst is over. This song, in so many ways, is about tenacity and survival, the birds and the bare branches just waiting. Like, “we’re here and we’re just waiting for spring to come!”

QRO: We’re going to keep singing whether you snow on us or not! [laughs]

EHJ: Exactly! They’re sort of indifferent to it all and I was trying to capture some of that for myself. Telling myself, “the cold wind is blowing and I just have to survive it.”

QRO: I resonate with everything about that absorption of the better habits of our wild forest neighbors, which is something I’m always trying to encourage people to do more of! You’ve got strings from Daniel Hart here too and I’m a massive fan of his movie work, in particular The Green Knight. I do feel Daniel made a little movie out of every image you guys were consorting over in this song, and I can see it all because of the way you arranged it.

EHJ: Yes! This is an album I made with friends, which was really important to me; it was all about reaching out to the people I love most. Daniel and I have been friends for almost 20 years. We knew each other when we were sleeping on floors and going on van tours and trying to make our art rock! [laughs]

QRO: Rock on art rockers! He’s got such a recognizable musical stamp that I knew it was him immediately and got excited to hear where he would go with it all.

EHJ: Absolutely, and with this song I just sent it to him and said, “Could you put some strings on the end?” and he was like, “Yeah, I gotcha.” I trust him so much and there’s never that worry of him saying, “could you do this instead of that” or “can we tweak the end” kind of stuff. I send him something and he sends it straight back. He’s played on all my records, actually. In the early 2000s when I was in Buried Beds, Daniel was in a band called Physics of Meaning and we used to do a lot of gigs together. Since then, I’ve done some singing for him and he’s doing some violin for me, and I always try to find a place for him if he’s not wildly busy. That was the great luxury of making this record so slowly. We could just send things whenever and there was no pressure.

It’s been wild that, since the song came out, I’ve had so many people reach out to me to tell me their own miscarriage or child loss story.

QRO: You patched in all of your friends, piecemeal fashion, and got the listenable quilt of dreams, say I! Including the twinkling little capsule of a world that is “Ballad of the Barren.” I know that could not have been an easy song to create, but it surely came out in a special way with all its tides of guitars and sparkling wonder.

EHJ: That is another one that I wrote very much for myself, and then I sent it to Anthony LaMarca, whom I work with in The War On Drugs because I wanted him to play drums on it. I basically said to him, “Hey, could you play drums but also just do whatever you want?” He sent that back with those guitars and it was just so beautiful. On the record, he absolutely gets a production credit on that one because not only did I mix his ideas and my own, but I just feel that that song would have been really hard for me to work on and I’m so grateful to him because he made it perfect.

I know I wrote that song as I was dealing with trying to come to terms with not being a mother, but I really wrote it as a feminist manifesto. I’ve been with my partner for 20 years and for the first 14-15, we had no plans to have children, but there was this constant pressure. Things like, “when are you having a baby?” or “when you have your baby, you’ll realize that that’s the only real thing and these other things you’re doing aren’t that important” and so on. My response was always, “No, I’m good. I don’t need this.” Somewhere that feeling changed for me and I began seeking motherhood, but my stance about the equal meaning of other things never has, so I was really writing this song to remind myself how much I can absolutely live a full, rich, happy life without this thing.

QRO: Now, you know you’re speaking right into the sharpest points on my fanged little book from last year, which I wrote for so many of the reasons you have just illustrated. As if women themselves are to be demoted and devalued beneath children. As if children are somehow more important. The absurdity! I do not, have never, and will never take a knee to the monumental level of hormonal delusion that makes people say and believe that illogic.

EHJ: Totally! And despite the fact that my own course with motherhood changed, I too absolutely reject the idea that the highest or most important thing I do is being a Mom. That is a lie.

QRO: No question in the world, and a uniquely insidious one for the kind of ideological propaganda it is because, oh lo and behold, the only people held back by believing in it are women! Big shock, of course. I say all the time that the coolest women I personally know, and the women I admire most in the public sphere, are always the ones who made motherhood something additional to a singular life well-lived. I love you for saying all of this in these songs because these are vital truths that, forget being encouraged to say, women are not even encouraged to know! It’s the phantom fact that lives next-door to everyone but no one acknowledges. Speaking of unseen spirits, I see you singing to and for a lot of intangible people on this record. Tell me about that.

EHJ: Definitely. I come from a family where we feel very connected to the ancestors. There’s a lot of talk about people who have lived and died, and how they are still so present in our lives. My father is a historian, and very much a family historian. He is the keeper of a lot of these stories. For my song “Sunday Morning,” my Dad had a cousin, Ned Bartow, who died in the 1970s at 36 from leukemia. He lived a short and beautiful life as a composer, and though my Dad is a great musician, he doesn’t read music. Dad reached out to me with a snippet of something from Ned that Dad didn’t realize was just one line. So, I took that line and wrote a piano part, and if I sent you the Ned Bartow version you wouldn’t believe it! Ned was writing mid-century classical music and his rendition is like a modern lyric vocal piece.

QRO: I’d really love to hear his version one day! And is it stealing if I tell you in advance that I’m stealing the line, “She wears her anger like a crown?” Because honey, I do, and it makes my neckline look gazelle-like and pretty!

EHJ: [laughs] Absolutely! You’re not stealing; you’re just quoting it in a livable way!

I always tell people who share with me how honored I am to bear witness to their stories and that I hope it felt good for them to tell it.

QRO: I will be, and repeatedly! That’s another theme you’ve struck on with this record that people bizarrely cannot confront: anger as an emotion like any other, with all the same value, and all the same uses when it comes to truth-finding and growth. Once again, I think this impacts women more than men, but nobody is very freely allowed to acknowledge that anger is every bit as legitimate an emotion as sorrow, joy, or anything else. Socially, we need to get better about that and fast because people not realizing that anger is all about how you use it, that it has a noble purpose like all emotions, means you get a lot of people wandering around out there repressing one of  life’s most natural responses, and one that, if engaged head to head, could vastly enlighten them to themselves and others. All of this with the note that righteous anger directed at a person who has, say, lied to and abused you is to be recognized as very different to unjustified anger wrought of small-minded fear of difference or departure.

EHJ: Yes, completely. Even recognizing what it is, why it is, and where it really comes from–which is so often not the immediate source someone would name–is incredibly important.

QRO: What I have found to have zero exemptions is that the people who cannot or will not call forth the courage to examine their own anger and improve their relationship to the truth by it end up on the wrong side of your lovely song, “Counterfeit”.

EHJ: Ah, “Counterfeit”. Yes. That verse, “love is a counterfeit, I saw it in a movie.” You know, I think love is very real and I have deep love in my life, but we live in a world now where everything around us is some form of illusion or fake. But also, I think saying, “well it’s not real” can often be like silencing someone’s experience or gaslighting them. I also wrote that when I was feeling estranged from myself in that “this isn’t me, this isn’t my body” kind of way. I was going through such medical procedures and feeling not at home with myself. “Counterfeit” is very much reflecting outward at the social media-based, non-human fashion show that is modern existence, but also reflecting inward at me saying to myself “I don’t feel human.” I struggle so much with this modern idea of artists having to be a “brand,” and your brand is your identity. You have to be distilled down to this idea of branding, and I find it very uncomfortable.

QRO: It’s really quite sickening and totally Wall-E, isn’t it? As the last unicorn who has never had any form of social media and never will, I keep my original rebel mantra of “if you want to find me, get a helicopter and pack a lunch” because you will have to come to my turf if you want to admire my things. The more I have published, the more pressure I have gotten from outside sources to put my work in that medium and people will say “but you need to do it for the work,” and my response is always “no, just the opposite, it’s for the integrity of the work that I would never do it.”

EHJ: You don’t want it to be like “the algorithm will decide.”

QRO: That precisely it. I will decide, and the seeker will decide, to whatever degree we can separate our paths to those selected outcomes from Silicon psychosis. I’m giving them nothing for free. I want hands and hearts involved, always. Which brings me to my unchallenged favorite song on your record of new-favorite songs for me: “Rosie Lee”. There is a beautiful tie-over in the subject matter of this song and the very real work you do with your hands and heart for your Song Quilts project. Tell us a bit more about the remarkable, real-life woman who provided the source material here.

EHJ: Oh, I’d love to and I’m so glad that you love that song! Rosie Lee Tompkins was an incredible quilter and modern American artist. She was discovered by this famous California quilt collector who essentially told her that what she was making was way beyond the normal, that her quilts were powerful art pieces, and that he wanted to connect her with galleries and such in order to get them appropriately displayed. Her response to that was basically “that’s all fine and good, but that’s not the reason I’m doing this.” So they worked together to come up with, first, her pseudonym of Rosie Lee Tompkins–her real name was Effie Mae Howard–and then, later, showing some of her work in a wider context.

At the time I was writing this, the Berkeley Museum of Modern Art had done a major retrospective of her work. I was on the internet every day watching every lecture that came out about the exhibition, every article that was written about it I had to read because I have long been a fan of her work. I love American quilters and specifically am a huge fan of the rich and amazing African American quilting traditions that have contributed so much to the modern art world and our country in general. I knew when I was writing this album that I would include a song about Rosie Lee to celebrate because I wanted to formally recognize this incredible woman who has inspired me so much and who made work just to make it–without branding, without marketing, without intention, without goals–the goal was just the making. It was just about creating something beautiful. She’s a mind-blowing artist, and I’ll just tell you a fun story: I made a song quilt of this song!

QRO: NO! Was it a commission from someone as obsessed as me?

EHJ: [laughs] No, it was just for me!

QRO: Okay, I will beg you to at least let me see that if you won’t let me buy it! Or, can I pun you again before we go? Perhaps I might sneak up to your house and pickpocket it…..

EHJ: [laughs]That’s brilliant! If it goes missing I will know where to look! It’s a really special one to me too and makes me feel closer to a lot of these traditions and women that I honor so much.

This is an album I made with friends, which was really important to me; it was all about reaching out to the people I love most.

QRO: I can’t wait to see it. And the last thing I have to say to you about this gorgeous piece or aural art you’ve made is about that very word, the title, Pickpocket. When I think of a pickpocket, the immediate image that comes to my mind is one of a dirty-faced kid in a newsboy cap on either a London or a New York street corner, a hard urban landscape. Knowing that the statement you are making about grief on this stunningly soft and pastoral record is that it does, in fact, creep up on you and take things you aren’t even aware are going, I wonder if you have thought about the other connection–which is that real pickpockets through history like that kid I’m envisioning are rarely doing it because they think pickpocketing is fun. They are usually doing it because it is necessary for them to survive. The brilliance of the underside to Pickpocket is that something gets taken, but there’s necessity and practical utility in that taking too.

EHJ: Oh wow, no, I had not thought of that at all but that is amazing to think about. Thank you for saying that. And it means even more to me when I think about how it applies to the baby I did finally have.

QRO: I was so happy for you when I heard! Because yes, all that living hell you went through, as pat as it sounds, it will only enrich and enliven your relationship to your child and to motherhood in yourself now. It’s a conversation I’m constantly having with my own mind when things go horribly awry in my life. I have to remember that it’s not awry; it’s just different than how I imagined it would go.

EHJ: Everything is bringing you to the next moment.

QRO: It is, and I want to thank you for your moments here with me today, Eliza! This has been such a full-on treat to get to spend this time with you and your record.

EHJ: It makes me so happy that this record resonated with you. You sound genuinely excited about it, and that makes me feel really, really good. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen and to write this piece.

QRO: It’s my pleasure and privilege, dear woman. I’ll be calling you soon to help me turn rock tour t-shirts into quilts, so be ready!

EHJ: [laughs] I will be waiting for that call!

Pickpocket is now available for enjoyment through the official Eliza Hardy Jones website, Bandcamp, and all major streaming platforms.