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Local Music

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Parent Issue
Month
July
Year
1998
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
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OK l'll admit t, l'm a bit weary of contemporary folk singers, let's just say l've just been to a bit too many open mies, but the first time I heard Jo Serrapere's "You Wanna Get With Me" (off the Thursday Records release My Blue Heaven) on the radio, I had to pause. She's got style. She plays a deft fingerstyle blues guitar and sings in a sharply clear voice about things not working out. Live she's backed by a tight threepiece, and the sound is more gritty, more electric than you may expect. As one of Ann Arbor's most talented musicians, she's entering that no-man's land between "established local" and "nationai" status, and she does not intend for music to slip back to a hobby. Jo does not fit into a classic blues stereotype. While in gradúate school in Detroit (after graduating from U-M), she had one of those moments that comes to those fortunately ready enough to let it happen: a sudden and deep inner-calling to get off the ass and start playing music. And the five-year focus is starting to pay off ... NDS: So this all began while you were in gradúate school. Had you ever played anything bef ore? JS: Well, not really ... I was always attracted to musicians though, I was always the kind of person that dated musicians and then sat there and went "they're cool and l'm not" ... Little did you know! What did you listen to growing up? Were you always into music? Oh yeah, Ozzy Osbome. I grew up in Dearbom, so it was all heavy metal, and then in high school we got into new wave and punk rock, loved REM and New Order. I had a mohawk, the whole thing ... actually I was more of a punker in college, kind of the art crowd. While in gradúate school you learned blues and folk guitar from Shari Kane. Is that where yourown tastes hadevolved, or was that just what was put in front of you to earn? It was more of a style that was put in front of me to learn, but I liked it. Didyou have much knowledge of the history behind that music? No, I mean I liked it, fingerstyle blues ... folk music is nice, but there was something about playing blues that I feit like I could play with the guys. It's my own intemal sexism: "l'm not just a folk singer, man, I can play the blues, so fuck you!" But it's cool, the blues is very cool. It's heart music; it's not so intellectual. You seem to have a very intentional attitude about playing in a fíngerpicking blues style. Did you immediately imagine that tobe your style, or was learning the blues just a vehicle to learn to play ... something to do bef ore you cutinto whatyou really wanted to do? You know I don'tknow, it's what I could do, it's what I learned how to do, so it's what I started writing. Now we're doing swing and stuff like that, which l'm digging, but l'd like to do what Jeff Buckley does. l'd like to branch off and do other things, but what I do is what I know how to do, so I kind of stray from there and let it grow. You Ve alreadyexperienced different levéis of personal success. You know, firstthere'sthe era whereyou are playing open mies, and then there's the era whereevery place you are playing you are playing for the fírst time, you're getting nothing but first reactions, and you don't really care about money or how you're being treated by anybody ... ... "Treat me like shit, I don't care I just want to play!" That gets old but at the time, yeah, exactly, that was like a year ago. How did that era come to an end? There are many different conferences around the world for songwriters, and l'd send in tapes, and, of course, l'd get rejected. But back in November I ended up sending a tape off to this thing called the Folk Alliance and I didn't expect a whole lot. It's the largest folk conference in the world, this huge organization, and they showcase like 1 5 people a year at their conference. They do everything from Zydeco bands to anything that could be considered folk-or-roots based. I thought, eh what the heil I ' II send them atape, they won't piek me, they never do. So I sent it in, and I get this cali from Calgary orsomewhere, and l'm thinking why did they cali me? I just got a message, if they rejected it they'd just send me a letter saying "sorry, thank you." I was trying not to get my hopes up, but why are they calling me? And I had to wait 24 hours because the lady said "don't cali me at work" So eventually I called her and she said they picked me to be a performer. She said they got or fourhundred applicants, most of them were female singer songwriters and they only had three spots. Then I feit legitímate, l'm like, wow, l'm on a bilí with Corey Harris, who's a big blues guy. From that point I think that I had moved a step up, and things have come from it, l've gotten a couple of festivals ... Bef ore then, you were just thinking ofyourselfas nothing but a local artist What was y our goal two years ago? The goal was to tour nationally. My ideal career would be not to get big - that would suck - to be so big that you have no life and you are around shallow people who are always trying to get something from you, but big enough to actually have a career and see the world and support myself. In the past several years it seems like there has been a change in the climate of the music industry, the whole growth of the mots movement, a national movement towards the AmericanaNo Depression thing. Do you consideryourself as being at least symptomatically a part of this? Yeah. Is this a good time to be doing whatyou're doing, ora terrible time because there's ... . . . so many? I think the former. I think it's good because now there are so many options, I mean, yeah in some ways everybody's doing it but that's OK, it opens upa mark et ... I try not to get hooked into outcomes, l'm just trying to enjoy the ride.

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