It's about your roots

Jackie Bristow. Photo by Matt Maley.
Jackie Bristow. Photo by Matt Maley.
Raised in Gore, Jackie Bristow has been back home this week, making a video for a new single off her recent album, Crazy Love.

She had other reasons to return, too.

She was one of three finalists for the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand's Best Country Music Album award.

Oh, and her dad wanted to see her.

Though Bristow's Crazy Love missed out on the award announced in Gore last night (Melissa Partridge, of Dunedin, won with her album Melissa), she remains well qualified to comment on the vital ingredients of her chosen art form.

Bristow admits she did not set out to make a country album, but "everybody hears it like that".

Such perceptions are likely due to a combination of instrumentation and production techniques.

Take, for instance, the title track: it could have been a pop song . . . until the arrival of a mournful guitar anchors it in familiar territory.

"That's the thing about production; you can go any way.

I could have put pedal steel on it and it would have sounded even more country or I could have no acoustic guitar and make it keyboard-based and it would sound like a pop song.

"My next record, I'm actually going to make it more country. I've actually been working on that for a few years . . .

"I'm writing songs about where I'm from, just drawing from my experiences, because I am from the country and grew up singing country music."

Bristow, in her early 30s, is based in Los Angeles.

She's heading back there soon, following a two-week tour of Australia, for which she departs today.

She considered living in Nashville, which she describes as the Hollywood of country music - a place where songs are written, marketed and on-sold - but decided against the move.

"I think now things have changed a bit with country music, especially the stuff coming out of Nashville.

I can listen to it and hear that they have sat in a room and crafted a song, but the actual, authentic country stuff . . . they are just beautiful stories that actually have something that people can relate to, I think."

That said, Bristow has used Nashville-based writers.

On her 2002 debut album, Thirsty, she collaborated with Kim Richey, while she has also benefited from the experience of award-winning songwriter Tom Snow, whose credits include Barbra Streisand, Christina Aguilera, Cher, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton and Bonnie Raitt.

"He taught me a lot about crafting a song.

It wasn't so much about a country song, but just how to write a good song lyrically; how to start and deliver the message."

Bristow recalls tinkering at the piano from the age of 9 and writing her first complete song at 14.

The subject: her first boyfriend (of course).

"I didn't show anyone.

Katrina, my sister, and I used to do these summer festivals all over the South Island; I was in the car singing it, but I didn't have the guts to get up and sing it ... and I didn't know if the backing band could play it."

Over the years, her influences have grown to include Bonnie Raitt, Patty Griffin, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Emmy-Lou Harris and Lucinda Williams ("She writes great lyrics . . .").

"I think they just have it all - beautiful melodies and great lyrics that are presented in a great way . . . It's nice to put on the radio and bop along to the poppy stuff, but I think when people listen to music, they want to get some connection to the story.

"It may help them in their life or make them think. It's reflective.

"When I grew up, it just wasn't the coolest thing in the world . . . I think country is actually becoming hip now.

"In America, that was one of the reasons why I decided to go back to my roots, where I started, because it is kind of cool.

"It's hip and a bit raw. Well, that's the country I like."

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