As Her Mother Descends Into Dementia, Jonatha Brooke Puts Her Career On Hold.

Q: How have your professional goals changed? What were you chasing 20 years ago and what are you chasing now?

A: I had such high hopes for every song that I considered sort of a single, you know, that maybe mine would just sneak through and I’d be like the Norah Jones of that year. And I do remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach of, “This one is going to do it. And this one is going to do it.” And then, you know, we would work our asses off, I’d tour, and we’d promote it, and we’d talk to the radio stations. I have a good history, I have a good track record. And the press seems to like me. And yet it never was my year to be the one that snuck through, the independent that snuck through, which is like winning the fucking lottery.

Q:  And now?

A:  And I think now I don’t have that, what’s the word for it, that sort of feeling of “Oh, come on! This time, please!” The hardest part is when my husband will say, “You don’t really want to be touring when you’re 60, do you?” And I’m like, “Well why can’t I?”

Q:  Why shouldn’t you want to?

A:  I love touring. I still do. It’s hard, schlepping is hard, and traveling sucks. But I love singing. And then you have to sort of think about how do I make a living? Because it’s getting harder and harder. Record sales are just not a reality. So how do you fill in those gaps? How do you do other things that allow you to maybe stay home more? That’s what all the songwriting is about.

Q:  Writing for other artists seems like a good way of doing that, if you can get the work.

A:  Yeah. And I seem to have fans in interesting circles. I keep coming across other people who I never would have thought would know my name.

Q:  I think you’re what’s commonly referred to as a songwriter’s songwriter.

A:  For better or for worse.

Q: What’s the relationship between your commercial relevance, your sense of opportunity in the marketplace, and your identity as an artist?

A:  I guess I think they’re kind of separate, if that makes any sense. You know, I have to do what I do. If it’s a Jonatha song, it’s a Jonatha song, and I can’t really corrupt it by trying to make it a hit. I think that part of what’s so reassuring about getting older is that you have all this evidence trailing behind you of what you have done that’s really good. I am proud of what I’ve done. I love what I do. I still love my ideas. And I still think I have a very unique take on things. And, you know, I do have my own voice. I’ve not really fallen into any clichés, hopefully. I keep stretching and trying to make each record be a little bit different or say something different. So I feel pretty good, actually.

Q: Some artists do their most vital work early on and some deepen and strengthen over the years. How do you assess your own artistic trajectory?

A:  God, I hope I’m on the ascent. I think I have this energy and this hunger, especially now that I’m kind of finding my mojo again coming out of some of the darkest parts of the “mom” experience. I have to say, I make the most of it but there have been stretches that have just been awful. But I think that I am almost coming out of it with more energy and more soul and more love. I wrote some songs for this French pop star, she’s lovely and quite generous and 29. I got to open for her at these major shows in Paris and also sing the songs that I had written for her with her during her set, and there were these moments on stage where I was like, “Oh my God, I could be her mother. But I still feel like I’m fucking 29, and I’m rocking these pants, so fuck off, all you motherfuckers.” I don’t even know where to put that in the answer to the question. There is part of me that’s, like, I’m older and wiser, and I’m loving it. And then, there’s part of me that’s like, “Oh my God, I could be your mother.” So how do I balance that?

Q:  I don’t know if you balance it. You just move with it.

A:  And you try to rock the pants.

Q:  You have the exuberance of a young person, not to mention the body.

A:  I’m hanging on.

Q: You’re doing more than hanging on. It seems like you’re giving a giant bear hug to the whole mess of it.

A:  Yeah. I think that’s a good way to see it. There’s also something I have been thinking about lately, and maybe it’s because of the political mess this year, but there is this part of me that’s embracing earnestness and truth and being nice, and not being so sarcastic and cynical all the time. And that may have come out of this time with my mom. Who cares if you’re funny and clever ? What’d you do today? Did you walk that little old lady home from the drug store because she was scared? I did. I did. And I’m feeling very uncynical, in a way, about very basic human goodness.

Q:  I’ve been hearing that a lot. Things get clearer.

A:  Yeah. What matters? Love.

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