Joanna Newsom

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Joanna Newsom
Joanna Newsom (5002808774) (cropped).jpg
Newsom performing in 2010
BornJoanna Caroline Newsom
(1982-01-18) January 18, 1982 (age 36)
Nevada City, California, U.S.
ResidenceLos Angeles, California, U.S.
EducationMills College (attended)
Occupation
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • musician
  • actress
Years active2002–present
Spouse(s)
Andy Samberg (m. 2013)
Children1
Musical career
Genres
Instruments
LabelsDrag City
Associated acts

Joanna Caroline Newsom (born January 18, 1982)[2] is an American multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, and actress. Born and raised in Northern California, Newsom was classically trained on the harp in her youth, and began her musical career as a keyboardist in the San Francisco–based indie band The Pleased.

After recording and self-releasing two EPs in 2002, Newsom was signed to the independent label Drag City. Her debut album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, was released in 2004 to critical acclaim, and garnered Newsom an underground following. She would receive wider exposure with the release of Ys (2006), which charted at number 134 on the Billboard 200, and was nominated for a 2007 Shortlist Music Prize.

She released two further albums: Have One on Me (2010), and Divers (2015), the latter of which outsold all of her previous albums. Newsom has been noted by critics for her unique musical style, sometimes characterized as psychedelic folk, and her prominent use of harp instrumentation. She has also appeared as an actress, with roles in the television series Portlandia, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice (2014).

Early life[edit]

Newsom was born in Nevada City, California on January 18, 1982.[2][3] the second child of Christine (née Mueller) and William Newsom. Her parents, both doctors, were "progressive-minded professionals" who had previously lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.[4] Newsom was raised in Nevada City[5] along with her older brother, Peter, and younger sister, Emily.[4] She is the second cousin, twice removed, of Gavin Newsom, Governor Elect of California.[6]

As a child, Newsom was not allowed to watch television or listen to the radio. She describes her parents as "kind of idealists when it came to hoping they could protect us from bad influences, like violent movies, or stupid stuff".[7] She was exposed to music from a young age. Her father played the guitar and her mother was a classically trained pianist who played the hammered dulcimer, the autoharp and conga drums.[8][9] Newsom attended a Waldorf school, where she studied theater and learned to memorize and recite long poems.[10]

At the age of five, Newsom asked her parents if she could learn to play the harp. Her parents eventually agreed to sign her up for harp lessons, but the local harp instructor did not want to take on such a young student and suggested she learn to play the piano first. She did, and later moved on to the harp which she "loved from the first lesson onward."[11] She first played on smaller Celtic harps until her parents bought her a full-size pedal harp in the seventh grade.[12]

After high school, she studied composition and creative writing at Mills College, where she played keyboards in The Pleased. She dropped out however in order to focus on her music,[7] and returned to live with family in Nevada City.[4]

Career[edit]

2002–2005: Beginnings; The Milk-Eyed Mender[edit]

Newsom at the Sasquatch! Music Festival, Washington, May 2005.

In 2002–03, after appearing as a guest musician on Nervous Cop's self-titled collaboration album,[13] Newsom recorded two EPs, Walnut Whales and Yarn and Glue. These homemade recordings were intended to serve as a document of her early work.[14] These EPs were not intended for public distribution. At the suggestion of Noah Georgeson, her then-boyfriend and recording engineer of the EP, she burned several copies to sell at her early shows.[14][15] Newsom's friend and bandmate in Golden Shoulders, Adam Kline, gave one of her CDs to Will Oldham at a show in Nevada City.[16] Oldham was impressed with Newsom's music and asked her to tour with him. He also gave a copy of the CD to the owner of Drag City, his record label. Drag City signed Newsom and released her debut album The Milk-Eyed Mender in 2004.[9]

Shortly thereafter, Newsom toured with Devendra Banhart and Vetiver to promote the album, and made an early UK appearance at the Green Man Festival in Wales.[17] In December 2004, she performed with Smog and Weird War at the Drag City "It's a Wonderful Next Life" Christmas party.[18] She also appeared as a guest musician on Vetiver's 2004 self-titled album,[19] and the following year, on Vashti Bunyan's Lookaftering (2005).[20] The track "Sprout and the Bean" was featured in the 2008 horror film The Strangers.[21]

The Milk-Eyed Mender had sold 200,000 copies of as 2010,[4] and helped garner Newsom an underground following.[22][23] The album was remarked as a "neo-folk benchmark" by music historian John Morrish in 2007,[24] and named the 12th best folk album of all time by NME.[25] Several of its songs have been covered by Newsom's peers: "Bridges and Balloons" was covered by The Decemberists on their 2005 EP Picaresqueties. "Sprout and the Bean" has been covered by The Moscow Coup Attempt and Sholi. "Peach, Plum, Pear" has been covered by Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett) on the 2006 EP Young Canadian Mothers, as well as by Straylight Run. M Ward has played "Sadie" at some of his live shows.[26]

2006–2010: Ys and Have One on Me[edit]

Newsom performing at the Latitude Festival, England, 2008.

Her second album Ys was released in November 2006, also by Drag City. The album features orchestrations and arrangements by Van Dyke Parks, engineering from Steve Albini and mixing by Drag City label-mate Jim O'Rourke. On a road trip, Bill Callahan recommended she listen to the album Song Cycle by Parks, which led to his being chosen to arrange her work on Ys.[27][28] To support Ys, Newsom performed the album live in 2008 with the Brooklyn Philharmonic in New York City, and with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Sydney, Australia.[29] Ys garnered Newsom wider exposure, charting at number 134 on the Billboard 200.[30] The album was also nominated for a 2007 Shortlist Music Prize.[31] As of 2010, Ys had sold 250,000 copies.[4]

In 2009, she appeared in the music video for the song "Kids" by the group MGMT.[32] Also in 2009, Newsom appeared as a guest harpist on the Moore Brothers' album Aptos, and played piano on Golden Shoulders' Get Reasonable.[33] On March 28, 2009, she performed over two hours of new material at an unannounced concert in Big Sur, California with fellow Nevada City singer-lyricist Mariee Sioux under the pseudonym The Beatles's. Those in attendance reported that about one-third of her new material was played primarily on piano, with a backing arrangement of banjo, violin, guitar and drums.[34]

On January 12, 2010, an entry cryptically entitled "@!?*(%$#!!" was posted on the Drag City website. It contained a link which led to a short comic strip titled "Joanna Newsom 'Have One on Me'" with a date of February 23, 2010.[35] Later that day, it was confirmed by Spunk!, Newsom's Australian label, that the title and date represented the title of Newsom's upcoming album and its release date.[36] On February 11, 2010, Pitchfork Media reported that Newsom would be the subject of a tribute book titled Visions of Joanna Newsom which has now been published by Roan Press and features a contribution from author and publisher Dave Eggers.[37]

Newsom's third studio album, Have One on Me, was released on February 23, 2010 in North America.[38] A triple album recorded in Tokyo in 2009, it consists of over two hours' worth of songs.[38] Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Ann Powers praised the album's variety, adding: "Newsom uses the songwriter's default mode to explore how traditional love, for women, can be both the beginning and the end of possibility: a way to escape home and be exiled from it; to welcome children or be burdened by fertility; to be entrusted with secrets, or betrayed."[38] Throughout 2010, she toured Europe and North America to promote the record, supported by a five-piece band, and also appeared as a guest composer on the album How I Got Over by The Roots, released in June of that year.[39] She was also selected by Matt Groening to perform at the edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival he curated in May 2010 in Minehead, England.[40] In December 2010, a tribute album of Newsom covers was released as a digital download. Artists involved include M. Ward, Billy Bragg, Francesco Santocono, Guy Buttery and Owen Pallett, with all proceeds going to Oxfam America's Pakistan Flood Relief Efforts.[41]

2011–present: Have One on Me, Divers, and acting[edit]

On July 19, 2011, Newsom's second single, "What We Have Known," was released on 12" vinyl. The single was originally the b-side to her first single, "Sprout and the Bean".[42] In June 2011, she filmed her second music video (for the song "Good Intentions Paving Company") with directors Karni & Saul.[43] Newsom was selected by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he curated in March 2012 in Minehead, England.[44] In late 2011, Newsom contributed vocals to "The Muppet Show Theme" for The Muppets[45] and appeared on the cover of the 10th anniversary issue of Under the Radar with Robin Pecknold.[46]

Newsom performing at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, 2015.

Newsom began 2012 with television appearances on Austin City Limits (on January 21) and Portlandia (on February 7).[47][48] On June 25, 2012, she performed at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco with Philip Glass and Tim Fain as part of a benefit for the Henry Miller Memorial Library.[49] She performed a new song at the concert tentatively titled The Diver's Wife, a love story concerning pearl hunting,[50] which would eventually become the title track from her next album, Divers. On October 14, she performed another new song tentatively called "Look and Despair" at the Treasure Island Festival, which was renamed "Sapokanikan" and released as the lead single from Divers.[51]

Newsom appeared on a track titled "Kindness be Conceived" on Thao and the Get Down Stay Down's album We the Common, released in February 2013.[52] In March 2013, Newsom contributed to the song "The Man Who Ran the Town" from the album Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear by British skinhead band Hard Skin.[53][54]

She appeared in, and narrated, the 2014 film Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.[55] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called Newsom's narration in the film "gorgeously rendered."[56] In 2015, provided additional vocals for The Lonely Island's songs "Ras Trent" and "We Are a Crowd".[57] Divers, her fourth solo record, was released on October 23, 2015.[58] The album peaked at number one on the Billboard Alternative Albums chart, and outsold her previous record, Ys (2006).[59] Melissa Maerz of Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A- rating, noting: "[Newsom is] often described as childlike, due to her lovely, elfin voice and her affection for fairy tales, but Divers comes from a highly sophisticated mind, with its complicated, polyrhythmic arrangements and lyrics that explore the nature of time."[60] On December 8, 2015, she performed "Leaving the City" from the album on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.[61]

Musical style[edit]

Newsom's early work was strongly influenced by polyrhythms.[27] After Ys, Newsom said she had lost interest in polyrhythms. They "stopped being fascinating to me and started feeling wanky."[62]

The press has sometimes labeled her as one of the most prominent members of the modern psychedelic folk and freak folk movement.[4] Newsom, however, claims no ties to any particular music scene.[63] Her song-writing incorporates elements of Appalachian music[64] and avant-garde modernism.[65]

Newsom is a soprano.[66] Her vocal style (in the November 2006 issue of The Wire, she described her voice as "untrainable") has shadings of folk and Appalachian shaped-note timbres. Newsom has, however, expressed disappointment at comments that her singing is "child-like."[63]

Critics noticed a change in Newsom's voice on her album Have One on Me.[67][68] In the spring of 2009, Newsom developed vocal cord nodules and could not speak or sing for two months. The recovery from the nodules and further "vocal modifications" changed her voice.[69][70][71]

Personal life[edit]

In 2005, Newsom had a brief relationship with Smog frontman Bill Callahan.[72]

Newsom's engagement to actor/comedian Andy Samberg was confirmed by his representative in February 2013.[73][74] They married on September 21, 2013 in Big Sur, California.[75]

In March 2014, Newsom and Samberg purchased the estate Moorcrest in Beachwood Canyon, Los Angeles, which had been owned in the 1920s by the parents of actress Mary Astor, and prior to that was rented by Charlie Chaplin.[76]

On August 8, 2017, Samberg's representative confirmed that Newsom and Samberg had become parents to their first child, a daughter.[77]

Discography[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2008 The Sky Crawlers Voice (English version) [78]
2009 MGMT - Kids Mom [32]
2012 Portlandia Harpist 1 episode [78]
2014 Inherent Vice Sortilège [78]
2016 Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Steam Punk Doctor [79]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]