Joanna Newsom

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Joanna Newsom
Joanna Newsom performs at the Orpheum Theatre.jpg
Newsom performing at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA, December 6, 2015
Born Joanna Caroline Newsom
(1982-01-18) January 18, 1982 (age 35)
Nevada City, California, U.S.
Spouse(s) Andy Samberg (m. 2013)[1]
Musical career
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • musician
  • actress
  • Vocals
  • piano
  • harp
Labels Drag City
Associated acts The Pleased

Joanna Caroline Newsom (born January 18, 1982)[2] is an American harpist, pianist, vocalist, lyricist and actress.

Early life[edit]

Newsom was born and raised in the small town of Nevada City, California. Her mother, Christine (née Mueller), is an internist, and her father, William Newsom, is an oncologist.[3] Her parents were "progressive-minded professionals" who had previously lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.[4]

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".[5] 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.[6][7] Newsom attended a Waldorf school, where she studied theater and learned to memorize and recite long poems.[8]

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."[9] She first played on smaller Celtic harps until her parents bought her a full-size pedal harp in the seventh grade.[10]

After high school, she studied composition and creative writing at Mills College, where she played keyboards in The Pleased. She dropped out of school in order to focus on her music.[5]


In 2002-03, Newsom recorded two EPs, Walnut Whales and Yarn and Glue. These homemade recordings were intended to serve as a document of her early work.[11] 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.[11][12]

One of Newsom's friends gave one of her CDs to Will Oldham at a show in Nevada City. 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.[13]

Shortly thereafter, Newsom toured with Devendra Banhart and Vetiver and made an early UK appearance at the Green Man Festival in Wales, returning to headline in 2004, 2007 and 2010.[14]

Her second album Ys was released in November 2006. 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.[15][16]

Joanna Newsom at the Sasquatch Music Festival, Washington in May 2005

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.[17]

Since late 2006, Newsom has performed a solo harp version of the traditional Scottish song "Ca the Yowes Tae the Knowes".[18]

Several of the songs on The Milk-Eyed Mender have been covered by her 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.[19]

In 2009, she appeared in the music video for the song "Kids" by the group MGMT.[20] The Milk-Eyed Mender and Ys, from 2007, sold 200,000 and 250,000 copies respectively.[21]

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.[22] 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.[citation needed]

P-Vine Records in Japan announced that Have One on Me, which was recorded in Tokyo in 2009, would be released in Japan on March 3, 2010, as a three-disc CD set, with a total of approximately three hours of new recordings.[23] She was selected by Matt Groening to perform at the edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival he curated in May 2010 in Minehead, England.[24]

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.[25]

She toured Europe and North America in 2010 to promote her latest record, supported by a five-piece band. 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.[26]

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.[27] In June 2011, she filmed her second music video (for the song "Good Intentions Paving Company") with directors Karni & Saul.[28] 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.[29]

In late 2011, Newsom contributed vocals to "The Muppet Show Theme" for The Muppets[30] and appeared on the cover of the 10th anniversary issue of Under the Radar with Robin Pecknold.[31]

Newsom began 2012 with television appearances on Austin City Limits (on January 21) and Portlandia (on February 7).[32][33] 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.[34]

She performed a new song at the concert tentatively titled The Diver's Wife, a love story concerning pearl hunting,[35] 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.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38][39]

She appeared in, and narrated, the 2014 film Inherent Vice.[40] Divers, her fourth solo record, was released on October 23, 2015.[41] On December 8, 2015, she performed "Leaving the City" on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.[42]


Newsom's early work was strongly influenced by polyrhythms.[43] After Ys, Newsom said she had lost interest in polyrhythms. They "stopped being fascinating to me and started feeling wanky."[44]

The media have sometimes labeled her as one of the most prominent members of the modern psychedelic folk movement. Newsom, however, claims no ties to any particular music scene.[45] Her song-writing incorporates elements of Appalachian music[46] and avant-garde modernism.[47]

Newsom is a soprano.[48] 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."[45]

Critics noticed a change in Newsom's voice on her album Have One on Me.[49][50] 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.[51][52][53]


In addition to her solo work, Newsom has played on records by Smog, Vetiver, Nervous Cop, The Year Zero, Vashti Bunyan, Moore Brothers, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Golden Shoulders, The Roots,[54] and Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, and played keyboards for The Pleased. She provided additional vocals for The Lonely Island's songs "Ras Trent" and "We Are a Crowd".[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Newsom's engagement to actor/comedian Andy Samberg was confirmed by his representative in February 2013.[55][56] They married on September 21, 2013 in Big Sur, California.[57] In March 2014 Newsom and Samberg purchased the estate Moorcrest in Beachwood Canyon, Los Angeles, which in the 1920s was owned by the parents of actress Mary Astor, and prior to that was rented by Charlie Chaplin.[58]

Gavin Newsom, incumbent Lieutenant Governor of California, is a second cousin, twice removed.[59]



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  2. ^ 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival – .... 93 XRT/CBS Local. Retrieved on 2014-01-07.
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  13. ^ Profile, (2004).
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  33. ^ "Portlandia – Joanna Newsom comes to Portlandia". 
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  35. ^ "Joanna Newsom – "The Diver's Wife" (Live in San Francisco)". Retrieved December 5, 2016. 
  36. ^ "new joanna newsom: "look and despair"". YouTube. Retrieved December 5, 2016. 
  37. ^ "Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – "Holy Roller"". October 25, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2016. 
  38. ^ "Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear". iTunes. March 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2016. 
  39. ^ "Listen to Joanna Newsom's cover of Sandy Denny's "The North Star Grassman and the Ravens"". Consequence of Sound. March 14, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2016. 
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  46. ^ Pareles, Jon (February 2, 2008). "Ethereal Songs Made More Expansive With an Orchestra's Multitude of Colors". The New York Times. Retrieved September 29, 2014. 
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  53. ^ Newsom, Joanna (February 23, 2010). "First Listen: Joanna Newsom". NPR. Retrieved 2010-11-07. 
  54. ^ Vozick, Simon (April 22, 2010). "The Roots enlist Joanna Newsom, John Legend, Jim James for new album". Retrieved 2010-11-07. 
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  57. ^ Webber, Stephanie (September 21, 2013). "Saturday Night Live Star Andy Samberg Marries Singer Joanna Newsom – All the Details!". Us Weekly. Retrieved September 21, 2013. 
  58. ^ Barragan, Bianca (July 16, 2014). "Andy Samberg and Joanna Newsom Buy the Famous Moorcrest". Curbed LA. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  59. ^ LLC, SPIN Media (June 1, 2004). SPIN. SPIN Media LLC. Retrieved December 5, 2016. 

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