Tara Jane O’Neil breaks new ground on forthcoming solo record

Sep 28, 2016 at 11:59 am
Tara Jane O’Neil breaks new ground on forthcoming solo record
Photo by Sarah Cass

Last summer, Tara Jane O’Neil ran into an old friend, who invited her to record at the Wilco Loft in Chicago. She used that invitation as inspiration for a forthcoming solo album, which promises, in some ways, to be a return to the basics, and, in others, to move in a new direction.

“It’s a song-based album,” O’Neil said. “It emphasizes the simple elements of a song played by some people and also sung. Other records I’ve made utilize these elements but were presented inside of a more sonic structure. Some [people] have mistaken me for a singer-songwriter in the past. This new album would be the first that might actually come close to that tag.”

With her time in seminal indie-rock band Rodan, O’Neil made herself an immediate and integral part of Louisville music history. O’Neil went on to form the bands The Sonora Pine and Retsin, and has worked with a variety of other bands including Ida, Mount Eerie and Papa M. In 2014, the sublime solo album Where Shine New Lights perfectly exemplified her musical evolution from post-rock innovator to an imminent figure in dream-pop and indie.

Despite her numerous collaborations, both past and present, she tends to compose alone. This is less a reflection of her willingness to work with others, and more of a self-determination that drives her artistic expression, which is apparent in her output. Although, fortunately, with so much time spent in the indie circuit, she can pull from a network of like-minded folks when needed.

“I’m delighted when people are available to work with me,” she said. “I keep some of the music to myself, but opening it up to others’ vibe is the best. Sometimes collaborations are deliberate, sometimes they just come together. I never know exactly what’s going to happen.”

In addition to her remarkable body of musical work, O’Neil is an accomplished multi-disciplinary artist, with work that touches on film and dance.

Around 2007, while living in Portland, Oregon, she met James Kidd, aka Jmy. Their paths crossed again in 2011, when O’Neil was working on a project that happened to be in the nonprofit dance studio and event space that Jmy runs in Los Angeles. With O’Neil moving to Los Angeles, it just made sense for the two to collaborate, which they did for a piece at REDCAT, or the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater. They’ve worked together regularly since.

“The dance community lives in its own world,” said O’Neil. “I get to play the kinds of improvised sounds and expressive figures, which, for many reasons, I can’t do in the context of my music world. My musical context is erased when I’m accompanying dancers and that opens up everything. I’m just the person in the corner making the sounds, and that’s really liberating. With the dance people I can jump in to the moments as they come, there is no guitar battle happening, no iconic jam to reproduce. Movement is happening in music and in bodies and air. It’s pretty fun to feel all that come together during a dance situation.”

It’s all about using her art, be that in terms of sound or visuals, to tell a story. And while she obviously spends a lot of time on creative projects, she tries to not overthink it, qualifying her metric for success as, “Anymore it’s important for me to imagine what my immediate reality and my fantasy goals are. Then it’s the little daily steps that make a shape I believe to good or worthy of my energy. Or if it’s simply something I need to figure out, just to figure it out.”