Beneath The Surface of Jennifer Hartswick’s Ocean Floor

Between working with Trey Anastasio, Wyllys and the New York Hustler Ensemble and Van Ghost, our friend and longtime HT supporter Jennifer Hartswick has spent the majority of the past few years playing other peoples’ music. Somewhere along the line she found some time to pour into her own work and the result is her long-in-the-making third album Ocean Floor, which is currently available through iTunes, CD Baby, and a variety of other outlets. We recently spoke with Hartswick about the making of what she calls a “a true JHB [Jennifer Hartswick Band] record” in a wide-ranging series of conversations.

[Photo by Jeremy Smith]

For Ocean Floor, which combines some of the funk sensibilities of 2003′s Fuse with the more jazz-oriented approach of 2007′s True, Jennifer was joined by longtime collaborators Nick Cassarino (guitar), Dezron Douglas (bass), Joe Davidian (keys) and Cory Healey (drums) as well as Russ Lawton, Bruce Sklar and Tony Barba. Hartswick’s relationships with Cassarino and Douglas go back over a decade. “I met Nick 11 years ago, I’ve known and been playing with him since he was 14. He was a brilliant student of Dave Grippo. I was judging a battle of the bands when he was a freshman in high school and obviously he won – all the girls were screaming his name,” Jennifer told us. “I went to college with Dezron and I’ve known him for 11 years. We’ve been playing together constantly throughout that time. Great spirit, great player, we just sort of understand each other. I was really psyched that he was available,” she concluded.

This album was a year and a half in the making, though Hartswick had other intentions when she first started to record. “We started in Chicago in April of 2010. At first I was just going to do an EP, so I recorded half of it in Chicago and then I got really busy and started writing a bunch more and thought why not just make it a full album? We recorded the other half of it in Vermont with a couple of different musicians,” Jennifer said. Even though a year and a half went by between the first recording session and the release of Ocean Floor, it wasn’t as if Hartswick spent all that time in the studio. “In total we spent four days in the studio making this record, the recording was actually done really quickly because that’s the way I like to do things. I can’t see spending weeks and weeks and weeks in a studio on eight songs or ten songs, I got distracted as I often do,” she finished.

When Jennifer first set about making Ocean Floor, the goal was to present a portrayal of where she was it in her career. “I’ve done a lot of other people’s work for the last five, six, seven years – I just wanted to do something that represented where I am and what I love to do and who I love to bring together. A lot of people are kind of surprised by the vibe of the album because the last album was so different,” Hartswick told us. There’s a definite evolution from Fuse to True to Ocean Floor about which Jennifer noted, “It shows the progression of who I am as a singer, a trumpet player, an arranger, a bandleader and a human.”

Manny Sanchez of I.V. Labs Studios in Chicago was behind the boards for the making of Ocean Floor and had a large role in its production. “He was a great unbiased ear. Part of what makes [Ocean Floor] sound cohesive is that Manny mixed and mastered the whole thing. It’s very IV Labs heavy, I love that place. The vibe in there is phenomenal, there’s such a family vibe. It’s a great room as far as sound and gear is concerned, but it’s also got an incredible vibe about it and Manny’s family – an incredible asset who really helped me a lot with the record in every way,” Jennifer explained.

The timing of Ocean Floor’s release during the winter months was fortuitous. Hartswick loves hunkering down with music when it’s cold outside and hopes her fans do as well, “You get to explore stuff as you sit in your own cozy room with blankets on and listen to music, it’s one of my favorite things to do. In the summer time you’re distracted by other things. You might go outside and put headphones on but you’re not paying attention. I write a lot of music in the winter too, because I can’t do anything else.”

Attendees of November’s Bear Creek Music Festival got a sneak peek both at the album and her ideal version of the Jennifer Hartswick Band. Why Bear Creek? “What I love about Bear Creek is that everybody is really welcome to sit in with everybody and if you’re not family when you get there, you’re family by the end of those four days. It’s really a remarkable festival in that way,” Hartswick explained.

Bear Creek was also the site of her most recent gig as part of Trey Anastasio’s band and she raves about where the septet was at during their last tour, “We landed on something that particular tour which we’ve never landed on before, that we’ve been striving for for years. We all trust each other and we all know what’s expected of each other and we all rely on each other. It’s really about trust and just saying ‘yes’ to whatever anybody does. If someone takes the lead, we all go with them. That’s something that hasn’t quite clicked before. The band was really functioning as a unit for the first time in a long time.” She also appreciated the format of the most recent tour as opposed to the acoustic/electric format of the ensemble’s first tour in February 2010, “It’s so nice to play two sets. I really missed playing two sets. I feel like when we got up there we’d just be getting warmed up and it was time to stop.”

[Photo by Jeremy Smith]

Jennifer has put this album out herself after working with a label for True. She had this to say about the lack of opportunities for developing artists, “The music industry is definitely an ever-evolving monster and you just need to ride the wave of whatever comes and be innovative. It’s just not the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago, there are no huge record labels with lots of cash that want to pump money into unknown people.” Despite all the changes to the industry, some things haven’t changed. “The oldest way is still the best way – word of mouth sells more music than anything else.”

What’s next for Hartswick? “Van Ghost is releasing a record in a couple months and I will be involved in some extensive touring in support of that. I’ll be doing some shows with Soulive, Wyllys and Moksha as well,” Jennifer told us. Those hoping for Jennifer Hartswick Band gigs will have to wait a little while longer. Hartswick finished, “The JHB is oozing with sought after musicians, so getting everyone together at the same time is incredibly challenging. But definitely look for us this summer.”

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