Jean was interviewed by Isaac Davis, Jr for Newton's Cave Online Magazine
Isaac: We'd love to know about your inspirations growing up. I hear so many influences in your music. How old were you when you first discovered music? Is there any kind of musical history in your family?
There was always music in my family. My mom and dad played piano and my dad played classical guitar. I loved Odetta, Martha Schlalam, classical music, showtunes, and of course, pop radio. I was always drawn to vocal harmonies whether it be pop, folk, classical, jazz. I would always harmonize at the top of my lungs with whatever was on. I thought I was pretty hot. Since I was 2, I was always performing in front of my parents and anyone else who would listen. As the Willy the Shake says, "all the world is a stage." And for me it was.
Isaac: What drew you to pick up an instrument in the first place?
My big thing was singing, and I wanted to accompany myself, so guitar and piano were the obvious choices. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be in a band. I got my first guitar when I was in elementary school. My school was also recruiting kids to join the orchestra or band. I thought that would be really cool, so I said that I wanted to play bass or drums. Because I was musical, and very tiny, they talked me into playing the oboe. Don't ever give an oboe to a 5th grader if you want them to keep playing. Unless of course that 5th grader was drawn to it for some odd reason. Otherwise, ridicule will befall them! It's such a tough instrument. I wonder what would have happened if I was allowed to play bass or drums. I also was given piano and guitar lessons and eventually, voice lessons. Piano and voice were classical, and I had a teacher named Mr. Sweet who taught me folk stuff - travis picking, strum patterns, stuff like that. I wanted to rock out, and always heard a harder, more electric sound in my head, but hey, what was a kid to do? When Mr. Sweet quit teaching to go on the road, I was given classical guitar lessons. I was not a fan of that.
Isaac: As you hit your teenage years, did you know that this was what you would be doing for the rest of your life?
Yes. I knew I wanted to be a performer and I loved to sing and dance more than anything. Since I had already been taking music lessons, and had written a musical with my girlfriend in 7th grade called "Mayonnaise and Raw Eggs," as well as songs I used to perform with her (again, we belted harmonies into the night, down the halls, in the bathrooms, wherever we could hit a major 3rd or a minor second). We wrote songs and performed them at chorus concerts, talent shows. I still wanted to be in a band. One of the big problems, is that I never knew the lyrics to the songs! Can you believe it? I was so focused on the harmonies, arrangements, and the emotional impact, the lyrics were kind of second to all that. Maybe that's why I spend so much time on lyrics now. My dancing was limited to putting on records in the basement. I was doing "air band" before it was invented...
Isaac: Is there a performer in any genre of pop culture that you would like to work with?
My first choice is Joni Mitchell. She is the epitome of a true artist. Her lyrics are poetry, her music was outside of the box, and still is, she paints. Imogene Heap especially because of "Hide and Seek." If I could do something like that, wow! It pulls me every time. Beck, Moby because of his song "Temptation." That and Beck's "Sea Change" album were the inspiration, production and vibe-wise for my latest cd "Breathing Under Water." Plus, they aren't afraid to change it up. Their sound isn't easily categorized cuz they explore so many different grooves, vibes, instrumentation. When I did my first cd, "Wild Heart Girl," I was criticized for having different styles of songs on the same album. I can't help it. I get bored if I hear the same song over and over. I would love to open for Aimee Mann. She's so unassuming, and is committed to being true to herself. I love that about her. I might also like to work with Madonna, cuz she's got this work ethic that I really admire, and her shows kick ass. She's an entertainer, and that's where I'm coming from. I have a hard time playing live when I can't put on a show. I'm not a brooding personality. I like a contrast of funny, honesty, in your face, and intimate. I would love to do a co-write with Steve Seskin or Kara DioGuardi, she's a genius.
Isaac: Who are some musicians that you really like, present or past?
In no particular order: Peter, Paul and Mary, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Nickelback, Wah!, Kurt Elling, Madeline Eastman, Miles Davis, Nirvana, B52s, Liz Phair, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Hayes, Aimee Mann, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Rolling Stones. Gosh, so many and I know I'm leaving some out.
Isaac: What is your ultimate goal with your music career?
I would love to play for large audiences of people that love my songs so much that they know the words. Not from an ego point of view, although it might have been that way about 10 years ago, but because it's so healing to resonate with a lyric, a melody, and to sing it. I used to sit in my room and sing the songs of the moment for me. I might listen to an album from cover to cover for months. I want to inspire and move people, as I have been inspired and moved. And to be in the presence of those people who resonated with my stories,
that would be such an honor. And I'd love to win a Grammy for best song or best new album or something. You know, come out of the dark, and have people go, "Whoa! where did she come from? Who is this Jean Mazzei?" I've often felt like a dark horse, and I'd like that horse to come from behind and place in the big show. Hey, I think there's a song in there.
Isaac: What has been some of the obstacles it has taken to get this far in your career?
Basically me getting in my own way and doubting myself. Those have been the biggest obstacles. Also, I loved so many things - dance, painting, acting, biology, languages - that I found it hard to focus. I left music to become a dancer after I graduated college (music and dance double major) because that's where I got a job first. I went back to music about 7 years later, and eventually started writing music again. I let myself get jaded because I was so optimistic and loving what I was doing. That optimism didn't "fit in" in the music scene. That was really stupid of me. You get what you put out, so eventually I got bitter and jaded. I forgot how much I loved performing and writing, it kind of took a toll on me for awhile. The upside is that I learned that no matter how much I don't fit in, I need to be true to myself, true to my soul. Otherwise I'm basically miserable. And I like being a joyful person with a dark side.
Isaac: Would you recommend this "field" to others who are aspiring to be musicians like you?
Only if it speaks to you. Don't do it because you think it's cool. Do it because you love it. And like any relationship, it will show you who you really are. Don't dilute who you are. I did that for awhile, and it really sucked... On so many levels.
Isaac: Describe one piece of advice you've have been given to by others in the music industry.
Hone your craft. Love what you do. At first I really understood that advice. Then the world kicked in and kicked me around a bit. If you're like most, myself included, at some point, there will probably be burnout. That's when it's important to remember the "love what you do" part. When the joy goes, it's the beginning of the end, whether of your career, or of yourself. Take time to remember that you love what you do. The "hone your craft" advice still stands.
Isaac: What genre of music do you consider most of your music?
Alternative. I think. That leaves me pretty open, right? When I'm solo, it's more like caffeinated folk-rock, when I do the duo, it's acoustic fusion.
Isaac: What has been your favorite piece of work?
My latest cd "Breathing Under Water." The whole experience was amazing. I hired a fantastic, creative producer from LA - Ronan Chris Murphey. After our initial "getting to know you" sessions, he told me to write 20 songs to come in with. I came in with 35. We honed it down to 20, and then to 16 and then to what's on the CD. He really "got" me, "got" my songs, and it was so inspiring to hear my raw material through his ears. I learned so much. The recording sessions were incredible in that he has this genius for creating alchemy. He brought in G.E.Stinson (guitar, Shadoxfax), Ian Sheridan (bass, Jason Mraz), and Victor Bissetti (drums, percussion, Los Lobos). After I'd play the song through a couple of times on my guitar, they'd clarify anything, make notes on their charts, and ask me what I had in mind. For the most part, I told them to do what they wanted. They understood the essence of the song, would discuss feeling, vision, or whatever, then we'd record. They were really happy to stretch out and be creative, and I was more than happy to hear what they brought to the table. I didn't want to get in their way. It's not like we didn't have vision. Ronan and I knew what we were going for, and I trusted him to get the performances. And he did.
I also really like this big red painting I did called "Birth." It's kind of ripped and woven at the top and has hands and a head coming out of it. You can check it out on my website.
Isaac: How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a demo CD?
Glad you asked! www.jeanmazzei.com is the website. also myspace.com/flyingvenus. I'm on ITunes under Jean Mazzei, as well as my band, Flying Venus. And I'm on cdbaby as well under those 2 names. For a more personal touch, I'm on Facebook (Jean Mazzei). I haven't begun to tweet yet.
Isaac: Is there anyone you’d like to acknowledge for offering financial or emotional support?
My husband John, and the Eternal Flame that burns in all of us.
Isaac: Any last words?
The world is such a rich place right now. Things are happening so fast. . If you've decided that music is your path, never forget why you started. Don't let the light of your calling be dimmed by the whirlwind. Take time to love what you do.