Leaving Los Angeles: Rickie Lee Jones Turns A Decade Into An Album

Leaving Los Angeles: Rickie Lee Jones Turns A Decade Into An Album

2:51pm Jul 22, 2015
The new album The Other Side of Desire marks Jones' first original material in years, spurred on by a life-changing move to New Orleans.
The new album The Other Side of Desire marks Jones' first original material in years, spurred on by a life-changing move to New Orleans.
David McClister / Courtesy of the artist

If you turned on a radio in 1979, there was very good chance you'd hear the music of Rickie Lee Jones. At only 24, she leapt onto the world stage with her big single "Chuck E.'s in Love." Rolling Stone called her "the dutchess of coolsville."

While Jones has continued to perform and record over the years, new original material has been scarce lately — until now. She says it took a move to New Orleans to break the streak and start work on what would become her latest album, The Other Side of Desire.

"The first inspiration was to leave L.A., because I just couldn't take it anymore: It was a lonely life, and most of it spent in a car. So I made the decision to try again," she says. "The moment I got here, I felt — what's the word — I felt naked. I felt reduced down to the lowest possible denominator, which is where you have to be to start again."

Speaking from her adopted hometown, Jones joined NPR's Arun Rath to discuss the new album and why aging out of fame can be a blessing. Hear their conversation at the audio link, and read an edited version below.

Arun Rath: So you move to New Orleans, and before too long we have this great album of new music. That definitely seems more like cause and effect than coincidence, right?

Rickie Lee Jones: I wanted to honor this city. I was just happy here, and it was feeding me, and I liked what I was hearing, and I liked the people I was meeting. So I said, "Why not? Let it in."

There's something I wanted to ask you about your vocal technique. You've been doing these things with your voice for years where I've been thinking, man, that's gotta hurt the vocal cords.

By "these things," do you mean singing? [Laughs]

Well, yeah! The type of singing you do where you go from a whisper to a scream to doing things like some of the gospel vocalists do. How are you able to do that all the time and keep it up?

To be honest, I still have the range, but absolute control is slightly wavering. And the good part about that is it brings a kind of sorrow — because it's not quite quavering from age, but it's slightly torn at the end of it. I'm enjoying it. The timbre and sound of my voice isn't ever going to change. This is how I sound when I sing. So far, it's holding up.

You talked about how quickly this album came together when you moved to New Orleans, but it came after a a long break. I think your fans, we somehow feel like you should have a regular output — and we had to wait a little while for this record.

I agree. I wish I had a regular output — something we could count on, like the moon and the sun. The creative process is really elusive, right? We wouldn't want to hold it down and describe it to you. Its beauty is that it's elusive, and it's also an ever-changing thing — what it serves, why it serves.

There were times when I said, "Let's hang it up. This is too dang hard!" And then I go, what are you talking about? When you lose money, it always helps lead you down a new path. I think once people have their house and their money and their power, there's nothing to lead you away from there, you know? Who would risk everything and try something new? It's not in our nature to do that.

In your liner notes for this album, you say, "I am happy with the loss of prestige." Have you really lost prestige? And why would that make you happy?

Loss of prestige is like this: I would never go to a concert, but if I did and said, "Oh, I would like to say hello, I'm Rickie Lee Jones" — they would say, "I don't know who you are. Who are you?" That's a powerful thing, to go from where I was when I started — not only me, but my whole generation — to people not knowing who you are.

It's not that I don't want money. I really would like some money! But if I start doing it for money, it always ends up going awry. That's my journey. It's not Beyoncé's, it's not somebody else's, it's mine. And I have to follow that. I have to know it, memorize it, sing it every day.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The inimitable Rickie Lee Jones got her start just down the road from where I'm sitting here at NPR West, singing in clubs in Venice Beach. Over the decades, she's raised the bar for pop vocalists. You can hear that in this live performance of "We Belong Together."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE BELONG TOGETHER")

RICKIE LEE JONES: (Singing) Climb upon the rooftop docks, looking out on the crosstown seas. And he wrapped his jacket across her shoulders, and he falls in front of her and hugs her and holds her on his knees...

RATH: While Rickie Lee Jones has continued to perform and record, she hasn't put out an album of original music in over a decade. But a year ago, she moved to New Orleans, which inspired a new record, "Other Side Of Desire." She says the first step was getting away from this city, where it all started.

JONES: The first inspiration was to leave LA because I just couldn't take it anymore. It was a lonely life and most of it spent in a car. So I made the decision to try again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAUNTED")

JONES: (Singing) It makes you feel like you've never been alone, never been alone.

The moment I got here, I felt - what's the word? I felt naked. I felt reduced down to the lowest possible denominator, which is where you have to be to start again. It was good.

RATH: Well, so you moved to New Orleans. And then before too long, we have this great album of new music. So that definitely seems more like cause and effect than coincidence, right?

JONES: I wanted to honor this city. You know, it was - I was just happy here. And it was feeding me, and I liked what I was hearing. And I liked the people I was meeting. And so I said, why not let it in? So I let it in, and it came back out and sounded like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAUNTED")

JONES: (Singing).

RATH: Something I wanted to ask you about your vocal technique 'cause you've been doing these things with your voice for years where I've been thinking, man, that's got to hurt the vocal cords.

JONES: By these things, do you mean singing (laughter)?

RATH: Yeah. Well, I mean, this type of singing you do where you go from - you can go from a whisper to a scream to doing things like some of the gospel vocalists do. Well, how are you able to do that all the time (laughter) and keep it up?

JONES: Well, to be honest, I still have the range, but absolute control is slightly wavering. And the good part about that is it brings a kind of a sorrow because it's not quite quavering from age, but it's slightly torn at the end of it. And so I'm enjoying it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "J'AI CONNAIS PAS")

JONES: (Singing) Trying to have some fun, didn't hurt no one but yourself and wasted. And it's a long, sad tale...

The timber and sound of my voice isn't ever going to change. This is how I sound when I sing. Yeah, so - so far it's holding up.

RATH: I'm speaking with Rickie Lee Jones. Her new album, "Other Side Of Desire," is out right now. You talked about how quickly this album came together when you moved to New Orleans. But it had come out of - after a period where, you know, I think your fans, we somehow feel like you should have, like, a regular output (laughter), and we had to wait a little while...

JONES: Yeah.

RATH: ...For this record. What was going on?

JONES: I agree. I wish I had a regular output, you know? Something we could count on like the moon and the sun.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICKIE LEE JONES SONG, "BLINDED BY THE HUNT")

JONES: The creative process is really elusive, right? We wouldn't want to hold it down and describe it to you. Its beauty is that it's elusive, so - and it's also an ever-changing thing. What it serves, why it serves in 1980 is probably different. The fact that I'm still interested in writing at 60 - truly interested - because there were times when I said let's hang it up (laughter). This is too dang hard, you know? And then I go, what are you talking about?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLINDED BY THE HUNT")

JONES: (Singing) Sometimes I tell myself it doesn't matter to me if I live in chains or if I fight to be free.

When you lose money, it always helps lead you down a new path, really. I think once people have their house and their money and their power, there's nothing to lead you away from there, you know? Who would risk everything and try something new? We just - it's not in our nature to do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLINDED BY THE HUNT")

JONES: (Singing) 'Cause I'm blinded by the hunt. I am blinded by the hunt.

RATH: You're talking about how it can be valuable for an artist to really kind of - to lose everything. You have this interesting line in your liner notes of this album. You say I am happy with the loss of prestige. First off, have you really lost prestige, and why would that make you happy?

JONES: The loss of prestige is like this. I would never go to a concert. But if I did and said, oh, I'd like to say hello. I'm Rickie Lee Jones. And they said, I don't know who you are. Who? Who are you? And that's a powerful thing to go from where I was when I started to not only me, but my whole generation doesn't know who you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INFINITY")

JONES: (Singing) 'Cause this is where we've always been. It will always come again. It hasn't even happened yet. We're here and in infinity.

It's not that I don't want money. I really would like some money. But if I'd start doing it for money, it always ends up going awry. That's my journey. It's not Beyonce's, not somebody else's - mine. And I have to follow that. I have to follow that. I have to know it, memorize it, sing it every day.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICKIE LEE JONES SONG, "VALTZ DE MON PERE - LOVERS' OATH")

RATH: Rickie Lee Jones, singer-songwriter, cultural force. I don't know how else I could describe you. You're just Rickie Lee Jones.

JONES: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: Back now with a new album, "Other Side Of Desire." Rickie, this has been a blast speaking with you. Thank you.

JONES: Thank you for considering me on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

RATH: You are now considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VALTZ DE MON PERE - LOVERS' OATH")

JONES: (Singing) We'll stay together. We'll never part... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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