It’s early afternoon on March 14, and Jackie Venson is seated at a wooden picnic table on the first floor inside Cooper’s, a barbecue restaurant and bar in downtown Austin, Texas, that also serves as a concert venue on certain days.
This is one of those days. Upstairs in a long, open room with a low stage waits Venson’s guitar, ready for her set, which is part of a KLBJ-FM concert looking to attract the folks in town for the annual South by Southwest conference-festival.
Whether it’s an official SXSW showcase or an unaffiliated event like this, the Austin native relishes the chance to reach new listeners from around the world every March.
“Basically, I don’t have to go anywhere,” Venson says. “All of these people are here, so all I have to do is drive downtown and play a few showcases for free. Then they talk about it [on social media and in press outlets]. It’s a really great opportunity to get the word out about anything new.”
In Venson’s case, what’s new is Joy, an independent release out now being distributed by Systemic Music.
“I wasn’t planning on having an album [in 2019],” she says. “I was planning on releasing a single per month for the entire year of 2018. … In the execution of all these singles, I figured out that I needed to release a project this year. I couldn’t just release all this stuff and then disappear for two years.”
Venson drew from a wealth of original material for Joy. “It’s a new sound, and the production quality is way higher than in the past,” she says. Featuring choice selections from her singles series, new songs and revamped older tunes, the album showcases synthesizers, drum machines and samples in addition to Venson’s guitar work. (Among the standouts with at least two of those elements are “Only Have You,” “Witchcraft” and the title track.)
“It’s stuff that people have done in the past that’s worked, so I take those arranging ideas and I format them for my songs,” she explains. “I did the rock-trio thing for the longest time because I was trying to get Austin to claim me … to have a really strong hometown so that I can always have a place to work. So I focused on just getting Austin, and in that process I was a three-piece rock trio because that’s what Austin wants. Austin really loves that.”
Venson says she felt claimed by her home city after touring in 2017 with fellow Austinite Gary Clark Jr. “Now I want to try and get out of Texas and into the overall world,” she adds, confident that Lone Star State listeners will not feel as though she’s turned on them by expanding her horizons.
“There are very specific things you can do to avoid that,” she says. “Usually when people feel that way, it’s because you disappeared and you never show up in the community again. It doesn’t matter how big I am; I can make an effort to show up in the community, and I just have to keep on claiming Austin in my interviews.”
Venson ought to have her share of chances to do that in June, when she tours Europe, and in July, when she plays across the United States. Look for Venson to release a concert album this summer and her next studio effort in 2020.
— By Chris M. Junior
Jackie Venson on tour (schedule subject to change):
April 12: Paramount Theatre — Austin, Texas
April 13: Main Street Garden Park — Dallas
April 26: McGonigel’s Mucky Duck — Houston
April 27: Josey Records — Tulsa, Oklahoma
April 28: Guthrie Green — Tulsa, Oklahoma
Jackie Venson at Cooper’s in Austin, Texas, on March 14. Photo by Chris M. Junior