Pi Jacobs

Insightful Americana songstress Pi Jacobs joins us at Burbank, CA’s lovely cafe Romancing The Bean to discuss new directions in her music, touring stories, and making time for personal relationships.

You recently released your timely single “No Sin To Be Poor,” which is based on your own personal experiences. We’d love to hear more about how the song came to be and what inspired you to release it now.

Pi Jacobs: The song was inspired by a memory of standing in line with my mom to get food commodities when I was about four or five, and getting attitude from people walking by. It was the first time I realized I was “poor,”  but even though we were poor, my mom and I always had a lot of fun, and we’d dance it out on the regular. I think dancing is still one of my favorite stress relievers, and I find myself doing it these days a lot.  We had always wanted to do a video for the song, but finding ourselves in quarantine, we decided to make a crowd-sourced video.  People sent us such amazing photos and videos, and I just love how the video came out. It’s really uplifting, even though it’s a serious topic.  We’re keeping the dialogue going with our “aggregating” website, www.NoSin2BPoor.com, in which anything you share on socials with the hashtag #NoSin2BPoor automatically posts up there. We want it to be a way for people to express themselves in these stressful times, to know they’re not alone, that a lot of us are going to need help these days, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

That’s so amazing to hear what you’re doing to build a community throughout these crazy times. And you had also released your album Two Truths And A Lie earlier this year. Would you like to give us a little bit of insight as to what listeners get to expect lyrically and instrumentally? 

Pi: Yeah! Let me start with musically, it’s very singer-songwriter type music, but it’s still pretty groovy. Got to work with this really great drummer Butch Norton, who plays with Lucinda Williams and a bunch of other big people. Our goal going into it  was just to do a bunch of stuff that was really groovy. I play electric hollowbody guitar, and it’s got this sort of warm, jazz-y sound. It’s not jazz in and of itself, that’s just the tone of my guitar. *laughs* I also work with two brothers that respectively play upright bass and dobro, so there’s a lot of that and a lot of vocals as well. When I can have it, I like to have two backup singers that are female because the two guys also sing, so it will end up being about five singers on stage.

Perfect harmony!

Pi: Yeah! I love singing with other people, it’s one of my favorite things to do in music. And then lyrically, I started out with this concept that I wanted to write some songs about women for this record. There’re so many heroic and interesting women that don’t get songs written about them, and when you really think about it, most of the songs about women are love songs or about how beautiful they are or how they’re mean or songs about their mother – stereotypes. I thought, ‘Well, what if I could write about all these different characters and just give them a little love, you know?’ So that was the idea. There’s eleven songs with eleven different characters who are all different. 

Just spreading the love, the much needed love, between the female community! 

Pi: Exactly! I mean, it didn’t start out to be a super feministic thing, I just thought it would be cool to have a bunch of songs that were little stories. 

I always love albums like that! Just getting to hear a compilation of stories and different backgrounds is amazing. 

Pi: Thank you!

Which song would you say was your favorite to write and record for the album? 

Pi: I’d say the first song, “Broken Cup,” was so fun to write because it happened almost instantaneously. It was more or less written in about five minutes, and that’s always this great feeling because it feels like you’re sort of channeling something and you’re not trying too hard. So that was great! To record, I think my favorite one to record was “Diana (The Hunter).” It’s kind of a dark, scary song, and I wasn’t sure about it at first because it’s such a crazy topic. It’s about this woman in Juarez, and basically what was happening was they had this situation where girls had been disappearing for a long time, like twenty years. It’s a terrible thing and the police didn’t seem to be able to stop it, so a few years ago, this woman started going and shooting these bus drivers that were in on the whole scheme. They don’t know for sure, but they think she was this middle aged woman who was fed up with what was going on, but they never caught her. I was like, ‘I should write a song about that,’ but then I got sort of freaked out by the song because it has violence in it. I was co-writing with my friend Ted Kamp, and he was like, ‘No, no, no, you have to finish the song!’ I don’t usually write stuff like that, but we finished it 

It was a challenge for you!

Pi: Yes, it was. But it was fun, and it’s really tough sounding. 

How would you say that the songwriting and recording process for this album was similar or different than that of your past work?

Pi: Ever since I signed to my label, which was in 2016, they’ve wanted new material and they’ve wanted it, not immediately, but as fast as I could get it to them. So what I did was I made myself a schedule, and I treated it like a job. I would go sit in my little studio every day from 10AM to 4PM, and sometimes good things would happen and sometimes nothing would happen, but just going and sitting in there and just showing up for it makes a difference and eventually stuff would start to flow. So that’s a little different than in the past. It used to be, like, I’d write a song and then two years later I’d write another four songs. This was a more concentrated effort. 

It’s always cool to hear about the different types of tactics that you use for your body of work.

Pi: Yeah! You’ve got to keep it fresh! *laughs*

Sometimes you get into a routine and you get bored. 

Pi: Exactly.

So going into what you were saying since you signed to your label, they’ve been very patient and not badgering you to pump out music, modern music listening right now has been extremely focused on like short EPs and constant single releases as opposed to a full-length album. Why do you think music consumers nowadays are in that kind of mindset when listening to music? 

Pi: Well, if you really think about it, the album or the CD is a just thing of the past. Most people will listen on a streaming site or on playlists where they might not even know who the artist is, and I think that’s really steered people away from albums. I’m not exactly sure why the label is so committed to albums, but I think it has something to do with the way that they use physical distributors and where they want to have a full body of work. But it is changing really fast, and even for this record we were like, ‘How many CDs do we press? I don’t know.’ We do have them because there are people that still like them, particularly when I go to Europe a lot of people will buy them. I also have download cards because sometimes it’s just easier, or even now, we might have stuff we do with Spotify where you can pre-save the album. We’re adapting, I guess. I personally really like doing EPs, but it’s just a matter of my label wanting albums, but once I get in there I’ll embrace it. I love writing, so however much they want me to write, I’ll do it. *laughs* 

Yeah! And I mean, you got a really awesome work filled with many different types of stories, so that’s always a good thing getting to that type of final product. 

Pi: Yeah! I feel proud of it as a body of work, you know. Maybe it’s old fashioned to have a concept and a whole album’s worth of material, but that’s just how it works for me now. 

It’s much appreciated for sure. On the listener scale, it’s very obvious when there are filler songs that were just thrown in there. 

Pi: Right, and that’s not what I want to do with my work. 

Definitely not. 

Photo Courtesy of Shots By Morrison

So you mentioned doing some touring between the United States and Europe, have you seen any specific differences or similarities in terms of how the local music scene is, or artist payment, or even just how shows are run? 

Pi: I’ve been to Europe about five times now.

Lucky! *both laugh* 

Pi: It’s really wonderful. Those are my two favorite things in life, traveling and music. I just love it! I’ve never been able to bring the whole band with me though. Financially it’s always made sense that I go over solo. Audiences in Europe are really different, and they differ from country to country. The first time I went to Germany for instance, I thought I was bombing my whole first show, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, they hate me!’ They’re very quiet and very still, especially compared to Americans and how rowdy we are. If they like you they let you know, if they don’t like you they let you know. *both laugh* But yeah, Germans are very quiet and polite, and then after the show, people were coming up saying, ‘I want five CDs’ or ‘ What was that one song about the trip down the river?’ They were really listening, and though the whole time I thought they didn’t like me. *laughs* A different scenario, people in the U.K. are also really passionate about music, but they’re kind of a little more rowdy than the Germans. But they will also pay close attention, like, I’ve seen people in the U.K. in a bar playing pool, and some little band starts to play in the corner of the bar, and they’ll set the pool cues down and turn around to listen. That would never happen here! But every place is different, and the fun thing about traveling and doing music in all these places is that you get to learn to deliver to those people in different ways. 

It keeps you on your toes!

Pi: Absolutely!

And speaking of touring, if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour? 

Pi: *laughs* Let me think about this! I’m just pulling this out of a hat, but I’d choose Lizzo because she just seems so dang fun. 

Yes! Her Grammy performance was fire! 

Pi: So good! She sings her butt off and she’s just amazing! So definitely her, and then on the total other spectrum, I love Billie Eilish and think she’d be fantastic to tour with. And then, you know, for legacy and old-school sake, I’m a huge Prince fan, always have been. I think that would be such a lesson to be around him doing music because his band has some of the greatest musicians in the world, and he had such a huge catalog. His band used to know every single one of his songs because he would just call things out on the spot, so they’d have to know something, like, two-hundred and fifty songs.

Wow! I never knew that. That is a fun fact for the books that’s for sure. 

Pi: Yeah, it is. So yeah, I think going on tour with any of those artists would be a great learning experience. Gosh, *laughs* I don’t know what we would call that tour, but it would be really good!

Photo Courtesy of Alex Loftus

So getting into everyone’s favorite topic – social media. *Pi laughs* It’s pretty much taken over as the prominent form of marketing, whether we like to accept it or not. 

Pi: Yeah, totally.

Do you feel that it helps independent artists to make a name for themselves? Do you think it adds up a little bit of pressure to constantly have stuff to share? 

Pi: I think it’s both. I think I can do stuff now that was not possible, like, when you go back to the hay days of record companies, nobody could put out a record on their own. You had to be signed to do something like that. 

Even from a technology standpoint, the resources just didn’t exist to create full works at home. 

Pi: Right, totally. And not just the creation of it, but how to promote it as well, and with that, social media is a great promotion tool, but it does mean that you have to constantly be saying something. If you’re an artist, you’re still a human. You’re gonna have weeks where you there’s nothing going on, but you’re supposed to post something. I try to have fun with it and keep it creative. Sometimes when I’m touring, I don’t have time to make posts. 

Or you literally don’t even have internet. *both laugh*

Pi: I actually started doing this thing when I was in Europe where I would put my phone up on the dashboard of my car when I was driving, and I would just talk to my phone like, ‘Hey guys! So last night I was performing in this place and now I’m on my way to this other place.’ I thought it was really stupid at first, but people really liked those posts. 

It gives off a little personal touch! ‘Live From The Road!’ 

Pi: Yeah! I mean, I think social media does add a little bit of pressure, but as long as you’re authentic. 

Absolutely! We love to see your real side! 

Pi: Yeah! I did a series last summer where I would learn a different cover song every week. On Saturday morning I’d get up in my pajamas, not put any makeup on, and just record me singing the song. I wanted to do it because I have all these nice videos where I’m all done up, and I mean, that’s really fun and I know people like that, but I’m a real person too, so they’re up there if you want to see what I look like with no makeup. *laughs*

As a female musician, do you feel that women in the music industry need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful?

Pi: In the past, I would have always said ‘yes,’ but I think it’s getting a little more expansive now and I’m very happy to see that. I feel like for many years, people would always think of Madonna as being the most successful female artist. Obviously she’s super glam and super sexy and all that kind of stuff, but what I really like is that now you have artists like Billie Eilish who has this trippy presentation. It’s unique and not what everybody expects. I think it’s starting to change for the better. For me, I really like to dress up and get all done up and stuff, but I want to be able to do it in my way and not just do it to please a man or men in general. I think as long as you own it and do it for yourself, you can do whatever you want and whatever you feel the most comfortable with. As an artist, you’re trying to figure out how you present yourself. For me, it’s a lot about clothes too, and I’ve sort of changed my look a little bit with every album. For this album I had been really getting into suits, and one thing I like about wearing suits is that it’s sort of like a uniform, so I didn’t have to stress out about what I was going to wear for a show because I have five awesome suits that I love and know they fit. It’s like, ‘Boom! Done! I look like I’m ready for work!’ 

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Fasano

As a female musician, do you feel that women in the music industry need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful?

Pi: In the past, I would have always said ‘yes,’ but I think it’s getting a little more expansive now and I’m very happy to see that. I feel like for many years, people would always think of Madonna as being the most successful female artist. Obviously she’s super glam and super sexy and all that kind of stuff, but what I really like is that now you have artists like Billie Eilish who has this trippy presentation. It’s unique and not what everybody expects. I think it’s starting to change for the better. For me, I really like to dress up and get all done up and stuff, but I want to be able to do it in my way and not just do it to please a man or men in general. I think as long as you own it and do it for yourself, you can do whatever you want and whatever you feel the most comfortable with. As an artist, you’re trying to figure out how you present yourself. For me, it’s a lot about clothes too, and I’ve sort of changed my look a little bit with every album. For this album I had been really getting into suits, and one thing I like about wearing suits is that it’s sort of like a uniform, so I didn’t have to stress out about what I was going to wear for a show because I have five awesome suits that I love and know they fit. It’s like, ‘Boom! Done! I look like I’m ready for work!’ 

Nice! And how do you balance your personal life with your professional life? 

Pi: I don’t. *laughs* I am really committed to my family and my friendships. I’ve got a lot of friends, but I have five really close friends and they live all over the world, and I just try to make sure that I check in with then and not let too much time go by. And with my husband, he’s also really into his work so we give each other a lot of space, but we also make time to have dates or to connect. Like, when I’m touring we’ll talk every day on the phone, or when we’re both in town but are both really busy, we try to have at least one date night a week or something. Plus I have a dog, and having a dog is awesome! Really keeps you grounded, you know? You’ve got to walk them, you’ve got to clean up after them. 

It’s really just a child with fur. *both laugh*

Pi: And who always loves you no matter what! 

Yeah! They’re not going to grow up to be teenagers and resent the entire world. *both laugh*

Pi: Exactly! Kudos to people with kids, but my dog is about all I can make time for. 

If you could give your younger self any advice in regards to what you’ve experienced in music or in life in general, what advice would you give her? 

Pi: This is such a good question. I’ve been doing music my whole life, but when I started to write songs and really tried to be a songwriter, I think I had imposter syndrome. I was doing it and I wanted to do it, and I was learning and trying to get better and working really hard, but I don’t think I took myself seriously enough. So I would tell my younger self to ‘Take this seriously. You do have talent, you do mean it, so go for it! Don’t have reservations. Just jump right in.’ That’s what I would say to the younger me.

Photo Courtesy of Sean Rosenthal

What do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?

Pi: First of all, I hope that it’s fun and pleasing and yummy in a music sense with hooks that you can remember and words you want to sing along to. That’s my goal musically. And then as far as the lyrics, I just want people to have some other stories and other songs about women that aren’t just about how hot they look. There’s a lot of varieties of women out there. *laughs*

All of us are hot in our own way! 

Pi: Exactly! 

And to end us off, apart from the release of “No Sin To Be Poor,” what big plans should we be expecting from you in the near future? 

Pi: It’s hard to say what the future holds, but I started a weekly live stream called The Midday Snack.  It’s every Monday through Friday at 12:15 PST on my Facebook and Instagram. I play a one song mini concert, and shoot the !@# with folks that tune in.  It’s a lot of fun! 

Check out Pi Jacobs on her Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify!

About Romancing The Bean:

Burbank is filled with a plethora of charming shops and cafes, and Romancing The Bean is certainly one to visit if you’ve got a love for vintage glamour with a hint of goth.  Dark neutrals and cool tones bring the style for the whole shop together, while unique pieces like large ornate mirrors and chandeliers can’t help but catch your eye the minute you walk inside. Choose from enjoying your order at one of their posh tufted benches set along their black bricked wall (complete with marble bistro tables and cushy armchairs), their long dark wood table with matching brushed silver chairs, or basking in the sunshine (or under an umbrella) of their European style sidewalk seating area.

And speaking of order, guess we should mention their menu huh? For food options, Romancing The Bean has an extensive list of breakfast favorites, healthy salads, and bread options of the sandwich (including pressed sandwiches) and wrap variety. For drinks, you’ve got fresh juices and smoothies that are perfect for warm L.A. days as well as hot, iced, or blended organic coffees and teas. Since we happened to be there when love was in the air, they also had a fun batch of seasonal specials, in which the Sweetheart Latte‘s white chocolate and raspberry goodness was calling my name. All in all, Romancing The Bean is an adorable cafe for those who love admiring decorative interior and the joy of coffee.

Check out more about Romancing The Bean on their Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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