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Jill’s Interview

Jill’s interview lasted exactly 51 minutes.

“Longest interview yet,” I thought to myself. It honestly didn’t even feel that long. Every second of our conversation was a moment that held some kind of merit, some kind of valuable lesson in it. Among the many things that she and I agreed upon, the one that stuck out to me the most was this idea of community, and how music really is just a conversation between you and the people around you.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. We had worked our way up to that point in the conversation; everything we discussed beforehand can serve as a valuable segue into what ended up becoming the crux of our interview together.

It’s funny. I met Jill back in the summer. I had gone out one night with a couple of friends to the home of a friend of a friend; they were having a get-together out on the roof of their apartment building.

I had gotten completely and utterly drunk that night, but one of the few things I remembered was that I had met three girls up on that roof and that one of them had said that she was in a band. That girl was Jill. Jill Olesen.

I reached out to Jill afterwards. Over the course of the next couple of months, she and I got to know each other a little better. Our bands played together, I came out to see her band perform, she came out to see my band perform, and we became pretty good friends. So, once the idea for this project came about, she was one of the first people I thought about interviewing. I asked, she agreed, and we set up a date for it.

The day came. I set my phone down on the kitchen table, and the two of us got to talking.

Naturally, I learned a lot about Jill in our interview. She was from the small town of Greenwich, Connecticut and grew up in Cos Cob, a relatively quiet neighborhood therein. As I do with every musician that I interview, I asked Jill general questions about what her life was like growing up. Did her parents encourage her to play music? Was there a lot of music being played in the house? Things like that.

Whenever I prepare for these interviews, I want the question of “what was it that made you want to be a musician?” to be answered without it being asked. It never works to ask that question head-on; by having a simple conversation with someone, you can learn what the answer is organically. So, through our conversation, I learned that she did, in fact, grow up with musically-supportive parents who were formative in shaping their daughter’s tastes. Whether it was her dad playing some Kanye West or her mom putting on some of her alt-country faves, she took it all in and fell in love with the idea of one day playing music herself. Evidently, she didn’t let that dream just be a dream.

By the time Jill moved to New York, fresh out of high school and ready for whatever came her way, she was already a classically-trained saxophonist, a pianist, a bassist, and had been in her fair share of musical projects back home in Connecticut. However, what she hadn’t yet had was a creative outlet for her own material—she hadn’t yet found a way to express herself in the way she wanted to. But that would all change once she started university.

At NYU, Jill met Ethan Williams. In Ethan, Jill found a creative partner who she was finally able to work with on a couple of songs she had written throughout her years back home in Connecticut. As luck would have it, Ethan was from Connecticut, too.

In between semesters and over holiday breaks during the school year, Jill and Ethan recorded material that would form the basis of what would later become Punchlove, the band they started together. The first couple of songs they recorded were songs that were written by either Jill or Ethan, but none were songs that were written by both of them. This, Jill admitted, was due in large part to the reluctance she displayed when it came to letting her songs be creatively shaped by anyone other than herself. Having previously been in a band where everyone was an equal participant in the creative process, Ethan was initially taken aback by her refusal to let him contribute, but, ultimately, he let her do things the way she wanted to do them.

So, for a long time, the band’s music was written in this way, with Jill and Ethan writing their songs separately and coming together to record them once they were finished. However, as time went on and more and more members were recruited into the band, it became difficult to maintain this method of writing. The band began to house more creative minds and, naturally, everyone wanted to become more involved in the creative process.

Eventually, Jill realized that, if the band was going to function as a unit, she would need to relinquish control of the material she brought to the table and let everyone contribute to her songs. The relinquishing of that control wasn’t something that happened easily, however.

‘The question of why it wasn’t easy was what led to our conversation taking a bit more of an introspective tone and to what I consider to be the most resonant part of the interview. From this point on, Jill and I began to really dig deep into why the need to control the creative process comes about, what it means to let go of that control and what the act of letting go ultimately does in the grander scheme of things.’The question of why it wasn’t easy was what led to our conversation taking a bit more of an introspective tone and to what I consider to be the most resonant part of the interview. From this point on, Jill and I began to really dig deep into why the need to control the creative process comes about, what it means to let go of that control, and what the act of letting go ultimately does in the grander scheme of things.

Anything that anyone ever creates is something that they would immediately consider personal—personal to themselves, their thoughts, their tastes, their ideas. It’s something you want to protect; to shield from the world and keep from any outside influences that may turn your work into something you no longer identify with. In that sense, music truly can be such an egotistical thing. But not in the traditional sense; not in the connotatively negative sense that we’ve come to attach to the word. No, I mean to say that music is, quite literally, a product of one’s ego. I

n an even more literal sense, everything is, of course, a product of one’s ego. However, music—and creativity as a whole—is a form of expressing that ego in a particularly vulnerable way. During the process of expressing yourself through music, you’re opening yourself up in an intensely personal way. It’s you telling the world that these are the things you like in a song. It’s you saying, “I thought these chords were good enough to sing a melody over,” and, “I thought these lyrics were good enough to sing that melody with.” It’s all such an open display of your own thoughts and ideas that, when it comes to the idea of letting someone else in on that process, anyone would become defensive.

Me, Jill, and anyone else who’s ever had to open themselves up in that way had initially been reluctant to do so due to the simple fact that letting your creativity be shaped by anyone other than yourself really is an extremely vulnerable thing to be put through. But, in a band, things just do not and cannot work that way. In a band that truly works together, you have to be willing to let yourself be vulnerable. Otherwise, there’s just no point in being one.

In a lot of ways, being in a band truly is like being in a marriage. You have to be willing to trust your bandmates and have faith in their abilities as musicians. Otherwise, the band will fall apart, and you will have lost something special as a result. Jill and I both understood that, and we had both been through the experience of casting aside our egos for the sake of our bands. However, the trade-off ends up being so much more rewarding because, as a result of opening ourselves up, what we have also both experienced is the beauty of collaboration.

The idea of collaboration is an inherently liberating one. It’s one that involves the release, the surrendering of one’s ego. You have to be willing to let an idea, borne out of the comfort of your head—your own private dominion—be subjected to another person’s thoughts, tastes, and ideas—all in the hopes that they don’t take something that was once so personal to you and turn it into something that you can no longer identify with.

Again, you have to be willing to take that risk.

You have to trust your collaborators—to let them pour their own hearts and souls into your work and let it stand as something that came about as a result of someone other than yourself. Once you do let that process take place, you’ll feel a sense of fulfillment unlike any other—one that brings you closer to the people you created that music with, and one that brings with it a deeper sense of connection.

At the end of the day, that’s what music is really all about: connection.

In much the same way that collaboration involves allowing yourself to creatively connect with another person, releasing the product of that creativity into the world involves allowing you and your work to emotionally connect with those who understand how much your art means to you. In turn, the depth of that shared understanding provides the catalyst for people to then attach their own meaning onto your work and form some semblance of ownership over it. That’s what being a fan is.

If anything, collaboration is really just a way of letting that connection take place sooner rather than later. It’s a way of letting it happen during the creative process rather than after it. In the end, though, the results are all the same. By creating music with people you trust and putting it out there, you allow it to take on a form in which it can be exchanged with other people and_in a very communal sense—gifted onto other people. It’s a way of sharing a piece of yourself with others in such a deeply palpable manner that only art is able to do. And she understood that.

During our interview, Jill said something that I think sums up our conversation pretty well. In my final question, I asked her:

“What does music mean to you?”

She responded with:

“Community. [Nowadays], being a musician takes on a whole new definition for me, and it has so much more to do with community and inspiration. [Being a musician is] being able to see what the other people in this community are doing, being inspired by it and having this conduit to then communicate back. [It’s being able to say] ‘I’m inspired by this, now what am I going to say back?’ It’s like being able to contribute to a conversation in your community. On so many different levels, too, though. On the level of when you’re playing with other bands, and on the sub-level of being in a band. It’s saying, ‘You’re gonna do this with your instrument, I’m gonna do this with mine, and we’re going to communicate with each other.’”

To me, this was the single most important thing said throughout the entire interview. Through her response, Jill qualified the entire idea of connection that this conversation had been about, and proved that having people connect to your music—whether they’re a part of the creative process or not—is truly one of the most fulfilling things that can come out of being a musician; that the process of internalizing the work of the people you respect—and being filled with enough inspiration to then create something in return,—is one of the most beautiful things about art itself.

It’s the beauty of being so taken by something, and having it impact you in such a way, that it inspires you to then express yourself in the same way that your favorite artists have. It’s the act of showing, in no uncertain terms, that there does indeed exist a way in which one can share a piece of themselves with the world in such a powerfully moving manner—and that you can do it, too, if you just give yourself the chance to.

This article originally appeared on The NYC Indie Scene. It has been edited for this publication.

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