INTERVIEW: Joann Jene on what’s in store for The Dakota, what drives her, and the best/worst things about Louisville!

Photo Credit: Jenna Madonia Photography

Joann + The Dakota is a vocally driven indie rock collective with some exciting plans on the horizon. Fronted by singer/guitarist Joann Jene, the band has continued to play shows around town while preparing to record a new album, which will serve as the follow up to their 2015 EP Junk Drawer.  To get a better handle on what these folks have planned and on what makes them tick, I reached out to Joann for an interview, which she was kind enough to participate in.

However, before we get to our conversation, I’d like to provide a pair of brand spankin’ new live music videos (shot/edited by Dylan Feese) that showcase Joann + The Dakota performing new music at The New Vintage (mixed at Deadbird Studios) that I am assuming will eventually end up on the upcoming record.  The first song is titled “Breathe” and the second is called “The Bottle.”

Joann + The Dakota will be playing live this Saturday (5/28) at Zanzabar alongside Discount Guns and The Thumps.  For more information on the event, go here.  Read on as I talk with Joann about her band, who drives her as a songwriter, and the best/worst things about Louisville…

Never Nervous: First, tell me about your band. Who does what, and how’d you get started?

Joann Jene: I started writing songs in 1998, and so when I met our original guitar player Andrew in early 2013, we started going through the half-million songs I had written and started working on them together. Then not long after, Jason and Nick joined and we had a full band. Lyle joined the band after Andrew moved away and we started writing all new songs and then Megan joined in October, which brings us to our current lineup!

I write the majority of the songs, sing them and play guitar – Lyle has had a hand in co-writing a few of our newer songs and I’m excited to write together more in the future. He sings harmonies and plays guitar and brings a whole new level of badass stank to our sound. He also wrote and sings lead on the song “The Bottle” and he will definitely be singing lead on some more tunes in the future! Jason plays bass and does a lot with arranging and coming up with ideas to make the songs, which are usually pretty simple and raw (a sound I would describe as the musical equivalent of a junk drawer), into glossy little shine machines!

Nick is our beat man and brings so much to the songs dynamically and to the band beverage wise (dude makes a mean margarita using no mixer – he hand squeezes the dang limes). Megan plays percussion, keys and sings harmonies. She is also my partner in crime and is always down to do whatever outrageous antics I come up with!

NN: What’s the name about? Does “Dakota” have any special meaning that we should be aware of?

JJ: YES! The name is an homage to John Lennon, who lived and died at The Dakota in New York City. There was so much joy and tragedy there that it’s almost impossible to wrap your brain around – the mystique of it intrigues and inspires me. That’s how we became The Dakota. We are genuinely a family band — 3 out of 5 of us live together and we all have bi-weekly, if not weekly fiestas! We are fueled by Margs and Guac!

NN: As a songwriter, are there any particular artists that inspire you?

JJ: We just saw Brian Jonestown Massacre in Chicago on Friday the 13th and it was one of the best rock n’ roll shows that I’ve ever seen – they played for 3 hours straight and I was in the front row the whole time and did not pee my pants, which was a miracle in and of itself! I love Anton’s balls to the wall attitude and admire so much about him. Watching him and Joel (who managed to stay silently and hilariously sarcastic for 3 hours straight) from just a few feet away was like a religious experience for me. Anton’s wife Katy even came out to sing a song and it was all a dream come true!

I fell in madly in love with The Beatles in my youngin’ years and I taught myself how to play guitar with The Complete Beatles Songbook that I got after my parents bought me my first electric guitar for Christmas when I was 15. I would say that had the most profound effect on me musically because those were the chords and melodies I learned. I still have that book and love to bust it out and just flip through and play. One of the highlights of my teen years was when I got a front row ticket to see Ringo Starr when I was about 14 and he sang “You’re 16, you’re beautiful and you’re mine” right to me!!!! I remember getting so depressed after that concert because I thought nothing would ever top it. Still waiting…Ha! Jokes and jokes!

I have been obsessed with Frontier Ruckus for I think about six years now. The lead singer, Matthew Milia, is one of my favorite singer/songwriters of all time. Deadmalls and Nightfalls is one of my top favorite albums and everyone should listen to it! The way he writes songs is the way that my brain understands and expresses language – in a very wordy and extremely detailed way, deeply entrenched in memory and nostalgia.

I LOVE John Frusciante – his solo albums never cease to absolutely blow my mind! The dude is onto some next level stuff. If you’ve never listened to The Empyrean, please listen to it beginning to end with headphones and eyes closed if possible. I have it on vinyl so if anyone wants to have a listening party, let’s do it!

I Love Fleetwood MacStevie Nicks is definitely a huge inspiration for me. There is a book called “Making Rumours” by Ken Caillat that tells the story of the making of the album Rumours from his perspective. I listened to the audio book and freaking loved it! I recommend it if you love Fleetwood Mac. That album in particular reminds me that some of the best songs must come from a place of pain, and that it is the creation of the song that makes all the agony and bullshit worth it.

Heartless Bastards – Erica Wennerstrom has one of the most incredible voices ever! When I first listened to The Mountain, I could not tell for sure if it was a man or woman singing and that to me is so rare and so incredible because you truly listen with no preconceived notion. It is a dream of mine to sing harmonies with her on any song off The Mountain.

Also I am a huge fan of oldies! That’s the only thing we listened to in the car growing up and I loved it! What I really love about Motown, Phil Spector’s wall of sound, The Swampers, The Wrecking Crew, The Beach Boys and so many artists from that time is that even if the song is sad, it makes you feel good and takes you to another place.

Simon and Garfunkel – the lyrics and melodies blow me away even after hearing songs a million times. I LOVE to sing harmonies and Simon and Garfunkel harmonies are some of my favorites! Their songs just completely transport me to so many different places and bring up so many memories.

My Dad Harvey Dickson – he is (was) the most talented musician I’ve ever known. He started playing drums when he was 14 or 15 at a brothel in downtown Gary (When it was the happening place to go) and he continued to play drums in either rock bands, concert bands or Scottish bag pipe bands for his entire life. He is (was) also an amazing singer and songwriter and has a song called “Michelle” that I love it more than the Beatles’ “Michelle.”

NN: When people ask me what the music you make sounds like, my first instinct is to compare you to Jenny Lewis. Is this a fair comparison, or am I way off base?

JJ: You know, I have never gotten that before, but I have to say, that is a HUGE compliment! I absolutely adore and admire her so much! I saw her years ago at Headliners with the Heartless Bastards and it blew me away – “Acid Tongue” is one of my favorite songs ever and when they sang it at the end all stripped down, I was so happy I cried! Then, when I saw her at Forecastle, it blew my mind! Besides her incredible songs, voice and musical ability, I was completely mesmerized by her confidence, her attitude and her style – that freaking rainbow suit?! Are you kidding me?! She owned that stage and that audience and I just took it all in. Plus, I mean who doesn’t love a rocking set of bangs? Monsters, that’s who.

NN: You recently dropped a music video for your song “Happy.” Does this video serve as a precursor to an upcoming record?

JJ: YES YES YES!!! I have never been so excited about a group of songs in my whole life! We are going to play quite a few shows this summer so we will be all tight, tuned up and ready to record in the fall! Details are still in the works as far as where we will record. Pretty sure I know for sure but until it’s a done deal, I don’t want to jinx it.

NN: Have you been in other bands in the past?

JJ: Besides playing with people here and there over the years, I have been in two other bands besides The Dakota, and because something being funny ALWAYS outweighs my own personal embarrassment, I will tell you the names of them – Brace yourself: GL15TEN and Dixxxon! Whew, feels like such a relief to just get that out there! Luckily for me and sadly for the rest of the world, there is NO video that exists on the internet! But, I do have lots of shows on VHS and am possibly open to bribery, depending on what you got!

NN: Adding to that, are you involved in any other bands currently?

JJ: I have dabbled with the idea of playing with other bands, but honestly I am so all over the place a lot that it’s hard enough for me to stay focused on one thing at a time as it is. If I was to play in another band, I would be spreading myself too thin and I would neglect The Dakota, whom I love so much. That being said, I would definitely jump up onstage and sing some harmonies or play a little trumpet with another band, which I’ve done before and had so much fun doing it!

NN: Are there any bands or artists in Louisville that have been particularly doing it for you lately?

JJ: Yes Yes Yes! I am seriously continuously BLOWN AWAY by the incredible amount of talent in this town! There are so many to name but I’m gonna rattle off a few – Frederick the Younger (OBSESSED with the song “You Don’t Lie”), Wax Fang (The show at Headliners the day it snowed a bunch changed my BRAIN), Nellie Pearl (HUGE fan), really digging Brenda (can’t wait to finally see them live on May 29 at Haymarket!), Discount Guns (We play with them this Saturday at Zanzabar), The Thumps (They go wild on stage and are freaking AWESOME! Also playing with them May 28 at Zanzabar), Quiet Hollers (I seriously dig their last album, which I bought after seeing them at GonzoFest. I also just love their general attitude), Powell (seriously see them live, you will be blown away and fall in love with those brothers!), John Clay (he currently has a mullet and it RULES), The Fervor (trippy and delicious!), Twin Limb (They are straight KILLING it), Cheyenne Mize (have LOVED her for years), Season at Sea (CRAZY awesome energy!), The Moonlight Peddlers (Played one of our first shows with them and that’s how I met our drummer Nick!), Howell Dawdy (Holy shit that man is one of the most clever songwriters I’ve ever heard, keeps me on my toes!), The Gallery Singers at the Electric Church of the Tambourine (They have a freaking BLAST on stage…plus they have some dirt on me that they LOVE to tease me about, ha!), Nick Dittmeier + The Sawdusters (They are on FIRE!), Kendra Villiger (one of the most talented singers, songwriters AND guitar players I’ve ever met), White Crosses (Dylan Feese is one of the BEST frontmen I have EVER seen), Graffiti (Some of their songs make me go insane!) Bendigo Fletcher (haven’t had the chance to see them live yet but wow, Ryan Anderson’s voice and songs are amazing! Met him when he slayed a Mariah Carey song at Howell Dawdy’s karaoke), Chief Ghoul (Just found out about them and can’t wait to play a show with them, they are seriously badass), Austin Garner (that dude is constantly cranking out tunes and doing different stuff from anything I’ve heard being played around town), Brent Mathis (He plays barefoot and is so damn chill), Tim DeLonjay (Love his voice and his calming presence) – I know I’m forgetting so many, which is easy to do because everyone is so damn talented! Cabin (we recorded Junk Drawer with Noah Hewett-Ball and I highly recommend him for anyone looking to record, he is fantastic. Our sound has changed so much that we don’t play any of the songs on Junk Drawer anymore, but I am so happy to have those songs recorded so beautifully. Especially the song “Break Down and Cry” which I co-wrote with my Dad). Also Brother Wolves (absolutely love these dudes and we are super pumped to play a show with them at The New Vintage on June 10)!

NN: I understand that this is kind of a broad question, but what would you consider to be the best thing about Louisville?

JJ: The best thing about Louisville is all of the out-of-this-world incredibly amazing people that live here! I have never had more fun or had such a solid group of the most awesome friends in my whole life! Plus, I am constantly meeting more and more people who I just adore! I kind of feel like I’m already friends with everyone, they just don’t know it yet (sounds creepy, I know muahahaha!) The glory days are happening right now in Louisville! There is ALWAYS something awesome going on, it’s hard to even keep up sometimes, seriously!

NN: On the flip side, what would you consider to be the worst thing about Louisville?

JJ: I think anything that could be seen as negative about Louisville has more to do with the general human condition than any specific location. If there is jealousy or if too many people play it cool in order to play it safe, and they don’t put themselves out there enough, then people don’t really connect with each other and ultimately no one is happy because we are all alone in our heads.

I have a tendency to be pretty open, to the point that for some people it’s a bit much to handle sometimes. But I know that in order to have peace within myself, and to not let that little voice everyone has inside their heads cause me to constantly second guess and censor myself, I just gotta let the good times roll and not worry about what anyone else thinks. Trust me, it’s been a loooong road getting to this point in my life, but Hallelujah I’m here!

NN: What is currently your favorite thing on the internet?

JJ: Awkward Family Photos, always and forever! Also I am really into Anton Newcombe’s Twitter page (follow him if you don’t already) and his show DeadTV. Lately on YouTube I have been obsessively watching serial killer documentaries (I am very knowledgeable on this topic), crime shows like 48 hours, anything with Bill Kurtis, 20/20 mysteries. I know it’s bad for me because it makes me generally edgy and I start side-eyeing everyone at Kroger, but it’s just what I’m into (watching while riding an exercise bike really gets the heart pumping!)

NN: Before you go, tell us about the last record you purchased. What album, where’d you buy it, and how do you like it?

JJ: Well I’m going answer this two ways – the last three CDs I bought were Powell: Palbum (purchased at Modern Cult). I seriously dig it and we aren’t even going to talk about how many times I have listened to the song “Coyote” – shew, I love it! Frederick the Younger EP (purchased at GonzoFest) – I absolutely adore that band, they are next level talented and so entertaining to watch (I’m looking at you Jenni and Aaron, you can’t be that adorable together and not get called out on it once in a while).  Quiet Hollers (purchased at GonzoFest) – I really love the honesty and feel of all the songs – they have their own genre going on. We are really looking forward to playing a Rye Back Porch Session with them August 18!

As far as vinyl records, the last was Heartless Bastards – Restless Ones and it was purchased at Guestroom, which we LOVE!!! I love the album and the album art! Got to see them play at Headliners when they were there most recently and I was right up front by Erica and it was a freaking DREAM!!!

I love you Louisville, thanks for reading my words and please come see us play live – A fantastic time is guaranteed!