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Six years after its recording, Jessica Pratt’s debut makes waves

Colby Droscher

Jessica Pratt’s one and only album emerged late last year cloaked in mystery. No one had heard of her before, and the record’s cover — a black-and white image of Pratt’s face, closely cropped to show nothing more than her luminous eyes and dark lips — didn’t reveal much, either.

Who was this woman whose self-titled debut had the allure of a long-lost classic? Its warm intimacy, with spare songs picked on acoustic guitar and sung in Pratt’s creaky voice, recalled cult folk musicians such as Sibylle Baier and Karen Dalton.

It was a surprise, then, to learn Pratt is a contemporary musician based in San Francisco. Tim Presley, of the psychedelic rock band White Fence, had met Pratt through his brother and fell in love with her recordings, most of which she had recorded in 2007. He was so taken with her songs that he started a label to release them as a proper album. Since then, “Jessica Pratt” has become an underground favorite, sending its maker on her first tour. She opens for Julia Holter at Church on Sunday.

On her cell during a walk to a river recently, Pratt spoke to the Globe about her sudden — and entirely unexpected — success.


Q. It must be strange having to talk about an album you recorded six years ago.

A. I’m happy to be having any success at all, so I don’t mind. It is an interesting context, though. A lot of people don’t know that those songs are really old, but I know they’re new to most people.

Q. Do you still relate to the person who wrote those songs?

A. Some of the themes that occur on that album are still relevant. I think lyrically I was a little simpler then. Some of those songs I wrote when I was 19, and most of them were recorded at a friend’s studio. I never imagined that they would be on a record.


Q. That’s interesting, because my initial impression of the album was that you never intended for anyone to hear it. It sounded so personal, so close to the chest.

A. The majority of the record was recorded in a studio where I really wasn’t thinking that anyone would really hear them, at least not a large audience. I kind of didn’t even want to record some of them, but my friend kept encouraging me.

Q. Why were you so hesitant?

A. I was self-critical and only wanted to record the songs that I thought were good. But my friend was persistent and thought I should record everything I had. I had only been playing for maybe a couple of years. I would play, like, two shows a year and get really nervous. And it was this weird thing where I never took myself seriously. For some reason I doubted the potential to do music as a career. But when Tim offered to put out the record and was enthusiastic about my songs, that gave me a lot of confidence. If he liked it, maybe other people would like it. It made me feel like I had an audience, so I started writing more songs. Now I’m at a phase where I feel like it’s my job to write songs, and I feel comfortable about that.


Q. What did Tim tell you he liked about your songs?

A. I feel like his response to my music was kind of like my response to his music [with White Fence]. This sounds big-headed to say, but he said there was a timeless quality to it, which is exactly how I described his music. He heard “Night Faces” first and went on MySpace and heard the other songs I had put up.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I have six or seven songs recorded now, most of them on four-track. It’s a combination of digital and analog, and they’re all home-recorded. I’m trying to figure out if I should re-record them in the studio, which is dicey because sometimes you can lose the magic. I’m moving to LA in September. I have a lot of friends there who play music. I think that will be good, and something will arise from that.

Q. Do people get the wrong idea about you based on the mysterious nature of your music?

A. I think anytime someone has only been exposed to you through your creative output generally it can never be a completely accurate picture of you. I guess it’s kind of refreshing to have people encounter me that way, because I feel like they take me seriously. Before, I was secretive about playing music and maybe embarrassed because I didn’t feel like I was doing it very well. So I just never talked about it and never played shows. A lot of people were like, “I didn’t even know you played music.” But now I’m happy that I can have a persona, because it’s what I’ve always wanted. It’s definitely happening.


James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.