JESSICA PRATT's 2012 self-titled debut album made an accidental splash.
It was not recorded as a whole or for the purpose of creating an album, instead it was a compilation of the Bay Area singer/songwriter's recorded whims over several years. And it was released quietly on a tiny label, Birth Records, started by White Fence's Tim Presley specifically for the purpose of getting Pratt's songs out into the world.
But people took to Jessica Pratt, thanks primarily to her beguiling melodies and old-soul voice. The album's lo-fi quirks—hiss, clicks, ambient sounds—were part of the charm, as well.
Last month, Drag City released Pratt's new album, On Your Own Love Again, and it's almost as raw and every bit as gorgeous as its predecessor. It thankfully retains that album's quirks, too, despite an intentional recording process, the involvement of an established and respected label, and the new weight of outside expectations.
Pratt recorded On Your Own at home, both in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, where she moved near the end of 2013, and the natural noises of those spaces are a constant and comforting accompaniment here. Halfway through "Jacquelyn in the Background," Pratt begins experimenting with tape speed, slowing down the song and manipulating its pitch. A car alarm rings out in the distance near the end of "Strange Melody," a tune that also features a melodic idea repurposed from Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf."
"That's the kind of music that I'm interested in making," Pratt says. "I like records with flaws and weird bumps and curves and stuff. Of course, I also daydream about making some sort of [pop] record... where I could have everything at my disposal. But really, at the end of the day, I like making records that feel natural to me."
The DIY aesthetic fits Pratt's style, at least for now. A bleary blend of '60s folk revival and 21st century freak-folk, her bare-bones arrangements place the focus where it should be: on her porcelain voice, which quivers and enchants as she plucks patchwork proverbs and lovelorn laments from passing daydreams. She sets these against beautifully played acoustic guitar and, on On Your Own, embellishes everything with slight, psychedelic touches of keys, horns, low-key percussion, lots of echo, ethereal harmonies, and other fun stuff.
Pratt is not staunchly opposed to further expansion of her sound by recording in a real studio someday. She is, however, wary of letting others into her proven process.
"It's less about the physical studio as it is the circumstances around the studio. Who's going to be there? Who's in charge? Who's going to be [influencing] the way things sound?" she asks. "You get people who are interested and care about production, and it's also their creative process and they want to have it sound a certain way. Even if it's totally your thing, it's going to be impacted whether you want it or not. There's so many variables within that; I'm curious, but I'm a little paranoid and I'm a little timid."
Making On Your Own helped curb those impulses a bit, Pratt says. When Will Canzoneri, who helped mix the album, contributed instrumental tracks to a couple of songs, "I felt a little territorial," she says. "But in the end they totally opened those songs up. I realize that I can be a little stubborn and that it might be in my best interest someday to try to be a little more open-minded. Which I'm working on."