Last July I spent a week in Abiquiú, New Mexico, for a women's writing retreat at Georgia O'Keeffe's former home Ghost Ranch. It wasn't long before the other retreat-goers and I fell into a nightly routine of stargazing and talking to each other for hours around a crackling campfire. Watching the sky and listening to women from around the globe talk about their lives in the mountains reminded me of the vastness of the world, my place in it, and what a fascinating wonder it is to exist.
Listening to the title track off of Simonne Jones's debut EP, Gravity, had a similar effect on me. From start to finish it engulfs its listener in an inescapably introspective way. Rhythmic like a heartbeat, "Gravity" — and "Spooky Action" — translates science into danceable testaments about the impact of attraction, romantic or otherwise. Jones, who is a lover of science and a former biomedical researcher, cites her interest in concepts like the theory of relativity and other natural phenomena in her music as being fueled by her fascination with the "unknown mysteries of the universe."
I talked with Simonne last week about her collaboration with Peaches (whose remix of "Gravity" appears on the EP) and what excites her most about the way her interdisciplinary passions (and talents) have shaped her aesthetic.
Dianca Potts: What was the first song that you fell in love with?
Simonne Jones: It was a Chopin piece. I'm really into classical music, and as a kid Chopin made me feel special things about music in a way that no other musician did. One of my favorites back then was "Prelude Op. 28 No. 15."
DP: When did you start composing your own music?
SJ: It all started when someone gave us a piano. It was one of those "Here, we're moving, take our piano," [things] so we had one in the house. It was really old and out of tune. [Laughs.] When I was very little, I was really drawn to it and I would copy melodies that I would hear on the radio. It became like a game for me. I would copy anything that I would hear. Eventually I started copying classical music, and that's how I learned to play piano. Just by listening to Beethoven and actually sitting there trying to figure out what notes were being played.
I didn't learn to read music until I was ten. I started getting better at playing by ear, and I wanted to learn how to read music. I just went to the library and got some books on how to teach yourself piano. I got better and better and I started learning all the Chopin pieces I could get my hands on, and then I started writing classical compositions, and that was where my love for the piano became an obsession.
DP: The lyrics on your EP translate scientific theories into emotional metaphors about intimacy and identity, especially on "Spooky Action." Can you talk a bit about this song?
SJ: "Spooky Action" was inspired by Einstein's Theory of Relativity, in which he called particle entanglement "spooky action at a distance." That's when you have two subatomic elements that are combined and then you separate them by any distance. Whatever you do to one happens to the other, so if you induce a magnetic field on one, the same thing instantaneously and mysteriously happens to the other one, and no one can explain it. Researchers think that it's the secret to time travel, and it's just this super-fascinating concept. I also think that it's a romantic idea, and in that song I used star frequencies that I got from a researcher in the UK. He converted them into sound waves, and I sampled them so that I could "play the stars" on the keyboard. There's a lot of atmosphere in that track that represented Einstein's idea for me.
Watch the debut of Simonne Jones' new video "Gravity."
DP: That's amazing! What was it like writing "Gravity" and then collaborating with Peaches for the remix?
SJ: Gravity is a really fascinating physical thing. It's this invisible force that you know is there, but you can't explain it, and it kind of just holds your life together. It's powerful. That's a really beautiful thing when you treat it as a metaphor for love, and I wouldn't say that it's the meaning behind the song — because it's definitely open to interpretation — but that's the feeling that got me excited about writing the song. Peaches is just incredible, and a great producer. She definitely did a killer version of the song, I love it.
DP: You worked with her on "Vaginoplasty" for Rub, right? What was that like?
SJ: The first time that we collaborated was for a song called "Free Pussy Riot!" We wrote the song in protest, and it became this thing where we were protesting in front of the Russian embassy. We shot a video for it, and I had to finish the track in 48 hours because [Peaches] wanted to put it online before the verdict was read on whether they would be imprisoned. It was a really intense thing, just watching the way that she approaches art and female empowerment. It's really contagious. It's hard to be around that and not be poetically moved by it in some way, or inspired to do something important with your existence. Watching her work made me feel a responsibility to be a strong female artist. She's a really powerful woman that's changing the framework, and she's doing all of this while being an underground artist. She is a huge influencer in terms of modern pop production; there's so many things that wouldn't exist if she didn't pave the path.
DP: What did finishing Gravity mean to you on a personal level?
SJ: I always knew that I wanted to do this, you know? Everyone told me, "You're a girl, you're producing your own tracks, there's no way that you can do this." Peaches was great because she was like, "You don't need anyone to produce your work, you're a great engineer and producer." She literally forced me to sit down in front of a computer and produce my first track six years ago. I had taken engineering courses in college, so I knew how to record and use Pro Tools. It's really liberating that anything that I can hear, I can create as a producer. There are a surprisingly low amount of women that are doing this, but it takes a strong female to encourage you, you know? I was encouraged by Peaches, and I'm encouraging other women who are producers, teaching young girls about production. I love any opportunity where I get to share the technical aspect of it, because there's more than just the voice.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Dianca Potts is an assistant at Lenny Letter.