“…is the ghostly melody, hushed and humming softly, ominously, as your rocker creaks a rickety midnight lullaby on the rotted wooden floorboards of a ramshackle cabin. Sleepless at the swamp’s edge, you rock, slowly, steadily on, shrouded in darkness, a shotgun slung across your lap. A loon’s mournful, wavering cry almost obscures a slithering rustle through the tall grass just beyond the crumbling front porch steps, and imagining cold, reptilian eyes, pitiless and patient, watching your vigil this night, you shudder, a moan trapped low in your throat. I’m not sure that’s exactly what Jezebel Jones was singing about, I mean it probably wasn’t… but her haunted, husky warble is so hypnotic and evocative you’ll forgive me for letting my imagination run away with me.”
I didn’t expect that my fleeting but fanciful take on the album would generate such spirited interest and such a grand flurry of questions, but in light of curiosity piqued and excitement aroused, I thought it only fair that we take a deeper dive into both the haunting music and its enduring themes, and better get to know the gifted musician responsible for its creation.
See below for a thoughtful, revealing, and deliciously life-affirming chat with Jezebel Jones, an eclectic songwriter who mixes americana, jazz, classical and rock to create genre-defying music that is unique, emotive and socially conscious. Bye Bye Banshee is her musical project exploring death and grieving from a feminine perspective. It seeks to undo some of the fear associated with dying and to acknowledge death’s purpose and place in our lives. Inspired by magic, myth and folklore, Bye Bye Banshee employs a unique blend of styles to create a musical memento mori, a remembrance that life is fleeting and the mysteries of death will embrace us all.
And should you require a sonic companion for our interview, Jezebel Jones and Bye Bye Banshee have generously shared an exclusive Deathfolk Magic download link for Haute Macabre readers!
Haute Macabre: Please tell us about the name and concept of your musical project, Bye Bye Banshee.
Jezebel Jones: The concept started to come together about five years ago when I was living in Texas, but the seeds were planted earlier, when I lost my house (and nearly my life) in a fire back in 2010. The experience forced me to wake up….and I started writing a song or two about death. But the new music seemed to have a life of its own and so I created a side project of all death-themed songs because that’s what was inspiring me at the time. Death is a muse, I guess. The Bye Bye Banshee name itself emerged from my subconscious. I’d been researching Irish banshee folklore and I’m a sucker for alliteration and sing-songy repetition, so…
Your music is crafted with “myth, magic, and folklore”–I’d love to hear about your inspirations in this vein, where they began, how they took hold, and how they’ve informed your worldview and songwriting?
When I was younger, I was very afraid of death due to the link between death and the devil, a link that was created by many sermons of damnation, “scary” end-of-times propaganda films, even the Bible itself. Since I’m no longer an evangelical Christian, I wanted to explore other folklore and myths and see if I could discover a new way to look at death that was less fear-based and more inclusive. Living in south Texas kicked off my intensive research phase – I began learning and participating in different cultural approaches to death, including the beautiful customs around the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos. Often song lyrics just flow out of me–like magic–but those seeds are planted during research, physical experience and reflection. I feel transformed by the process of writing and performing this music; I hope people will feel comforted and transformed by listening to it.
I often check the tags on places like last.fm to see how a certain musician is classified (and I’ll admit, the weirder and lengthier the tag, the more excited I get!) I know that some reviewers and listeners might tag you as #americana, #folk, or #truedetective (!!) How might you classify your music? Gimme some hashtags!
Great but difficult question! Hmmm…maybe…. #psychfolkrock #playthisatmyfuneral #weirdmusicforweirdpeople #creepybeautifulsongs #dirgeAF
Your latest album, Deathfolk Magic, boasts an incredible cover. Just absolutely lovely, the colors, the sense of place and atmosphere, and that gorgeous dress! What can you share about that photoshoot, about that day, about the feelings you were attempting to evoke with that imagery?
Awww, thank-you. Sure, first of all, I have to give props to my photographer friend Lars Kommienezuspadt. He’s just an incredible artist and loves–and gets–my music. We were going for a very earth-goddess vibe for the shoot. He came up with the perfect location, a long-abandoned munitions factory in rural Minnesota; we both brought props including my favorite animal skull and his adorable tarantula–she was a rock star! It was cold and rainy the day of the shoot and we decided to just go for it–I’m glad we did because the sky was moody and perfect. The vintage silk chiffon dress was an amazing find at a Seattle thrift store years before–I think I paid less than $15 for it–can you believe that? I’ve always had thrift store magic…
And of course Deathfolk Magic is more than just a beautiful album cover; it includes four eerie elegies examining death from a feminine, pagan perspective: “If I Die In My Dreams,” “Bye Bye Banshee,” “Psychopomps,” and “Skull Rattles”. These songs explore ideas ranging from our fear of death being linked to our fear of the Devil, to an expression of gratitude to spirit guides surrounding and comforting dying persons as they transition into the land of the dead, and a celebration of natural burial as our final gift to the earth. How do your beliefs, feminist, pagan, or otherwise, aid, or assist or even inspire you in writing/singing about themes generally considered melancholy, mysterious, or morbid (which is a term I personally hate to use but I know that lots of people might view these subjects in such a way!)
Wow–grappling with this a bit. My beliefs aren’t rigid anymore, though I find myself drawn to paganism and Wiccan ritual. I’m agnostic I guess (don’t believe in a deity, per se), but open to exploring our spiritual connections, including our connection to the earth and other animals. It saddens me that in much of the Western world, people avoid having conversations about death because we’ve been raised to fear it. Avoidance doesn’t change the fact that we are all going to die; addressing mortality in a healthy way reduces pain and suffering and can encourage us to live more fully. Bye Bye Banshee uses primarily female characters to tell these stories because I believe in the power of women to change our world. As a side note, I’ve always been a “morbid” child and was obsessed with murder mysteries, the supernatural and mortality for as long as I can remember. This project brought me back to some of my childhood interests.
Bye Bye Banshee participates in–and supports–the Death Positive movement. Can you tell us what death positivity means to you and your craft?
I think death positivity means addressing mortality in a healthy manner. For some, this may mean educating yourself on death and grief, asserting your rights by creating a will or health care directive, and/or simply by promoting conversations about end of life with friends and loved ones. For me personally, the exploration that went into the writing process freed me from some of my former beliefs and opened up my mind to other possibilities. I hope the music will make listeners FEEL something…whether it’s a feeling of fright (“If I Die in My Dreams”), peacefulness (“Psychopomps”) or surrender (“Skull Rattles”); there was a lot of emphasis on capturing emotions during the recording process.
If someone wanted to do some “further reading” regarding the idea and issues covered in Deathfolk Magic –both general and specific–what books/films/music/art/? might you point them toward?
If someone is interested in the overall topic, a good place to start might be the Order of the Good Death website or checking out Caitlin Doughty’s books or Ask-a-Mortician videos on YouTube. If you’re more interested in the folklore–and/or social justice–aspect, I’d recommend following death positive activist Sarah Chavez on Twitter or Instagram. Finally, if you’re seriously interested in banshee folklore, I’d recommend tracking down the book, The Banshee by Patricia Lysaght. It’s pretty scholarly but is full of facts and stories of the Irish death messenger.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects? Appearances? Tour dates? What’s next for Jezebel Jones and Bye Bye Banshee?
Well, I just moved to Nashville recently, so I’ve been busy trying to get settled here. But I’m writing a lot of new music, too, mostly for my main project (Jezebel Jones). This new music is rebellious, female-focused and powerful…while it’s still heavily influenced by bluegrass, country and blues, it’s definitely more rock and roll. I have most of the songs written for the upcoming record, which I’ll be recording sometime this year. The plan is to hit the road this summer/fall to support the new album, including dates in Europe for both Jezebel Jones and Bye Bye Banshee. For the latter, I’ve put together a theatre-style show format that includes 12 songs woven together by spoken word pieces. Looking forward to 2019!