Cassandra Jenkins on “An Overview on Phenomenal Nature” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, April 16th, 2024  

Cassandra Jenkins on “An Overview on Phenomenal Nature”

Arriving at the Moment

Sep 09, 2021 Photography by Wyndham Boylan-Garnett Issue #68 - Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
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Cassandra Jenkins speaks about her latest album, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, while packing up her car in Upstate New York. After our conversation, she will drive back to the city to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. On the album’s masterful track “Hard Drive,” listeners sit in the backseat of a car while Jenkins receives driving lessons from her instructor Darryl: “Speeding up the west side, changing lanes, he reminds me to leave room for grace,” Jenkins softly says in the track.

The making of An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, not unlike learning to drive, was an exercise in letting go and vulnerability. “If you ask Darryl, driving is basically relevant to everything. That’s our spoken metaphor,” Jenkins says. The album was recorded in six days with multi-instrumentalist and producer Josh Kaufman (of Bonny Light Horseman and Muzz) at his studio. She entered the studio with some words, ideas, and loose melodies with the goal of having rough demos by the end of her stay. Instead, Jenkins says that an album steadily started to shape like “molding things out of clay.”

“My last two releases [2017’s Play Till You Win and 2013’s EP] were songs that were finished and arranged and I had lots of goals for how they would sound,” Jenkins explains. “This record was the complete opposite. I had such a hectic schedule at the time and Josh is always busy, so the time limitation really forced me to get out of my head and not overthink things. A little bit would come along and then I’d look back at a song that night and I’d start to see it forming or we’d start to see it forming in the studio.”

For the majority of An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, its ambient and folk instrumentation drifts gently, which allows Jenkins’ lyrics to be the primary focus. Across the album, she sings about grief and falling apart. In 2019, Jenkins was preparing to go on tour with David Berman’s project Purple Mountains when Berman took his own life. “I have to tell you, I was really going through a crisis and capturing that on tape,” Jenkins admits. “That’s what I feel like this record is.”

But there are also moments of profound peace and songs that feel suffused by the light of her friendships. On “New Bikini,” Jenkins’ friends, and mother, encourage her to tap into water’s restorative powers. The sentiment echoes what Bonnie Tsui writes in her book Why We Swim: “We dare to jump so we can see something new. And sometimes we do it to recover a sense of what we once had.”

“I got cracked open by some of the hard stuff that I’ve experienced over the last few years,” Jenkins says. “It left no room for the gymnastics that we can do in our minds to not admit to certain behaviors that we aren’t proud of or to quiet the voices that really need to be heard because we don’t want to face them.

“I just couldn’t do that anymore. It’s so draining. So I’m in this stage where I’m letting it all hang out a little bit more and that’s very freeing and I feel very fortunate that I do have this channel for it.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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