Jennifer O’Connor’s fifth album, I Want What You Want, almost didn’t get made.
After parting ways with Matador Records in the spring of 2009 after two albums (“Over The Mountain, Across The Valley, and Back to the Stars” in 2006, and “Here With Me” in 2008), O’Connor was discouraged, broke and exhausted from several years of non-stop touring. She put music on the back burner and worked a series of odd jobs: bartender on Broadway, freelance writer, transcriptionist, personal assistant, eBay seller, etc. Occasionally she would pick up her guitar and write a song about the confusing place she found herself in.
“I’ve always written about my life and the people close to me,” O’Connor said. “During the years I wrote this album, I was struggling and doing a lot of questioning about where I was and where I wanted to go moving forward. For a while, I wasn’t really sure if I would keep playing music.”
But O’Connor kept writing songs in fits and starts and eventually returned to the studio in November of 2010 to record a new song. “Swan Song (for Bella)” is an ode to perseverance, acceptance and starting over (all of which are overriding themes on I Want What You Want ) and has come to serve as the album’s centerpiece.
”I enjoyed the process of recording that song so much, that it made me want to record the others songs I had, which led to me writing more and eventually it was clear that I was making an album,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor co-produced the album with Tom Beaujour (Nada Surf, The Virgins) at Nuthouse Recording in Hoboken, New Jersey, beginning with that first recording in 2010 and going through September of 2011.
“Musically, I did some things differently on this record,” O’Connor said, “and I did a lot of editing and rewriting in the studio and throughout the recording process. I also switched up the main instrument on a few songs: “Change Your Life” and “Your Guitar” were both written on guitar, but we recorded them without using any guitar at all. I used a lot of different keyboard sounds on the record and had a lot of fun finding the right ones.”
I Want What You Want was recorded with O’Connor’s longtime rhythm section of Jon Langmead (drums) and Michael Brodlieb (bass). Select songs feature Tim Foljahn (Two Dollar Guitar, Cat Power, Townes Van Zandt) on guitar, Amy Bezunartea on backing vocals, guitar and harmonica, Richard Baluyut (Versus) on guitar and backing vocals, Kendall Meade (Mascott, Helium, Sparklehorse) on electric piano, Tom Beaujour on guitar and Kirsten McCord on cello.
Instead of working with another record label, O’Connor released I Want What You Want on her own imprint, Kiam Records (also the home of her debut, 2002’s Jennifer O’Connor.) “We just finished the record a month ago,” O’Connor said. “It took so long to make this record, and I feel so happy with it that I just wanted to put it out as quickly as possible. I really just want people to hear it.”
In the three years since her last record came out, O’Connor has spent a great deal of time working on other Kiam releases from Amy Bezunartea, Choo Choo la Rouge, Clint Michigan and Dump. She also spent time collaborating with other artists, including Chris Brokaw, Charles Bissell of The Wrens and Laura Cantrell in her songwriter’s series Tower Of Song, a monthly (but now on hiatus) show held at The Rock Shop in Brooklyn. She’s also been a recurring guest on the monthly cabaret show Our Hit Parade hosted by Kenny Mellman, Bridget Everett and Neal Medlyn at Joe’s Pub.
Since her career began, O’Connor has toured the United States many times over, playing alongside bands such as Wilco, Cass McCombs, Silver Jews, The Mountain Goats, Damien Jurado, Feist, and Yo La Tengo. Her songs have appeared in numerous television shows and films such as Sons of Anarchy, Parenthood, Private Practice, The Ghost Whisperer, The Strangers, Think Like A Man, and The Sensation of Sight.