by Eric Althoff
Jasmine Gillison’s day job, as an event planner at a local university, has been rather quiet of late. This has afforded her more time to spend on her passion for writing music.
“Since quarantine started, I’ve almost finished a song I started a while back,” Gillison said recently via phone from her home in Arlington, adding that she aims to put more of her work up on Band Camp soon. “It’s been interesting because I hadn’t really finished a song in a long, long time.
“I guess I’d been, not purposefully, but kind of taking a little bit of a breather.”
Gillison discovered at an early age that she had a penchant for writing lyrics and discovering her own melodies. She started out on clarinet and transitioned into guitar. For years she made her way through the DMV’s open mic circuit first with covers but then later with her own compositions.
“Realizing that other people connected in some way to what I was doing is pretty cool,” she said of those formative experiences in front of audiences. “And feeling the support of friends who are also musicians who have been doing it longer than me definitely helped make me feel there is something” to her talents.
Gillison describes her sound as “introspective, moody, singer-songwriter, folk.” She believes her music defies easy categorization, but adds that she hews close to the Jewel model of guitar-based storytelling. She also cites influences as varied as William Fitzsimmons, Ingrid Michaelson, Noah Gundersen, Death Cab For Cutie, and Petals for Armor, the latest solo project by Hayley Williams of Paramore.
“Folk sometimes doesn’t feel right because when I say ‘folk,’ I think more of bluegrass-Americana, which is not really my style,” Gillison said. “And I like a lot of minimalism [but with] a little bit of light electronic elements in the music I listen to.”
Gillison’s jump into being a semi-professional happened in a roundabout way. She had worked on several benefits with her friend, the musician Ben Tufts, and at one such event she met the owner of a studio who was having a drawing for recording time. She won the contest, and Gillison’s friend Tufts even came on as a producer for the five-song EP, “Little Light,” which relies heavily on her lyrics and poetry—but nonetheless benefits from help from her musician friends.
“We [even] recorded some of the album in my middle school band room!” Gillison enthused, adding that she made use of the school’s marimba and vibraphone for “Little Light.”
Gillison premiered the album with an event at D.C.’s Pearl Street Warehouse, with a string ensemble by her side. And because Gillison’s mother still teaches at the elementary school where her daughter went to school, she brought several of her fellow teachers to watch Gillison’s showcase.
“So in the audience I had my family and friends, but also my elementary school music teacher [and] middle school band director,” Gillison recalls. “It was crazy to see people from every part of my life in one room at the same time.”
And because she had often helped out colleagues at the merch tables, she said it was key to have a physical CD on hand as a calling card. Furthermore, it was a way to share her music with loved ones who hadn’t been able to come to Pearl Street Warehouse.
“I wanted to be able to hand my grandfather a CD. The show was [close to] his birthday, so I asked the audience to sing happy birthday with me to him and we got it on video,” Gillison said, adding that her grandad loves the album so much he inquired, “Is it possible to wear out a CD by playing it so much?”
After her showcase at Pearl Street, Gillison spent many months playing open mics and spreading the word on her music. She stresses that even before the current viral shutdown, she needed to keep her job at the university as it’s difficult for musicians at the best of times to not have a second source of income. And with the shutdown now two months old, the pressures—economic and otherwise—continue to build.
“I’m just about done with another song that I’d like to record at home,” Gillison said, adding that she and her musical friends have been supporting one another by tuning into one another’s livestreams. “I haven’t done a livestream yet [but] I hopped on Instagram Live one time to play one song.
As with other local musicians we here at Alchemical Records have spoken to, Gillison believes that, however and whenever this pandemic ends, the DMV’s music scene will necessarily look and feel different—at least for a while. Gillison believes the steps towards ramping up back to where we were before in terms of enjoying live music together will be a “really slow trickle.”
“I’m perpetually an optimistic person, so I know that we’re going to get back to some sense of normalcy in the live concert environment [but] I hope there aren’t any venues that have to close before we get there,” she said, adding it’s incumbent upon music fans to support their favorite venues by tuning into livestreaming and donating to their fundraising campaigns.
“With capacity restrictions and [perhaps] having to be six feet away from people, it would feel so weird” when some clubs begin reopening with limited capacity, she said. “Are people going to be going to shows with masks on? Would the band?”
Gillison had several gigs that had to be postponed indefinitely, including playing at City Winery, which was scheduled for April 2, for her friend Letitia VanSant’s album release party. She remains optimistic, however, and says she will continue to write in the meantime. She is also trying her hand at web design and brushing up her website as well.
“Beyond that, I would like to be a bass player in the local scene who can kind of jam in and play with more artists if they need me,” Gillison said of the latest instrument she has picked up, adding that she looks forward to joining the jams at Epicure Cafe and Pie Shop. “Right now I still feel like a novice, but I’d really like to strengthen that musically when I get back out there.”
Jasmine Gillison’s latest single, “Concrete,” is available now. Check her out on social media:
A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.
A songwriter by the age of 15, Karla Bonhoff has been entertaining audiences for decades. Native to Southern California, she came up in the L.A. circuit of the hippie era, where artists such as Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and so many others were continuously floating in and out of one another’s orbits. Bonoff and singer/songwriter Livingston Taylor will jointly perform at the Birchmere in Alexandria Dec. 11. Together, they will tackle new and established variations on Christmas favorites, as well as toss in their original tunes.
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