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On a recent Friday night, people from all over the world are watching local "Bohemian Geek Soul" artist Jody Gnant kick my ass at bowling.
Gnant's been broadcasting her life 24/7, via a UStream channel on the Internet, for the past several weeks (www.ustream.tv/jodygnant). Tonight, she's carrying around two big bags full of batteries and cords, a laptop with a wireless Internet connection, and a camera that mounts on the monitor. She also has a hat that she pins the camera to for "hatcam" shots. She'll be doing so until the release party for her new CD, Pivot, on Friday, September 14.
From a music perspective, Gnant's carefully crafted confessional songs straddle the line between pop and jazz, but she considers her work "experimental" a word that also aptly describes Gnant's madcap marketing ploys, like the live Internet stream.
A few dozen folks are logged onto Gnant's site at any given time, and they make comments in a chat window. Gnant's live stream also has audio, so people can hear everything she says. And while Gnant has the option of muting the sound and closing the laptop at any time, she rarely does. The camera's on even when she's sleeping.
And, of course, the camera's on when I lob a ball straight into the gutter for the third time. I'm not a very good bowler, especially when somebody's cracking jokes behind me.
"What's that curve called?" Gnant asks when I finally get a ball down the lane. "It's something like the English hard curve or the English soft curve or the English something-or-other. You've got that English thing going on."
I've got that suck thing going on,I think to myself, as I watch Gnant grab the ball I've been using. "Hey," I tell her, "stop playing with my balls."
Gnant laughs until she snorts. She runs to her laptop and asks the cybervoyeurs what the English curve thing is called. Nobody knows. While she's distracted, I pick up two balls and hold them in front of my boobs. Gnant doubles over when she sees me, then grabs the balls and does the same thing, posing for the people watching her Webcam. I kneel behind her and fondle the bowling balls while she makes funny faces. It's all very fifth grade, and we are loving it.
I just met Gnant for the first time tonight, and although she outscored me 103-87 in the first game, I couldn't care less because I'm having such a great time. Gnant's got a big personality. She's also a talented pianist and introspective songwriter with an impressive set of pipes, moving skillfully from smooth soul ballads to bluesy rock songs (but definitely more on the light and mellow side overall). Imagine an Anita Baker/Ann Wilson/Pink vocal hybrid with the songwriting sensibilities of a Norah Jones/Alicia Keyes/Diana Krall mash-up, all wrapped up in a still somehow incomparable package. That's something like the music of Jody Gnant (hear it for yourself at www.myspace.com/jodygnant).
As we scarf down plates of greasy bowling alley food between games (mmm, Day-Glo orange nacho cheese!), Gnant talks about the new album. Some of it was recorded at Tempest Recording in Tempe, some of it at Metal Works Studios in California, but mostly "in Mom's kitchen." The entire thing was self-financed, and it wasn't easy. Gnant makes music full time and charges things like studio time, equipment, and out-of-town gigs on her credit cards. She's about to sell her house to offset expenses.
Not that she's complaining. Gnant sees it as a sacrifice to achieve her goals. "I don't necessarily want to be famous," she says. "I'd just love to be able to make music for a living."
She tends to see the bright side of things. Gnant recently had surgery to remove a cyst on her vocal cords, and when I suggest she insure her throat, she jokes, "I've been thinking about getting my body insured, like J-Lo. How much for one rib?"
But seriously, she's recovered nicely and has her voice back, which beats the hell out of sign-singing (Gnant does know some American Sign Language). "If I wasn't able to sing, it would break my heart," she says. "It's like, you'd have to live on, but everything you'd always lived for would be gone."
To get ahead, Gnant's taken some unconventional avenues, like subletting her downtown apartment for a year in exchange for a recording contract in the One Red Paper Clip trade ("Jody Star," June 15, 2006). But the contract covered only a limited amount of studio time, so Gnant had to shell out for the remainder of the recording expenses and try a new promotional tack like broadcasting her life on the Internet, which includes my worst bowling game ever, tonight.
"Let's play speed bowling!" Gnant suggests. "No planning, just grab the ball and throw."
Our speed between throws is somewhat stilted by the mechanical arm that sweeps away the fallen pins, but we have plenty of balls to grab. I pick up the pace between plays by tying my shirt into a halter top with the ol' "undertuck-between-the boobs" fashion move (for good luck). But Gnant adds pirouettes and the ol' "two-handed roll from the between the legs" bowling move to her repertoire and wins by 20-something points.