Clarinetist Jessie Demaree performs with Sunn Trio and Jerusafunk.
Clarinetist Jessie Demaree performs with Sunn Trio and Jerusafunk.
James Southard

Why Jessie Demaree Chose Not to "Play a Bunch of Dead White Men’s Music"

In Pound For The Sound, New Times gets technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.

Jerusafunk's clarinetist extraordinaire Jessie Demaree is big on sounds that stream from across the globe.

She loves going to concerts at the Musical Instrument Museum and getting down on the weird. And that affinity for the weird can absolutely be heard in her band's songs. She has amazing chops as a clarinetist, and her playing can stop you dead in your tracks.

Demaree is a second-generation Phoenician; her father was born here, too. She grew up wanting to play saxophone in her school band, but because she had talent and supportive mentors as teachers, they pushed her to play clarinet, a decision that has served her well years later. She has been playing clarinet for the past 20 years, and has a degree from Northern Arizona University in clarinet performance, with a minor in Spanish.

Demaree considers herself a pseudo-ethnomusicologist, as is evident by the sounds created in her music. The clarinetist also enjoys gardening and traveling, two huge sources of inspiration for her music. In fact, she and her boyfriend Chris, who also plays guitar in Jerusafunk, spent two years completely immersed in Central and South America, spending time in several different countries from Guatemala to Peru, working any kind of jobs they could find and playing anywhere that folks would have them, a travel experience that proved to be integral to the Jerusafunk sound today.

Aside from Jerusafunk, Demaree can also be seen in her other outfit, Sunn Trio, a project focused more on Middle Eastern free jazz and punk. Like we said, she's a huge fan of world sounds, and Sunn Trio definitely runs the gamut on some Arabic scales.

Demaree, and the rest of Jerusafunk and Sunn Trio, are playing at the Rebel Lounge on Friday, August 18. It is a big homecoming show for J-Funk, who recently completed a national tour in support of their newest release, Heirophant. With all the hustle and bustle, New Times was able to squeeze in some words by phone and email with Jessie about her clarinet, women in music, and her bands' upcoming show.

What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
The secret ingredient in the Jerusafunk truthpaste is highly coveted, but I can disclose some of the gear we use to create that bacchus, perverted sound of Jerusafunk. A great feature of J-Funk is that all of our horn players use pedals: Fox (tenor sax) uses a Boss me-80 multi effects; Torrey (trumpet, flugel) uses a TC Electronics Flashback mini-delay; and I use a Vox Delaylab. Our guitarists also have super-sweet pedal chains: Zack uses a Zvex lofi junkie, his signature “Cheek Squeaker” (fuzz), TC Electronics Hall of Fame reverb (plate setting), and Dunlop Crybaby wah, ending with the Malekko Lofi Delay. Chris’s arsenal is the Boss Auto Synth, Digitech Whammy, Boss dd-20 Delay, and lastly the Vox Wah. These setups enable Jerusafunk to throw the funk back to the good ol’ days whilst pushing some of the more traditional genres we like to play, i.e. klezmer, into the future. I’m never done discovering my signature sound, but experimenting with pedals has unleashed the wild in my performance like never before, which is essential for my roles in Jerusafunk and Sunn Trio.

What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
My Vox Delaylab combined with my electro-voice RE-20 mic is really hitting the spot for me. That pedal is a beast! It’s 30-plus pedals for the price of one! Some of the settings are definitely not effective for my clarinet, but my RE-20 helps me gain a large frequency range so that I’m able to use more pedals for soprano and bass clarinet. Lastly, just in case I have that one clarinetist fan out there, I'll throw in my clarinet setup, which I adore: I play on a buffet festival with an M13 lyre mouthpiece and the Vandoren Optimum ligature.

Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
My bass clarinet and I go way back. She’s pretty special — she’s a total piece of crap Selmer student model. My parents had to start renting a bass clarinet because I wanted to play bass clarinet exclusively for wind symphony, orchestra, and chamber groups. My parents rented that bass clarinet for so long that she became mine forever, and I’ve stuck by her through college, Jerusafunk, and Sunn Trio.

Just listened to your song “Saturnalia” off your most recent release, The Hierophant. Cool track, full of awesome changes and surprises. How did you go about tracking your vocals and the clarinet for that track? And what inspired the solo?
We used a couple different techniques for recording the vocals in "Saturnalia." The verses were recorded with a standard mic plus a telephone mic that Zack made. The choruses involve multiple vocalists in an empty room with one mic directly in front of the singer and a field recorder at the far end of the room to achieve a natural reverberant tone. That whole 3/4 [musical time signature] section to me is a whirling downward spiral of helplessness, confusion, and abandonment, so I wanted to set that tone with an appropriate solo, however my own expectations caused me a great deal of confusion and frustration when trying to express that in 12 bars. In a fit of impatience and annoyance, that one came out. It felt very relevant and tumultuous, so we kept it!

We were discussing your Women in Music class you took while at NAU. Great topic. In an industry dominated by pop stars, how do you feel about playing clarinet, and what is being brought to the musical climate by women in Phoenix right now?
I feel very grateful not being up there in the pop ether. As a woman, I also feel grateful being alive at a time when I have the opportunity to play clarinet, and even make music. Pauline Oliveros, composer, author, accordionist, and my personal role model, woke me up to the covert sexism in the music industry. After reading "And Don’t Call Them ‘Lady’ Composers” was when I decided that I didn't want to play a bunch of dead white men’s music, and I didn't have to! More musicians are starting to catch onto that mindset, and I'm seeing the percentage of female musicians and composers rise, so I'm feeling charged up. I’m eager to see more female horn players on the scene doin' their thing, but I’m inspired by the female-led groups in Phoenix and local musicians like Elizabeth Kennedy-Bayer (Paper Hats, OME), Dr. Sonja Branch (Dr. Delicious), Kristilyn Woods (DRYC), who are putting hard work into the Phoenix music scene, and setting a great example for the upcoming generations.

Jerusafunk just completed a national tour. Congratulations! This Friday is the “Tour Homecoming” show at Rebel Lounge. Any words you wish to share with fans about your upcoming performance?
Thank you! We had a blast and are happy to be home safe! We missed you, Phoenix, so we’re expecting lots of mouth kisses and booties shaking! Come early to hear Sunn Trio at 8, and stay for international travelers The Myrrors and Jerusafunk. Oh! And Jeff Goldblum will be making an appearance!

Jerusafunk is scheduled to perform at Rebel Lounge on Friday, August 18.

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