Happy accidents, strange coincidences, unexplained phenomena: Catching up with dark chanteuse Jill Tracy
Tracy's repertoire also includes "musical séances," in which audience members bring in objects of personal significance to help her channel music. Along with violinist Paul Mercer, she hosted one such event earlier this year in Los Angeles, "at the mansion of a murderer from the 19th century." (Clearly, she ain't no fraidy-cat.) She's hosted similar events at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.
"We did a beautiful night tour of the Conservatory, followed by a performance," she says. "People bring these items — we've had everything from cremated remains, to antlers, to a toothbrush. Swords! Haunted portraits! It's almost like Antiques Roadshow for the netherworld. But the one thing I've learned through all of this is that every object, every place, and every person has a story to tell that will break your heart."
Some of her most memorable tales come courtesy of the Mütter Museum, a medical-oddities collection that's part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. She's the first musician to receive a grant to compose inside the museum.
"This whole project is, like, the total goth girl dream come true," Tracy laughs. "I was able to spend nights alone in the museum, writing music among the collection, and I just fell in love with the place. You look around, and you see all these skeletons and specimens in jars, but you don't realize at first that these were all lives — brave souls who endured these rare afflictions, many of which you never see today. I was so moved, and I wanted to know their stories."
Not only did the museum allow Tracy overnight access, it also let her do research in its library. She hopes to to spend the next year transforming her Mütter encounters — with subjects like conjoined twins Chang and Eng, and "Ossified Man" Harry Eastlack — into an album as well as an accompanying storybook. "It will probably be the biggest project that I've done to date," she says. "It's been almost like an excavation, digging into this information and creating pieces to honor these individuals. I want to give emotional context to the people in the collection."
With all of her site-specific events and ongoing endeavors — in brief: a perfume line; a 7-inch split with Blixa Bargeld based on the writings of a 19th century Polish occultist; a set at Sat/7's "ManulFest" benefit for wild cats held at a temple in Geyserville; a speaking engagement at LA's Death Salon later this fall — it's advisable for SF fans to hit up Café du Nord for what's becoming an increasingly rare rock-club gig.
"I'm doing fewer shows at places like the du Nord, because I want to do more of a theatrical performance," she says. "Today, my work is all about honoring the mystery, the beauty, and the romance of the dark side. I strive to transport people into what I refer to as 'the elegant netherworld,' and I find that music, that emotion, creates the portal for you to go there. Doing what I do, I feel like kind of a gatekeeper to this other place."
With This Way to Egress and Vagabondage
Sun/8, 7:30pm, $12
Café du Nord
2170 Market, SF
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