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Beautiful Music 

Jennifer Hartswick chats about her surprising new directions


When you think of Jennifer Hartswick, “alt-country” probably isn’t the first thing that jumps to mind. But the Vermont native and currently Chicago-based jazz diva is full of surprises — as anyone who has ever caught her dynamic live show probably already knows. This week, she makes a homecoming with Van Ghost, a new group that’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll, and not an ounce jazz.

Seven Days recently caught up with Hartswick by phone in Chicago, in advance of Van Ghost’s Burlington performance.

SEVEN DAYS: How did you come to be involved with Van Ghost?

JENNIFER HARTSWICK: Well, it’s Mike Berg’s project. He’s a promoter here in Chicago. And he was actually the first person to ever bring my band through Chicago. So we’ve known each other for about … God, what year is it? I want to say five years. And when I moved out here, he just became a really good friend of mine. So he was starting this project and wanted to know if I wanted to be part of it. He played me some stuff and I thought, Sure. Why not?

SD: This seems like a bit of a departure from what most of us think of when we think of you. What was it about the music that attracted you?

JH: I think exactly that. It was something I’ve never done before. I listen to all kinds of music and I feel like sometimes I get pigeonholed into a certain kind of performance or music. But I actually enjoy lots of kinds of music that I don’t ever get to play. So it was an opportunity for me to branch out and sing that kind of music. You know, Wilco is one of my favorite bands, and I certainly never get to play anything like that or sing anything like that. So I thought it would be a cool opportunity.

SD: You do a lot of playing with other people. But it seems lately you’ve been doing more of your own thing. It must be kind of nice to take a little bit of a backseat.

JH: I’m always happy to do that with people I enjoy playing with. My love will always lie with leading a band. But it’s certainly a nice break from that to kind of “co-do” things, you know? Singing-wise, it’s very equal. Mike and I are always singing at the same time. It’s a very sort of guy-girl harmony kind of thing. But it’s always nice to be involved in somebody else’s project. It takes a little of the pressure off.

SD: There are some other familiar faces in the band, at least occasionally, such as Nick Cassarino. Will he be playing the Burlington show?

JH: He will be. He’s on this tour to the East Coast. We’re really excited about that. It’s like all my worlds are colliding! And I couldn’t be happier about that.

SD: So what are you up to beyond Van Ghost?

JH: My band and I — and you never really know what my band is gonna be — we just finished about two-thirds of a brand-new record here in Chicago. I’m super psyched about that. And we’ll finish that up in the next couple of months and release that, and hopefully do a bunch of touring. It’s a really great band. I’m really excited about it.

SD: I can tell. What can we expect on the new album?

JH: I think people are used to hearing me with a giant band, like an 11-piece band with a huge horn section. And it’s interesting, as I sort of get older … I don’t mean that I’m old … mature … I’ve begun to write differently, and more quality than quantity. So it’s really about finding that deep groove with four or five of us, rather than the extravagance of a giant horn section, which is all good. We’ve sort of tamed it down a little bit and really found the core of it. It’s more like a soul/R&B record than anything.

SD: A more intimate Jen Hartswick.

JH: Yeah. It’s deeper than anything I’ve done. It’s beautiful music.

Want to hear for yourself?

Van Ghost, featuring Jennifer Hartswick, performs this Thursday, July 30, at Club Metronome, 9 p.m. $8.

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About The Author

Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles is Seven Days' assistant arts editor and also edits What's Good, the annual city guide to Burlington. He has received numerous state, regional and national awards for his coverage of the arts, music, sports and culture. He loves dogs, dark beer and the Boston Red Sox... more


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