Serena Jost
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Serena Jost

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Singer/Songwriter

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""Top Live Shows", Time Out NY"

Time Out New York / Issue 667 : Jul 10–16, 2008, Top live shows
Serena Jost, Barbès; Thu 10

"Serena Jost writes gently eccentric songs and sings them in an elegant alto, often accompanying herself on cello, but it isn’t quite right to call her a singer-songwriter. The term art song—normally tied to 19th-century concert music—usefully characterizes Jost’s carefully arranged pieces and succinct lyrics, neither quite rock nor folk.

If this sounds a bit highbrow, fear not. One of the highlights of both Jost’s live show and her recently released CD, Closer than Far, is a straightforward, almost rollicking take on Iris DeMent’s bittersweet “Our Town.” Several of her own catchiest vocal hooks (such as on “Vertical World” and “Halfway There”) basically consist of one note, relying on the instrumental chord changes underneath to give them momentum. The slightly old-world, cabaret quality of Jost’s music should be underscored by the intimately curtained back room at Park Slope’s Barbès." — Bob Bannister, Time Out New York

- Time Out New York / Issue 667 : Jul 10–16, 2008


"Recommended"

"A few years back Serena Jost was a member of the modern progressive cello trio Rasputina. We hesitated to even mention this fact, however, because Jost's own music comes from an almost completely different universe. Whereas Rasputina incorporated elements of industrial rock and chamber/classical music, Closer Than Far presents subtle and intriguing modern progressive pop. But instead of writing and recording modern pop that sounds like every other twenty-first pop artist on the plant, Serena instead presents tunes that have much more in common with some of the more artsy British bands from the late 1970s. Pop fans seeking something immediately familiar and catchy may be somewhat confused by this album. Instead of writing easy pop, Serena composes rather complex and mature melodies that involve different elements from folk music and beyond... Recommended. (Rating: 5++)" - babysue.com

- Babysue.com


""Serena Jost Lives In A Vertical World""

On March 3rd, Joe’s Pub, located in New York City, alternative folk rock singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Serena Jost unveiled her current CD Closer Than Far.

“It was a wonderful night and we really filled the place out. All kinds of people, both whom I knew and whom I didn’t know, came out. People who were on the record and a smattering of other people who have been playing with me recently, were all on stage, at different intervals. The setting (of Joe’s Pub) is so great, because you can put on a real show. I enjoy playing smaller venues, but Joe’s Pub is the perfect size. We caught a wave and you don’t always know if you are going to,” says Jost, in recalling the night of her CD release.

Although it is still early, some songs are emerging as early fan favourites. “A lot of people like the intro to “Jump,” when I use a made up language. People relate (well) to the cello and the voice combination (in “Jump”). “Awake In My Dream,” comes out for a lot of people, and I don’t know why exactly. People also like the Iris Dement cover (“Our Town”). The original version of “Our Town,” is longer, but I edited it down a lot. Our version is totally different, but people enjoy the way that we have done it. A lot of people enjoy “Halfway There,” because it is catchy, and it is a real pop song. “Stowaway,” seems to be something that people relate to on an emotional level,” says Jost.

Serena Jost is a very accomplished storyteller whose lyrics do not leave the listener grappling with vague metaphors or symbolism, but instead are easy to follow, and more importantly easy to relate to. However, Jost’s music is not totally dependent on her skills as a lyricist, far from it. She is a wonderfully creative composer. Although Jost’s music is closer to an alternative folk rock style than anything else, there is no mistaking the fact that she often borrows from her classical training as a cellist, as she did with the song, “Awake In My Dream.”

The song “Jump,” is introduced by 1:40 of Jost playing somber tones on her cello and uttering words that I guarantee, you have never heard before. She explains, “I grew up speaking a Swiss dialect in the Midwest (her parents are Swiss). A lot of people, who know me, and are (aware) of that fact, think that (in the song) I am singing in my dialect, which completely cracks me up. It is actually a true story, but I make up the language every time. The story is the same, but the language changes. I have this screwball side of me, so I really enjoy entering that moment, where it is just me and the cello. I have no idea what is going to happen in the next segment.”

The song, “Jump,” also features Jost playing the keys and guitarist Julian Maile lets loose with some incredible riffs that are edgy and rock out.

“He (Maile) is an incredible guitarist and one of the things that I like about Julian is he will never rest on his laurels, or do the same thing twice. He goes for it full on, and sometimes he just rams it up against the wall. More often than not, the risk totally pays off. That’s one of the things that I really love about him. We have very little need for communication. I can bring a song to a rehearsal and he drops into the center of it. In the studio (when it came to) “Almost Nothing,” I remember saying to him, ‘I want you to move a wall with the solo, as if you were moving a boulder or something.’ That’s all that I said, and then he did his thing. He takes chances and he doesn’t fear the outcome, which is why I think you get some of those really vital moments,” says Jost.

Serena Jost also invited her friend, alternative pop artist Greta Gertler to join her for the song “Almost Nothing,” and that led to Gertler recommending to Jost that a third New Yorker, Alice Bierhorst join Gertler in providing the backup vocals.

Jost recalls, “When we got to the studio I was really excited about the timbre of Alice’s voice. (On the other hand) Gretta’s voice is quite ethereal. She is a high soprano, and I wanted to create a counterweight to the guitar solos (in “Almost Nothing”). On one hand, I wanted the song to be monolithic, and on the other hand I wanted it to be very breezy.”

Jost describes her song, “Vertical World,” as being, “very bombastic,” and says it elicits a lot of toe tapping from her audience. If the fact that she makes up a language for “Jump,” is not enough to convince you that Jost will go to places where few are brave enough to go, to find inspiration for her songs, then wait until you hear the story behind “Vertical World.”

“The song started when someone I know in Atlanta Georgia sent me a postcard with a peach on it. The peach had hands, legs and a little face. I was sitting at the keyboards at the time and there was a sub line that came into my head. I didn’t know what it was for, but it just kept knocking. Often a line like that gets discarded, but it can be the key to the song,” she says, once she finally stops laughing, from my teasing her about her sources for inspiration.

Jost says, “The content of “Vertical World,” is really focused on New York City, about living here, and the excitement of living here (right on cue sirens start to wail in the background) It is about how small you are in the (midst) of the whole thing. It is about the various postures that people assume to survive (the sirens get louder). The song is meant to poke some fun, and at the same time (she then digresses) You can hear the vertical wall sound effects out the window here (referencing the sirens) On the one hand the song is really cajoling, and on the other hand, the line about the writing on the wall is serious. People come to urban places or move to places to quest or look for something. There’s this (she quotes the chorus), “New questions, pictures, places / Moods unfinished, find yourself saying things / New questions, pictures, places / Vertical world.” It is about everything that is unfinished. It is like the survival of the fittest.”

While “Vertical World,” is a song about making adjustments and learning to cope with life in the Big Apple (even if it was inspired by a peach), the song “Awake In My Dream,” is quite different. “The song is really intense. In families, there are a lot of patterns throughout the generations. There are possibilities and restrictions. The song is meant to be dreamy. I drop beats and things, and in the verses, I drop to three beats instead of four. I didn’t want it to be linear. “Awake In My Dream,” literally means watching myself dream, but it is also about being awake in my view and my hope. It is lucid dreaming and lucid wakefulness. That is what I am after with that song,” says Jost.

Talking cheerily and at an up-tempo pace, Jost theorizes as to why people are drawn to her music, “I think that I have an advantage, because people love the cello. When people pick up a guitar (she is also a guitarist), there is that first chord and you know what is going to happen, but with the cello they are asking, ‘What is going to happen now?’ The cello is also a beautiful sounding instrument, with which people are enamoured, by the time you are finished tuning it.”

“I grew up on classical music and that was where I was headed, but I always found it difficult, because in classical music you have to behave in a certain way. (We share a laugh when I suggest, don’t you just hate that?) Playing the cello came very early, because different members of my family play string instruments, and we would play quartets and trios in our living room, sometimes (she is laughing), to greater effect and sometimes to lesser effect. I had these cello lines that were more like bass lines, and I got bored, so I started to create another line singing. I tried to come up with something that wasn’t written for all of the other parts. That is where that started for me,” Jost says in explaining her transformation from a classically trained cellist, to an artist with well-crafted alternative folk rock tunes.

For those readers in New York City you can catch Serena Jost at Barbes, in Brooklyn, on July 10th, you can also dial into WKHZ, a station which recently has been airing some of Jost’s new songs.

- http://www.rivetingriffs.com/serena_jost1.htm


"Serena Jost Live at Joe's Pub"

Serena Jost Live at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/3/08
March 4, 2008

The adrenaline was flowing. Walking up Fourth Avenue at about half past ten, it was impossible not to be moving with a defiant bounce, humming Our Town, the stomping Iris DeMent cover that Serena Jost and band had just played to close their set at Joe’s Pub. And it wasn’t even all that good, mostly drums and hardly anything else in the mix. Not that the band played it badly, and drummer Colin Brooks was just doing his job. This was strictly a sound issue: Jost’s music is all about dynamics, tension and resolution, and this was their big crescendo of the night. It just must have caught the sound guy off-guard.

Between everybody who contributes here, we see scores if not hundreds of concerts, openings and movies every year. Serena Jost has been a fixture on the Lower East Side music scene for awhile. She’s been featured here before, and her new album Closer Than Far has been in heavy rotation here in Lucid Cultureland. Familiarity usually brings with it a certain comfort and ultimately a ho-hum factor, but not tonight. It was impossible not to be moved, tickled and sometimes even left spellbound by this show.

They opened with the absolutely, ridiculously catchy, bouncy Vertical World, an artsy pop song that serves as something of a centerpiece within the new album. It’s something that could become iconic if someone with good ears working on an indie film has the brains to run the whole song over the closing credits. The band followed that with another pretty, upbeat new one, In Time, which made a good segue. Jost moved around the stage a lot, beginning the set on keyboards, then switching to acoustic guitar, then cello, then back to keys. Her onstage persona is deliberately inscrutable. She often sings with a full, ripe, somewhat heartbroken tone, but she’s actually most mysterious when she’s having fun. The high point of the night as far as the audience was concerned was Jump, a playful straight-up 70s disco number driven by Brad Albetta’s stone-cold authentic, tongue-in-cheek bassline. But the melody gives the listener pause: it’s actually pretty dark. And why jump, anyway? This wasn’t exactly Van Halen. But the audience reveled in it. Jost and crew – once-and-future Mary Lee’s Corvette bassist Albetta holding pushing the rhythm along with Brooks, Julian Maile on electric guitar, and also guests Rob Jost (no relation) on French horn and Greta Gertler, contributing ethereal high harmonies on one song – were having the time of their lives. There was a lot of baton-tossing – Maile would fire off a solo, pass it along to the horn, then to the cello and so on – along with tricky time changes and clever wordplay. Jost encored with a song solo on cello, plumbing big, dark chords from the depths of the instrument: “her first love,” she reminded everyone. This is the kind of band, and the kind of show that would resonate especially with the latest yearly crop of 16-year-olds who have just discovered Pink Floyd: the passion, wit, melody and sheer intelligence that Jost and crew put into their music makes a good match. - http://lucidculture.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/serena-jost-live-at-joes-pub-nyc-3308/


"CD Review: Serena Jost - Closer Than Far"

CD Review: Serena Jost – Closer Than Far
February 25, 2008

A richly melodic, stylistically diverse masterpiece. Jost (pronounced Yost) is a multi-instrumentalist who for quite a while played cello in Rasputina. On this album, her second, she also plays acoustic guitar and keyboards and sings in a truly beautiful, carefully modulated voice. What she does here falls under the nebulous umbrella of art-rock, although her tunes are uncommonly catchy, adding both classical and jazz influences. Jost’s lyrics are deliberately opaque, and like her music, they can be very playful: she clearly delights in paradoxes and contradictions, making her listeners think. This is a terrific ipod album. Here she’s backed by her band including Julian Maile on electric guitar, Brad Albetta (who also produced) on bass and keys, and Colin Brooks and Matt Johnson on drums along with strings and horns in places.

It opens, counterintuitively, with a cover, a stomping yet heartfelt take of Iris DeMent’s sad requiem Our Town: could this be a metaphor for New York? The next cut, Halfway There is a beautifully catchy, artsy pop song whose keys surprisingly end up in the hands of guest banjo player Jim Brunberg about halfway through, who drives it home with very rewarding results. The following cut Vertical World ought to be the hit single, opening all dramatic and coy with a faux-gospel intro:

No I’m not from Georgia, but you are on my mind
I swear I am from Georgia, ‘cause I like it when you take your time

From there it morphs into ridiculously catchy piano pop, on one level seemingly a view of New York through the eyes of an ingénue. But as in the rest of the songs here there are possibly several shades of meaning: taken as sarcasm, it’s a slap in the face of anyone in the permanent-tourist class with their 24/7 party lifestyle and fondness for chainstores like Krispy Kreme. After that, we get the inscrutable I Wait, with a long intro that eventually builds to a cello solo that Jost turns over to Maile, who responds by building something that could be Dick Dale in an unusually pensive moment. The next track, Almost Nothing, a lament, begins with stark classical guitar and features some nice background vocals from Alice Bierhorst and Greta Gertler. Speaking of the unexpected, Maile throws in a completely bombastic, Robin Trower-esque fuzztone guitar solo.

The following song Reasons and Lies reverts to a catchy art-pop feel, with a cello solo from Jost doubletracked with eerily reverberating vocalese. Jost likes to take the same kind of liberties with tempos that she pulls with melody and lyrics, and the next cut Awake in My Dreams gently jolts and prods the listener with echoey vocals and sudden tempo shifts. The next cut Jump is as eerie as it is playful: the production is pure 70s disco, utilizing cheesy period keyboard settings, but the darkness of the melody gives it away: “Down is not so far away,” intones Jost without divulging anything more. With its layers of fluttery acoustic guitars and cello, Falling Down reverts to a chiming pop feel. The album wraps up with In Time, featuring more tricky time changes, and then Stowaway, which perfectly sums up what Jost is all about:

I’m hoping for a shore I can seek
Where dusk and dawn always meet.

Challenging, captivating, thought-provoking and very pretty. Time may judge this a classic. Serena Jost and band play the cd release show for Closer Than Far at Joe’s Pub on March 3 at 9:30 PM.
- http://lucidculture.wordpress.com/2008/02/25/cd-review-serena-jost-closer-than-far/


Discography

New CD produced by Brad Albetta (Martha Wainwright, Teddy Thompson) was released in 2008 to a sold-out crowd at Joe's Pub, NYC. Tracks streaming on myspace and WKHZ Radio out of Los Angeles.

Photos

Bio

Singer-songwriter and cellist Serena Jost was born to Swiss parents and raised in The Midwest. Her debut CD, Closer Than Far, was produced by Brad Albetta (Martha Wainwright, Teddy Thompson) and released in Spring 2008 to a sold-out house at Joe’s Pub.

Time Out NY lauded Serena’s “rollicking take” on Iris DeMent’s bittersweet Our Town and “catch(y) vocal hooks” and noted: "Jost writes gently eccentric songs and sings them in an elegant alto, often accompanying herself on cello, but it isn’t quite right to call her a singer-songwriter. The term art song—normally tied to 19th-century concert music—usefully characterizes Jost’s carefully arranged pieces and succinct lyrics, neither quite rock nor folk..." (Bob Bannister). Serena’s music has been compared to 70s English folk artists like Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention—and also to the Canadian artist Jane Siberry—but is still entirely her own, “seamlessly merging classical and pop melodies” (Lucidculture).

Serena has performed at seminal NYC venues such as Joe’s Pub, The Living Room, Barbès, Banjo Jim’s, Pete’s Candy Store, Tonic, and The Kitchen. She is an original member of Rasputina, the well-corseted cello group, and is one-half of the DJ duo scratch ‘n sniff. She has toured the United States and Europe extensively and also collaborated with numerous poets, dancers and visual artists.