Serena Jost had a simple desire when preparing to record her latest album, Up To The Sky.
“I was looking for magic,” she said.
She found it on 20th Street in Manhattan, the site of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, the place where she recorded the record and where she will be playing tonight, April 19.
“I was working on my previous record, A Bird Will Sing, with a wonderful producer, Anton Fier, and it was a really specific and organized process,” Jost said. “You go into the studio and multi-track things and improve things, and in the mix you have your edits, and there are a lot of technical aspects to the recording when you go to a studio.
“And I love working with my band, I adore them, and I love Anton as well, but I got to this point where I thought, ‘What would happen if I just did something totally by myself, live, and where would I do that?’” she continues. “And then I thought how nice it would be to be in a non-commercial situation in a non-commercial venue, and I thought of churches and synagogues. I’m not really religious, but I’m spiritually oriented, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to come to a place where people come to seek something and have community with each other?’”
It would be, and it is, with Up To The Sky capturing a moment in time that few artists will get to experience. It’s raw, atmospheric and layered, all at the same time, with multiple listens revealing new things each time. In other words, a perfect record for music lovers and one not geared to the Twitter generation.
“When I made this recording, I was trying to do something genuine and real and vulnerable and also provide a place that could be an oasis for listening,” Jost said. “There’s nothing wrong with processed, fast and fun music; that’s great too. But there’s almost like an oversaturation, and taking something in and internalizing it, that matters so much to me. Music, for me, is calling upon whatever forces are not immediate and inviting them in. Where are the unknowns? What’s the depth? What can I find here? I’m interested in search and exploration and trying to discover something that I don’t already know.”
It’s been a nearly lifelong quest for the cellist, who first picked up the instrument in the fourth grade.
“My father played the violin and my brothers both chose the violin as well,” she said. “‘No, I want to play that other thing.’ (Laughs) I was so drawn to it. I still remember my first note and I was entranced but I was also disappointed with the sound because I didn’t know how to play. So it’s a lifetime of pursuing more of what you imagined. I just love the cello. It feels great and it’s so fun to sing with because it the instrument touches your sternum and you’re singing from that place in your body. It’s almost like you have two voices at once.”
About the only bad thing about it is carrying it around, especially given that her instrument is one from 1910 that was given to her as a child. She jokes, calling it, “My life with a portable gym,” but when you add in traveling on New York subways with it, you can start sweating just thinking about it.
“It’s almost like having an infant,” Jost laughs. “You don’t lose it, you don’t leave it by itself for a minute, and you expect the worst. I learned you can’t entrust it to a friend, either.”
At least St. Peter’s is only five blocks from her house, but that’s not the only reason why she is likely to make a return trip to the church in the future.
“I sang into the space and that was it,” she said.
Sometimes that’s all you need.
Serena Jost plays St. Peter’s Church in NYC tonight, April 19. For more information, click here
For more information on Serena Jost, click here