The Decemberists' Jenny Conlee Has Music Picks For You


Want to know what to listen to this weekend? Perhaps you would like some awesome ladies to make some recommendations! That’s what our new Friday Playlist feature is for. Kicking things off is Jenny Conlee, accordionist/pianist/singer/badass for The Decemberists.

You can see Conlee above, playing accordion on Conan as part of The Decemberists tour for their recent No. 1 album, The King Is Dead. When I talked to her this week, she said of the band’s new mainstream success, “I think basically we honed into the sound that we began with, a simple country sound that everyone kind of relates to, and now all of a sudden we’re being played on radio stations that my parents listen to.”

Conlee describes how she got started playing music:

When I was a child, I guess I was pretty young, I fell in love with the paino. I would play my parents’ piano all the time, and I started taking piano lessons. And I was actually in college getting my degree in piano performance when I met a couple of friends who had a band, and I ended up joining their band and figuring out what it was like to play rock instead of classical music. And then when that band broke up in 2000 I met Colin, who is the lead singer of The Decemberists, and then joined up with him.

Her first pick for our playlist is the all-female band Mountain Man. Above, their song “Animal Tracks.”

To girls who want to play rock music, Conlee says,

I think they should learn an instrument. […] Other approaches are people who join a band without being able to play, and then you kind of learn your own style within that band. But I would say it’s a good idea to go learn whichever instrument you’d like, whatever’s available, get some music theory knowledge so you can speak music language, and then try to get some friends together and play.

Conlee also recommends the band Tu Fawning. Above, “I Know You Now.”

I asked Conlee whether she’d experienced discrimination as a female rock musician. Her response:

There’s some obvious times when it’s been a pretty annoying thing, people not taking me seriously. More [stuff] like that comes when I’m playing gigs, like I’ve had security guards not believe I was in the band and not let me into my own show […] But that’s changing so much. And I think there’s actually reverse discrimination, if that’s the right word, where people give you so much more credit because you’re a woman. Even though maybe I’m doing the same thing as someone else who’s a man, they’ll be like, “Jenny’s so much better than him,” and it’s only because I’m a woman. In a funny way, we’re just treated differently, and I hope at some point we can all be treated the same.

Above, Wye Oak‘s “Please Concrete.”

Says Conlee, “what I’m listening to right now is Stevie Wonder‘s Talking Book, which is one of my favorite records in the entire world.” This is pretty much how I feel about every Decemberists record, and interviewing Jenny Conlee was a fangirl’s dream! Stay tuned for more playlists, and more rad lady musicians, in the coming weeks!

Above, Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

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