Faster Than Sound: Jana Horn Is Cautiously Optimistic

Cautious and cerebral ATX singer-songwriter finally releases her solo debut


Jana Horn (Photo by Adam Jones / Courtesy of Jana Horn)

Jana Horn considers her output carefully. After performing eponymously for years, the cerebral Austin singer-songwriter finally offers a debut statement. Optimism masters clear-eyed, sure-footed folk rock with subtlety, allowing space for each phrase to land.

Between thoughtful pauses and laughs, she explains that a long educational period of tour tapes and an entirely scrapped album preceded her official bow.

"My head was too far inside it," says Horn. "I needed to let it go completely. As a solo artist, you're always trying to figure out how you record with other people. In that process, I learned what I need to do and felt like I could do it better the second time around."

"Broken record" thus shelved, Optimism came together locally at Hen House Recording with guitarist Aaron Blount and bassist Vince Delgado, both bandmates of hers in Knife in the Water, as well as drummer Ian Phillips. Only the title track carried over, its somber, just-enough vocals holding down a buoyant pop chorus: "Baby, there ain't no clouds/ Baby, there ain't no crying." Flashes of levity like the dreamy piano gleam of "Man Meandering" and country lilt of the Laura Marling-like "Driving" balance sturdy basslines and literary lyricism throughout.

"For some reason that song, 'Optimism,' apart from all my others, felt really positive," says Horn. "I remember sharing it with my mom and telling her that I'd finally written something happy, and she did not think so, but I knew it should carry forward. Songs do have a weird power to them, and I followed that."

Horn wrote the album's central cut in the van returning from tour with college band Reservations, launched out of her early songwriting while attending St. Edward's. The artist's preferred method of creation pivots on arrival rather than belaboring. The majority of her new material came together over a week after Horn graduated in 2015 and began playing solo – a time she calls "untethered."

"Most of my songwriting is just being available, and keeping a clear mind," she offers. "I don't sit down to write songs, or even really think about them. I try to be aware of them. I know this sounds very vague, but I feel like songs already exist, and I – or anyone else – happens to access them.

"Maybe they were always being written in the back of my head as I was living."

A prime example is the stark, intense "Jordan," where a biblical story channels Horn's emotions in an ending relationship. The 27-year-old's storybook songs often venture into brambles, caves, and locked doors. She suspects a religious upbringing in the small town of Glen Rose gave her the prophetic framework.

There, Horn says she became obsessed with Leonard Cohen but wore thick eyeliner to screamo shows in nearby Dallas.

"I had these competitions called bible drills," she remembers of her youth. "You have to locate verses very quickly then read it. Those things are buried in my subconscious."

Tapping the psyche, Horn embraces boredom. Her recent activity includes watching Fleabag and the release of two singles by her new band American Friend with partner Adam Jones (Deep Time, Bill Callahan) and Sarah Beames (Chronophage). The group's debut LP prepped, Horn exerts full focus to the task of graduate school at the University of Virginia.

There, the fiction writing program extends her longtime love for short stories and allows her to split time between Austin and Charlotte, Va. Although classes are virtual, she meets with her small group of classmates on front porches. Even with the structure of school, Horn tries not to force the process.

"When I really work on something, and there's too much of myself in it, it's not going to sound good," she furthers. "If I over-thought things, they just wouldn't work."


Come & Save It rally at City Hall on Sept. 28, co-organized by the Amplified Sound Coalition and Austin Texas Musicians (Photo by John Anderson)

Progress in the Fight for Local Venues

Following the Sept. 28 rally of some 200 music industry workers, Austin City Council approved $15 million for sectors especially hurt by COVID-19 that included a dedicated Austin Music Venue Preservation Fund. The relief package will be divided three ways: one-third to music venues, another third to child care providers, and the remaining $5 million shared among "iconic" music venues, restaurants, and arts organizations.

Advocates consider the move, expediting the SAVES Resolution passed Sept. 17, an important initial step to sustain shuttered music spaces.

On the eve of the Council meeting, the Austin Music Commission hurried its own framework for at least $12 million over 12 months for Austin clubs. To qualify, venues would agree to racial and gender equity guidelines including early proposals of staff training, paid internships for students, shows featuring "emerging artists of color," and marketing strategies such as a bilingual website. Commission Vice Chair Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone voted against the plan, which otherwise passed.

"I really don't see how these venues that have already had issues with equity are going to change just by giving them money and doing workshops," he said. "The resources need to be put in the hands of communities of color so they can directly engage these venues and come up with solutions."

For consultants to work with venues, he suggested the Austin Urban League, Six Square, Austin Justice Coalition, and Diversity Awareness & Wellness in Action (DAWA), a fund launched by Mahone. Commissioner Graham Reynolds said their plan will prioritize applications from venue proprietors of color such as Harold McMillan of Kenny Dorham's Backyard. Commissioner Paul Pinon called it a "living document" to prioritize speedy funding for live music concerns.

"[Venues] will get turned into condos, and then this conversation doesn't really benefit anybody," he said. "But I do want to make sure we're not saying, 'Go back to how everything was.' We need to make sure we're using this as [an] opportunity to make venues better."


Jackie Venson's debut Austin City Limits taping on Oct. 1 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Crosstalk

Jackie Venson taped her Austin City Limits debut last Thursday without an audience, a performance airing Nov. 14 on PBS. The lauded local guitarist's dress, designed by her sister, inscribed the names of Black Americans killed by police, with an armband reading "Say Their Names." Alongside selections from upcoming LP Vintage Machine, Venson invited Tameca Jones – whose blazer read "Breonna Taylor" – to take on state standard "Texas Flood." On Instagram, Venson wrote: "Black Lives Matter. It's not just a slogan or a hashtag, it's me, it's my family, it's my friends, it's real people, with real lives."

Gina Chavez received her first Latin Grammy nomination last Tuesday for May EP La Que Manda. The singer's only all-Spanish release will compete for Best Pop/Rock Album at the Nov. 19 award show. The Austin native honors survivors of domestic abuse in her new video "Ella," benefiting nonprofit Survive2Thrive. In a press release, Chavez says, "I toured the world and saw how women everywhere – from Nebraska to Uzbekistan to Argentina – know what it means to be silenced in the face of power. This album is for them... to show the world what we've known the whole time: We are La Que Manda."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Jana Horn, Hen House Recording, Aaron Blount, Vince Delgado, Knife in the Water, St. Edwards, Leonard Cohen, American Friend, Adam Jones, Austin Music Venue Preservation, SAVES Resolution, Austin Music Commission, Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone, Harold McMillan, Kenny Dorham's Backyard, Jackie Venson, Austin City Limits, Tameca Jones, Breonna Taylor, Gina Chavez

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