Jessica Pratt casts a dreamy spell, unspooling folky, hypnotic songs that sound like they’ve floated in from another time and place. Part of it is the unusual timbre of her ethereal yet earthy voice, which makes Pratt seem both childlike and worldly beyond her 28 years. Part of it is her delicate fingerpicking on her nylon-string guitar.
But there’s something else at play. The California songwriter crafted her second album, On Your Own Love Again, at home on a four-track recorder. And its gauzy, primitive ambiance stands in contrast to most contemporary records.
“I always recorded my own stuff, since I was a teenager at my house, but I wasn’t really thinking about it as far as having an audience,” Pratt says. “I would play and sing into one microphone through a little guitar amplifier with reverb and then record it onto tape. It was purely out of necessity, but I also liked the way it sounded, so I think that set the framework for future recording.”
She actually recorded her self-titled debut in a studio at age 19. It came out five years later, in 2012, when White Fence psych-rocker Tim Presley founded Birth Records to release the album. “It was very validating,” she says. “It empowered me.”
However, Pratt says she’s more satisfied with On Your Own Love Again, recorded over two years, first in San Francisco and then in her new home in Los Angeles. “[I was] completely by myself and making everything just the way I wanted.”
The move capped a difficult time in Pratt’s life. Shortly before the release of her debut, her mother died and a seven-year relationship ended. Holed up in her new digs, Pratt found herself in an isolated space. “Physically and mentally—I’d just moved to LA, and I didn’t have a ton of friends,” she says from Chinatown. “It was a semi-intentional way to be totally alone all the time and work on stuff.”
Pratt was used to separation from the outside world. “My mother was very anti-social, and we never really had people around when I was growing up,” she says. But her mother was an avid music fan, introducing her daughter to bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre. Pratt liked T. Rex, the Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull (notably her junkie-period album Rich Kid Blues) as well as British and American folk. And she was drawn to the nylon-string guitar. “I wrote little poem things that made sense to me, to embrace that dreamy music,” Pratt says. “I listened to Skip Spence and Syd Barrett at the time, and I wanted to write songs like that.”
She dedicated On Your Own Love Again to her mother, and the losses in Pratt’s life appear to be reflected in its shadowy songs of unrequited love, bridging the autobiographical and the abstract. “It’s a common thing for people to look back on things they’ve made and say, ‘I have zero idea of how that happened,’ ” Pratt says. “Even if you’re a fairly analytical or self-assured person in your emotional temperament, things of that magnitude you are not able to fully process.”
Pratt recorded by herself, then added overdubs that included two keyboard parts by Will Canzoneri. He also mixed the record, keeping the car alarm that crept into “Strange Melody” and a slowed-down patch in “Jacquelyn in the Background,” made when fusing separate takes. “I don’t think it’s that startling in comparison to what other people do, like manipulate things through effects,” Pratt says.
She’ll be accompanied by guitarist Cyrus Gengras when she plays Great Scott on June 23 and North Adams’ Solid Sound fest on June 27. “My isolationist self would knee-jerk, saying I would never want to tour because I’d rather be making music at home, but I think touring is a useful tool,” Pratt says. “It’s kind of like therapy. When you hear yourself say something out loud, you gain a new perspective.”
Just don’t expect her to initiate eye contact or chat up the audience. “I find personally that it sort of takes me out of the zone,” Pratt says. “If you want the music to be good, you don’t want me to ask about the weather.”