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Jana Horn's journey to her debut album 'Optimism'


Jana Horn's "Optimism" comes from an unlikely place.


JANA HORN: (Singing) When I wake up like this, down again.

PFEIFFER: She scrapped what would have been her debut album and instead threw herself into writing and composing a new, recrafted record. It's full of quiet guitars, warm vocals and somber reflections. She called it "Optimism."


HORN: (Singing) I don't have an excuse to bring this up to you, but I tell you anyway that the day has brought me pain as it do ever do (ph)...

PFEIFFER: It's out January 21, and Jana Horn joins us now. Welcome to the program.

HORN: Hi. Thanks for having me.

PFEIFFER: I've read that when you were in Dallas as a teenager, you attended screamo shows. And there are absolutely listeners who are going to have no idea what screamo is. Would you first explain what it is?

HORN: Oh, it's screaming, but it gets a little more complicated because at least the screamo shows I was attending were, like, Christian screamo. So It's like screaming very intensely about God (laughter). And everyone's moshing. I had braces, and I was getting hit in the face and, like, you know, crawling out of my hands and knees.


HORN: But it was - you know, it was the mind, body, spirit experience you need as a teenager to kind of just, like, get outside of yourself.


HORN: (Singing) They called me to Jordan, said, boy, pack your things. The greatest bomb is coming to sort out the unclean. And if you go...

PFEIFFER: Your new album is the opposite of screaming. It's quieter, calmer, more serene. And so I'm wondering whether the screamo that maybe you got out of your system as a teenager, does that influence your music in any way? Or is it just no part of it?

HORN: Yeah, I just got it all out. So now I can just whisper.


PFEIFFER: And you have a song with a very biblical name, whether that was intended or not. It's called "Jordan." Let's listen to that.


HORN: (Singing) To understand the power of your feet, you just must walk to Jordan, boy, because it's what we need.

PFEIFFER: Jana Horn, tell us about that song.

HORN: "Jordan" is a strange one. It kind of just came out of me. I was staying with my little brother for a few days at that time and kind of dealing with a intense relationship change. And I just sat on the couch, and it just kind of came out.

PFEIFFER: You mean you actually wrote lyrics that even when you were writing them, you weren't sure what the larger message was? You have to finish it before you know that?

HORN: Yeah, absolutely.


HORN: I think the most interesting writing, at least when I'm doing it, is unconscious. And the less I'm relying on myself, the better.


HORN: (Singing) Asking you what's on your mind. Can't tell if you're quiet or tired. Staying up all night to find out what's going through...

PFEIFFER: This is also reminding me that I've read you say that you really try not to overthink things. And I personally wish I had that gift. And I'm wondering, what is your approach for not overthinking things? How do you know when you're writing is done and you can just stop thinking about it?

HORN: Yeah. Well, you and me both. I overthink everything. But I guess in the songwriting realm, I really have to just be patient with myself and not be so interested in productivity because if I think about accomplishing something, then it's already lost. Like, I've already missed the point. If a song isn't really flowing naturally, if it's not kind of coming about, then I should just, yeah, set it aside, let it go, throw it away completely.


HORN: (Singing) I am my own. I am more than that...

PFEIFFER: There's a song you have on this album called "Man Meandering," and I want us to hear part of that, too.


HORN: (Singing) He made me whole. He gave me words to mutter under my breath, gave me my mother to push me from herself.

PFEIFFER: You've said before that sometimes you don't know till later what the song's about, but what is this song about?

HORN: There are elements of my family in this song. I hear searching for a particular kind of partner in this song. I was - "Man Meandering" is twofold. It's one about, you know, a man who has no purpose.


HORN: (Singing) Man meandering without a meaning. Man meandering without a meaning, because he don't ask from me anything...

HORN: And then the next one is "Man Meandering" without a machine. I was trying to say I was kind of looking for someone who was interfacing through this world without a device or, like, a lenience on technology.

PFEIFFER: As you describe this, I'm thinking about something the Austin Chronicle wrote about you. They described you and your music as cautious and cerebral. How do you feel about that description?

HORN: Well, I had to look up what cerebral means. So does that still make me cerebral? I don't know.

PFEIFFER: (Laughter) Now that you know what it means, what do you think?

HORN: I do think that that's probably an apt descriptor of the way that I kind of - it takes me a long time to think about and discuss things. So maybe I'm a brainiac, or maybe I'm trapped in my head, or maybe that's a euphemism for all the things that I am.


HORN: (Singing) Tonight I wear the color blue and sit upon the couch with the cat...

PFEIFFER: That's Jana Horn. Her debut album "Optimism" is out on January 21. Thank you very much - really, really fun to talk to you.

HORN: Thank you so much for having me.


HORN: (Singing) The day I fell into the crystal realm, saw so many of myselves in the clouds, not one of which I knew... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
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