Emily Jayne: A woman of many talents, many names, many dreamsEmily Jayne Brissett is a woman of many talents – singing, playing piano, drawing – and a woman of many names. She goes by Emily Jayne when she’s performing. At home, she answers to “mom” most often. Her given name is Emily Jayne Brissett; now that she’s married to John White, she often hyphenates the two surnames, or simply goes by Emily White.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Emily Jayne Brissett has known since she was a young girl growing up in Cloquet that she wanted to make a career out of music. After all, she comes from a musical family, the kind of people who actually enjoy singing out loud with each other when they get together, and who sound good when they do it. Besides, music was a necessity – ranking near the top of her hierarchy of needs.
“I started teaching myself piano when I was 14 and couldn’t get enough of it,” explained Jayne, who adopted Emily Jayne as her stage name. “I needed to play.”
Because she was in choir, she knew a little about music, but not much about piano. And there was a particular song – “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Brian Adams – that she wanted to play. So she taped the notes to the piano keys on her inherited piano and began a four-month quest to learn the song. When she’d mastered “Everything,” she moved on to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And so it went.
“Piano became my way of coping with things in high school,” Jayne said. “A lot of people turned to more negative behaviors – I spent many hours driving my dad crazy playing piano.”
In her senior year, knowing she wanted to go to music school, she finally enrolled in formal piano lessons with the highly respected Gretchen Chelseth. Jayne would go to lessons over her lunch break from school.
“I wanted a more regimented technique; mine was pretty loosey-goosey” Jayne explained, adding that, because she was self-taught, she tended to use three fingers rather than five most of the time. “My finger placement definitely needed some work.” It worked.
Jayne was accepted to Boston’s Berklee College of Music – founded on “the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music was through the study and practice of contemporary music,” the website said – and off she went to the big city.
Almost against her will, Jayne said, her time at Berklee had an inarguable impact on her music. She went there with a rock-n-roll style and a classical choral background. Now, years later, the jazz that is such a large part of the culture at Berklee is coming out in her music.
When asked to describe her music, Jayne named her style more “jazzy-alternative rock.” Listening to various tunes on her My Space page (link to it from her website at emilyjayne.com), Jayne’s lyrics run the gamut, from wryly humorous (“Stupid,” about the woes of buying a diesel in Minnesota) to shocking (“The Blue Room,” a song she wrote after a man she went to high school with assaulted a young girl). Her voice is distinctive and melodious, with an edge to it that brings to mind Natalie Merchant (of 10,000 Maniacs fame).
“I always was emotive,” Jayne said. “Even in high school choir, the reviews I’d get back were that the “emotional content was striking.”
While not overpowering, the piano definitely has a presence as well in Jayne’s music.
Because the piano is her instrument of choice, Jayne hasn’t played many gigs in Cloquet, but she is known at Beaner’s in West Duluth (where they have a keyboard she can play) and the Thirsty Pagan in Superior (where there is actually a piano).
More than music
While music is still a primary passion in her life, Jayne has made room for other loves. First came the aforementioned John White of Cambridge, Mass., who played bass guitar in a band in Boston that Jayne signed on to sing for.
“I’d answered a flyer looking for a background vocalist,” she said. “Then, when I was home visiting, he joined the band as well.”
It was love at first sight …
“It was a little more complicated than that,” she said, offering a Mona Lisa smile and no further details.
Jayne and White had (and have) much in common. Both are musicians, although John leans toward punk, Jayne said. They’re both artists: Jayne draws amazing portraits (of people and animals) in pencil, colored pencils and now markers, while John is a talented blacksmith and, according to Jayne, can do just about anything else he sets his mind to, be it carpentry or adapting a car to run on biofuel.
There’s also a shared mindset that’s obvious once a person meets them, a kind of openness to new ideas, an engagement with the world around us.
Then there’s Star Trek.
“Yep, we’re Trekkies,” Jayne admits, laughing, after her oldest daughter mentions the family’s nightly viewings of past episodes.
While both of them miss the diversity of the Boston area, they moved back to Cloquet to start a family more than a decade ago.
Enter Isobelle, then Victoria two years later. Now the girls are 11 and 9 years old, respectively. Jayne is in her second year of home schooling them.
They learn Spanish, math, literature, GUM (grammar usage mechanics), science and go on field trips. Jayne is a hands-on teacher – otherwise they goof off, she said – but staying home also gives her time to work on her music.
While music is available to the children, neither Jayne nor White is doing a “Tiger Mother” on their kids and forcing them to play any particular instrument or join in an all-family band.
In fact, Isobelle says she hears her mother’s music only when Jayne is recording in the living room (and the rest of the family is, as White likes to put it, making like Harry Potter, going to their rooms and pretending they “don’t exist”).
“But I caught you yesterday singing the Umbrella Waltz,” Jayne teased Isobelle, explaining that Isobelle was actually humming the Emily Jayne song while doing her math.
Coming full circle
The White family (and their two dogs) live in the same house that Jayne grew up in. The back yard of the house – built by Jayne’s father, André Brissett, and mother, Shela Caza, on the foundations of an old barn – abuts her grandmother GiGi’s back yard (where André was raised). Her step-grandfather lives in the neighborhood as well. (Jayne’s parents are divorced and both have remarried, Sheila to Dwight Caza and André to Mary Joe Kozsarek.)
While Jayne is still working on that “making a living making music” goal, she does have a band now, which formed after a Facebook
“My brother’s best friend growing up, Travis Crotteau of Cloquet, is a guitarist. He responded, saying that he’d been working with a drummer from Duluth, Tyler Dubla,” she said. “It was two years ago that we started playing together.”
It’s going well, and the three of them are now working on a new CD, with the help of Duluth Playhouse soundman Nick Gosen, a change for Jayne who recorded her previous CDs on her own. Several area musicians have agreed to appear on the new CD, including Sara Softich (violin), Matt Mobley (acoustic bassist), Ethan Thompson (electric bass) and, of course, her husband John (when the music suits his style of bass
In the meantime, she’s incredibly grateful to have been able to continue with her music.
“John’s the breadwinner of the family, so he has less time to do the things he enjoys,” she said. “Since I don’t work outside the home, I am blessed to have the time to do all the things I do: music, art, tattooing … I’ve even started a novel and had a raw foods business until recently.”
Ultimately, Jayne would love to be able to return the favor, and support her family with her music.
In a perfect world, she could combine all her talents and run a piano bar that served raw foods and featured music as well as art by Emily Jayne, with a small tattoo parlor in the corner.
In the real world, look for the latest Emily Jayne CD to appear later this year. Maybe this will be the one.