A woman of many, many talents. Jill Tracy has spent nearly all her life channeling the melancholic and macabre to weave a sonic web as delicate as it is strong. We caught up with the enchanting artist to chat about all the delicious projects she has happening, and some of the stories behind her singular vision. — by Jessika Hulse
Archived from Gothic Beauty Magazine Issue 41. (Photo of Jill Tracy by Audrey Penven)
At what point in your life did you begin to manifest your artistic visions?
JT: My mother tells the story of me at 3 years old, unplugging the long retractable cord of the tank vacuum cleaner to use as a microphone. I knew at a young age I didn’t want the conventional life of marriage and family. And like most artistic souls, I always felt out-of-step with the ”normal” world, a misfit, looking for directions from elsewhere.
I would lecture to my stuffed animals about time travel and the solar system (as much as a seven year old could fathom such things.) All I wanted to do was to discover or manifest hidden worlds. I transformed my bedroom closet into a make-shift Time Machine, adorned with my favorite zebra lamp and a tiny wooden chair. I sat in the darkness and felt strangely relieved and inspired.
I began making frequent visits to an elderly widow who lived next door. Her home was encrusted with bric-a-brac, old photos and dolls—porcelain-painted Siamese cats with jewels for eyes. In the basement was an ancient upright piano, covered entirely in beige and gold-flecked paint. It sat next to the washer and dryer, under buzzing fluorescent lights.
There was something atrocious, yet reverent about this thing. It kept calling me. I knew nothing about the instrument, but I kept venturing next door, poised on the golden bench for hours, letting thoughts and spectres rush through my fingertips, as it transported me far away. I didn’t know what I was doing– but didn’t want to do anything else.
This became my portal. It still is.
What experiences have been most emboldening and/or encouraging to you along the way?
JT: At first, it was anything but encouraging. The industry constantly told me (and still tells me to this day) that my work is “too unique, dark, and sophisticated” to ever have an audience.
But the best thing I ever did was not to listen to any of them. They were wrong.
But, I realized I couldn’t go in the front door, not even the back door–so I built TRAP doors—I went directly to my audience. My great fans have been the most encouraging thing in my life.
For the uninitiated, how would you describe your elegant netherworld of work?
JT: Well, that’s the phrase I have coined over the years—”elegant netherworld.” It paints a perfect picture. My work is about honoring the mystery, finding allure and seduction with the dark side, the ecstasy of melancholy— La Douleur Exquise “the exquisite pain.”
My music is indeed dark, but devastatingly beautiful. It was recently described as “musical morphine.” I rather like that. I am the mistress of aural opiates.
Your song, Evil Night Together, was selected by Showtime Networks to promote the final season of hit show Dexter. What do you think made it such a good fit, and is this the first time your music has been featured on television?
JT: It’s been a tremendous honor and a thrill to be Dexter’s “Demonic Requiem.” Showtime used my music in a trailer called “The Final Symphony,” highlighting the darkest, alluring, and bloodiest moments from the last seven seasons. It’s brilliant. It fits like a severed hand in glove!
My songs and instrumentals have been in several independent and feature films, TV: NBC, PBS,— the CBS show Navy NCIS featured my songs as themes for sultry goth forensic scientist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette.)
With such a dramatic and cinematic quality, would you like to see your music in more film and television? How has film influenced your work?
JT: Absolutely. My work is all essentially a score— of the Mind’s Eye. I strive to be a gatekeeper to emotions. That’s the magic music allows —like a trap door or portal, it accompanies us—to a place we never knew existed, but wish to go.
One of my greatest pleasures right now is immersing myself in unusual locations laden with mysterious history, and manifesting music from my reaction to the environment. The intensity and immediacy is fascinating. I call it “spontaneous musical combustion” (as homage to “spontaneous human combustion,” and my affinity for peculiar history and science tales.) I’ve found myself conjuring the hidden score inside haunted castles, abandoned asylums, decrepit mansions, gardens, and graveyards..
As a child, when I discovered the classic horror/film noir composers— Bernard Herrmann’s scores to Alfred Hitchcock films, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” Franz Waxman, Hans J. Salter, among others —it was a watershed moment. I realized that the MUSIC completely dictated the emotion of whatever you were watching. It was utterly subliminal, primal.
I wanted to figure out how to conjure dark and enchanting imaginary worlds of my own.
Not to mention the dreamlike, mysterious, sensual look to those films. I just wanted to live in those worlds. I still do.
You’ve also got some new music and film projects?
JT: My song “Pulling Your Insides Out” was used as the end title in director Jeremy Carr’s award-winning surreal thriller Ice Cream Ants. (I also star in the film as the evil seductress Mona!) To accompany the film’s new director’s cut, we have just released a new music video for the song.
I also recorded a new song “The Colour of the Flame,” commissioned by Swedish publishing company Malört, to accompany their upcoming book, an homage to 19th century Polish writer/occultist Stanislaw Przybyszewski’s gorgeously terrifying tales.
The song will be released on a limited edition collectible 7″ vinyl to accompany the book, alongside a new track by Blixa Bargeld (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds/ Einstürzende Neubauten) and Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O)))).
David J (Bauhaus/ Love and Rockets) asked me to create a dark classical piano version of his iconic song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” We’ve been in the studio currently resurrecting this glorious vampire. Stay tuned! (Since this interview was published, the David J/Jill Tracy dark classical piano version of Bela Lugosi’s Dead has been released!) You can listen and download it HERE.
You’ve recently made history as the first musician to be given a grant by Philadelphia’s legendary Mutter Museum— for a project we’re dying to hear all about – what can we expect to see and hear, and how did this lovely venture come about?
JT: Yes, I’m the first musician to be awarded a grant which is enabling me to compose music inside the Mütter Museum, a series of compositions directly inspired by pieces in the collection. It was vital for me to be in the presence of these long-lost souls, as I composed. I needed to immerse myself in their world and make them a real part of the creation. This is my gift to them.
I spent nights amidst the Mütter’s spellbinding collection of curiosities, which includes the death cast and conjoined liver of original Siamese twins Chang and Eng, the skeleton of Harry Eastlack— the Ossified Man, Einstein’s brain, the Mermaid Baby. and the Hyrtl Skull Collection. The project will include not only a music album based on the Mütter collection, but also an art book, film, and memoir of my chilling experiences inside the museum after dark.
***This interview archived from Gothic Beauty Magazine Issue 41. Order a back issue HERE.