Jenette Mackie of Polly Panic wields the cello like an ax, wails like a rock goddess, and sends us straight up to the ether. She then whispers and hums to bring us back to earth. It’s an intense and unique journey. Right now, the Asheville-based artist is traveling the U.S. with rock cellist Melora Creager’s band, Rasputina. But before she embarked on her dream tour, Mackie graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the blues, the Southern authors who inspire her, and making time to make music on her own terms.
Where are you from? Where are you now?
I grew up in the Winston-Salem, NC area, moved all around the U.S and into South America, and have been back in NC for 8 years . . . was going to stay just for a little bit but that’s not how it worked out.
Tell me about the music you make.
Oh man. It’s grungy/bluesy/psuedo-classical cello rock? But not leaving out the quiet or soft times. I don’t ever want to feel like I am cheating a song . . . if I put it in a common structure to fit the mold then I think i am cheating the song. Each one is its own life . . . its own story. That being said, there are some things people have learned about music over time that makes it more likely to communicate, certain amounts of repetition or something played just once, for emphasis. And then again, one note played (or sung) with everything you’ve got can move worlds . . . so anyway. It’s hard to grab it all but bluesy grungy pseudo classical cello rock works. My greatest challenge is to be soft.
Does living in the South impact your music?
I would say there is a dark, southern gothic undertone flowing through my music. It’s not intentional, it just is. Outside of that, Dorothy Allison, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Faulkner, etc. They are the writers that made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Not because of exact circumstance, but because of the intensity and direction of thought and emotion. Like ya know, the thought that maybe it’s okay after all. Except I am a born singer, singing before I knew how to speak. And the cello became a life-saving focus for me in my mid-teens (closest instrument to human voice). The blues is a huge influence also, (not a huge surprise, after talking about the writers).
How do your family and job affect your musicmaking?
I have always tried to have jobs to support my music making. I was a stripper in my twenties, specifically so that I could put music before my job. It turns out that it doesn’t work out quite that smoothly(!!), but that was my intention. That my life would not be nailed down by some time consuming b.s. that breaks the spirit and whores up all your time. Turns out there are many ways for the spirit to break, many ways for you to fool yourself, and many ways for your spirit to heal, and start again. I now work with dogs, VERY happily. Other than music, animals are my calling.
I don’t have any children myself, though I hope to have one (at some point). But my boyfriend (whom I live with) shares joint custody of his daughter. We have been together for almost four years so I know a little about it. All I have discovered with this is . . . be flexible about time. And knowing how to say “this is my work time”.
What are your hopes for your music?
I would like to mostly live off of it. On tour quite a bit and then some months at home writing and then going again. I know it’s possible, with pets and kids and all that stuff, I see people do it all the time. I need a damn manager and a promoter and I would be ready. I hate promoting myself and would have trouble managing a sock drawer.
Where will you go and what will you do next?
I am very excited about all that is going on right now! I am getting ready to be a part of the famous cello rock band rasputina. I auditioned a few months ago, and in one month I head off to upstate ny to get in the rv and be in the band! I have been a fan of rasp for over ten years. It’s a little surreal, I am quite nervous, and also working my butt off to get ready.
I am also in the process of recording a new album. Basic tracks are all done, but I needed to put it on hold a little so that I could start work on Rasputina. I am very excited about it though.
Where are you headed on tour?
With Rasputina we are going all over (not the south, unfortunately).
Polly Panic has mostly been out a couple of weekends a month in NC and surrounding states. I hope to do more!
Who do you listen to?
I listen to all kinds of things. My first love was grunge ( nirvana, alice n chains.stp, etc..) Later came blues and classical (the dark side, of course), and old country (johnny cash-style), and lately cabaret and vaudeville style have been the thing.
Who inspires you?
Well, I would say Melora Creager of Rasputina. The woman is a powerhouse. All those people that have successfully carved out something different for themselves. That does not just apply to musicians.
*All photos provided by Jenette Mackie.