The former lead vocalist and bassist for ’90s alternative-rock band Concrete Blonde, Johnette Napolitano has been touring in support of her upcoming album, Naked, a follow-up to her recent EP featuring new tracks “Here,” “Memory Go,” and “Jazz on Vinyl.” Her trek across the West Coast will take her through Santa Barbara with a performance September 14 at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club. As Napolitano continues to evolve musically, her live show is focused on sparse arrangement with just acoustic guitar and voice. In addition to creating new music, Napolitano has released a book titled Rough Mix and delights in sharing passages during her live shows; she is in the process of finishing a second, Rough Mix #2. I had a chance to talk with Napolitano about her current projects and musical direction.
How did you decide on the title Naked for your album? Does it have anything to do with the minimalistic arrangement? It has everything to do with that, and that’s exactly the point. I’ve been touring the idea for this show by myself for the last two years with the concept that I want to record a live DVD. I’ve had to consciously come up against the way things are done now — everyone wants to YouTube your ass [Laughs.] against your will … I wanted to take it to another level. I didn’t want to just sit up there and play and stick a camera in front. I wanted to utilize the graphics, the illustrations; I read from my books. I wanted to add another dimension to the show, and it’s taken me quite a while to work it out. So it’s basically just me and a guitar, but it sounds a whole lot like more than me and guitar.
You mentioned that “Here” is your most mature love song. In what ways have you seen yourself mature as an artist in recent years? Well, I’m an adult — it’s as simple as that. It’s gonna happen hopefully. I see a lot of people clinging to things and not letting go of things and not really “grasping the branch above them” as the Chinese say, and it just starts to happen because otherwise you’re stuck as a person. I don’t take myself too seriously, and yet I do take it more seriously. I have a good balance in my life that I never had before. I was a raging workaholic — I just didn’t have any balance. I was a really manic person, and I’m not interested in being that way anymore, because it’s not healthy.
Having had such a storied career, where do you find the motivation to keep creating and to keep performing? Because I love it. It’s what I do, and I’m better at it than I ever was. And if you’re gonna do something as long as I’ve been doing it, hopefully you get better. I know I’m singing better than I ever have, and I think I’m writing better than I ever have, and I have a body of work that I’m proud of.
Is there any chance that we’ll hear some of Rough Mix #2 when you play at SOhO? There is a chance, yeah. I’ve been going through the stock of material that I have for the second book, and there’s definitely a chance.
You’ve had such a long career. Is there anything left in the world of music that you still want to accomplish? I studied flamenco for 20 years — I studied in Spain — and I wish I had more time to devote to that because one of the things about flamenco I really love is the older you get, the more you respect you get. … You can go see an artist that’s in their eighties, and they can still kick your ass. [Laughs.] It’s something you can do and age gracefully, and that’s really important to me.
Johnette Napolitano plays Monday, September 14, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, 1221 State Street. For more information, call (805) 962-7776 or see sohosb.com.