Joanna Newsom

American musician

Joanna Newsom (born 1982) is an American singer-songwriter. She plays the harp, as well as the piano and the harpischord.

Joanna Newsom


  • I have a lot of interest in interior rhyming; not just rhyming at the end of the lines, but playing around with rhymes within the lines, playing with where the syllabic emphases in the sentences are, lining those up at strange moments in the line of the song. I’m not sure if that comes across or not.
    •, 19 April 2004
  • I'm not terribly interested in playing harp on other people's music right now. Partly because I feel like many people view the harp as this kind of gimmick. You know, like they have songs that are fully realized, complete songs, and then they think "How do we make this special? - Ooh, let's bring the harp in!" and they kind of want a harpist to play a glissando and play some heavenly noise in the background. I'm really interested in the harp as a fully actualized, self-contained way of presenting songs. That there is a bass in the harp - there is a way to create a rhythmic sense without drums - there's a way to have all sorts of textural variations and expressive variations.
    I also don't want to feel bound to the harp, I'd be interested in bringing other instruments in at some time. But I think the harp has been viewed in one particular way for so long, and has been limited for so long, that I feel like I am really interested in stretching the boundaries of what it's capable of doing and how it's perceived.
    • Sunday Service, 13 December 2004
  • My voice in combination with the harp - which, by the way, I use because I've played it my entire life, not to make some statement about the harp - somehow has … coloured people's interpretations of the music and projected an idea of childlike or fairytale quality or innocence. Which sometimes prevents people from listening to the songs the way I would like them to be listened to.
    • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 October 2005

Interview with Pitchfork (2006)

A conversation between Brian Howe and Joanna Newsom, about her album Ys (2006)
  • [The title] was the last thing that I chose, after all the songs and the cover art were finished. So none of the songs directly allude to that myth. But the main themes that emerge out of that myth are really close to the themes on the record -- mortality, decadence, an excess of water, isolation, rebirth. The myth is also significant to me because of the way that I encountered it, which relates to one of the huge events the record is about.
    I also liked the power of the word itself. I liked how violent and cryptic it felt; it's such a daunting word to encounter. I like how it contrasted this finely rendered, carefully composed front cover -- the painting is information-dense, formal, and stylized; it looks the way something looks when a painter spends a year on it, which is what Benjamin [Vierling] did. So it has all this detail and carefulness to it, which was really important to me and relates very closely to the record. But I also felt like it needed some sort of ballast, or balance, next to it, to reflect the other elements of the record; its innate violence. I wanted a word that was like throwing a brick at the visual on the front cover; I liked that whenever someone looked at that cover they also had to encounter this short, weird word.
  • I don't necessarily see the elements that I invoke on the cover and in the songs as being in binary opposition. I know certain binary tensions emerge between these elements, but a lot of times they're more like archetypal elements; these free-standing, huge forces. Mortality, standing alone, as a thing; as opposed to, "Over here's life; over here's death. Here's bad luck, but here's blessing and redemption. Here's water; here's fire." Certainly those things come up again and again in the songs, but it's not intentional, and probably has more to do with the fact that those things emerge in real life, without any effort on our part whatsoever, than they are derived from any classical tradition. I think classicism in general might reflect more closely the natural order of human life, while postmodernism is somehow removed from the natural order, more cerebral and sterile, removed from real life on some level. So what seems like classicism in some of these songs might be just what I view as an accurate reflection of real life on this planet.
  • I can't call them linear narratives, and I can't call them chronological in a traditional, classical sense; I'm sure there's plenty of stuff I borrow more from William Faulkner than William Shakespeare. I just find it funny that at this point, we see a collection of highly charged, highly potent symbols as referring back to a classical aesthetic, because to me they seem deeply connected to the pedestrian actuality of real life.
  • We sailed away on a winter's day
    With fate as malleable as clay
    But ships are fallible, I say
    And the nautical, as all things, fades.
    • Bridges & Balloons
  • And a thimble's worth of milky moon
    Can touch hearts larger than a thimble.
    • Bridges & Balloons
  • I killed my dinner
    with karate
    kicked him in the face,taste the body, shallow work is the work that I do.
    • The Book of Right-On
  • And all that we built, and all that we breathed
    And all that we spilled or pulled up like weeds
    Is piled up in back and it burns irrevocably
    And we spoke up in turns 'til the silence crept over me.
  • And the love we hold, and the love we spurn,
    Will never grow cold, only taciturn
    • Sadie
  • Go to sleep, you stunning sky, gently creep, cunning by
    A quiet hum is amplified by your thumb that you suck dry
    A hundred raging waters snare the lonely sigh
    Hold your breath and clasp at Cassiopeia.
    • Cassiopeia
  • While yonder, wild and blue,
    the wild blue yonder looms.
    'Till we are wracked with rheum,
    by roads, by songs entombed.
    • Swansea
  • I do as I please.
    Now I'm on my knees.
    Your skin is something that I stir into my tea.
    And I am watching you
    and you are starry, starry, starry...
    • Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie

Ys (2006)

  • Emily, I saw you last night by the river
    I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water
    Frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever
    In a mud cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky'd been breathing on a mirror.
  • And everything with wings is restless,
    aimless, drunk and dour;
    butterflies and birds collide, at hot ungodly hours.
    And my clay-coloured motherlessness rangily reclines;
    come on home now!
    All my bones are dolorous with vines!
  • We could stand for a century
    Staring, with our heads cocked
    In the broad daylight at this thing
    In bodies that don't keep
    Dumbstruck with the sweetness of being
    Until we don't be
    • Emily

  • Now her coat drags through the water,
    Bagging, with a life's-worth of hunger, limitless minnows
    In the magnetic embrace,
    Balletic and glacial, of Bear's insatiable shadow.
    • Monkey & Bear

  • Then the slow lip of fire moves across the prairie with precision
    While, somewhere, with your pliers and glue, you make your first incision
    And, in a moment of almost-unbearable vision, doubled over with the hunger of lions
    'Hold me close', cooed the dove, who was stuffed now with sawdust and diamonds.
  • And though our bones, they may break
    And our souls separate,
    why the long face?
    And though our bodies recoil
    From the grip of the soil,
    why the long face?
    • Sawdust & Diamonds

  • Picking through your pocket lining, well what is this?
    Scrap of sassafras, eh Sisyphus?
  • Well I'm starvin' and freezin'
    In this measly old bed
    (Then I'll crawl across the salt flats
    To stroke your sweet head)
    Come across the desert,
    with no shoes on?
    (I love you truly,
    or I love no-one)
    • Only Skin

  • Water were your limbs
    And the fire was your hair
    And then the moon caught your eye,
    and you rose through the air.
    Well if you've seen true light,
    then this is my prayer:
    Will you call me
    When you get there?
    • Cosmia

  • "Have you come, then, to rescue me?"
    He laughed and said, "from what, 'Colleen'?"
    You dried and dressed most willingly.
    You corseted, and caught the dread disease
    by which one comes to know such peace."
    • Colleen
  • We are blessed and sustained by what is not said
    • Easy

  • By the time you read this
    I will be so far away
    Daddy longlegs, how in the world
    Am I to be expected to stay?
    • Have One On Me

  • We broke our hearts,
    in the war between
    St. George and the dragon,
    but both, in equal part,
    are welcome to come along.
    I'm inviting everyone.
    • '81

  • But it can make you feel over, and old
    (Lord, you know it's a shame),
    when I only want for you to pull over,
    and hold me,
    till I can't remember my own name.
    • Good Intentions Paving Company

  • This is the song for Baby Birch.
    I will never know you.
    And at the back of what we've done,
    there is that knowledge of you.
  • held her there,
    kicking and mewling,
    upended, unspooling, unsung and blue;
    told her "wherever you go,
    little runaway bunny,
    I will find you."
    And then she ran,
    as they're liable to do.
    • Baby Birch

  • And if you come and see me,
    you will upset the order.
    You cannot come and see me,
    for I set myself apart.
    But when you come and see me,
    in California,
    you cross the border of my heart.
    • In California

  • A feather of a hawk was bound
    Bound around my neck
    A poultice made of fig
    The eager little vultures pecked
    • Jackrabbits

  • Wolf-spider, crouch in your funnel nest.
    If I knew you, once,
    now I know you less.
    In the sinking sand,
    where we've come to rest,
    have I had a hand in your loneliness?
  • With the loneliness
    of you mighty men,
    with your mighty kiss
    that might never, never end,
    while, so far away,
    in the seat of the West,
    burns the fount
    of the heat
    of that loneliness.
    • Go Long

  • And, when the bulbs do flash,
    as bright as morning,
    the crowd keeps on gathering
    like an electric storm.
    • Esme

  • Driven through by her own sword,
    summer died last night, alone.
  • I may have changed, it's hard to gauge
    Time won't account for how I've aged
    Would that I could tie your lying tongue
    Who says that leaving keeps you young.
    • Autumn

  • In this life, who did you love,
    beneath the drifting ashes,
    beneath the sheeting banks of air
    that barrenly bore our rations?
  • And, for the sake of that pit of snakes,
    for whom did you allay your shyness,
    and spend all your mercy, and madness, and grace,
    in a day, beneath the bending cypress?
  • Hung from the underbelly of the Earth
    While the stars skid away below
    Gormless and brakeless; gravel-loose
    Falling silent as gavels in the snow.
  • It is too short —
    the day we are born,
    we commence with our dying.

  • Coats of bouclé, jacquard and cashmere;
    cartouche and tweed, all silver shot —
    and everything that could remind you
    of how easy I was not.
  • It does not suffice
    for you to say I am a sweet girl,
    or to say you hate to see me sad
    because of you.
    It does not suffice,
    to merely lie beside each other,
    as those who love each other do.
  • The tap of hangers,
    swaying in the closet —
    unburdened hooks
    and empty drawers —
    and everywhere I tried to love you
    is yours again,
    and only yours.
    • Does Not Suffice

  • But inasmuch as that light is loaned,
    insofar as we’ve borrowed bones,
    must every debt now be repaid
    in star-spotted, sickle-winged night raids
  • In the folds and the branches,
    somewhere, out there,
    I was only just born into open air.
    Now hush, little babe.
    You don’t want to be
    down in the trenches,
    remembering with me,
    where you will not mark my leaving,
    and you will not hear my parting song.
    Nor is there cause for grieving.
    Nor is there cause for carrying on.

    • Anecdotes

  • Above them,
    parades mark the passing of days
    through parks where pale colonnades arch
    in marble and steel,
    where all of the Twenty Thousand attending your foot fall
    (and the Cause that they died for)
    are lost in the idling birdcalls,
    and the records they left are cryptic at best,
    lost in obsolescence
    • Sapokanikan

  • In December of that year,
    the word came down that she was here.
    The days grew shorter.
    I was sure, if she came 'round,
    I’d hold my ground. I'd endure.
    But they'd alluded to a change
    that came to pass,
    and Spring, deranged,
    weeping grass and sleepless,
    broke herself upon my windowglass.
    And I could barely breathe, for seeing
    all the splintered light that leaked her fissures,
    fleeing, launched in flight:
    unstaunched daylight, brightly bleeding,
    bleached the night with dawn, deleting,
    in that high sun,
    after our good run,
    when the spirit bends
    beneath knowing it must end.

    • Leaving the City

  • What’s redacted will repeat,
    and you cannot learn that you burn when you touch the heat,
    so we touch the heat,
    and we cut facsimiles of love and death
    (just separate holes in sheets
    where you cannot breathe, and you cannot see).
    • Goose Eggs

  • As the day is long,
    so the well runs dry,
    and we came to see Time is taller
    than Space is wide
    And we bade goodbye
    to the Great Divide:
    found unlimited simulacreage to colonize!
  • All we saw was that Time is taller than Space is wide.
    That's why we got bound to a round desert island,
    'neath the sky where our sailors have gone.
    Have they drowned, in those windy highlands?
    Highlands away, my John.
    • Waltz Of The 101st Lightborne

  • lists of sins and solemn vows
    don't make you any friends.
    • The Things I Say

  • And in an infinite regress:
    Tell me, why is the pain of birth
    lighter borne than the pain of death?
  • I know we must abide
    each by the rules that bind us here:
    the divers, and the sailors, and the women on the pier.
  • Recall the word you gave:
    to count your way across the depths of this arid world,
    where you would yoke the waves,
    and lay a bed of shining pearls!
    I dream it every night:
    the ringing of the pail,
    the motes of sand dislodged,
    the shucking, quick and bright;
    the twinned and cast-off shells reveal a single heart of white.
  • And never will I wed.
    I'll hunt the pearl of death to the bottom of my life,
    and ever hold my breath,
    till I may be the diver's wife.
    • Divers

  • Hey little leaf, lying on the ground—
    now you're turning slightly brown!
    Why don't you come back on the tree,
    turn the color green the way you ought to be?
    • Same Old Man

  • In martial wind, and in clarion rain,
    we minced into battle, wincing in pain;
    not meant for walking, backs bound in twine:
    not angel or devil,
    but level, in time.
  • Now the towns and forests, highways and plains,
    fall back in circles like an emptying drain.
    And I won't come round this way again,
    where the lonely wind abides,
    and you will not take my heart, alive.
    • You Will Not Take My Heart Alive

  • So it would seem to be true:
    when cruel birth debases, we forget.
    When cruel death debases,
    we believe it erases all the rest
    that precedes
    But stand brave, life-liver,
    bleeding out your days
    in the river of time.
    Stand brave:
    time moves both ways
  • Love is not a symptom of time.
    Time is just a symptom of love
  • Joy! Again, around—a pause, a sound—a song:
    a way a lone a last a loved a long.
    A cave, a grave, a day: arise, ascend.
    (Areion, Rharian; go free and graze. Amen.)
    A shore, a tide, unmoored—a sight, abroad:
    A dawn, unmarked, undone, undarked (a god).
    No time. No flock. No chime, no clock. No end.
    White star, white ship—Nightjar, transmit: transcend!
    • Time, As A Symptom

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: