Pi Jacobs

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Pi Jacobs

Booking Agent: Penelope Grzebik

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Pi Jacobs is a lifer. Born in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, she’s spent two decades onstage and on the road, creating a rhythmic, rootsy sound that’s every bit as diverse as her own upbringing.

“My dad’s Filipino, my mom’s white, and my step grandmother and cousins are African-American,” says the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who moved between hippie communes during her childhood. “Growing up, our apartment looked like the UN. I didn’t know it was unusual until I left the Bay Area, and that’s one of the reasons I love Americana music. It’s inclusive. It makes room for everything. Traditional genres have become so segregated, and I want to break that mold.”

She turns a new page with Soldier On, an album that shines brighter light on Pi’s bluesy interpretation of American roots music. It’s her tenth release, and it captures a longtime songwriter at the peak of her powers, delivering stories of resilience and endurance while a hotshot band kicks up plenty of dust behind her. Co-produced with two-time Grammy nominee Eric Corne, Soldier On finds Pi looking inward, balancing some of her most personal songwriting to date with full-band performances that were largely tracked live. The result is the best of both worlds: a rawly autobiographical album punctuated by groove and grit, caught halfway between the intimacy of Pi’s writing and the collaborative chemistry of her stripped-down band.

“Hallelujah, it’s just me again,” she sings on the album’s opener, a joyous blast of blues, soul, and string-band stomp. Don’t mistake the song for a breakup anthem; instead, it’s the sound of an introvert celebrating some well-deserved alone time. “Hallelujah” is also a showcase for Pi’s voice, an elastic instrument that swoons one minute and swaggers the next, its delivery whipped into shape by hundreds of live shows on both sides of the Atlantic. Those shows play a prominent role on “Two High, Too Low,” another blues-influenced track whose lyrics find Pi on the road, gigging relentlessly, rolling with the ups and downs of a life largely spent on the run. Meanwhile, two familiar faces from those live performances — twin brothers Adam (dobro) and Zack Hall (upright bass), both of whom have played with Pi since 2017 — appear throughout the record, as does drummer Butch Norton (Lucinda Williams, The Eels). Together, the musicians channel the Wild West on the breezy “Coyote”; establish a funky, percussive pulse during “Smoke Signals”; and pay tribute to music itself with the album’s closer, “I Don’t Feel Lonely.”

“The lyric ‘I don’t feel lonely when I sing’ is a comforting idea,” Pi says, quoting a line from Soldier On’s final track. “I think it’s easy for someone to question why they make music. It’s exhausting. You’re gone all the time. You basically work in a bar. Everything that surrounds music is so challenging, but actually playing music is amazing and wonderful. I try to remember that whenever I’m getting stuck on the challenging stuff. I think of music as a magic trick, because it takes you to a different place, it cheers you up, and it makes you feel not so lonely.”

It can make you dance, too. One of the threads running throughout Pi’s entire career has been her appreciation for good grooves, and Soldier On honors that longtime love. Raised on California country songs, blues standards, soul classics, and Laurel Canyon folksongs, she began playing bass at 15 years old and even studied the instrument in college, earning a double major in bass and vocal performance. After relocating to New York, she mixed acoustic guitar and hip-hop loops on her 2001 debut, Irrational. A move to California several years later brought her back to her musical roots, and her album Urbanicana found her assimilating country influences and southern rock textures into her music. During the decade’s final stretch, she became a big fan of the TV program Justified — particularly the show’s theme song,”Long Hard Times to Come,” which mixed hip-hop percussion with country instrumentation. That sound inspired the arrangements on her 2020 release, Two Truths and a Lie, whose beat-driven backbone was supplied by drummer Butch Norton.

With Butch reprising his role behind the drum kit, Soldier On offers its own own share of grooves. Even so, the instrumentation is minimal, with Pi focusing the spotlight on her singing, storytelling, and songwriting chops instead.

“I wanted to pare down to minimal instrumentation,” she explains. “I often tour without drums, using a homemade stomp box that I developed myself. I wanted to honor that vibe. Groove is very important to me, though. I hear it in my head, even when I’m playing alone, and I like being able to represent it at my solo shows. That’s why I love working with Butch. He used a ton of percussion and almost no cymbals, and that suited the mood. The album almost sounds quiet at times, but it also rocks.”

That sense of balance is another one of Pi Jacobs’ magic tricks. Throughout the 21st century, she has straddled the dividing line between genres, creating her own Americana sound along the way. She’s an artist in perpetual motion, evolving her music with each album, chasing her muse into unexplored territory and creating a soundtrack for the ongoing journey. With Soldier On, she continues the exploration.

To book Pi Jacobs in North America please contact:
Penelope Grzebik
penelope@blackoakartists.com