Arkansas’s Fleetwood Mac, a woman-led Wilco — those are a few of the comparisons listeners have made to Jamie Lou Connolly’s outfit Jamie Lou & The Hullabaloo, and anyone who’s heard them live in the last year knows that’s not hyberbole. There are slow builds and bluegrass-precise harmonies that still manage to feel completely lived in and easy. There’s the feeling of utter investment in the sound from every person on stage (nearly everyone sings, whether there’s a microphone in front of them at the time or not). Most of all, though, there’s Connolly’s tremendous voice at the core. “She goes from a lilting Judy Garland to full-on Joplin-esque wild child in the same song,” 2018 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase judge Mandy McBryde noted. We caught up with Jamie Lou & The Hullabaloo — winners of this year’s Showcase — ahead of the band’s upcoming performances (alomg with The Wildflower Review, Dazz & Brie, Ben Byers, Joe Darr and Brian Nahlen) at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 24, at the Lakehill Shopping Center on JFK Boulevard for North Little Rock’s Patio on Park Hill, and at RiverFest, 1:45 p.m. Saturday, May 26.
You’re from Florida, originally, and started writing at age 15, but, as your bio reads, “the songs and most everything took a back seat to survival, as tragedy left [you] homeless in a cold and snowy Colorado.” Can you talk about that time in your life a little?
I’m glad you ask, because the experience I had then has affected my personality and the way I live more than any other experience in my life. I grew up idolizing my dad’s experiences in the ’60s as a hippie in Boulder, Colo. He traveled all over the country in a VW Bus, played music and followed the Guru Maharaj Ji, so when I graduated high school in 2006 in Fort Walton Beach Fla., I wanted to go see the world and I wanted to go on my own hippie adventure. At first it was wonderful and exciting, and then quickly turned into turmoil and a fight for survival. I became homeless, an exotic dancer, a hitchhiker, a mountain climber and a vagabond in a matter of eight months. It took me a long time to get on my feet and I learned a lot about who I was, how my every move would affect that survival and how who you surround yourself with affects what you see in the world. I’m grateful for those experiences, and I’m grateful for the highs and the lows of it all, because it has made me a better mother and a better person.
Your latest EP, “Femi-Socialite,” tends lyrically toward relationships. Or maybe a specific, single relationship? What’s behind the title? What is a “femi-socialite?”
Most of the songs on the EP are a bit older, so they span the many relationships I have had over the previous five years. “You Can’t” was my final stand in an abusive relationship with my daughter’s father. “It Is What It Is” was my answer to the political climate of the election in 2016 and my relationship to the world and its discourse. “Don’t Think” was originally written sarcastically about jumping into a relationship without thinking, which I had done at a young age. “When Someday” was written about a short relationship with a best friend and about independence in that relationship. “Femi-Socialite” is a complicated title, because the song itself is not just about one thing. The takeaway from the song is to be a better friend. I wrote it about a girl, and how I had become a bad friend to her when she would always be there for me: “Nothing I could ever say could ever make you turn away/Why do I turn away from you?” The title lends to her vulnerability as a true feminist and as an empath to a hard world of people who don’t know how to give back.
It’s difficult to talk about your music at all without talking about this voice of yours, which can be so soft and velvety, and can then get wildly big. Any particular singers you grew up listening to that might have informed your vocals?
My favorite singer/songwriter is Michael Franks, and I truly believe he taught me how to sing and harmonize through his many albums. My dad and I took a lot of trips around the country, and Michael Franks was on repeat on those trips.
Similarly, your harmonies are up front and center in the band’s sound, and when that comes up in conversation, y’all have mentioned influences like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Jan and Dean. So, pick your fave: Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young?
One thing I love about your harmonies, specifically, is that Garrett Brolund‘s voice is often situated above yours, and they just intertwine so sweetly. And, we should say, you and Garrett are about to get married! Was the beginning of your musical relationship connected to your romantic one?
It was a pretty magical time when I met Garrett. He sent me a Facebook message asking if I wanted to help him put on a backyard concert and if I would like to jam sometime. I had not met him in person, but I knew of him in the music community. So, we planned a jam session at his house with a couple of friends. The moment I walked into the room I knew I liked him. Later on in the session I played a song called “Always” that I had just written the day before, and Garrett started harmonizing and playing along — it’s recorded somewhere — but I think it was in that song that we fell in love.