Jonneine Zapata’s ‘Demons’ cast out, for all to hear



Jonneine Zapata casts herself as something of a mystery woman, and it’s not just the icy, inhabited-by-the-music glare she projects onstage. The L.A.-singer will have you believe that with little more music training than the exposure to Mom’s record collection (heavy on the Motown) and childhood sing-alongs she has arrived where she is today, fronting a quintet and holding listeners rapt with her sultry, dusky stylings.

“As a kid I’d sing along to anything on TV; I’d sing while sitting in the back seat of my grandma’s Cadillac. I never took it as a vocation,” Zapata says. “But through meeting people I’m here today.”

Her arrival was announced by her debut, “Cast the Demons Out,” one of the most compelling releases to come down L.A.’s musical freeways in recent months. It simmers in places and boils in others, roiling in the same dark undercurrents explored by the likes of Johnette Napolitano and PJ Harvey. The album was quietly made and quietly self-released, and now with a crackerjack band behind her she seems ready for bigger stages.

“Demons” was co-written with Sabrosa Purr guitarist Jeff Mendel, who acknowledges he had his hands full during the songwriting process. “The big challenge was capturing Jonneine’s mojo,” he says, explaining that most of the music originated with the singer. “She’d come to me with a melody and an arrangement, just sung. I would figure out the chords and the parts.”

zapata032509-2“Jeff’s my Bruce Springsteen,” Zapata says. “It takes the right chemistry. … He’s allowed me to grow.”

Mendel’s Sabrosa Purr bandmate Will Love plays drums in Zapata’s lineup, with Dragan Milovanovic on guitar and the Vacation’s Steve Tegel on bass. They’ve already started working on new music, this time written as a group.

Not that “Demons” should be passed over very quickly. Asked about the source material for her music, Zapata, who has lived in Orange County, Hawaii, Texas and Kansas, explains: “Probably the first demons I was talking about were the ones in the White House. … Then there are the ones inside. You have to grow up. You have to learn your parents were right about some things, and you have to apologize. You have to confront the hard stuff.”

However, she warns against interpreting the album too narrowly. “Even though [my family] traveled a lot, I saw a lot of things prematurely. So a lot is ‘little Jimmy sees the world.’ I think I learned a lot a little too soon. … But when I listen to a record I don’t want it to be just about that person’s emotions. It can’t be just me-me-me. When you sing, sometimes you’re speaking for a group of people, and maybe there are people calling out for me to speak for them.”

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