Pi Jacobs brings his “honey” voice to Upland



by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Pi Jacobs has a voice that lets you in.

The adjective oftentimes used is ‘suffocating’, and that’s right, but it’s more than that. There’s the blues, and a classic country twang acquired by osmosis, apparently, because it’s a Northern California girl, pop, rock, and a little jazz for good measure.

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Her mother’s eclectic record collection certainly helped, as did her multiracial, multicultural family and an upbringing she herself describes as “chaotic.”

From this stew, Jacobs pulls one of the most difficult movements in music – it makes its own noise. Her sweet voice is reminiscent of Aimee Mann, Joni Mitchell, Sheryl Crow and one of her (very) first obsessions, Carole King. His songs are sort of familiar even on first hearing, another rare quality. This instant appeal has helped land his music in dozens of TV shows and commercials, as well as in-store retail movies and playlists.

Jacobs will bring his trio for a free 6-9 p.m. show at Last Name Brewing in Upland on Saturday, January 8. More information is available at www.lastnamebrewing.com- / events.

Music has always been there for her. The child of a single mother, she lived for a time in a township in Sonoma County, a place commemorated in “Weed and Wine”, the source of her 2017 record, “A Little Blue”, but also included in his latest, 2021’s “Live from Memphis.

Her mother was a “full hippie”. It was also very musical, focusing mainly on soul, with Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye in big rotation, but also classical, pop and country. His records ran the gamut, including Jimmy Cliff’s 1967 debut album, “Hard Road to Travel,” which Jacobs “became obsessed with when I was seven.”

“It was very chaotic, but artistic,” Jacobs told THE COURIER. “And the artistic part was definitely a comfort and a consolation for me.”

She can’t remember exactly when she first started singing, but her mother remembers her first solo, on Silent Night, “in a little hippie choir”. She was three years old.

“Apparently I opened my mouth and nothing came out,” Jacobs said. “I just froze. I couldn’t do it.

Her fledgling talent fell in love with her first love when she heard Carole King’s 1971 masterpiece “Tapestry” as a preschooler.

“There is literally a picture of me holding the album like I’m hugging it,” she said. “What I remember is we had this terrible Buick Skylark. It was a boat. The paint was peeling. It was so embarrassing for me that we had this car. But the backseat was one of those long [bench] seats, and there was some kind of shelf behind the back seat, and the speaker for the radio and the tape recorder was on that shelf. I crawled into the space between the shelf and the window and just put my ears on the speaker when it kicked off. I was in it.

Over the past two decades, Jacobs has released nine albums, two EPs and several singles. From his debut, “Irrational” in 2000, to “Live From Memphis” in 2021, his songs range from pop to straight rockers, from a unique blues / country hybrid to the introspective singer / songwriter fare.

“Pi is the real deal,” said drummer Butch Norton, him of Lucinda Williams / Eels fame, who performs with Jacobs, live and in the studio, when he’s not on the road with Lucinda. “She is one of the hardest working artists I know, putting her heart and soul into everything she does. It’s wonderful to see others discover it. Totally deserved.

Jacobs’ songwriting has evolved over the 21 years it has recorded, with newer material deepening the staff more and more.

His father, a first generation Filipino-American, was absent most of the time in his young life. After some encouragement from a therapist, she traveled to Alaska to find him. It changed life.

“I was 19 and had hardly ever traveled, so it was a completely crazy adventure,” she said. “All artists, to some extent, I think, channel any personal pain that they have in their life. You know, if you didn’t grow up with a dad, there’s a part of you that always thinks, ‘Oh, it’s my fault. I am not good enough. That’s why they didn’t come, or care about my birthday, or even what I’m doing.

In “The Moment”, taken from the album “A Little Blue” of 2017, Jacobs shows us part of this journey:

“Well my dad split the stage
And my grandmother rests in peace
See my cuz, sometimes at a concert
I changed my name, to go with this ring
And people see what they see
They don’t know much about me
I remember where i come from
Each color knows how to love.

On his father’s side, his Filipino grandparents divorced. Her grandfather, who immigrated from the Philippines, remarried a black American woman. She has black, Filipino and white cousins.

“When I was little I was very confused about the breed,” she said. “My life was so mixed up. And I still have questions, of course. But that was also part of my research, it was like, did I get this from [her father’s] side? Well what is it? What does it mean to be Filipino? It turns out he really wasn’t very Filipino! He moved to Alaska and had been there for so long that he was really well settled with the Native Americans there. He kind of blended into that culture and felt that was his culture.

We are all now the beneficiaries of this mixture of ethnic and cultural influences. His music is a catch-all of Americana in the truest sense of the word, encompassing jazz, blues, soul, country and rock’n’roll, with his voice – that sultry instrument – at the center of it all.

She sings every day, even during most of the downtime over the past two years with COVID, so her “voice isn’t a stranger” when it occurs.

Speaking of which, the timing of Jacobs’ 2020 album, “Two Truths and a Lie,” was about as bad as it could have been. It was released in February, just before the world went into COVID hibernation. A month later, the solid year of touring and promotion that had been planned for months was rescheduled, rescheduled again, and then largely canceled.

She returned to the stage for a few outdoor shows after being vaccinated in April 2021, and “got her feet wet” with a short tour in September.

“Things are coming back,” she said. “They are different now. I would say the audience is less there, but the people who are there are very, very grateful. My shows were, for many of them, very magical, because people really missed it.

Fans of exquisitely crafted and soulfully executed original pop, rock, soul, blues and country music would do well not to miss Jacobs’ Jan. 8 show at Last Name Brewing.

More information on Jacobs is on www.pijacobs.com.


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