UCSC alum’s third CD offers haunting ‘optimistic melancholy’

CD cover for Emily Jane White's Ode to Sentinence
 UC Santa Cruz alumna Emily Jane White
UC Santa Cruz alumna Emily Jane White

Rolling Stone magazine has described Emily Jane White’s songs as “melancholy as a rainbow glimpsed through the bars of a prison window.”

Her music sounds like a seamless and creative blend of traditional British folk, The Cranberries, and classical, with an occasional touch reminiscent of the drums and pedal steel of Neil Young’s acoustic band from the Harvest era.

“I'd best describe my last two records as Gothic chamber folk with some spooky Americana roots influence, I guess,” says White, who graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2003 with a degree in American Studies. “It’s so hard to describe music.”

Her third CD, titled Ode to Sentience, was just released in July on Antenna Farm Records. White said she chose the title due to the album’s intensely personal and moody atmosphere, and “out of appreciation for the human ability and capacity to feel.”

A San Francisco Chronicle critic recently observed that “on her first new album in three years, the Fort Bragg native and UC Santa Cruz alum goes deep, inhabiting the dreamy songs with her torchy voice and evocative imagery….violins and cellos color the beautiful cinematic tunes.”

White noted that her experience as a student at UC Santa Cruz had a big effect on her musical career.

“My studies were highly influential on my songwriting,” says White. ”I found my studies very moving, inspiring, and motivating.”

“A lot of what I studied at UCSC concluded in how unjust and problematic our world is. It was a great awakening that affirmed a lot of what I thought and felt already, especially when it came to feminist studies,” she adds. 

White says her songs are often influenced by literature, as well as her passion for social justice, which is most evident in her previous release, Victorian America, which touched on the state of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and her first CD, Dark Undercoat.

But Ode to Sentience is a more personal record. For example, White begins the CD’s second song with the lyrics:

If you choose to jump off a cliff
We can talk as you fall
But I can’t promise you
When you hit the ground that there’ll be
Something there to break your fall
Well, I guess you know it all…

Cause everybody knows
When you hit the bottle you go
To the abyss all on your own

And what does she think of all those descriptions of her music as “optimistic melancholy?”

“I totally agree with them,” says White. “For some reason, I still feel like there's a stigma attached to describing music as ‘melancholy’. However, melancholy is not negative, it's part of life, it is not something to run from. My music is also sad, and I embrace its sadness.”

“There’s a lot of sadness in being alive,” she adds, “especially in our current world, and I hope that my music provides an outlet through which people can feel their sadness.”