Tara Jane O'Neil on Rodan, the Limits of Albums and Louisville Punk

Tara Jane O'Neil plays at this weekend's Goldrush Music Festival.
Tara Jane O'Neil plays at this weekend's Goldrush Music Festival.
Courtesy of K Records

The last two decades have been a time of extreme change for Tara Jane O’Neil, a singer-songwriter who is performing at Denver’s Goldrush Festival. In the ‘90s, O'Neil cut her teeth in the Louisville, Kentucky, punk scene — one of the most active and vibrant in the country. Years later, her sultry, largely acoustic tunes couldn’t be further from the raucous music of her youth.

“That specific time and place — Louisville 1992 to '94 — was a pretty magic thing,” she says, “a really lucky place to come up.”

O’Neil’s first major band was Rodan, a complex, post-punk outfit she started with Jeff Meuller and Jason Noble (who went on to form the highly influential band Shipping News). Rodan, she says, was “aggressive but crafted,” and paved the way for her future musical pursuits.

“Rodan remains an important part of my development and life,” says O’Neill. “It was a long time ago, a few lifetimes ago, for sure. I learned about collaboration and improvisation and composition in that band, and had my introduction to the world I now occupy through that band.”

Following the breakup of Rodan, O’Neil started down the road she’s still on, forming Retsin, a much more subdued and overtly pretty band. Around the same time, she started writing music under her own name and taking part in a myriad of projects. Though her style has more or less settled into the quiet, acoustic realm, she says all her experience comes into play when creating music.

“Over the many years, I’ve done a lot of different collaborations and compositions,” she says. “it's important for me to balance all the musical energies. My solo records and song-based work have evolved, and I’ve found, lost and rediscovered my various voices and inspirations over time. I’ve played with a million bands in a million different capacities with a million different sounds. I make the music that comes to me.”

O’Neil continues to find new avenues to explore music, either in a traditional band format or otherwise. Last year she released “Medusa Smack,” a score for a film by Vanessa Renwick, on a split record with ELEH. Earlier in September she took part in the BOFFO Fire Island Art Camp in New York, where she and her partner, choreographer Jmy James Kidd, worked on some fundamentals for an ongoing dance and music project.

Down the road, O’Neill says, she’d like to release some of the music she’s created that hasn’t made it out into the public realm yet.

“Some things don’t fit onto albums,” says O’Neil. “There is a lot of recorded material kicking around my house, actually. I’m hoping that in the next couple of years, I can round up all the strays and release them, either on record or just into the ether.”

Upcoming Events

After Goldrush, O’Neil says, she and Kidd will continue to perform their dance/music piece around Southern California and will do solo shows throughout the fall. Next year she’ll release a collection of instrumental works made for films and dance performances, as well as other music projects.

Above all, she says she’s taking her time, making the art she wants to make.

“The last few records have had some space between them,” says O’Neil. “Fifteen years ago I was working things out more quickly — more touring was happening. Now I can take my time and really focus on how to make the songs sound and feel right. I’m not rushing to catch any train.”

Tara Jane O’Neil performs at the Goldrush Music Festival, September 18-19, at the Savoy in Curtis Park. For more information and tickets, visit www.goldrushmusicfest.com.


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