How Brooklyn’s Thelma Makes Gigantic, Electric Songs Feel Intimate Like Folk

Managing Editor, Music
06.06.17

Grace Pendleton

Thelma is the project of Natasha Jacobs, a Brooklyn guitarist and songwriter who released her debut album earlier this year via the Carolina label Tiny Engines. It may be the strongest debut of the year, and landed at #23 on our best albums of 2017 mid-year list. The self-titled seven-track project is full of forceful electronic melodies and sharp, twisting lyrics that don’t quite say what they mean, but maintain an inherent air of playfulness. Even when the songs get dark or heavy, there’s a sense of mischief in the songwriting on Thelma.

A native of upstate New York, Jacobs has always been interested in creating, but she was originally a visual artist, and even got a degree in that field, before a rather tragic accident caused her to pause and shift gears. Jacobs was sucked into the world of music after a terrible fall off a ladder in her Brooklyn loft. Two doctors told her she’d never walk again, but a third was able to give her the kind of miracle surgery that meant she can now walk, and even run, despite a shattered tibial plateau. Following that experience, Jacobs moved into the world of music, and more importantly, the world of Thelma, and never looked back.

She taught herself guitar in order to write her own songs, eventually joining with fellow Thelma bandmembers Daniel Siles, Maciej Lewandowski, and Juan Pablo Siles to recreate the solo songs she’d been playing alone as tracks that grow to be towering and enormous at times, but never lose their inner core of tiny intimacy. Today we’re premiering the video for one such song, “Peach,” a clip that was directed by Conner Schuurmans, and presents a story told from the perspective of Bob the Dog. Watch below, and read our interview with Jacobs about working with directors to achieve a surreal aesthetic, how the fall impacted her music, and what’s next for the project.

So the “Peach” video isn’t necessarily a happy one; it’s actually a little spooky, but I loved how surreal it is, and I also loved how surreal the earlier video for “White Couches” was as well. When you’re coming up with a video treatment, what is the philosophy behind that? Because these two videos feel like they’re of the same aesthetic.

I’m such a control freak with my music that my whole outlook with music videos is I really wanted to work with artists who I respect. That’s basically how we’ve done all of them — and there’s more coming out too — is finding an artist who I felt understood my aesthetic coming up with an idea and pitching it to me. If I approved the idea then I was very hands off, even if I wasn’t like totally 100% confident in it, just because I felt like for videos it should either be that I’m directing or co-directing the video, or I’m just trusting someone else. So I really wanted to help formulate the original idea with them, and then be hands off.

In fact, for the “Peach” video, I actually wasn’t even there for the shoot. We planned it out scene by scene together, and my friend Conner — who directed it — just told me his ideas. It was kind of wild, because they shot that video, and then poor Bob the dog passed away just a few days afterward. So this is the last documentation of the dog.

Poor Bob! At least we have this record of him. The videos both feel a little bit surreal and ominous. For someone who is coming to your music for the first time, and watching these two videos, what would you hope they come away with?

First and foremost, I wanted the artist who made the videos to be featured. I really like that multimedia collaboration.I really want people to know that I wasn’t the one directing these videos. But as far as a connection between the two of them, aesthetically I feel like throughout this whole record I’ve been trying to establish a Thelma world that has a lot to do with my home environment on an exaggerated scale. The kinds of spaces I’ve taken all my photos in, the kinds of spaces the videos are in, are all very related to the style of home I grew up in and very much relate to. So I think that’s where everything is really connected.

Tell me more about the world of Thelma, the concept of the domestic does feel like a strong theme throughout.

The reason we chose the house in the “Peach” video is because it’s is very similar aesthetically to the house I grew up in, and I’ve done a lot of my photo shoots and stuff there. I grew up in Westchester, New York for the most part, but I spent a good amount of time in Monticello in this little cabin. That’s actually where my album’s cover photo was taken. We have a little pond there and we took that boat picture on the pond. Pretty much all of our press pictures were taken in Monticello, New York, which is just like a couple hours north of the city.

Grace Pendleton

Where you doing music at that point when you were growing up in Westchester? Or was that something that only happened after the accident with the ladder?

Not really, I was really involved in the DIY music scene in Westchester when I was growing up, and I feel like that kind of saved me, because I didn’t really relate to many people at my high school. I came from kind of a football town, there was no real money for the arts for the most part. So I liked music, I really liked to sing, and I tried to learn instruments, but it never really stuck. I was more of a visual artist growing up. But I was still dabbling in music pretty consistently, I just never really thought I was going to do anything with it. But after I had just graduated college for visual art when the ladder fall happened, and I came to the realization that I didn’t want to do visual art at all, but I still felt a strong will to create, so it just kind of moved over into music, and it’s just been that way ever since.

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