Joanna Newsom is an American multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and actor. She is best known for her folk albums ‘Divers’ and ‘Have One on Me.’ She was born into an affluent doctor family from Nevada. She was not allowed to watch TV or films until she was a teenager. This was done to safeguard her from the bad influences of violent films and TV series. Her parents played music in their free time, and she caught the love for music from them. She joined music lessons at a tender age. She also developed a keen interest in playing the harp. She studied creative writing at ‘Mills College.’ Soon, she started working as a full-time musician. In 2004, she released her debut album, ‘The Milk-Eyed Mender,’ which was a major commercial and critical success. She played various instruments in her album and made sure that her subsequent three albums also attained widespread critical and commercial success. She started her film career with a voice role in the English version of the Japanese anime film ‘The Sky Crawlers’ and has since appeared in films such as ‘Inherent Vice’ and ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.’
Childhood & Early Life
Joanna Newsom was born on January 18, 1982, in Nevada City, California, to Christine and William Newsom, both doctors, who moved to Nevada from San Francisco. Joanna was the second of the three children in the family. She grew up with a brother and a sister.
Her parents were open-minded and liberal. However, they believed that kids should not be allowed to watch TV or films before a certain age. Thus, Joanna did not have any exposure to music or TV until she was a teenager.
In her initial years, her only source of entertainment was the music that her parents played. Her father was a skilled guitarist, while her mother was a trained pianist. Thus, Joanna inherited her parents’ love for music.
Soon, she expressed her desire of learning music. She was especially drawn to the harp, which was an unconventional choice for a child of her age. She joined harp classes.
Her childhood was mostly melancholic, and she had a hard time making friends. However, she did not give up music.
By the time she was 14 years old, she had decided that she wanted to become a songwriter and a musician. Soon, she enrolled at ‘Mills College’ to study creative writing. She did not complete her education, as the urge to begin her musical career overpowered her and she dropped out of the college soon.
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While in college, she joined a local band named ‘The Pleased’ and played with them for sometime before she dropped out and returned to her hometown. In 2002, she joined an experimental music band named ‘Nervous Cop’ and collaborated with them on their self-titled album.
She was not a fan of contemporary music and loved playing the harp and other classical instruments instead. She had a hard time finding the right music label for her debut effort, and during the first few years of struggle, she recorded two EPs titled ‘Walnut Whales’ and ‘’Yarn and Glue’ at home.
Her EPs were not meant to be publicly released. Her then-boyfriend, Noah Georgeson, however, talked her into promoting her work. Famous musician Will Oldham got one of her CDs through her friend and was instantly impressed by her talent. He helped her get a contract with his record label, ‘Drag City.’
Joanna immediately started recording her debut album, ‘The Milk-Eyed Mender,’ which was released in 2004 to widespread critical and commercial acclaim. Joanna also embarked on a tour to promote the album.
Joanna took full artistic liberty to come out with an album that was extremely fresh in its approach toward folk music. Joanna’s childlike voice was appreciated for its freshness. Her harp and piano skills were also appreciated. The album ended up selling more than 200 thousand copies in the US, and Joanna became the new sensation in the “neo-folk” genre.
In 2006, Joanna announced the release of her second album, ‘Ys.’ This had personal elements, as it had her telling stories of her life through her lyrics and writing about the people she met in the previous two years. It became Joanna’s first album to be featured on the ‘Billboard 200’ chart. It earned the 134th spot on the chart. It continued to receive wide critical and commercial success and sold more than 250 thousand copies by 2010.
Joanna took a break of four years before she released her next album, ‘Have One on Me,’ in 2010. It was her first album that was released in the triple-disc format. Despite this mild criticism, the album received majorly positive reviews from music critics and listeners.
The album was among the top 100 of the ‘Billboard 200’ charts and reached number 16 on the ‘Top Digital Albums’ chart. The album also topped the ‘Folk Albums’ and the ‘Independent Albums’ charts. Selling seven thousand copies within a week of its release, the album was a huge hit across the US and Canada. It became Joanna’s first album to be charted in Canada.
Soon, her success reached Hollywood. She took some time off from music to start a career in acting. She took a five-year break before she released her fourth studio album, ‘Divers.’ The album received widespread critical acclaim upon its release and was appreciated for its layered and complex lyrics.
The album surpassed all her previous works in terms of critical appreciation. Several critics praised her and said that she was one of the best songwriters of this generation. This was the first time that Joanna had topped the ‘Billboard Alternative Albums’ chart. The video of one of the songs from the album was directed by highly acclaimed American filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.
Joanna believes she is an all-rounder artist and claims she was always interested in acting. In 2008, she agreed to lend her voice to a key character in the English version of the Japanese anime film ‘The Sky Crawlers.’
In 2012, she appeared in a sketch-comedy series named ‘Portlandia’ and played the role of a harpist in one of its episodes. In 2014, she was offered a key role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film ‘Inherent Vice.’ The film was hugely appreciated for its uniqueness and was nominated for several awards.
Joanna Newsom has dated many musicians in the past. In 2005, she dated ‘Smog’ musician Bill Callahan.
In 2013, Joanna got married to actor/comedian Andy Samberg. In 2017, she gave birth to her daughter.