New York-based singer-songwriter and visual artist Joanna Sternberg has always lived a life surrounded by music – from humming the entire melody of ‘Oh What a Merry Christmas Day’ from Mickey’s Christmas Carol at just 2 years old to piano lessons at the age of 5 and learning guitar and bass at 11. Their education continued to be dedicated to music but then Joanna decided to take a break and draw comics in their room in the latter stages. At 23, Joanna started writing songs and learning how to sing and now, aged 28, they are set to release the album ‘And Then I Try Some More’ ahead of a US tour with Conor Oberst.
Early Perfume Genius-esque piano playing with a classical tint signals the start of the opener ‘This Is Not Who I Want to Be’ as Joanna shares their innermost thoughts and feelings of isolation and sadness: ‘I can’t fall asleep, I cannot stay awake. I cry until I weep, I shiver until I shake’; ‘Life is slowly killing me’; ‘I’m trying hard to change. I wish I knew why I always stay the same. This is not who I want to be’. DIY acoustic guitars signal a change of pace with ‘Step Away’ as Joanna warns: ‘Step away from me now, I can’t see you no more, ’cause there’s not a thing that I can’t do that I’ve not done before’. With the distinctive vocals and Moldy Peaches-style anti-folk sound, this is a song that lulls you into a false sense of security before Joanna delivers the wildly affecting and heartbreaking line: ‘Anyone who’s watching knows you’re too beautiful for me’.
Recent single ‘For You’ is a country-tinged piece with Joanna humming away from the first moment. It finds her offering acute observations on how much emphasis people place on physical appearances and more: ‘With a smile like yours, you could get away with murder so I will not trust you’; ‘With a voice like yours, you can put the birds to shame’. ‘Pimba’ reminded us of Tori Amos’ ‘Mr Zebra’ with its placing on the record and the fact it’s altogether lighter material. It finds Joanna introducing themselves as Pimba, ‘the littlest penguin’ and talking about where they live: ‘I’m from an iceberg at the edge of the sea. I have 9 brothers and 19 sisters. I am small but that doesn’t mean a thing’. Following on from this is the goosebump-inducing ‘Nobody Makes My Heart Sing, with its opening line of ‘Something died in me years ago, I’ve been trying to find it every place I go’ bound to help you feel in Joanna’s pain.
The guitar-based ‘Trying to Say No’ finds Joanna reflecting on their time spent with abusers (‘I will never know why I can’t say no’) and attempting to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again as they escape the rut – although this could prove hard: ‘Why do I give my heart out just to know that one day I will cry?’ Penultimate ‘You Have Something Special’ is full of observations on Joanna’s past and warnings for someone who finds themselves in the same position to take every opportunity that comes their way: ‘You have something special, please don’t throw it away’, while the closing ‘Don’t You Ever’ finds Joanna discussing their non-binary gender with emotion and clarity: ‘I don’t feel right inside my body. Never felt right before. Never felt that I was a lady, never felt like a man. You’re not the first to think I’m crazy. How could you ever understand?’
This melancholy collection of sparse and powerful songs is packed with feelings and emotions that offer a glimpse into Joanna Sternberg’s mind as they try to figure out this thing we call life…
Order ‘And Then I Try Some More’ via Bandcamp.
Catch Joanna Sternberg on the following tour dates:
July 12th – Brooklyn, NY @ The Glove (album release show)
With Conor Oberst:
July 17th – Portsmouth NH – Prescott Park Free Concert Series
July 18th – Providence RI – Columbus Theater
July 19th – Norwalk CT – Wall St Theater
July 20th – Bearsville NY – Bearsville Theater
July 21st – Jersey City NJ – White Eagle Hall
July 23rd – Kalamazoo MI – Bells Brewery
July 24th – Chicago IL – Thalia Hall
July 25th – Cincinatti OH – Taft Theatre
July 26th – Bloomington IL – Castle Theater
July 27th – Maquoketa IA – Codfish Hollow
July 28th – Minneapolis MN – Weesner Amphitheater