Kaiti Jones writes songs to make sense of the world, as potent storytellers do. Her songs are a garden that she tends to, rooted in existential angst or failed romances that grow into retrospective anecdotes, sometimes evolving over months or even years. “I often write or finish songs years later, when I’m able to look back with a new perspective and less pain,” she explains. Jones’s sophomore album Tossed, following 2017’s folk-leaning Vows, furthers this practice of introspection and lucid insight. It’s allowed her to confront daunting questions, and as a result, shines a guiding light for anyone who listens.
Jones has immersed herself in music since she was a small child and her curiosity and hunger led her to study the violin, viola, piano, guitar, french horn, and cello. An avid reader and writer, she turned to songwriting when she found out her mom peeked into her diary. “I started writing songs as a way to basically bare my soul, but with the cover of ‘well, you don’t know if this is really about me.’ Since middle school, writing songs has been a way for me to be honest and confessional and also ask questions, on both sides, that might be more difficult to do in person,” she says. “Songwriting has always been my safe space.”
Community and music were significant aspects of her life growing up. Her parents met at a Christian hippie commune in the ‘60s, and growing up, Jones’s house was always welcome to those in need. After studying philosophy and writing in college, she moved to Cambridge to do service work as an AmeriCorps volunteer. She completed her masters at Boston College in social work and now works in community engagement and youth development. Although her writing wrestles with her own quandaries, service and empowering her community are also integral to Jones’ core. Both music and service, at their center, value communication and connection, so it’s no surprise that these two vocations are equally important to her. One is a vessel to vocalize her own story, while the other is a tangible way of connecting and uplifting others.
Jones jokes that her songwriting process is lazy, but it’s perhaps best described by the words of one of her favorite philosophers, Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Her ability to save bits of songs for years until they manifest in their finished form demonstrates a steadfastness to her inspired instincts. Sometimes it comes in a flash while driving or right before a show in the green room, while others might take years. “For [album opener] ‘Light On,’ I wrote the chorus like nine years ago. And ‘I Was Wondering,’ I wrote that chorus three years ago. I really liked the choruses but I felt I didn’t have a story to tell at the time, so I sat on those lyrics for years thinking, ‘Someday, you will get to be fleshed out and listened to.’”
Jones doesn’t force an intention with her songs. “I’ve never wanted to have any sort of agenda with my music,” she says. “I’ve always just wanted to ask the questions that I was asking in my life, sing words that felt true to me.” Which, in turn, is why her music feels refreshingly unhurried.
Tossed is a collection of songs from a variety of years in Jones’s life. It was recorded between December 2019-May 2020, primarily in Watertown, Massachusetts at the home studio of Future Teens’ Daniel Radin, who produced and engineered the album. Everything was nearly finished and then the world shut down. After adding the finishing touches during quarantine, the outcome is a sublime bridge of folk and indie rock: blending the same grace and gentleness exhibited by Julia Jacklin with tender, hearty melodies akin to Sharon Van Etten. Pedal steel whirls around Jones’s silvery voice while reeling guitars come to her aid amidst thorny woes.
Take the title track, where Jones reveals her experience at a work trip the same weekend her mother started chemotherapy on the other side of the country. She balances the burst of detail that hangs over the song with metaphorical weight. She explains that she was “stuck with a bunch of co-workers that I didn’t really know so I couldn’t talk to anybody about this. I literally went and met a stranger in the parking lot and rented a surfboard from him and went surfing and then got completely owned by the sea, because I don’t know how to surf,” she laughs. “But it was incredibly cathartic and it was the only place I could be alone and feel like a small, tiny piece in this universe that I have no control over.” Her voice is steady with the confidence and emotional precision of someone who has processed their pain and laid it bare against the earth. “The sea she keeps a tally/Of the battles I have lost/So I struggled for a moment/Before I let myself get tossed,” she sings as eerie pedal steel and simple snare drum backbeat buoy her. Following the ocean’s moody tendencies, “Tossed” swells, flourishes, and finds a calm.
A notorious daydreamer, Jones has learned to harness the time spent inside her own head into a creative power. “I like to think people who daydream just have a rich inner life.” On the meandering ballad “Daydreaming,” she plays her mind’s divergent tendencies with surprising twists. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer your question/I was busy writing my eulogy,” she sings with ease on the opening line. It’s provocative and maybe a bit morbid, but it’s this dark, tongue in cheek humor that allows Jones to survey the duality of the human mind throughout much of her songwriting. “It’s a comical look at something people really do – zone out and think about their funerals (right? anyone?). And a reflection on missing the people in my life who I don’t get to be around,” she says. Thoughts like these can be a burst of revelation or a cruel deception. At one point she imagines a fantasy relationship instead of appreciating what’s in front of her. “That’s the more dangerous side of getting lost in thought; it’s not always beneficial to escape. Sometimes we lose sight of what is real, but then other times there are beautiful and comical and true moments when we let our minds wander free.”
Tossed finds Jones exploring both her insecurities and resilience. Sometimes they come in a ballad of questions on “Mystic,” where she examines transitioning from rigid evangelical christian culture to a more open spiritual mindset, or an endearing rush of pop-rock on “Gettin’ Around To It,” which serves as both an ode to procrastination and a metaphor for the anxieties of life. These nine tracks are the most sonically diverse that Jones has released since first publishing her music in 2009. They’re intimate and sown with personal details, without drawing to some grand, trite conclusion. “As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I have more and more questions and fewer answers, and I’ve just learned to be okay with that,” she says.