Discovering the world within yourself
It’s about what you see in mirror, and what you’re willing to acknowledge within the reflection staring right back at you.
For Jasmine Poole, aka “Wonky Tonk,” her reflection is one of beauty wrapped up in a whirlwind of emotions, either created by her or forced upon her lot in life. Hailing from Kentucky, the singer-songwriter crisscrosses the country in her old sedan. She’s the product of her punk rock roots and outlaw country upbringing, and she also absorbs the pain and happiness of everyday life.
It’s something most folks might keep to themselves, but for Wonky Tonk, it’s the sincerity of the emotion, for good or ill, that provides for the best material. And it’s about bringing those feelings and sentiments to the forefront, onstage each night in empty bars or, perhaps, a packed house when you least expect it.
With her new record, “Stuff We Leave Behind,” Wonky Tonk is finding footing in a dream that seemed shaky and uncertain years ago. She is Wonky Tonk, an attitude and way-of-life one that looks fate right in the eye, right in the mirror, and sticks out her tongue.
Garret K. Woodward: What is Wonky Tonk?
Wonky Tonk: This is an awfully long story, but the short and disjointed of it is somehow I started playing tunes, mostly because I’m very shy and needed a way to talk to people; Wonky Tonk allows me to act a little more confidently through the moniker than I could as “Plain Jane” Jasmine. My dad’s stepmom would always ask me if I was feeling a “bit Wonky,” and I adopted this word in my youth, which I define as so curly it’s straight, so bad it’s good — sort of that middle ground that inevitably comes from the extreme of extremes.
GKW: What about that old school and outlaw country really speaks to you?
WT: I love people like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton — girl power at its best, say what you mean. Mean it and stand by it no matter how hard that may be. I love Waylon Jennings. Dr. Ralph Stanley. Willie Nelson. And I prefer folks with a silver lining like Guy Clark and John Prine.
GKW: How has your childhood, your hometown and its landscape influenced, shaped and colored the words you put to paper that gets put to guitar?
WT: I think mostly the whole situation is I’ve never fit in or felt comfortable, always feeling that I could be better and that there was something bigger. It took a minute to learn that to get bigger and better you had to seek the lesson from the now, which is often hard because you have no one to blame or rely upon than yourself — that can be very daunting, especially in art. My hometown has never been a home at all, often bringing me sadness and dim lessons, thus I thank it for urging me to leave as much as possible, letting me experience different towns and people that ultimately shaped the landscape of my life as a rambler and entertainer. The faces and places that find their way into my soul are the ones who ultimately either gave me light or took it all. We often forget the “okay” moments, but can certainly remember the worst meal ever or the most beautiful sky. The things that inspire me are the people who are either stuck physically, but have eyes and minds as big as stars — I need to tell their story, for while they can not leave their space, I can still help carry their energy and their story.
GKW: As a touring musician, and also on your own, what are you seeing out there in 21st-century America?
WT: Humanity-wise, despite all of the bad news out there, I’m met as a solo, traveling, female musician who often couch surfs or sleeps in Walmart parking lots with extreme kindness and goodwill. Folks offering food or places to sleep, conversation or hugs — sometimes the kindness I find boggles my mind and that makes me so happy. You have places like Colorado who are pretty fluid to visitors where you are met with a smile, Texas which is surprisingly whole-heartedly kind and gracious and full of door-holders, Mississippi which is tough and weathered, but wholesome and gentle. This truth I have found, that humanity is actually beautiful and good is something only a traveling person could understand. In this way, I urge anyone who has been surrounded by the same to go out and learn someone else’s story, and in the process of telling yours you may also learn about yourself.
GKW: What has a life playing music and traveling taught you about what it means to be a human being in the grand scheme of things?
WT: What I like to call “The Little Big Secret,” which is that it is all relative — existentialism at its best. We are all together, nothing and everything. Your influence may seem small in some arenas, but it can affect the world. And to remember that life is fluid and to remain open to all possibilities, to let go of resistance is the hardest feat. To get lost in the moment, and to let the song sing you.
Want to go?
Outlaw country/rock singer-songwriter Wonky Tonk will perform at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10, at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva. The show is free.