On the new album, Nashville, church organ
One of the standout tracks on Jo Schnornikow’s excellent new album “Altar” is a laid back rocker called “Visions”.
Over a three-chord groove – sounding like a distant synthesized cousin of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” – the Australian native’s accent is immediately evident.
“Coming home, a crow is on the sign indicating your exit”, she sings in an airy and hypnotic tone. “Keep going straight, leave it alone, keep going, forget it.”
“It kind of sums up the spirit of the whole record and everywhere I’ve lived,” Schornikow told The Tennessean. “I hear my friends in there.”
It’s been a singular journey for Schornikow — who also stars with costar Matthew Houck in Glow in the Dark — to find her home in East Nashville, where she’s lived for six years.
She made her professional debut at 16, when her grandmother “force-armed” her local church into letting her play the pipe organ during services.
At the University of Melbourne, she studied jazz piano and had a “jazz dream in New York” – a dream that came true when she won a scholarship to study there. She fell into her indie/experimental scene and got a gig at a piano bar.
“And one night Matthew came along. And that was it,” she recalls with a laugh.
They eventually settled in Nashville, where halfway around the world, his musical journey suddenly came full circle.
She was attending a yoga class at Woodland Presbyterian Church when she heard the characteristic sound of a pipe organ, an instrument she considers “the pinnacle of human achievement”. She introduced herself to the office people and is now the church’s music director and organist.
You can see the church (and the organ) in the beautiful clip from the album “Plaster”. The mother-of-two ends the clip at the altar, singing behind an arrangement of family photos and memories.
“I’ve probably spent more time at church than most people. They always feel like home, and this one in particular is such a beautiful community. It needs to be celebrated.”
Schornikow says she was also determined to make the album a celebration. She recorded it in Melbourne with a group of college friends and co-producer Selwyn Cozens.
“All of a sudden this world opened up to ‘I can make things sound exactly like I heard them in my head,'” she says.
The result is a unique bed of haunting strums, hazy synths and crackling, insistent drum beats. You won’t hear much pipe organ or piano here (except for the stunning title track, which closes the album). Instead, Schnornikow has played guitar in recent live performances — this puts her in a unique headspace, as she knows how to play “my songs and nothing more” on the instrument.
“I feel like if a song is a good song, it can stand up to my guitar playing,” she adds with a laugh.
Endearing as it is, we need to put off Schornikow’s erasure a bit. “Altar” is among Nashville’s top independent releases of the year, and you can see its songs performed in person when Schornikow performs The Basement on June 2 with Joe Kaplow and Tommy Alexander. Tickets for the 21+ show are $10 and on sale now.