FROM NEW ZEALAND, WITH LOVE
Even though she comes from a remote town in the rural Southland region of New Zealand, singer-songwriter Jackie Bristow grew up with American country music.
Her hometown of Gore is New Zealand’s country music capital, home of the annual Gold Guitar Awards.
Bristow took up ukulele and guitar at her Catholic school when she was 8. She learned songs by Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and other country artists so she could appear at New Zealand’s country music festivals and competitions.
But country music ultimately wasn’t her calling. She enjoyed the music of Crowded House — an Australian pop group featuring New Zealander Neil Finn — and such American artists as Cyndi Lauper, Rickie Lee Jones, Shawn Colvin, Neil Young and Bonnie Raitt.
Influenced by pop, country and more, Bristow classifies herself simply as a singer-songwriter.
Despite living in the United States for eight years, Bristow is playing the first New Orleans shows of her career Wednesday at the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse, and 8:30 p.m. July 26 at Big Mama’s Lounge at the House of Blues.
“I’ve wanted to go to New Orleans for so long,” she said. “I’ve heard so many great things about it.”
Bristow often composes her songs using the open tuning for guitar that she learned from producer-bassist Larry Klein, ex-husband of another of her influences, Joni Mitchell.
Klein produced some songs for Bristow’s debut album, 2002’s “Thirsty.” Recorded for Australian label Mushroom Records, the album got lost in the upheaval of business changes at the label as well as the digital downloading revolution that devastated the music industry.
The recording budget that Mushroom Records provided for the making of “Thirsty,” however, allowed the then-Australia-based Bristow to make her first trip to the United States. She recorded the album in Nashville, Tenn., and Los Angeles.
“At that point, everyone was like, ‘You gotta go to America,’ ” the singer recalled.
But Bristow had no idea how big a change for her career that a move to the U.S. would be.
“I almost gave up my career in Australia,” she said. “If you’re not somewhere touring regularly and doing your thing, you lose momentum. But I couldn’t afford to do both.”
Bristow moved to Los Angeles in 2005 and then to Austin, Texas, in 2008.
“I love the community feeling there,” she said of the Texas city that bills itself as the live music capital of the world. “When I first got there, I couldn’t believe the amount of music, seven nights of week.”
Being in such a musically active place helped her grow as a songwriter and performer.
“I played so much, I just lived and breathed music,” she said.
Bristow ended her Austin years late last year, going home to New Zealand for touring that included three shows in April with Bonnie Raitt.
“Which was amazing, the gig of lifetime,” she said. “The big compliment was Bonnie Raitt chose me out of the people who were put forward. And when I met her, she was so lovely. She got me up on stage to take the bow every night and really supported me in front of her audience. And she listened to my second show, the whole show, from start to finish. It was the week of a lifetime.”
Following her New Zealand touring, Bristow returned to Los Angeles rather than Austin. She has a big circle of friends from New Zealand and Australia in L.A. and she can catch a direct flight to her homeland from Los Angeles.
Following her July performances in New Orleans and Texas, Bristow plans to record her fourth album.
“I’ve written all the songs and I can’t wait,” she said. “The songs are the most authentic to me. I didn’t try to write anything commercial or for radio; I just wrote from the heart.”