Joanna Newsom (born January 18, 1982) is an American harpist, pianist, and singer-songwriter from Nevada City, California.
Newsom was first taught to play the Celtic harp by a local teacher in Nevada City. Later on she switched to the pedal harp and started composing.
Newsom studied composition and creative writing at Mills College, Oakland, California.
After touring with Will Oldham, she was quickly signed to Drag City and released her debut album The Milk-Eyed Mender in 2004. Shortly thereafter, Newsom toured with Devendra Banhart and Vetiver and made an early UK appearance at the Green Man Festival in Wales, returning to headline in 2005 and 2007, respectively.
Newsom's work has become prominent on the indie scene, and her profile has risen, in part due to a number of live shows and appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC.
Her second album Ys was released in November 2006. The album features orchestrations and arrangements by Van Dyke Parks, engineering from Steve Albini, and mixing by Drag City label-mate Jim O'Rourke. On a road trip, Bill Callahan recommended she listen to the album Song Cycle by Parks, which led to his being chosen to arrange her work on Ys.
Having sporadically debuted new songs at her concerts since the fall of 2007, on March 28, 2009, Newsom performed over two hours of new material at a "secret" concert in Big Sur, California with fellow Nevada City singer-songwriter Mariee Sioux, under the pseudonym The Beatles's. Those in attendance reported that about one-third of her new material was played primarily on piano, with a backing arrangement of banjo, violin, guitar and drums.
Since early 2007 she has also been known to perform a solo harp version of the Robert Burns poem Ca the yowes tae the knowes.
Several of the songs on The Milk-Eyed Mender have been covered by her peers: "Bridges and Balloons" was covered by the Decemberists on their 2005 EP Picaresqueties. "Sprout and the Bean" has been covered by The Moscow Coup Attempt and Sholi. "Peach Plum Pear" has been covered by Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett) on the 2006 EP Young Canadian Mothers, as well as by Straylight Run. M Ward has played "Sadie" on his live shows.
In 2009, she appeared in the music video for the song "Kids" by the group MGMT..
Also in 2009, she was reportedly working on her new album in Tokyo, and had since completed the album by December of that year.
On January 12, 2010, an entry cryptically entitled "@!?*(%$#!!" was posted on the Drag City website. It contained a link which led to a short comic strip titled "Joanna Newsom 'Have One On Me'" with a date of February 23, 2010. Later that day, it was confirmed by Spunk, Newsom's Australian label, that the title and date represented the title of Newsom's upcoming album and its release date. P-Vine Records in Japan announced that Have One On Me, which was recorded in Tokyo in 2009, would be released in Japan on March 3, 2010, as a 3-disc CD set, with a total of approximately three hours of new recordings. It was recently announced that Newsom has been chosen by Matt Groening to perform at the edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival he is curating in May 2010 in Minehead, England.
On February 11, 2010, Pitchfork reported that Newsom would be the subject of a tribute book titled Visions of Joanna Newsom. The book will be published by Roan Press. The book is now available via Roan Press's website
Newsom has been strongly influenced by polyrhythms. Her harp teacher, Diana Stork, taught her the basic pattern of four beats against three, which creates an interlocking, shifting pattern that can be heard on Ys, particularly in the middle section of "Sawdust & Diamonds." The media have sometimes labeled her as one of the most prominent members of the modern psych folk movement, although she does not acknowledge ties to any particular musical scene. Her songwriting incorporates elements of Appalachian music, and avant-garde modernism.
Newsom's vocal style (in the November 2006 issue of The Wire she described her voice as "untrainable") has shadings of folk and Appalachian shaped-note timbres. Newsom has, however, expressed disappointment at comments that her singing is "child-like."
Critics noticed a change in Newsom's voice on her latest album. In the spring of 2009, Newsom developed vocal chord nodules and couldn't speak, sing or cry for two months. The recovery from the nodules and further "vocal modifications" changed her voice.
In addition to her solo work, Newsom has played on records by Smog, Vetiver, Nervous Cop, The Year Zero, Vashti Bunyan, Moore Brothers, Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Golden Shoulders and played keyboards for The Pleased.
Newsom's family includes her brother Pete, a fellow musician, and sister Emily, an astrophysicist who inspired her song "Emily" (and contributed backing vocals). She is a distant cousin of San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom.
Newsom dated Noah Georgeson, who produced her first album. She also dated Smog frontman Bill Callahan for a number of years in the mid-2000s.
In late 2007, she began dating Andy Samberg, a cast member of Saturday Night Live. The couple was reportedly still dating as of February 2010.