Rust Never Sleeps
Monterey native Jolene Rust is suddenly everywhere alongside Michael Franti.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
A couple years ago, Jolene Rust wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. She dabbled in a little bit of everything: acting, modeling, singing and songwriting.
“I was going in and out of phases where I didn’t know if I wanted to share my music with the world,” the Monterey native says. “I wanted to keep it sacred for myself.”
After meeting Michael Franti – yes, the same world-renowned, politically-conscious man who fronts Spearhead – at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Rust’s life found a new focus, in part because Franti found his own.
“The first thing anyone notices about [Rust] is she has bright eyes,” Franti says.
“We hired her to model for our [Stay Human] clothing company,” he continues. “At the end of the shoot, I had my guitar there and she started singing and I was like, ‘Wow, you can really sing.’”
Rust began singing around Franti at his house along with Spearhead guitarist Dave Shul. In the process, her confidence grew exponentially.
“Not only did she have a great voice,” Franti says, “she’s skilled at stacking harmonies.”
Soon she was on stage performing with Spearhead at Madison Square Garden – no small shift for a 28-year-old Monterey High grad who just months ago was playing open-mic nights. Tuesday, Sept. 21, she’ll appear on two national television talk shows to celebrate the release of forthcoming album The Sound of Sunshine, which comes out the same day. Michel Franti and Spearhead’s latest features Rust singing background vocals on all but two songs.
“That’s what really got me into the full-time touring,” Rust says. “When [Franti] opened for John Mayer in the spring, it made sense for me to come out and perform the new songs that I sing on the album.”
In addition to helping the young musician find her voice, Franti – an ambassador for the global humanitarian organization CARE – has also tuned her into opportunities to give back. This year, she accompanied Franti to play a string of relief shows in East Timor.
“I’m getting to share my passion with people everywhere from [big arenas] to a remote village in East Asia,” Rust says.
Her soft vocals, combined with Franti’s self-described “gruff” voice, creates a blend that has translated to triumphs on stage, but mixed results in the studio.
“Being in the studio is a completely different creature than the live performance,” Rust says. “It felt like I was in school again; I’m still learning.”
It’s no secret that eventually Franti and Rust’s professional relationship grew into a romantic union.
“After being around each other so much, we just connected in a different way,” Rust admits. “It’s the best of both worlds: I’m living my dream and getting to share it with someone I love.”
Rust says the relationship works because the pair have a mutual trust and respect for each other as singer-songwriters. Franti admits that he approaches Rust for songwriting advice.
“She’s a fantastic lyricist,” he says. “When I’m writing songs and figuring out the subtleties and phrasing, I’ll run it by her.”
With her newly acquired eventfulness, Rust has little free time: Spearhead recently returned from a two-week tour, which included a five-day music festival-cruise hosted by the Zac Brown Band called Sailing Southern Ground. Additionally, Rust was unexpectedly given the lead role in the new video for the album’s title track. In the video she plays a recently fired waitress, distraught and fed up with life. She walks out to the beach and after a moment of clarity, with the sun shining on her face, she moves towards the ocean, rips off her apron and uniform and dives into the water, where she becomes metaphorically reborn.
“I had no intention of being in the video,” Rust says. “The girl who was supposed to be in it ended up backing out.”
There’s even more brewing in the immediate future, on the heels of the free annual Power to the Peaceful Festival in San Francisco that happened Sept. 10-12. A national tour will run through November, in support of The Sound of Sunshine. The Sept. 21 appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Lopez Tonight mark Rust’s television debut. And she is also working on her debut solo album, which is being produced by Franti.
One of the tracks, “Joker Man,” features a flurry of fingerpicking that showcases the musician’s breathy voice like a sun beam breaking through a cloudy sky.
In the midst of change and constant movement, Rust says, she remains grounded through yoga – and thinking back to the simple times, growing up on the Peninsula.
“My favorite memories of growing up in Monterey all take place outside,” she says. “My father was an extreme surfer and my mother loved hiking, so we were always camping or at the beach; I feel so lucky to have been raised in a place like Monterey.”