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Dream into Action

Jennifer OíConnorís unexpected career path has helped her land among the stars.

These songs are indeed rich with details. Specific places, highways and MTA subway lines are mentioned. "Exeter, Rhode Island," for instance, chronicles a pensive ride through New England over a catchy garage-rock riff. It references not only an obscure Rhode Island town, but the specific highway traveled (Route 102 South, which really does go through Exeter according to online maps) and genre of music on the radio at that moment ("a power-pop song"). It may be the best New England driving/car radio song since the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner."

"That song was about all kinds of family issues," she says. "I was up in New England visiting family. I took my parents to the airport, and I was driving back to New York thinking about all kinds of different things — family issues, someone I had a crush on in New York, all this internal stuff. I drove through that town and just wrote down its name. It sounded good for the song."

O'Connor admits a "soft spot" for New England, having been born and mostly raised in a small town in northern Connecticut. She spent her teenage years near Sarasota, Florida, and later attended college in Atlanta, which she says was "kind of close but far enough away" for her liking. O'Connor majored in English, did a regular show at the college radio station, kept a journal and was a self-described musical obsessive. But she "never had the nerve" to play in her own band until after college, when her friend Peter Tunney (later of the NYC alt-country band the Fandanglers) convinced her to take up guitar and form her first band, Violet.

Jennifer O’Connor: The detail-oriented songwriter finds 
comfort and inspiration in life’s rich pageant.
Dennis Kleiman
Jennifer O’Connor: The detail-oriented songwriter finds comfort and inspiration in life’s rich pageant.

O'Connor moved to New York with Tunney a couple of years later. "I always wanted to live there, and I thought would be good for writing and experience," she says. "It pushed me to work on my music. And I worked at a music club [the Knitting Factory], which was kind of inspiring."

Although O'Connor is happy to call New York City home, she says her recent bout of near-nonstop touring has benefited her personally and musically. "Traveling is really good for my creative process. I like moving around. I think it's making me a better player. It's nice to play every night. It makes me give thought to the types of songs I'm writing. You go on tour and play songs for a year, so I don't want to cop out as a writer."

In the past she's toured with a full band, but this time around she is playing solo for the first time.

"I'm looking forward to the extended 'me' time," O'Connor says. "I'm hoping to write a bunch on the road and have stuff as I go along. I was thinking I would try to play a new song every night." Perhaps that means the lucky patrons at Off Broadway this Friday will hear a song about, say, driving down 55 South all alone, listening to a sweet power-pop song on the radio as she approaches St. Louis.

With Kevin Devine, Koufax and Pablo. 9 p.m. Friday, February 9. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $10. 314-773-3363.

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