Joanna Newsom (born January 18, 1982) started taking piano lessons at a very early age and played for a couple of years, but switched to the harp at seven. Her approach to the harp, from the percussive aspects of her playing to her chord changes, was also influenced by West African and Venezuelan harp music, which she began studying at a folk music camp she attended in her early teens. At the same time, she also listened to more vocal-based folk, punk, and jazz like Karen Dalton, Texas Gladden, Patti Smith, and Billie Holiday. By the time she reached high-school age, Newsom decided she wanted to become a composer, and while that became the focus of her studies, in her free time she began writing and recording instrumental songs. Eventually, Newsom's passion for songwriting won out, and she began studying creative writing to work with words in the same way she was accustomed to working with music.
Although Joanna Newsom's Appalachian-meets-avant-garde take on folk music is her most celebrated work, her range is even more inclusive than her solo career suggests: the classically trained harpist adds a decidedly different, textural sound to Nervous Cop, the noise rock trio that also features Deerhoof's Greg Saunier and Hella's Zach Hill, and she also plays keyboards for The Pleased, another San Francisco-area band more akin to Blondie or Television than her other projects. Newsom's family and hometown of Nevada City, CA, were both musically rich: her mother trained to be a concert pianist, her father is a guitarist, and her brother and sister play the drums and cello, respectively; meanwhile, the Newsoms also counted composer/pianist Terry Riley as a neighbor, along with Howard Hersh and W. Jay Sydeman.