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Tara's good muse.

Her solo venture may be flying high, but alternative popster Tara Jane O'Neil says her partner keeps her grounded

For the shy Tara Jane O'Neil, introductions are a bit daunting. And the fact that her debut solo album, Peregrine, will be many people's first glimpse into this singer-songwriter's world makes her more than just a little nervous. "To be like, `Hello, this is my name, and I made this ...'" she says, her soft voice trailing off. "It's kind of hard to do."

Lucky for her, there are many folks for whom O'Neil needs no introduction at all. Legions of indie-rock fans know her as a member of revered bands such as Rodan, Sonora Pine, and Retsin. And for those unfamiliar with her prolific body of work, Peregrine should make a beautiful and lasting first unpression. Critics have compared her smooth vocals to Sade, and one listener recently paid O'Neil perhaps the highest compliment of all. "This friend of mine said that my record sounds like it was made by somebody who's in love," she reports.

Sharp friend. While O'Neil says there's only one love song on her CD ("`The Fact of a Seraph' is a song for my baby," she coos), the presence and influence of her "baby"--partner Cynthia Nelson, an alterna-rocker herself--is never far away. "Cynthia colors my world," says a suddenly animated O'Neil.

The couple met in 1994 when Rodan and Nelson's band, Ruby Falls, crossed paths. Both were cast in director Suki Hawley's indie-rock road film Half-Cocked, and it was then, as O'Neil giggles, that the two "took the plunge." The lovers have since collaborated to create the haunting, countrified music of Retsin. O'Neil served as sound engineer for Nelson's upcoming Ruby Falls effort, and Nelson acted as muse while O'Neil cloistered herself in the pair's Manhattan apartment for ten weeks last summer to write and record Peregrine. Not only did Nelson, who affectionately dubs her beloved "a hibernator," bring O'Neil sustenance from the world outside, but she also combed the city for discarded pieces of wood for O'Neil's other passion: painting. Says Nelson: "I'd come in the house and say, `Here, honey, paint on this!' It was all worth it," she says. "I was so excited Tara Jane was making a record on her own. It was amazing to watch that unfold."

The mutual inspiration society doesn't stop there. Nelson sidelines as a poet, and O'Neil is illustrating a collection of Nelson's pieces that the two plan to publish. Nelson also encouraged O'Neil to create the artwork that accompanies Peregrine. "It's a beautiful thing to have a lover that you can share interests with," says O'Neil, who adds sublimely, "When we create stuff for Retsin, we call our songs `babies.'"

It should come as no surprise then that motherhood is the next project the women hope to explore together. "We've been developing a father list over the years," confides a grinning O'Neil. "That's been a really fun game. It's more of a challenge than you would think." And what's their tough criteria? "Creativity" and "a willingness to give up their seed," agree the women. They share a moment of silence as they consider their candidates, until O'Neil suddenly reveals she's not so shy after all. Says the daddy seeker: "Wanna be on the list?"

Gdula is a freelance writer who has written for The Washington Post.
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Title Annotation:Tara Jane O'Neil
Author:Gdula, Steve
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Previous Article:A do-good beat.
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