Anyone who's ever felt panicky on an airplane will find themselves relating instantly to Rebecca Schiffman, who within the first moments of her song "Tips for Conquering Fear of Flying" describes her coping techniques: closing her eyes and imagining she's riding through the jungle on a purring tiger, swallowing plenty of Valium, and reciting thankful affirmations ("I've had a great life. Can't complain. Surely there are worse ways to die"). The song's irresistible melody and alternately bouncy and intense musical arrangement, plus Schiffman's deadpan vocal delivery mixed with her lyrics' refreshingly off-kilter honesty, all help it soar (pun intended).
Regular listeners of KZSU Stanford's "Time Traveler" program will recognize the track, from her 2016 self-titled third album, as a favorite of DJ Francis Dickerson, a champion of local and independent music. This Friday, Schiffman will drop by KZSU's studio to chat, perform a few solo songs and premiere a brand-new single.
The proudly New York City-raised, now Los Angeles-based Schiffman is a true renaissance woman who, in addition to her career as a musician, is a painter, writer and jewelry designer. Sometimes her interests converge, such as when her jewelry is worn by fellow musicians. Grimes, for example, wore her chainmail glovelets at Coachella, and Neko Case sports cuffs and a metal vest by Schiffman in a recent photo shoot and upcoming music video.
"Maybe it makes sense that musicians whose taste I admire would also be into chainmail like I am, but it's still really thrilling for me," she said.
While she strives for harmony amongst her artistic endeavors, "sometimes it feels like there's not enough time to focus adequately on even one of these pursuits," she said. "I also never want to feel like I'm spending more time hustling the art than making the art, but that definitely happens and on those days I don't feel good."
Schiffman, a lifelong animal lover who became a vegan three years ago, has also developed a search engine, Double Check Vegan, that allows users to search a database she's compiled of ingredients found in foods, household and beauty products, with the goal of using consumer power to spread awareness about animal exploitation (and how to avoid it).
"Before I went vegan I was a picky and squeamish eater. Now I consider myself a foodie and I find so much joy in eating. In the last three years I've probably tried 200 times more dishes than I did in my entire life before then," she said.
Her intelligent, sometimes-whimsical songwriting reflects her active mind and varied interests.
"Usually one line will come to me with a melody, or if I'm lucky, a few lines. And then the rest is like solving a puzzle. If it's about something really emotional, like a death, then it might come faster because writing the song is like a need. My songs are personal and I can't bring myself to sing any filler or something that isn't true," she said, although she does "hope to finish a collection of songs inspired by each episode of the first season of "Seinfeld," -- one of which is the song "Laura" from her last album.
Counting psych-pop luminaries Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barrett amongst her influences, Schiffman said she had iconic British bands The Kinks and the Zombies in mind when crafting her new single, "Song for a Writer." It's one of several stand-alone songs she's working on, along with a planned EP.
"Meanwhile, I've been working on an album at home alone that probably will take a couple years to finish. With that project I'm trying to get back to how I did things in high school when I had a four-track -- but now with a computer -- when there were no studio time constraints and I trusted myself to do everything. Getting back to 'beginner's mind,' as it's called," she said. "Having this one project that's all mine helps relieve some of the anxiety I feel working with other people on the other stuff."
Her KZSU visit is part of a short West Coast jaunt -- Schiffman's first official tour, despite around 20 years of performing (she opened for electronic musician Baths at four West Coast gigs this spring). She hasn't yet spent much time in the Bay Area but does have a cousin in San Francisco who's a structural engineer.
"Whenever I see him I remember to be scared about the big one," she said.
What: Rebecca Schiffman on KZSU's "The Time Traveler."
When: Friday, June 15, 9 a.m.-noon (live appearance starting around 11 a.m.).
Where: KZSU Stanford, 90.1 FM.