Jennifer Turner, lead singer-guitarist of the New York-based rock trio Furslide, has heard it before, the vocal comparisons to Chrissie Hynde. It doesn’t bother her, but talk about Joni Mitchell and she goes weak at the knees.

Turner, who previously played on Natalie Merchant’s “Tigerlily” tour, recounts a chance encounter with her greatest influence.

“I was eating dinner at a restaurant on the Lower West Side, 10th Street,” Turner said recently, “and I’m sitting there, eating dinner with Jason (Lader), the bass player. And there’s a huge crowd behind us and I order something like linguine.

“When my food comes, Jason grabs onto my wrist really hard and looks behind me, I’m like ‘What?’ In my mind, I said to myself, ‘Joni Mitchell’s sitting behind me.’ There was no rational reason for me to think that. He said, ‘Joni Mitchell’s sitting behind you.’ I turn around and I see her, my stomach flip-flops; I go hot and cold, and I never feel that way about anybody. I just think she’s a fucking genius; I look at her as a total goddess.

“I can’t eat, I push the food away. I started to cry. She gets up to go to the bathroom and she’s waiting in line. I’m thinking, ‘This is my chance.’ I go up to her and say, ‘Hi, Joni, my name’s Jennifer. You’ve really inspired me in my lifetime, I really think you’re incredible …’ and I started bawling. It was so ridiculous.

“She was like, ‘Wow, thank you very much. I’m very honored.’ I’m like, ‘I really love you, Joni,’ bawling and babbling. She stops me and says, ‘Excuse me a minute,’ and goes into the bathroom. I’m like, ‘Oh, my god, I’ve ruined it! I made her wait to use the bathroom.’ She listened to me bawling and she had to pee.

“So I go sit back down, and the woman behind me, she owns The Fez (venue). She says, ‘I know you. You’re playing with Natalie Merchant. We’re having a birthday show for Joni tomorrow at The Fez. It’s a secret show, do you want to come?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ ‘Tell your band and Natalie and we’ll leave tickets for you at the door.’ ”

Here’s where Turner’s story gets even more animated.

“The next night, I saw Joni play at The Fez,” she said. “The whole point of this story is that Chrissie Hynde was there and so was Carly Simon. Joni would be singing a song, and Chrissie would scream, ‘Go Joni!’ Joni wouldn’t stop, she would just smile. Then Joni started talking and Chrissie shouts, ‘Happy birthday, Joni, you’re the fucking queen!’ After these outbursts for about 10 times, finally Carly Simon stood up and said, ‘Get the fuck out of here! We’re all trying to enjoy this concert. Leave now or I’m gonna beat the fuck out of you!’ She settled down, but it was just so startling. It was just very embarrassing.”

Turner may sound like Hynde, but she has Mitchell’s independent spirit and verve. She left the easy life of backing up Merchant to form Furslide with Lader and drummer Adam MacDougall in early 1997.

“Working for Natalie was difficult for me,” Turner said, “only because I was so afraid of losing my down and dirty and hungry self. I felt really bad because I was always getting in trouble, always wishy-washy, she never knew if I was actually in or out of it. Finally, at the end of the tour, Natalie knew I wasn’t going to do it anymore.”

Money she had saved during the tour went into building a 16-track analog studio. From there, the three began experimenting with an atmospheric rock and pop sound that maintained a gritty edge. A demo tape got around, and by their third gig, they already had record companies at their feet.

“Word slips out really fast,” Turner said. “We were flattered and terrified. We didn’t cut our teeth live, we recorded like a hundred songs in the studio, and they’re really raw and terrific. It was hard to step into these sophistication shoes of a major label; we felt really uncomfortable.”

But they felt at ease with trip-hop producer/remixer Nellee Hooper, who signed them to his new Virgin-affiliated Meanwhile … label. He booked them into London’s Metropolis, Olympic and Abbey Road studios, and out of it came “Adventure,” Furslide’s promising debut album (released Oct. 6).

“The whole idea about music for me is all about expressing yourself and expressing the honesty of the moment, whatever that is,” Turner said. “It wasn’t that I had a specific goal in mind for the album; I’m into the Beat Generation thing of writing down streams of consciousness and cutting out words and throwing five in the middle and those five words have significance for some reason. I was curious to see what would come out, going ‘Today this is how I feel, I wonder what that means.’ It’s about freedom and movement, trying to have the freedom in your mind to express yourself. I think we’ve accomplished that.”

“Adventure” may be left of center for commercial radio, but Turner’s not sweating it.

“It scares me how much there’s so much dependence on radio play,” she said. “I mean, we’re a totally new band, why would radio play us? I’m not going to worry about it.”