Interview with Jenny Owen Youngs
For singer/songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs, persistance is a thing of beauty, even if it comes a little rough around the edges. Ingenious, intrepid and downright feisty, her music is genuine and raw. She may be one of the most down to earth and interesting interviews I’ve had. She explains to mxdwn what she’s been up to the last few years.
How’s it being going? You’ve had two albums since I last saw you. You’ve been busy!
Yeah you know just, I guess all I’ve been thinking about this last year and half is this record and just scooting it out the door!
So tell me about your project with Kickstarter. What was the inspiration and motivation to do a Kickstarter for it?
I had fulfilled my obligations at Nettwerk and I really didn’t know what was going to happen and my manager and I parted ways. And things were just uncertain and a lot of people who were a part of my team were no longer there. Things were just sort of like in this weird sort of limbo. I didn’t really know what the next step was, but I knew that I had a tendency to hesitate until things had aligned. I thought that it would be good to not do that and see if people even wanted a record and would be excited about it so Kickstarter was a great barometer and moral booster for me. I made the goal in like 28 hours or something, and I ended up almost doubling it by the end which was wild and people were so enthusiastic. Because sometimes I’m like, “Why am I doing this and why didn’t I go to med school?”
You’re seeing your passion come to life.
Yeah there’s passion coming to life versus paying off my student loans or other things. So there’s that weird balance going on and being able able to raise funds for the record regardless of where it ended up and also see this tremendous support coming from every direction was really helpful in making me feel like, “Oh yeah, I should probably stick to making music.”
Would you do it again? Or would you try a different approach?
You know… I have a lot of YouTube video covers to make and I wrote like 500 thank you notes and 100 lyric sheets. I am tuckered out and there’s still plenty to do so if there’s a way… I mean, it’s cool to see people genuinely excited to see and be involved like, “This is something that I helped make possible,” which is super cool, but I think I would try to find a way if I did it again, to make a system or the rewards a little different so that it’s a bit of an easier process.
Tell me about your new album, what was the inspiration behind it? It’s cool to see how you’ve grown since Batten Down the Hatches
Well, I’m not a fucking idiot baby any more. [Laughs] There’s so many things. I would say a big deal for me is that I’m a much happier, well-adjusted individual now which makes writing songs a little trickier. I’ve definitely been expanding where I look for inspiration and going outside my own dark inside and drawing on stories, books and film, just trying to keep constant influx of that. There’s a song on this record that’s probably the saddest sounding thing that I’ve ever done, but I didn’t have my own thing to go for it.
What was it?
I just read this really crazy explanation of the Jonestown Massacre which you never really know much about. You know the band [the Brian Jonestown Massacre] and are like, “Oh cool, whatever,” but there are a handful of survivors. One of them was just this five-year-old boy who hid under a house or something. He didn’t come out ’till it was all over so that song is a song called “So Long” which is his perspective of coming out from under that house and at five-years-old he’s probably born there so literally, everything he’s ever known is just gone. Other inspiration has come from listening to much different music than I was when I started. I’ve been getting into mid-80’s Tom Waits when it starts to get super weird and Dan Romer who’s the producer of An Unwavering Band of Light. He was just starting to get me into Harry Belafonte. We were both coming from a place of wanting something interesting going on in the percussion department, so we experimented a lot on trying to get dirtier sounds. Dan and I did a lot of writing together so there’s a lot of both of us in the songs which I think, I hope, makes them better.
How’s the tour been going? You’ve been on the road for the past month nonstop.
It’s been really fun, really good. We’ve had some really really euphoric high points and some not as high points.
What were some of the high points?
Chicago was a very high point. I hadn’t been there in a year and I hadn’t headlined there in two years. Chicago’s always been a really great place to play for me so that show was super awesome and San Francisco was amazing. There have been more good than not good for sure, but those stand out and hopefully tonight will be pleasant!
What’s next for you? What’s the agenda after you wrap up this tour?
That’s a good question. I’m touring till the end of March and then I don’t know. Who can say what the future holds. Right now I’m looking forward to getting home, sleeping for a week and then do some writing, but there’s still plenty to do behind this record you know after this tour’s over.
What’s one thing nobody knows about you that you want to share?
Well one thing that I love to share that a lot of people don’t know about me is my name is actually Jenny Owen Youngs, but one thing that nobody knows. Hmm…. give me an example.
You know I like to dance while I cook.
Well you know, who doesn’t like to dance while they cook? It’s pretty awesome. Um… oh! Well, this is pretty new, I don’t know if it’s all that juicy but it feels pretty embarrassing to say. A few days ago we picked up a bunch of ’90’s records and thought, “Oh this will be fun.” You know, you listen to one and it’s like, “This is not standing up to the test of time.” But, one of the records that we got was Dixie Chicks Fly and it has literally not left the CD player since it went in five days ago. So that’s where I am right now.
Playing the Dixie Chicks?
1998 Dixie Chicks! I’ve never listen to them when they were happening, or when that was happening, so to listen to it now it’s like a revelation of musicianship and the singing and the writing. Everything about it is like totally fucking out of control. I’m sure I would not have appreciated it the way that it deserves to be appreciated when it came out.
So they might be making a come back? [laughs]
We went to Amoeba and we’re pouring over the Dixie Chicks section, like how many of these can we buy without feeling like total assholes?
So how many?
The answer is two. So that’s what I’m all about right now.
What did you listen to in high school? What were your top 5?
In high school… well there’s the super main stream stuff like Nirvana, Green Day and The Cranberries were a very big part of my life, and Alanis Morrisette. Then the more killer rock star stuff, like Sleater-Kinney, Elliott Smith and Tori Amos, so just like weird dark music.
All Photos: Paloma Lisa Photography
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