“Forget where you come from and lose yourself over the bow…” Jenny Owen Youngs returns to the UK for a handful of live dates, kicking off at the Louisiana in Bristol on 22 February.
Jenny Owen Youngs knows how to peel off the layers of life, to reveal the very core of the substance that makes us feel alive. Learning to defy convention, both in person and in song, is something that many might swiftly push under the carpet – accepting an existence neither defined nor wrapped in conviction.
Not Owen Youngs, who has found a way to shake off the rust, kick up some dust, and pen the songs that speak deeper than mere lust. Evolving with three albums under her belt, with a creativity that seems to expand as life changes, adapts and leaves us behind. Making meaning out of every situation, with music that resonates and rocks your bones to the very calcium of which they are made. She’ll see straight through your skin, wading through to the heart of each story she weaves into each lyric, her voice both fierce and vulnerable.
“Numb’s no good but it sure beats the hurt”, sings Jenny on ‘Pirates’ – taking a universal theme and breathing pain into it, sourced only through personal experience, is something that this artist is comfortable with. Like the best of them, she has a balanced approach to her songwriting – filtering her own influences through to create original recordings, steeped in a timeless shadow of bygone artists.
“Some artists I always go back to are Tom Waits (unbeatable in the lyrics department), Kate Bush, The Strokes, and of course The Beatles.” Jenny says.
“I feel like I’m still doing the same work I have been doing all along, I just feel like I took off a very heavy, very stressful coat. I’m lighter now, which makes everything feel better.”
Releasing her debut album Batten the Hatches in 2005, recorded entirely on borrowed gear and self-released, Jenny had begun to establish herself as independent from the mass culture, with its highly commercialised expectations invested in popular music. Though, as she retrospectively looks back, she did find value in all aspects of the journey that brought her to the place she finds herself now:
“I think traditionally, I previously would have talked about pop music as a guilty pleasure, but I’ve really come to appreciate the craft that goes into pop music, so even when I’m listening to Top 40 radio I’m still analysing the lyric, melody, form, and performance.” Jenny explains.
Signing to Canadian label, Nettwerk, for the re-release of her debut album in 2007, Jenny went on to release her second LP, Transmitter Failure in 2009, and toured in support of Regina Spektor. The year after that, Jenny teamed up with Allison Weiss for a tour, who she will be joining this time around for her UK dates.
“Allison sent me a message via MySpace in 2008 to the tune of “Hey you seem cool! I think we’d be friends!” and it turns out she was right! Since that fateful messaging, we’ve toured together with Bess Rogers (on the Spring Break Forever Tour) and collaborated on a split 7″ of Magnetic Fields covers for Asbestos Records. I also co-wrote a couple songs on Allison’s new record New Love. She’s a real Georgia peach! I think it’s safe to say we’ll be performing at least a song or two together on this tour.” Jenny says.
“One day I hope to make it to Abbey Road, I’m betting that place is just oozing with spooky music energy.”
Covering a couple of tracks from the The Magnetic Fields’ renowned 69 Love Songs including ‘Absolutely Cuckoo’ which ordinarily are coined by the deadpan irony of Stephin Merritt’s vocals, Allison and Jenny are familiar in each other’s company and this comes across in their collaborations, building upon Jenny’s own approach to her songwriting, which can come in many guises:
“There’s a whole lot of ways to skin a cat, and I don’t have any rules I feel I have to stick to, so long as the proverbial cat gets skinned in the end. (Also who came up with skinning a cat as a colloquial turn of phrase? Yuk.) I enjoy writing from a character perspective, or from a personal perspective, or from anywhere on the spectrum in between those two poles. So long as there’s some kind of meat on the bones, some kind of story to tell or feeling to communicate, I’m in. I like finding new ways to say old things, or old ways to say new things. I just like getting down in the dirt and digging, and if I’m lucky, I pull up something that resonates.” Jenny says, on her songwriting technique.
Touring with Motion City Soundtrack in the UK and headlining London’s Water Rats in 2010, the same year she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her third album, Jenny appeared at the American Laundromat Records launch at Joe’s Pub, NYC, of their children’s indie lullabies compilation Sing Me To Sleep featuring Neil Halstead and Tanya Donelly among other artists. In 2012, she innovated a songwriting project inspired by regular visits to various museums in NYC, writing a song based on each – the completed, 8 track album was released via Bandcamp, titled Exhibit. She is definitely someone who has held on tight to her own sense of creative direction, despite the often conflicting tides when it comes to pursuing art versus commerce, and kept a realistic spin on life, and her art:
“I think life is about balance. Music doesn’t just gush forth brilliant and fully formed from anointed prophets – it takes work, takes hours, burns calories, requires fuel. So to a certain extent, you have to concern yourself with practicalities and survival. Lucky for us non-major-label types, there are more assets and resources available than ever before. The industry has changed a great deal in the last ten years, and there are more changes to come, but the one thing that will never change is: people love great songs!” Jenny says.
Jenny Owen Youngs supports Allison Weiss on her UK tour:
Monday 22 February – Louisiana, Bristol
Tuesday 23 February – The Joiners, Southampton
Wednesday 24 February – Barfly, London
Jenny Owen Young’s EP Slack Tide is out now – featuring a cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’.
‘Over the Bow’: