After a long awaited return, Jenny Owen Youngs is finally back in the UK. We talk to her about the big changes in her life that have occurred since the last time she was on British shores, and delve deeper into her relationship with her fan base, literature, art and Perez Hilton.
Overblown: This is your first time back in the UK for 6 years, how does it feel to be back?
Jenny Owen Youngs: It feels awesome! I love it here. Everyone is so polite and nice. It’s like Canada but with really wise accents.
O: So a lot has happened over the last six years, you came out publicly on Everyone Is Gay, you’ve gotten married – congrats! – and released the album An Unwavering Band of Light and EP Slack Tide and most recently, moved to LA. How do you feel like you have changed over the course of the six years?
J: I think a big part of the change in me from moving from my 20s into my 30s has been centred around slowly letting go of the overwhelming concern of what people think of me or how people perceive me or perceive my work or whether I am successful compared to x, y and z. Letting go of that underlying hum of anxiety has really impacted every part of my life and has made it possible for me to do things like feel cool about coming out and to talk about my relationship, and make different kinds of music and not have to feel like I need to make things that are as close to perfect as possible as I can get them. I’ve made an EP that I would’ve never had thought to make a few years ago. There’s a few reinterpretations, a new song and a cover. I had a very strict idea in my mind of what creative output was supposed to be so that’s an example of me being able to apply letting go to that outward focused anxiety. Using that letting go allowed me to do something different that I hadn’t thought to do. Making that EP was such a cool process, it felt fun and also like growth. In short, I am definitely chilled out, a lot happier and a lot less vegan than the last time I was here.
O: That EP was done through PledgeMusic, so it’s nice to see that through that journey that you were able to connect with fans, pick with who you wanted to work with and be able to have a lot of creative control over the whole process.
J: I’m so thankful that I was lucky enough to make the first couple of records that I made. I self released batten the hatches and it got picked up by a label called Network so I put out two records with them and between them and some television song placements that I happened to get, a lot of different things from the various parts of possible music industry that you might be in touch with if you are making music all came together to connect me to enough people that when I got to point when I was making An Unwavering Band Of Light and Slack Tide, I had people that liked what I was doing and I had this back and forth with people that like my music and it was like a conversation. It’s so cool and fun that we have the ability to have that conversation. It’s weird to think that just 20 years ago that wasn’t a part of being a musician or any other person working in the entertainment field, you know?
O: A good example of that have been your live streams which allows for that conversation to happen and even though people in the UK wouldn’t have been able to come and see you, they could still support you.
J: I’m so thankful for the StageIt platform because touring is hard and touring is expensive and it’s kind of a grind. Sometimes I’m lucky and my friends bring me out on the road and I get to do fun tours and sometimes I book my own fun tours but it’s not a bruise free proposition. It’s expensive to get over to the UK specifically, so I am so thankful that over the last 5 years – I think I’ve been doing them for 5 years pretty much on a monthly basis more or less – that I’ve been able to offer that in lieu of me being able to get over here. It’s such an awesome resource for me and everybody else.
O: You were a guest on the podcast BookNarcs where you talked about how literature shaped you in your childhood, is there anything you’ve read recently that’s inspired you?
J: So, here’s the thing. The last five books I read were A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Something of Something and a Something of Something. So that’s been really fun for me, I guess I’ve been on a little bit of a recreational book trip.
OH! You know what I’ve actually just read actually that was so great? Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, which is a graphic novel about growing up in Iran and it’s so interesting, and it was like a window into a life experience that I’ve never had. They weren’t allowed parties so they would have them in secret and her cousins and uncles were always getting arrested, and I think her uncle was executed? There was all of this really intense stuff and that was very, very moving.
It was sort of like a wake-up call that this is a thing that people have lived and I didn’t know anything about. Anytime I encounter anything like that, it’s a big stone to swallow.
O: It’s going to be good for your songwriting when you look at things like that so you can put yourself in other people’s shoes and see from a different perspectives. In lieu of that, you have an EXHIBIT project, where you would go around a different museum every week and write a song based on your experience from that. Where else do you draw inspiration from?
J: I started doing the exhibit series because I was feeling pretty blocked and that really was a pivot point for me. Kirstin encouraged me to do that, and to make sure I followed through with it. I was thinking “I’m not sure if I can do these home recording and put them out, because they’re not going to sound perfect and I have to write everything within a week and record it that same week. It just felt like so stressful. Or the idea was so stressful. When I started doing it, I started having so much fun with it. Ultimately, they sound the way that they sound and maybe one day I’ll do proper studio recording of them.
It made it easier for me to jog things — there’s that idea that you need write when you’re inspired, but if you wait til you’re inspired, you’ll never get anything done. Since I started doing the exhibit series, I’ve deliberately sought out other battery jumps. I have a new song that was inspired by this episode of the X-Files called The Field Where I Died where mulder and scully find out that they’ve known each other over the course of many lives, like a past life regression therapy plot line. That got me real jazzed, and then I heard this song that my friend Bess Rogers wrote – who is amazing, but it’s not out yet – that’s also to do with that same idea. I was reading this book by this therapist who had a patient who was hypnotised and she started recalling all these lives so it’s about his experience with that. That all funnelled into this song that’s about what could be happening in parallel universes running directly next to us or how I could have known or I might know or somebody I could have missed in this life. It’s pretty mystical, even for my taste.
O: As a singer that makes you someone with a platform, do you think it’s important to share your experiences and give advice to those that listen to your music?
J: There’s a lot of factors in that for me. I think I am a fairly private person, but I think for a long time I couldn’t see a lot of gradients in that. I didn’t know how I could share parts of myself without feeling compromised. I think it took me a long time to figure out how I could engage without feeling overly exposed and Kirstin has been super instrumental in that shift for me just in virtue of observation. To see the way she deals with things helps me conceptualise how I deal with them. I’ve seen on a daily basis for the last 6 years what she does and the way that she touches people. It’s so beautiful and it’s just her being her. And I can’t be like her, because she’s a very unique individual, but being so close to her has helped me understand how to be open without feeling vulnerable, or not too vulnerable. Just vulnerable enough.
O: How is your relationship with Perez Hilton?
J: He’s a peach. I haven’t seen him in a few years, so I’d say we’re out of touch. I see him now and again, every time I’m at SXSW I usually see him. Maybe now that I live in LA we’ll run into each other more often. Who knows.
O: The most recent material you released was Over The Bow on Slack Tide, what can we expect next?
J: I feel like I have an album’s worth of songs done right now but I feel like they are two batches of songs for two separate things. My goal this year is to record an album, I don’t know which side of the coin on those two batches of songs it’ll be. Some of them are like YEAH! and some of them are like yeah…, you know? So I want to record one of them this year. I also have a tiny, angular, developing, post-punk side project that’s been kicking around that I’d maybe like an EP or a record out this year. I also have an ambition to record a holiday EP. So if I aim to release three things this year, I’ll probably release one.
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