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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jess Klein

Jess Klein is an American singer-songwriter who has released eight critically acclaimed albums and toured the globe. She has shared the stage with such greats as Arlo Guthrie, Steve Earle, Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Shawn Colvin, and performed to a crowd of 70,000  at Japan's Fuji Rock Festival. Jess performed her song 'Little White Dove' on Good Morning America with songwriter collective 'Voices on the Verge'. She has also been a firm favourite of music magazine Mojo who gave Jess's album 'City Garden' a five star review and described Jess as having "one of those voices you went to crawl up close to the speakers to listen to". Jess's latest album 'Behind a Veil' is available now. 

  1. Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? When I'm home I have a few disciplines to keep me writing. I'm part of a song title game where my friend Matt the Electrician, another songwriter based in Austin sends out a song title every Thursday morning and we all have to write a song with that phrase in it by midnight the following Wednesday. I'm also just getting started on this site called Patronism where fans can pay a few bucks a month to have access to various exclusive stuff including work I'm in progress with. None of this guarantees inspiration but it keeps the muscles warmed up so when inspiration strikes I'm more ready to do something effective with it.
  2. Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? Making the time to sit down and do nothing but write is the most important step.
  3. Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? I usually start with a strong emotion about something and then the melody and words flow from there. Sometimes I just start with a guitar part. I never start with a lyric except with the song title game. 
  4. Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? It's one of them. I guess the most important thing for me is to really feel a powerful feeling and not let the melody or words get in the way. The genuine feeling has to come through and then the rest will fall into place. Rhythm is pretty important too. It has to make me feel something. It has to move me.
  5. How long does it take you to write a song? It really depends. I've written songs in ten minutes, like Behind a Veil and Little White Dove and others, like Shonalee and Riverview have taken 3 years.
  6. Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs? I wrote the song 'Little White Dove' in a hotel room in New Orleans while I was supposed to be attending a music conference but I was too shy to go to any of it so I just hid in my room and played my guitar til I came up with that song. 'Travelin Woman' I wrote at my friend's kitchen table in Dublin - I had like a whole week off between shows or something ridiculous-I can't remember the specifics just that she was very generous putting me up for so long!  The part about being in Chicago at a quarter to two was actually a line I thought of when I was on tour with Damien Dempsey and his guitar player John in the states.  We weren't actually in Chicago though; we were at a motel somewhere way outside of the city for two days because we had a day off and staying in Chicago is so expensive. I had a lot of time on my hands and nowhere to go! I wrote 'Behind a Veil' after I was texting with a friend and my phone auto-corrected me-what I actually said was "Crikey!"  But the phone sent the word "Veiled!"  So she said I should write a song with the word "veiled" in it. I wrote 'A Room of Your Own' in my dads house when I had to go through all his belongings after he died.  He was a doctor and the drug companies were always sending him promotional items.  One of them had sent him a plastic clock with the name of the drug written on it and it was hanging crooked over his kitchen doorway; I always thought that made it harder to figure out what time it really was.
  7. What songs that other people have written do you particularly admire? I really admire when people can write topical or political songs without sounding didactic, like 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll' by Bob Dylan or 'Ghosts of Overdoses' by Damien Dempsey. I would love to be able to do something like that.  It's way out of my comfort zone but I do have the desire. 
  8. Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? I don't really have any technical knowledge or theory so I couldn't say!
  9. Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? No. But I think the way I perform them changes, the tempo, the key, sometimes the arrangement. But I've never really gone back and rewritten something. I'm too impulsive and impatient; once I really feel I've finished writing something, I just like to run with the performing of it but I don't have the discipline to re-work lyrics I'm done with.
  10. Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? No but I do try to play to my own strengths as a singer.
  11. Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? I've done some; I'd like to do more. If nothing else it's a great exercise to hear someone else's unfinished ideas and to have to be brave enough expose mine. I guess in the best case scenario there's a great chemistry between two writers that creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
  12. Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically/ lyrically? That's a long list. Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, Springsteen, the Stones, Willie Dixon, Spooner Oldham, Damien Dempsey, Jon Dee Graham, James McMurtry and a lot more people.
  13. Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs? Yes. Wish it wasn't so but yes. Trying to find a way out of that one.  
  14. Do you have any idea where you ideas come from? That's a good question. I think it's best left as a mystery, I just feel lucky that they come to me!
  15. Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? Don't worry about perfection or trying to please other people when you write or perform. Everyone will have an opinion about what direction you should go in, or what is cool, but the most important opinion is yours. Making art is about doing something that genuinely comes from you. Focus on saying what feels real to you in a way that feels real to you.


Click on the following to find Jess on the web.

This interview was by Ben Williams. Find Ben on TWITTERFACEBOOK .

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