4 November 2022
All-round Canadian singer/songwriter JEEN not only canned/released 6 albums in 7 years in her own right but she writes – then and now – for other artists too, such as ‘Great Big Sea’, ‘Serena Ryder’, ‘Res’, ‘Hawksley Workman’, ‘Brendan Canning’, ‘FUWA FUWA’, Martin ‘Doc’ McKinney and more. That’s what I call a centipede songsmith.
She operates in a broad spectrum of pop, rock, folk, and all related music genres she likes. Lyrically a lot of her songs reflect personal experiences and issues. Don’t expect a lot of musings about the birds and the bees.
Last September Jeen’s new full-length, baptized Tracer came out. An arresting, sparkling, and at times turbulent and flamboyant work. Listen to it below and fall in love, as I did.
As usual Turn Up The Volume starts an interview with a piece of music. I picked one of my
favorite highlights, the LP’s opener Chemical Emotion, a magical mixed emotions gem.
welcome and thanks
for doing this Q & A.
How and when did your music career start, Jeen?
“I was 13 when I got my first guitar/wrote my first song and that was the beginning
of the end I guess. I quit high school and moved out of my parents in gr. 10 to pursue music full-time. It was hard a lot of the time at the start, being only 16/17 yrs. And
on my own in this industry. In retrospect, I guess I kind of fed myself to the wolves.
I had to busk to pay my rent and that’s how I met my first manager when I was
singing n the street. He was a well-connected guy at the time so I was swept up
by the wealth/success, he had but ultimately it ended badly because I signed away
my publishing rights to them, all before the age of like 22 (I did manage to sue
them and get my publishing rights back over a decade later).
Anyway, not an easy start in some ways but I learned a lot too.”
You also write for other artists. If you do so, do you have the artist’s
music in your mind or is it a JEEN song for somebody else to perform?
“Maybe depends on the circumstances a bit but if I’m writing for someone else’s album I just want them to be happy with it because in the end it will be theirs, not mine, so I follow their lead. If it’s another artist’s work it’s my job to help create something they resonate with, something that gets them excited, and if/when that happens it makes me happy too.
Different scenario but I’ve also co-written for someone’s side project where there were multiple writers and I was asked to share some of the lead singing… so that process had more of a personal touch where I would contribute with my own nuances in mind.
Approaches vary though, like I had an old song I had written in my teens but never put out or released or anything and a vocal trio decided to record a version and include it in their live show. In that situation, it was a song I had fully written alone but just not a song I could connect with or use myself as an artist.”
Which track would you pick to introduce your music
to people who do not know your work?
“Hard to pick just one but the first that comes into my head is maybe the song Jungle
or Shallow or Buena Vista? Because they sort of walk the middle line of the spectrum.
However, those recordings have my older more lo-fi self-production, which I don’t necessarily prefer but still, they have the right roots. in terms of the more recent LPs
I would say Chemical Emotion and Anything You Want would be good intros to my stuff too.”
You made/recorded/released 6 longplayers in 7 years. So I suppose you never
had a songwriter’s block and how can you even find time to work for others?
“Well, I haven’t been doing a lot of co-writing for others lately so my time has been my own at least. I’ve gotten myself into a loop now where I’m basically low grade uncomfortable when I’m not writing like a vague sense of distress starts setting in if too much time passes.
I don’t particularly struggle with writer’s block but there are plenty of times I have to stop writing for the day (or days) because I am sucking. I also write a lot of songs that never see the light of day because they aren’t good enough and loads of ideas that I start and never finished for the same reason. So, no long-term writing blocks necessarily but I have my issues.”
The new album TRACER came out two weeks ago. Is there
a big picture to it or do the songs stand on their own?
“I think they stand on their own but are def chapters from the same book. putting out albums back to back has made the writing process for each LP pretty condensed. the songs for Tracer were all written in a pretty small phase of time so although I see them as pictures or snapshots of a larger scene they are each very much their own little island as well.”
The album’s cover is a bit blurry and you look at us
with one scary eye. Is there a story behind the image?
“Haha, because shit is serious, Jean-Luc. I’m not fucking around lol joking. I was just
falling in love with those old seventies photos where they would overlay 2 images/double exposure stuff. I would like to explore that style more in the future, where it gets super dreamy and hazed out but this was my first attempt.
The word Tracer was meant to reference the trails you see behind movement when
you take drugs like acid/LSD or even just when you’re a kid writing words in the air with a sparkler/fire cracker. Something that is there but not there, so I was hoping to get a bit of that feel too. The flowers on this album cover are also the same flowers in the Little Idea video.”
One of the singles is the glorious LP’s opener CHEMICAL EMOTION.
What’s the song about? Any connection with the fox in the video?
“I was going through some stuff when I wrote this album and this song was
me trying to convince myself to just let it go a bit or at least make some peace
with the chaos or something.
It’s a song about the people/places/things that keep you going and get you excited about being alive because shit can be really hard sometimes and without those charms and good triggers what are we left with. Also had that Hunter S. Thompson quote in my head at the time: “Buy the ticket, take the ride”. I love that line.”
LITTLE IDEA, another single, is a magnific and moody ballad.
Was that the idea when you wrote it?
“I was unsure of this one at times in the album process because I thought it was too soft and different from my usual stuff. The melody came easy, like I’d always known it almost but as convenient as that sounds it also cornered me because every time I’d try and make an adjustment or even change the lyrics it would threaten to fall apart. It was a little more fragile than the others I guess you could say.
I was initially worried about including it on the Tracer LP at all in fear it might be too far off the rest of the album but Ian and Steph (co-producer/guitarist + drummer) convinced me otherwise, thankfully.
Did you listen to records of other artists to inspire
you in the writing process for the album?
“Weirdly I don’t really listen to music right now or for the last 10, 15 years even.
I know that’s lame of me but yeah, I’d have to say there were no direct influences
in that way for Tracer.”
Suppose TRACER was the soundtrack of a movie.
Which one or what genre would it be, Jeen?
“Any cartoon/animated movie would be cool.”
We’re nearing the end of 2022. What’s the best
track and album you heard so far, Jeen?
“See question #9, I’m so clueless on this stuff. Although I will say my band
mate/co-producer Ian put out a sweet record with his band, Ian Blurton’s
Future Now this year, called Second Skin and it’s excellent.
Three things you really want to happen
in 2023, musically and/or privately?
I hope I get to make/release another album.
Would love to start a side project, co-writing/share vocals.
And it would be great to see working musicians get more of what
is deserved in terms of a fair/functioning/sustainable ecosystem in
this industry or music is doomed.
Thank you for this interview, Jeen.
May the road rise with you.