QC INTERVIEW: JENNY WILSON

by christos mountzouros

Recently Christos got to sit down with one of his musical icons, Jenny Wilson. Her breadth of work and constant evolution has made her one of the more interesting and often mysterious figures in the music scene. Well known for her work with The Knife, Jenny has had a successful solo career and is perhaps one of the only artists to sing about motherhood in such a revealing and intriguing way. She is FINALLY coming to the states this summer and Quiet Color will keep you up to date.

Artist: Jenny Wilson
Song: Only Here for the Fight
Artist: Jenny Wilson
Song: Anchor Made Of Gold

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Quiet Color: I was first introduced to you from your collaborations with The Knife, “You Take My Breath Away” being one of my favorites. I didn’t realize you were a member of First Floor Power, even though it’s a lyric in the song. Is that where you met Karen Dreijer? I always thought that song was about being at a First Floor Power show and being in awe. In my fantasy, Karen fell in love with your set, befriended you, and the rest was history. Am I totally off?

Jenny Wilson: In the late 90′s both Karin and I had our indie pop bands. I had my First Floor Power and she had her Honey is Cool. We really liked each others’ music, but never really met more than very briefly at concerts… We actually started getting to know each other when she invited me to sing and write “You Take My Breath Away” with her and her brother.

QC: Speaking of Karen, I had the opportunity to interview her and I asked her how her music fit in with the Swedish music scene. Her response was “Sweden is very rock oriented and there’s a lot of guitar pop music so we don’t get played on the radio much. I don’t know really, everybody in Sweden is very impressed with what’s happening outside Sweden. If they read we’re releasing albums and playing outside Sweden, then they think we are good.” I’m curious how you would answer the same question?

JW: I know that it’s very difficult to get airtime on the radio channels here… But I am very old fashioned when it comes to my media habits. I am only listening to the public radio channel which is playing classical and art music. I can’t stand the babble on the other channels.

QC: From your experience, how different is the life of a solo artist?

JW: From my experience it was my first REALLY good decision to go solo. I love working with my music and art and for me it’s very easy to be the one who is controlling and leading the whole thing. I am not a very organized and systematic person so sometimes I feel that I need an assistant to keep all logistics and data together. But I love the feeling of getting an idea and be able to realize and fulfill it very fast and quick if I want to.

QC: Your voice is both warm and incredibly unique. Have you always sung? Or was there a moment where a light bulb went off?

JW: I remember that I hated my voice at school and I think I listened silently to music. I remember that the popular girls, those who always sang the solos at school, had these very clear and nasal voices. Mine was airy and soft, so I kept my singing for myself. In 1995 I found a record of PJ Harvey. She turned me upside down and I understood that I had to try to do what she was doing… I fell in love with her, the way she sang, the words she was using, her style and attitude, she became my first role model… I was obsessed.

I locked myself up with an acoustic guitar and started to write songs, very influenced by PJ Harvey. The first three years of singing and songwriting I sounded ablot like her.  But the more I sang, the more I found my personal voice.

QC: Your musical influences also seem to be so varied to me. I can hear folk at times, even R&B/gospel elements. In addition to P.J. Harvey, are there others in particular, past or present, that you look up to as an artist or who have inspired your work? Anything you are listening to currently that I should be listening to as well?

JW: When I made my first solo album, Love and Youth, I was very inspired by Missy Elliott, which might come as a surprise. I was fascinated by the way she was producing her stuff, and for me it was so exciting with the electronic equipments… the drum programming, the multi-vocal tracks… and to actually produce and write and experiment at the same time… it was a complete new way of making music for me.

When I started to work with Hardships! I knew that I wanted to pick up elements and colors from both modern and old R&B, soul and hip hop. I had a very strong inner vision of how I wanted Hardships! to sound…and smell.. and look like… so I worked very focused in my small studio, like a solitary soldier, and didn’t really listen to a lot of other music.

QC: I’d like to talk about Love & Youth a little bit. First, tell me about the cover. It’s absolutely stunning in that it just has a very classic yet modern sensibility. How involved are you with the physical manifestation of your art? Do you visualize your music when you’re making it? And is the connection an important one to you?

JW: That cover has a pretty funny story! I contacted a pretty known photographer here in Stockholm to take my cover pictures. I loved her work, she had a very dark and mystical touch to her pictures. So she took some pictures of me, and I designed the artwork and the booklet and the complete package and worked with it in my computer for a couple of weeks. The more I worked with it, the more uncertain I felt about the picture on the cover. But it had been a pretty big expense to take that picture, so I pushed away my bad feeling about it. But when I got the completed covers from the printing works I just knew that I had to make new pictures for the cover. It looked too gloomy and anonymous. So I took a picture of my self at home, in my winter coat ( it was in the middle of the winter) and then I fixed the colors and the turquoise “flame” over my eye and it was a very quick job and I was very pleased with the homemade result!

QC: On Love and Youth there is a playfulness at times even in the saddest or most serious of moments, I don’t want to say that Hardships! is more aggressive but it definitely seems a bit more forward. Was this intentional? What was your approach after finishing Love and Youth and beginning Hardships?

JW: Yeah, I think you are right. I was making L&Y in some kind of trial and error mode, and I had to be playful, I had to try everything. If L&Y is all spices at once, Hardships! is more just the salt and pepper.

I had a great self-confidence when I worked with my second album. I knew that I didn’t have to compromise with any of my ideas. And I had become a stronger producer so I knew how I could reach my goals in a way I didn’t know anything about, at the time when I made L&Y. But I still love the idea of not having a clue of how you SHOULD do it, but doing it anyway.

QC: On Hardships! I hear a woman that is very sure of herself, very certain of the world. Do you agree?

JW: Yes and no. I was very certain of my little world…the world that included me, my husband, my kids, my dreams, my longings, my difficulties, my fears, my everyday things; my table, my salt and my pepper, my shoes, my bread, my thread, my wooden chair.

QC: And the cover? Is the gun for self defense? Or are you out for blood?

JW: I knew very early that I wanted to have a picture of me in black and white, where I would hold a gun in a very dreamy, motherly way… as if I was holding a child in my arms. I took the picture almost a year before the album was finished.

The gun is part of the theme…the fight, the battle, and yes, the self defense but even more for defending my kids. Which is the theme… Motherhood and the fight within it.

QC: Sometimes the word “POP” gets a dirty reputation, but would you call Love & Youth a pop record?

JW: Oh yes.

QC: Now to play devil’s advocate, I read that you were at one point nervous how people would react to your lyrics, which was shocking because you exude such confidence and incite the same in others. But I also read that you write hundreds of pages of lyrics before you finish a track. I’m curious how someone with such an intimate relationship with her songs and lyrics could be anything but fearless? Do you still feel that way?

JW: I wasn’t really afraid of how people would react, I was more nervous that I might exclude a lot of listeners because the topics in Hardships! are motherhood and war.. .you know… L&Y was about growing up, which everyone can identify with. I was scared that no men would understand a word I was saying. But it was silly of me to think like that… Hardships! is about a fight, a fight for freedom, and that is a universal thing too!

QC: Are there more varied instruments on Hardships! or am I imagining that? Which instruments do you play on the record and how do you make the decision to bring in another musician? And do you produce all of your records?

JW: Actually I believe I used more varied instruments at L&Y. In Hardships! there is the piano, the bass, the xylophone, the drums… hmm, well and some strings and guitars as well I guess. Well, my aim was to build the songs with bass, drums, percussion, and piano, but I added some more ingredients into the soup.

QC: “Like a Fading Rainbow” is one of my favorite tracks on the record. The video was directed by Marcus Söderlund who has done some really beautiful work. Besides being absolutely stunning, the video really accomplishes what I feel music videos should do, and that is, it serves as an honest extension of the music. How was working with Marcus and how did the vision for this video come to be? And how was working with the dance group Projekt Stockholm? They seem like they might be a hell of a lot of fun. And for the record, you look like you are having the best time ever.

JW: Oh, it was a really magical evening/night at a beautiful island here in Stockholm. I was very much into the world of Terrence Malick… and told Marcus that I wanted to make it look like Badlands. I love the result, Marcus is an old friend of First Floor Power and he made some of his first videos together with us. It was amazing to work with him now, he has grown into a great artist with strong and powerful visions.

QC: Shameless style question: Whose idea was it to do the head wrap with the hat? I absolutely love it and might have to rock that look this summer. (Can you tell I’m not just a fan of your music but also pretty much all of your wardrobe?)

JW: Ha ha! Yeah, I had that hat and the wrap a lot last summer. I was inspired by Grey Gardens, where Little Edith is wearing the most incredible outfits.

QC: You scored a play, Nattfjärilen, which must have been outside your comfort zone a little bit, or so I would imagine. What was that experience like and have you entertained the idea of scoring a film? I’m curious if you’ve been approached or what sort of film you’d imagine yourself scoring.

JW: I actually made the score for Nattfjärilen before I had made my first solo album, don’t ask me how that happened, but that gave me the idea to go on and work alone with my music (I was still in the FFP back then)

This spring I wrote the score for QUEEN KRISTINA at Stockholm Stadsteater, it was a very big deal, and an amazing play. I wrote a lot of new music which I probably will “adopt” to my next album which I have started to sketch up.

QC: On April 2nd you performed during the first episode of the radio series I KRINGDRIVANDESTS TJÄNST at Swedish Radio P1. I was curious how this came to be, and how you approach a radio performance, where no one can see you, versus your stage performances? Is it more relaxed in a sense?

JW: I am collaborating with an author, and best friend of mine, and we love writing and making stuff together. We presented our idea for some people at the radio and they loved it. I think you could compare the radio thing with working in the studio with making music. Most of my time I am alone, working alone a lot. And I like that. But I would die if I never had to go out and face my audience. I could never work as an author because of the great loneliness that must be. I love the contrast between the solitary work and the very very busy, extroverted and social side of being an artist.

The last six moths I have worked with a gospel choir, we’ve been touring and doing some of my greatest shows so far. It has been very busy and very social and a super cool experience.

Here’s a link from our last performance in Finland a couple of days ago, click here.

Artist: Jenny Wilson and Tensta Gospel Choir
Song: Clattering Hooves

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QC: And you did indie pop festival Les Femmes S’en Mêlent in Paris? I’m always curious what it’s like for artists to do the festival circuit where many concertgoers perhaps have not heard your music yet, as opposed to fans who come to your shows? Fun? Nerve-racking?

JW: It was so fun! I had the most incredible show at a steaming hot rock club in Paris, where I invited people to come up on the stage. You can see some pics of that here.

QC: Do you feel like a feminist sometimes? I know some people don’t like that word, but you seem to have a new brand of girl power than even men can subscribe to.

JW: In Sweden many people like that word. I am one of them.

QC: There’s not a lot of information about you online, which I actually really like. It gives me more to think about. But I did read that you have two children! I imagine motherhood changes you — were you a mother when you recorded Love and Youth? And has it affected your approach to music? Because I can definitely hear your maternal instinct throughout Hardships!

JW: I don’t even remember how it was to NOT being a mother. But I have a very strong need for my own stuff, my own freedom and my own art. I invite my kids into my world, and I don’t pretend to be a “perfect mom.”

QC: Also, I imagine your four-year-old might not be old enough to understand that Mom is an artist/musician/producer, but is your oldest aware? Interested? Impressed perhaps?

JW: My oldest son, turning nine pretty soon, has actually turned into a big fan lately. I think he is so impressed by some of the cool, black guys in the choir (which unfortunately wasn’t present on the last live show in the link above). He has always been very interested in music.

QC: Gold Medal Recording is a label started by you right? What has been the main difference for you musically from self-releasing as opposed to going through a label?

JW: GOLD MEDAL RECORDINGS wasn’t really a big deal to start here in Scandinavia, since I already was a bit known from before. But now, when I am working with the US release I feel a great pressure and that it is maybe a little too much work with label-related stuff. I am not the most organized person, as I told you, so, phew!

QC: There’s been a real evolution with your music. So, what’s next for you? Have you started any new tunes? What can we expect?

JW: I have started to write new music, and I am very excited about it, but I guess I’d rather not talk about it in this very early phase…but the new songs won’t be Hardships part 2.

BUT — I have to tell you about my a little bit crazy, unfashioned forthcoming album which is my next release: I have just finished work on a remake of Hardships!. It contains versions and variations of the hardships-songs, together with my amazing band and the choir. We were recording it in three days in a 70′s studio, Atlantis, here in Stockholm. The title of that album is BLAZING.

QC: My last question is a selfish one:

SERIOUSLY WHEN ARE YOU COMING BACK TO THE US? I speak not just for me but for many when I say we are absolutely dying to see a live show. Please, please come soon.

JW: I am coming back to NY for promo and maybe some small shows ( just me, no band) the 12th of July!

QC: Amazing. Have a wonderful day, see you in NY this summer perhaps. For the record, I think Missy Elliot would be a crazy woman not to collaborate with you ASAP. Thanks again, this was a treat.

One Comment

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