(Photo Credit - Tucker Leary)
We had the opportunity to chat with accomplished songwriter, musician, and podcaster Jenny Owen Youngs! She wrote the track "High Hopes" for Panic! At the Disco and as now focused on writing and making her own music. One thing we can say is she's doing a phenomenal job thus far! Her new EP 'Night Shift' will drop November 15, so be sure to check that out! In the meantime, check out what she had to say with us!
1. How did you come to pursue music and how long have you been at it?
When I was in junior high, my older stepbrother ran a guitar repair shop out of his basement. He loaned me a guitar and showed me some chords, and from there I started playing in bands with kids from school. I went to SUNY Purchase to study popular composition, made my first record at a studio on campus with Dan Romer who was in the production program, and have been recording and touring and just generally being a full time music type ever since.
2. Could you walk us through your process of writing music?
It varies so much from song to song and from month to month. Lately I’ve been finding that I’ll get a very specific image in my head - the overhead lights in a tunnel pulsing as I drive through at night, or the way TV light colors a room in the middle of the night - and that image will naturally connect to a feeling or a memory, and I’ll just keep following it until the song is finished. Sometimes it’s much more direct, I’ll know I want to tell a specific story, or one random bit of melody and lyric will appear in my head out of nowhere. It’s like they say, the inspiration is the easy - if rare - part. Following the inspiration through the woods at night in the rain until you can sand it into just the right shape is the hard part.
3. What artists have inspired you in your career?
I love The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Elliott Smith, The Strokes, Tom Waits, Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Sleater-Kinney, Johnny Cash. They’re all performers of great songs and makers of great recordings, and none of them could be mistaken for anyone else.
4. Do you have any favorite music gear (guitars, amps, effects pedals, keyboards, etc.) that you love to use? If so, what’s the story on them?
I just came into possession of a guitar that I’m obsessed with! It’s a bit of a Frankenstein guitar, created by Rueben Cox at Old Style Guitars, a really great instrument shop in Silver Lake. He took an old Harmony Stella acoustic parlor guitar, reset the neck, dropped a pickup in the soundhole and another inside the lower bout of the guitar, covered the bridge in a thin sheet of rubber, and strung it with flatwounds. The rubber bridge and the flatwounds make the tone so mellow and smooth, and that in combination with the pickups yields a sound that’s like no other guitar I’ve played. It has definitely compelled me lately to get even more fingerpick-y than I already was.
5. Can you describe the vibe at your live shows? Also, what do you enjoy most about a venue when you do a show?
When I’m playing a show, I really like to feel (and like for the audience to feel) like we’re all in this together - that we’re all people who are hanging out together for one night with a shared musical purpose, and also that we’re all human beings existing together on a planet that (against considerable odds) supports carbon-based life forms like us. I try to foster an intimate environment that feels warm and welcoming, where I can be vulnerable enough to share highly personal songs, but also tell stories and joke around. It’s important to me to balance the heavy things and the light things.
6. What is one thing that you want the public to know about your music?
That it exists! And that it’s full of feelings.
7. Can you tell us about the writing, recording, and promotion process of Night Shift?
I’ve been living in Los Angeles for almost four years. I moved here from Brooklyn because in addition to making my own music and touring, I was doing a lot of co-writing sessions with and for other artists, and that world is largely centered in LA. Co-writing for other projects is like a parallel universe to my artistic pursuits - a lot about the process is familiar, but certain aspects are quite different. I’m often meeting someone for the first time just before trying to write a vulnerable, intimate song with them. I’ve had to work to develop easier access to my intimacy well, in order to serve those sessions. It totally shifted my approach to writing in general, and writing with others.
And the more I collaborated, the more I *wanted* to collaborate; Night Shift was largely written with and produced by collaborators I met via co-writing sessions who I happened to connect with on a deeply personal level -- including Ethan Gruska (a tremendous solo artist and co-producer of Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps), Jake Sinclair (producer of Panic! at the Disco, Weezer, and more), and Christian Lee Hutson -- as well as a couple of long standing New York collaborators for good measure (Bess Rogers, Zach Jones, and Oscar Albis Rodriguez).
The songs were culled from the body of songs I wrote for myself over the last handful of years - I haven’t released much of my own music while I’ve been focusing on writing for other artists, and the songs have piled up, patiently waiting to be recorded and released. Having so many songs to choose from allowed me to really go all in on a theme; the songs on Night Shift are all thematically tied to one another, nocturnal, nostalgic, and dreamy.