THE excellent Jennifer Ann is a Minnesota-born…
artist, now based in London. She discusses her new E.P., Take Me Home (out December), and has released its title-track. I find out about the transition from the U.S. to Britain; why Fantasy (from the E.P.) is a song that struck me – and how she has gone from a Classical artist, when young, to develop the sound she has today.
I hear more about Jennifer Ann's tastes and plans; how she is settling into London life; how her music and lyrics come together – and some advice she would offer new artists.
Hi, Jennifer. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello! My week has been really good.
I’ve been busy working on promoting my latest single, Take Me Home, and have been doing a few demos. for some ad campaigns.
It’s been fun.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
Yes, definitely. My name is Jennifer Ann. I’m a singer-songwriter/pianist/producer originally from Minnesota, U.S.A. and now London-based. I create music that is an intermesh between contemporary Pop and Classical elements. I come from a Classical background so working with strings, piano; choral and orchestral elements is second nature to me. I also do music for advertising and have created music for brands like Lloyds Bank, Boots; Pampers and Unicef.
Take Me Home is your new song. Tell me a bit about its formation.
Take Me Home was written after a trip back home. I miss home on a regular basis but it’s always harder when I go back to visit and then return to the U.K. I was feeling inspired by memories I’ve had growing up in Minnesota and started writing a lot of the lyrics on the train on the way to a writing session with my friends Nick and Edd. We worked together on it and it just seemed to flow so naturally.
I knew I wanted it to be incredibly evocative as well as emotional. I wanted to make others envision the beauty of Minnesota - as well as feel the intense longing I often have to be there.
It is from the E.P. of the same name – out in December. If you had to define the E.P. and what it is about; what would your response be?
The E.P. is about being human - from the angle of my own personal experiences.
It’s about my life over the last several years: from leaving home in a small suburban town to living in a huge, sometimes lonely city. It’s also about my observations of humanity; how similar we are to each other. We all struggle, we all feel pain; we all just want to love and be loved.
My songs are essentially my diary - I can’t write about something unless it’s personal and relevant to me.
Nick Atkinson and Edd Holloway (and yourself) produced. What was it like working with them?
Nick and Edd are awesome to work with and have been truly supportive of my project from the beginning. I co-wrote both Take Me Home and Fantasy with them. They knew exactly how to help me achieve what I was envisioning and were very patient along the way. Additionally, their creative abilities as writers enabled them to give a lot of their own creative input. We worked together on the production for four of the tracks and Let Me Love You was produced solely by me.
Are there particular tracks that strike your heart – or are they equally important to you?
Take Me Home is definitely the one that tugs at my heart the most, simply, because of how much I miss my friends and family. My husband and I filmed the music video for it at my home where I grew up and in my favorite places of Minnesota back in June this year. Watching the video makes me emotional every time. There’s something about writing a song though that helps you deal with that specific situation or emotion a little bit better.
It’s truly cathartic.
You are from Minnesota originally. Why move to England? What is it about the nation that attracted you?
There were a few reasons why I moved to England. First off is that my husband is English and lived in London - so that was a big reason. I originally met him when I studied abroad for a term in London during my Bachelor’s degree; fell in love with both him and the city and had to move back when I finished my degree.
I also decided to study for my Masters degree in Music Therapy in London when I moved over and the approach in England is very different than the approach in the U.S.A. Music Therapy practice is much more based in psychodynamics and interpersonal therapy in the U.K. - which I was more interested in than the behavioural approach taught in the U.S.A.
Was it hard to leave Minnesota? Do you plan on going back any day for a visit?
I feel like it wasn’t too hard at first but the longer I’m here the harder it gets - because the longer I go without being able to regularly see my friends and family. I do genuinely love London. It’s an incredible city with so many opportunities and amazing things to see and do. But, I think, for a lot of people, it’s always hard to leave your childhood home and the people you love the most.
I’m quite an outdoorsy person so I also really miss having all the wilderness and space as well as having real seasons! Thankfully, I do go back usually a few times a year to visit and sometimes do a few gigs.
So, that does make it a bit easier on me.
Classical music is where you started out. What was the reason for moving into Pop?
Yes, it is. I come from a classically trained background having studied piano and flute since I was eight - and then achieving my B.A. in Classical Music at university, where I also studied Voice. I started writing both Pop and contemporary Classical music when I was a teenager. Sometimes, it’s easier to express myself through the piano non-verbally and sometimes I prefer to write it all out and sing about it…it really depends. So, it’s not that I’ve moved solely into doing Pop music as I will continue to write and release more piano compositions in future - but that I really felt I needed to also explore and share this other side of me as an artist.
Your music has already gone down a storm on platforms like Spotify. Is it quite humbling knowing it resonates with so many people?
The best part of making music is connecting with other people who I may not have met otherwise and getting to hear their stories and experiences; hearing what my music has evoked in them. The fact that my music has connected with people is an incredibly fulfilling feeling to me. This is the true beauty and power of music - it has this almost mystical ability to bring people of so many different backgrounds together. In a world that feels so divisive at the moment, we need more opportunities to come together and understand each other.
Music can show us that at our core, we are all far more similar than different.
Fantasy, from the E.P., is a track that mirrors the political songs of your father’s heroes. Is Trump’s election, and the change in the nation, responsible for the song? What do you think about the way things are going in the U.S.?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that Fantasy was intentionally a political song but it did come about after the U.S.A. election happened - and several months after Brexit had already happened. The world felt very uncertain and scary for some time and I, instinctively, felt this pull to protect myself by not thinking about it. It takes a lot of energy and courage, I think, to truly face this kind of uncertainty head-on - and it’s so tempting and easy to just not think about it. That’s kind of what Fantasy ended up being about - this need to hide away and be left alone in my own world. In reality, this isn’t something I could ever allow myself to do because I’ve always been very politically engaged. In general, I’m really sad by how disconnected and divisive people seem to have become.
Unfortunately, it has seemed at times that Trump has fostered some of this divisiveness but it had already been steadily growing - even before he became President: it’s not like this just happened overnight. If there’s any positive out of any of this, it’s that it has inspired more people to become politically engaged than before and I can’t say that’s a bad thing - no matter what your political beliefs are. It’s brought a lot of important issues to the forefront: issues about money in politics, corruption; lobbying, etc. that I think people may not have been as aware of as they were before. I still hold a lot of hope that my country will find a way to grow from these dark times and come together even stronger than before. Sometimes, in order to grow, things have to get worse and fall apart first.
If nothing bad ever happened, we’d never grow and become better people - because we’d have nothing to learn from.
Talking about your dad; how influential was he, and his musical, tastes to you?
My dad has always been a music aficionado and many of the artists he used to play on his big stereo system while I was growing up now serve as some of my greatest inspirations. Artists like Crosby, Stills, & Nash; The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel.
Crosby, Stills, & Nash are still among my all-time favorite bands - Graham Nash, especially, has been such an inspiration lyrically to me. I read his biography last year and he spoke a lot about how he doesn’t waste time writing about things that aren’t important - he only writes about genuine issues and experiences and in accessible ways that people can relate to.
I feel the same way about writing and find that I often write sad and dark songs - but that’s because life just isn’t always happy and carefree! I feel that my time here is far too short to spend it not being who I am genuinely am. I don’t believe in faking anything. There is so much fake everything out there right now: fake news, fake media.
I think we’re all yearning for something more real to hold onto.
IN THIS PHOTO: Aquilo
Who are the new artists you suggest we check out?
Semi-new artists that I’m really into right now are Aquilo, RY X and Woodkid. I’ve also been listening a lot to Rosie Carney whom I’ve just discovered. A lot of her lyrics are about mental health and she’s open about her own struggles.
It’s this darker, more vulnerable side of artists that I seem to connect with and appreciate the most.
IN THIS PHOTO: Rosie Carney/PHOTO CREDIT: Deborah Sheedy
Do you have gigs coming up? Where can we come and catch you play?
I’m playing Liverpool at The Brink on Nov. 17th; Limerick, Ireland at The Stormy Teacup on Nov. 18th - and London at The Bedford on Nov. 28th (where I’ll be playing with a few strings!).
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
This is such a hard one!
Crosby, Stills, & Nash - Crosby, Stills & Nash
Because it’s one of those albums I grew up listening to and, also, because the lyrical and melodic genius is exemplified in so many of these tracks. Probably my favorite album of all time.
Norah Jones - Come Away with Me
Started listening to this one also because of my dad - but genuinely fell in love with it when I was a teenager. Whenever I couldn’t sleep or was feeling anxious, I’d always listen to this album - even now, I still do when I’m feeling stressed. She’s also such a Classic artist and an inspiration to me.
David Lanz – Nightfall
My first inspiration for starting to write music. Leaves on the Seine will tear your heart apart with melancholy. This album reminds me of Sunday afternoons after getting back from church; lounging around the sunny living room with my family. One of the first albums I can remember that made me cry when I was a child without understanding why.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
1. Be prepared and willing to do a lot more than just make music. The modern music business is all about knowing how to operate independently. This means that you often have to be your own manager, P.R.; accountant, photographer; videographer, producer - and so on - before you might be able to start to afford to take other people on board.
2. Be genuine - people will connect with you more if you show them you’re a real human being like them.
3. Do not underestimate the power of interacting with your fans! At the end of the day, they are the most important part of all of this. They are the ones who will support you. Foster those connections and relationships in a genuine way. I make an effort to try to respond to everyone who comments or messages me. This takes a lot of time but is well worth it, plus I get to have truly fulfilling and meaningful conversations with people whom I may not otherwise have met.
Christmas is approaching. Do you all have plans already or will you be busy working?
Ah man…it’s only October!
I’m still preparing for Halloween. For Christmas, I will be in Liverpool with family - so not working over the holidays! However, as soon as the holidays are over, I’m back in the studio to start recording E.P.-two ….
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
London Grammar - Oh Woman Oh Man
Their new album is incredible! Hannah’s voice is just other-worldly.
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