INTERVIEW: Jenny Wilson
It’s ten years since Jenny Wilson released her debut album, Love and Youth, and to commemorate the occasion she’s playing the album in full from beginning to end at four dates, including Skuespilhuset on 19 April.
Jenny’s style has shifted significantly in the last ten years, and revisiting Love and Youth means looking back at a different way of playing, and songs that have been missing from her set for years.
We met up with Jenny at Harbo Bar in Nørrebro at the end of January to talk about Love and Youth, her creative process, and what she’s working on now.
Are you looking forward to the anniversary shows?
It’s going to be exciting. It’s strange when ten years suddenly has passed. It was just the other day I actually went back to that album and listened to everything. Because normally I never go back to my albums. I never listen to them. It was actually [my manager] Jessica who suggested — I think it was maybe six months ago — we should do something because it’s ten years, “Oh no, I don’t want to go back to that! Oh no. No, no no no.”
I was getting stressed, “Oh no, now I have to rearrange the songs so they will be more up to date to what I’m doing right now.” Because what I’m doing right now is quite far from what I did back then. But now I’m actually beginning to embrace the old, and I can see that there is a reason to do it as it was back then. The original versions. I’m going to that.
Are there any songs that you haven’t played in a while?
I’ve played I think three songs the last five years from the first album. The rest is something that I haven’t been in contact with for a very long time. But now I listen to the songs and I read the lyrics and I start to remember how to play guitar. I played guitar live when I was touring Love and Youth, and I started playing keyboard and piano with the next album, and now I’m just playing a bit of synthesizer. So now I have to learn to play guitar again.
Do you feel that your relationship to the songs has changed, like a different person wrote them?
Oh yeah. Very much. But what I discovered now when I returned to Love and Youth again is that I think the songs are closer to me now again than they were maybe five years ago. I was pretty scared that I would think the songs to be childish or just stupid. I didn’t find them stupid or childish, actually. It’s definitely another chapter in my life, but I still feel for these songs, I can still sing the lyrics without feeling ashamed.
I imagine you wouldn’t feel ashamed about listening to someone else’s record you loved from 10 years ago.
If you’re an artist or a writer or doing anything creative, you need to just proceed and go forward and not look back too much, because if you look back, you won’t make anything new. I mean ten years — pretty much anything can happen in ten years. When I wrote my debut album, I only had one son, now I have two. I was still so much closer to the person I was as a teenager, even if I was at the end of my twenties. But now I’m turning 40 this year, and my first-born son, he’s 13 and he has feet like this [makes hand gesture], and I have one more son, he’s eight, so it’s like, during these ten years, I’ve become a much more — I don’t know how to say it — a much more rich person, both in my private life and also as an artist. I think I have much more insight in life. I’ve been sick twice during these years, had breast cancer, I’ve gone through a lot of stuff that has really shaped me. I think I was much more loose. I was much more of a child still, even if I was an adult.
What was the writing process like for Love and Youth?
It was a lot of trial and error. I had to invent the wheel, because I was sitting in a closet in my apartment and I had to learn everything from scratch. I had a past in a band and we made some records. I’d been through the recording process before, but this time I did it in a completely different way. I learned how to program beats and to record. It wasn’t comfortable. It was far from easy to do it. That was also the challenge in it, that I had to. I had to twist and turn everything to find my own language and my own sound. I really wanted to do something that I hadn’t tried before. I was working very, very fast, just playing around with whatever came up to my mind, because I was so liberated by the feeling of being the only one in charge. I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission to do anything, no democracy here, it was just me. And I really loved that, so I was experimenting a lot.
But with the lyrics, I was much more determined to stick to one subject, stick to a topic, and I was working very hard with getting that universe together. Many songs had other lyrics from the start, but then I changed it, because I saw this theme coming up. I thought it was a very interesting way of working to actually have one subject that you have to dig deep into and you have to describe feelings and and situations from new angles. I really, really love to work like that. That’s the method I have been doing for all my records after that. I always search for a very long time for this subject.
What has changed about how you work?
I’m much more of a professional now. I don’t have to try all the spices, I know that I can stick to salt and pepper. For my last album, Demand the Impossible, I worked very much alone for a year to find my universe and to find the sounds and to find how to produce it. But then I actually worked with two other persons, my drummer and a real sound engineer. I’m not a real sound engineer at all. Which is okay. But I really wanted to do it in another way. Also because of speeding up the process a little bit, because it takes a long time to do everything yourself. It was much more fun, and I think I you can feel that there’s a lot more energy on my last record than the first because it’s a collaboration with other human beings.
I think in many ways my process has been the same in these ten years. I’m a very solitary writer. I don’t want anyone to interrupt me in the beginning because I need to find — I call it “universe” because it’s like I need to create a place. It’s like creating a map where you know all the streets and you know the language and you know all the dangerous parts, you know all the good parts, all the beautiful parts, and that’s what I do when I create a record. I really need to understand my little world. Because when I do understand it, I can write lyrics that come from a completely new angle. And also the music gets more original, I think.
You just put out an album last year, but are you working on anything new?
I have not started to record anything new at all. I’m in this phase where you think that you don’t have any ideas, that you think that you will never, ever do a record again, but I know this phase. I feel completely secure in this phase now because I’ve been through it so many times. This is the first stage of starting to collect material or ideas.
I’m working with Love and Youth, I’m going to rerelease the album on vinyl with a new cover which is a kind of pastiche of the original cover that an amazing Swedish artist has made. I’m working with the shows, I have to get into that old universe again. I’m also writing poetry. I’m trying to make a collection of poetry. We’re going to release Demand the Impossible in the rest of the world now. I’m going to make a video for a new single. I’ve started to direct my own videos, which I really enjoy.
Do you have a very strong visual idea when you’re writing?
Yes I do. That’s part of actually building this world. I started to do this when I worked on my second album, Hardships: I have a file on my computer where I collect a lot of pictures. On the file for Demand the Impossible, I found pictures of graffiti, deserts, things that actually matter to me. Maybe that’s not the images somebody else sees when they hear my music, but it’s still important to have these images.
Do you write music then lyrics?
I begin with searching for something, and that can go on actually for some years in the back of my head. I’m doing other things, but something is happening. Then I start to record stuff. Usually, almost every time, it starts with the beats. Then I make some kind of melody for the voice, but I often don’t have any lyrics. I sing in some strange English, but just so I get the rhythm and then I start to produce and compose the songs. In the very very very end of the process, I write the lyrics. Often when I just play around with words, it’s strange how actually, even if I just sing out of the blue, there’s always several words that I actually stick to because they had something to do with it. I didn’t have a clue when I just sat there and sang but then I could see, “Ah! Okay!” It’s a kind of puzzling.
Do you think the songs from Love and Youth will feature more in future sets?
Probably we will pick some songs in our two-hour sets. But you never know. I’m really looking forward to playing these songs again. They’re really good pop songs, actually.