Vegan Bacon Pancakes: An Interview with Jenny Owen Youngs

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An incredible girl rock extravaganza will be taking place at The Space in Hamden this Sunday, November 11.  Mirah, Jenny Owen Youngs, and Jaymay are on the bill, all big-names in the world of female singer-songwriters.  Mirah, a West Coast-hailing folk musician well-known for her pretty much perfect debut album You Think It’s Like This, But Really It’s Like This, has been collaborating with Thao Nguyen of The Get Down Stay Down most recently.  She was touring in Europe with Nguyen over the summer and is wrapping up a tour of the Northeast next week.  Jaymay (real name Jamie Seerman) is a New York-based folk musician who has performed on Conan O’Brien and Craig Ferguson.  Her newest record, a 10-song “EP”, 10UNDER2was released this past March.  Have a rollick with the opening track, “Lamb”.


Miss Youngs, a Brooklyn resident, released her third full-length record, An Unwavering Band of Light, this past February.  She lists Tom Waits and Harry Belafonte as the main influences on Light, an 11-song collection tinged with rock, funk, and complex arrangements.  Many know Youngs from her breakout hit “Fuck Was I” from 2007’s Batten the Hatches, which was featured on the HBO series “Weeds”.  Light, living up to its name, is a brighter album than both Batten and 2009’s Transmitter Failure, deviating from melancholy and folk to rock and reflection – maybe because she’s eating so much bacon.  Check out our interview with Youngs below.


Jenny Owen Youngs is performing at The Space, located at 295 Treadwell Street in Hamden, along with Mirah and Jaymay on Sunday, Novermber 11.  The show starts at 7pm and is all ages.  Advance tickets are $12; purchase them here.



Ze Interview


The Mercurial: You released your third full length album, An Unwavering Band of Light, this past year. How does it differ from your 2007 and 2009 records?


Jenny Owen Youngs: Harder Better Faster Stronger!


The Merc: The new album packs a lot of sound. Tell me more about the musical arrangements on Light and your approach to recording the album.


Jenny: Producer Dan Romer, drummer Elliot Jacobson, and I all worked with the songs before most of them were even finished, shaping them together and building the arrangement foundations while the ink was still wet, so to speak. Having both of those guys hashing things out with me in real time informed not just the sound of the songs, but the writing as well. Dan and I are both way into Tom Waits and Harry Belafonte, and I’d say those were the two biggest influences on us while we made this record. We wanted to feature more dirty percussion, and for the feel of the album to be more spacious than 2009’s Transmitter Failure – more room sound, less wall-of-sound stacked tracking of instruments.


The American Museum of Natural History is my favorite place on earth.


The Merc: What do you like about making full length albums, and what do you like about making EPs?


Jenny: EPs are fun because there’s less at stake – you can just wing them off if you want to, have as much fun (or as much seriousness) as you like, and they won’t be taken as Your Next Musical Statement. I’ve mostly released album-related EPs – b-sides, new arrangements, that kind of thing, but my next project will probably be a serially released theme EP of new material. I love making albums, of course – the blank slate, creating a strategy and choosing themes, the way a body of songs will sort of slowly reveal their ultimate shape to you over time, the forging of a connected set of ideas which are unified by their shared properties and individualized by their differences, oh yes. But it’s a lot of work.


The Merc: I read an interview where you said you like to make vegan pancakes in your free time, yet on your Tumblr page there’s a striking image of a bacon and eggs clock. Are you a meat eater?


Jenny: I was a vegetarian for 13 years – vegan for the last 4 of those years. I started touring six to eight months out of the year not long after I went vegan… let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. I was so hungry, all the time. Now it’s almost always meat o’clock.



“Your Apartment”, from An Unwavering Band of Light




The Merc: You call yourself a natural history enthusiast on Tumblr. Tell us an interesting bit of natural history. Is the Museum of Natural History a haven for you?


Jenny: The American Museum of Natural History is my favorite place on earth. I want to move in. An interesting bit of natural history, where to start! Off the top of my head, I’d say google “The 5 Creepiest Ways Animals Have Mastered Mind Control.” THE NATURAL WORLD IS SO CRAZY.


The Merc: What are your thoughts on the recent election?


Jenny: I will say that I feel relieved for women, the middle class, and the LGBTQ community that Barack Obama is still the president.


The Merc: Tell me about your side projects, Bell Horses and Jukebox the Ghost. What is you role in these bands, and what kind of music do you create?

Jenny: Bell Horses is an organic electronic project, spearheaded by Xian Hawkins (Sybarite). He found me on Myspace way back in 2006 or so, and asked me if I’d contribute vocals to an as-yet-unnamed project. I checked out the Sybarite recordings and was instantly psyched. We postal-service-style recorded remotely from one another – he’d send tracks, I’d record vocals and send them back, he’d tinker with them. Xian makes the most incredibly beautiful sounding songs, they sound like dreams. I’m so proud of this project, and hopefully we will release more down the line.


Jukebox the Ghost is actually a proper band all on their own (check out their new record Safe Travels, it’s AWESOME!). We recorded four songs together before embarking on a co-headline tour in 2009, and released two of the songs on a seven inch single (all four are available somewhere on the internet I’m sure). Our recording setup was the Jukebox boys, Ben Tommy and Jesse, along with me and Dan Romer, all together in a room with drums, guitars, a banjo, bass, a Rhodes, an accordion, and assorted percussion. We re-arranged two Jukebox songs and two of my songs, and recorded the songs live, all together. I sang the Jukebox songs and the Jukebox boys sang mine. This is definitely one of my favorite recordings I’ve ever made.


The Merc: What do you like about touring in Europe vs. America, and vice verse?


Jenny: Generally speaking, cities are closer together in Europe, which is great. European and American audiences are lovely in very different ways, and I’d play for either any day. I love traveling through Europe, the architecture is so rad and there are things there you’d just never see over here – like York in the UK is a city sort of built up in and around the ruins of a castle – crazy. I love touring in the states too though – the drives can be brutal but how about that Pacific Northwest! How about the deserts in the southwest! There’s a lot to love on both sides of the Atlantic.


The Merc: You’re originally from New Jersey and now you live in Brooklyn. How did Hurricane Sandy affect your hometown and your current town?


EPs are fun because there’s less at stake – you can just wing them off if you want to, have as much fun (or as much seriousness) as you like, and they won’t be taken as Your Next Musical Statement.


Jenny: Thankfully everyone at home is all right, so far as I know – a tree came down on a neighbor’s car back home, and everyone lost power there for a while. Where I am in Brooklyn was barely affected, thank god. I really lucked out this time around.


The Merc: You’ll be playing alongside the lovely songwriter Mirah at The Space in Hamden. Are you looking forward to sharing the stage with her?


Jenny: Very much so! I love what she does and it’s always rad to get to play shows with people I respect and admire. Jaymay was also just added to the bill, and she’s great too – this should be a solid night all around!


The Merc: What’s next for you? More solo work, or more side projects? A stint at the Museum of Natural History? Some vegan pancakes with bacon maybe?


Jenny: Hopefully all of the above. I have some solo goals in mind, a side project or two that I’m ready to pull the trigger on… and (since you mentioned it!) a museum-related song series project coming up soon. As for bacon, the answer is always YES.


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