Jenny Owen Youngs is a blossoming young songwriter whose first album blew us away. Upon hearing that she’s releasing an EP (Led To The Sea) and a new full-length album (Transmitter Failure) in May, we decided that she’d be perfect to feature as our American Songspace Writer of the Week. Jenny was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
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Nice cover of “Hot in Here,” who else do you want to cover? Who is someone you want to cover, but won’t, because it’s just too ridiculous? Or is anything too ridiculous?
Thank you! I’m definitely a bit worn out on ridiculous covers at the moment, but if I was ordered at knifepoint to perform a Top 40 hit, I’d have to go with Beyonce’s Single “Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” That’s the only song of its kind that has really done something for me in the last six months or so. I’d love to take a stab at something from the Hank Williams songbook, or “Son of a Preacher Man,” or maybe something by Roy Orbison. I try not to run around covering songs with reckless abandon, because striking a balance between homage and interpretation can be tricky. At a certain point the world probably has enough recordings of “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
What songs off the new album do you have the most fun playing live? Do you have any songs that get old?
So far “Last Person,” “Secrets” and “Led to the Sea” are the most fun, though my feelings could change at any time, and I imagine they will. Songs are sort of like horses to me when they’re new, you have to break them in, otherwise they’ll be riding you instead of the other way around. (This is kind of a weird analogy). Once you’ve gotten used to one another, it’s up to the performer to A) make sure things don’t start feeling stale and B) abandon the horse analogy all together. If a song feels old, no ones going to benefit from hearing it; I firmly believe that audiences can tell when you’re just going through the motions, and they deserve much more. I try to find new approaches to songs for both my sake and the sake of the listener.
Did your writing process change for the new album?
And how! Here are the big differences:
1. I wrote this record with a band in mind.
2. I worked with several other writers on various songs.
3. Melody preceded lyrics in a number of instances.
All of those are pretty exciting changes to me.
Could you walk us through writing the EP title track “Led to the Sea?” Why make this song the title track?
“Led to the Sea” was written over several months, which is not uncommon for me. I started with the pre-chorus and worked in both directions from there. It took me the longest to work out the chorus. Dan Romer had written chords and a melody for that section, but I was having trouble working out the lyrics. I guess Dan and I each have our own melodic tendencies, and I ended up sort of tweaking what he’d written until it jelled with the rest of the parts, then everything started making a lot more sense and it became a great deal easier to finish the song.
What was the toughest track to write? The easiest?
I had to pull “Here Is a Heart” out of myself with forceps. I literally finished the lyrics on the last day of vocal tracking. There was definitely a moment when I was terrified I just wouldn’t be able to finish it, but somehow it all came together. “Last Person” pretty much wrote itself.
If you could co-write a song with someone super-famous (alive or deceased), who would it be?
Brian Wilson, please!
Name your Top 5 singer/songwriter albums of all-time and why.
OK, here we go I feel like singer/songwriter becomes a stranger term to me every day; hopefully all these records fit the bill.
Kate Bush, The Dreaming
If you want your mind blown out of your skull, check out this musical exercise in multiple personality disorder.
Nick Drake, Pink Moon
Someone hipped me to this record when I was in college and it really influenced my approach to guitar. I got very into alternate tunings and intricate picking patterns. It doesn’t hurt that Drakes voice is flawless and his melodies are gorgeous. This is a wonderful example of a record that showcases a gifted songwriter with no frills and manages to pack a serious wallop.
Elliott Smith, XO
One of the saddest records ever. Please see “I Didn’t Understand.”
Neil Young, Harvest Moon
I know its a lot hipper to love the original Harvest album, but I first started listening to this sometime during elementary school, and it really got to me. Neil really creates one hell of an atmosphere.
The arrangements! The vocals! Augh! I guess I consider this album in league with The Dreaming in that it’s really quite cerebral but will also tug the hell out of your heartstrings.
Favorite love song that you wish you’d written?
“I Only Have Eyes For You,” as performed by The Flamingos. The sentiment is so perfect and pure, but the arrangement is eerie enough to make you question the emotional stability of the singer. That’s my kind of love song.
Favorite book or movie du jour?
I just finished watching Lost in Translation for the first time about an hour ago, and I think that it’s now at the top of my list. Yes, I am a little behind.
Oh, check out her Lyric of the Week too!