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May 11: Jenny Owen Youngs gets in touch with nature before The Press Room show

Jenny Owen Youngs by Lisa Czech
Jenny Owen Youngs performs in the Press Room in Portsmouth on May 11. Photo/Lisa Czech

It may not be apparent at first glance, but music and nature have a certain dynamic when brought together. Since many instruments such as violins and guitars are made of wood, nature obviously contributes directly to this art form in the utilitarian sense.

Nature also has a way of inspiring songs and many artists will enjoy a hike or a simple walk in the woods to clear their heads before embarking on a songwriting session. With her latest single album released in February titled “From The Forest Floor,” via the OFFAIR label, New Jersey singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs has embraced this relationship in inventive ways.

Following this particular outing, she will perform at The Press Room with the show starting at 7 p.m. and actress and singer-songwriter Emily Kinney will open the evening.

Youngs and I had a chat before her performance about making the concept feature, having a few collaborators on board, and what she has planned for this Saturday night.


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Rob Duguay: “From The Forest Floor” is meant to be listened to while hiking in the woods, so how did you construct this particular theme?

Jenny Owen Youngs: When OFFAIR invited me to make an album for them, I started to get interested in how they made people make albums. Each record they have released in the OFFAIR series is heavily thematic, they all have a different intentional focus. I think their mission is to help people create music that is not just for listening, but also for making or interacting with the world or cultivating a particular space of your brain while you Listen. When I started thinking about what would be exciting to explore in this general area of ​​prompts, I thought about heading into the woods. I grew up in the unsung, heavily wooded part of New Jersey and spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid before living in the city for 15 years.

I recently went back to nature in Maine three years ago and being there really highlighted for me how good it is to be in nature, so I wanted to put together a series of songs who would really celebrate that. It’s partly about capturing a mood or spending time in the woods and using that as creative fuel, and partly about recording the environment. There is a very robust chorus of spring peepers that I recorded in Wells, Maine that features prominently in one of the songs and I tried to capture the insects, animals and leaves crunching beneath feet while also introducing these elements into the music in terms of composition.

DR: Each track on the album spans a 24-hour period, with the first song beginning at 7am. Did following this format affect the songwriting where you were consciously trying to capture a certain part of the day through music or was the songwriting affected in other ways? a different way?

JOY: Thinking about the time of day was definitely a big part of the songwriting process and I collaborated with several people on the music, but especially with an incredible songwriter and producer named John Mark Nelson. He’s a much sunnier guy than me, so I feel like we really leaned in his direction as we worked on the first part of the day in the song cycle. As the night gets darker, I think my melodic tendencies are much more pronounced. It was cool to play with this push-and-pull and explore how our individual tendencies could interact with this type of structure we came up with:

DR: Alongside John Mark Nelson, you also brought in Hrishikesh Hirway and your wife Jess Abbott, who makes music under the name Tancred. What was the experience like involving them as collaborators?

JOY: As Jess and I are married, I have pretty easy access to her and although she loves writing songs, singing and playing guitar, exploring is really what she loves to do the most. It was really fun to work together on something instrumental, we’ve written other songs together before but I think this project was perfect for her to go on the hunt. I also worked a lot with Hrishikesh, we wrote a bunch of songs together for my project and his. He writes songs in a very cinematic way and I feel like he’s always looking through the camera lens when he’s writing a song. It’s very stage and narrative oriented, with very specific lyrics and I thought it would be cool to bring someone with that kind of musical perspective into this project.

DR: It’s great, it’s great. OFFAIR is known for specializing in experimental releases, so how did you initially become associated with them?

JOY: This is a classic, and maybe boring, music industry story, but the guys who started the OFFAIR label are old friends of my manager and they just started talking. They thought it would be a good idea, so we went for it.

DR: That makes sense. For the upcoming show at The Press Room, can people expect you to play some of the songs from this new album or are you planning to delve into your older material?

JOY: I actually have another new album of regular songs called Avalanche that came out last September that will be the main theme of what will be played at The Press Room.