Jennifer Terran: Well, even if I tried to defend myself here, people would still see what they want to see, I think. It is something altogether different to begin to know what an artist is trying to convey, but it's not always really the most important thing, you know? I just feel grateful that there is a connection happening around the music.
JA: You are not only your own producer and engineer, but you also mix, master, and arrange all of your work?
JT: It feels like a very natural extension of the music to be in control of the music and mixing... sort of like if I was a painter, I'd want to hold the paint brush myself to make the picture. What led me to consider becoming independent in these ways, was the frustration around having to explain what I wanted to someone else. I often found it to be very cumbersome to have to communicate all the many decisions that must happen with a project like this. And I just came to feel like I wanted to get more specific to my own visions anyway. Then of course another important aspect of being behind the controls and recording in my own space was the freedom to perform when inspired. I was able to capture the moments that I wouldn't have felt free to do in front of an engineer or in front of anyone for that matter.
JT: Yes, I do.
JA: What motivates you at this point?
JT: What motivates me to succeed and dig deeper into my work is love and the unquenchable urge to create, and perhaps a less involved motivational factor. A strong one is still revenge.
JA: What was life like for you growing up?
JT: Largely I felt pretty isolated in my head growing up. And like most kids, I hadn't yet developed a vocabulary for expressing what was wrong or who I felt was doing me wrong. Luckily I discovered in music and with my voice a way to express the deeper and more critical emotions I wanted to be understood for. It was such an beautiful thing to discover that people could feel those emotions from me and relate it to their own lives...which I think is what really led me to think of music as my identity and purpose in life.
JT: I was sometimes a very bright student and sometimes a horrible student, which had a lot to do with my situation at home and where I was politically I guess. Except in the area of music and singing, I didn't have the highest self-esteem, which I'm sure affected how others viewed me. I also had a hard time with the education system in general. I found school to be largely disturbing in a way because it seemed the whole structure was fixated on teaching kids how to conform rather than teaching people to think for themselves. But that's just a reflection of the world in general I think.
JA: What about the way other students viewed you?
JT: As far as how other people saw me...I guess I was mainly known for my ability to sing well. Kids said they thought I would become famous someday, that's what everybody wrote in my yearbook anyway. It was a nice reflection to have, especially because I didn't quite feel like I ever really belonged. So it was somewhat comforting to think that I maybe had a special purpose, one that could propel me out of the hell I sometimes found myself in. Of course, the world stopped saying those things to me once I turned 21. It's ok to think of a child becoming the next amazing thing...but as soon as you reach adulthood, there are suddenly all these people that would rather not see you succeed. Maybe it's because people are so miserable in their day jobs and the fact that they never gave themselves a chance to pursue their dreams, it's hard to watch someone actually committing their lives to what they love.
JA: Do you remember the first album you purchased?
JT: I remember the first ten albums I bought. It was one of those "buy 10 records for a penny" kind of thing. As a kid, I was like "right on...I have a penny, I have a penny!". But of course that wasn't the whole story, at which point I got my first real education in what it was to be at the mercy of a big, scary record company and their small tricky print. Definitely got the taste of that never ending struggle feeling to get out of the hole. At one dollar an hour babysitting, it's a pretty slow climb back into the light. Sort of sounds like being signed for real, doesn't it? Ironic. But you know, I think those first records I bought were mainly disco. I loved disco and other stuff on the radio... Earth, Wind, & Fire, Michael Jackson, Steely Dan, Barry Manilow, and Barbra Streisand.
JT: Oh, there's really so much great music that's happened, that's happening. I love the production and inspired performances of some of those older recordings...David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits. Also love certain jazz and classical... love PJ Harvey. I'm sure I'm leaving way too much out, so I'll just say that I tend to gravitate toward artists who are genuine, inventive, and soulful.
JA: What kind of gambles have you placed on your life in order to be able to do what you love?
JT: Well, I've just always put doing what I loved first and then everything else has more or less come second to that. Certainly it's hard when you are trying to pay bills and keep that philosophy thing going. But I've always felt that if I just kept growing with my art, that it would start to balance out as it should. I mean, we all struggle to make it whether it's doing something we like or don't like...so since time is all we have, since this life is all we have, we all better be fighting for what inspires us.
JA: Where did the concept for your new album, The Musician, come from?
JT: Well, being a musician in this time and place in history is how I got the idea to make a concept album about being a musician. What drove it to fruition was the need to take the music back into my own hands. It got tiring trying to explain or justify my approach to people, so I just learned to do things myself, which is why that record is the way it is, conceptually and production wise.
JT: Well, there's a lot to it. The cover, to be brief, is a picture of myself naked at my instrument. The nudity symbolizes the vulnerability, rawness, and realness that is a big part of what makes up the music. It's also significant and symbolic again that I am facing my instrument in the photo and not the camera since this is ultimately a record about my relationship to my art. Anyway, I think the image expresses well the concept and feel of the record...capturing a wide array of emotions...power, strength, vulnerability, sexuality, and individuality. Then of course there's that Mad Magdaline nearly naked with a gun on the inside...she's a character I play on the record- the musician girl who kills the record executive. Again, there's that dichotomy between vulnerability and strength in those images.
Then another aspect of the artwork that a lot of people miss on page six, I think it is. There's a little place where the holder of the booklet is invited to cut and fold the page. It was sort of a little experiment to see how involved people might be willing to get. If you do it, the picture takes on different images with the pages behind it. It was designed to sort of test out whether or not people would be willing to take a more interactive role with the work rather than being a passive observer. Most people don't do it because they're not used to being invited in like that. They figure the music is fixed, the artwork is fixed, but to me it's constantly reinventing itself, combining itself with the listener. The music I put out is half me, and half whoever is listening to it. That's really more the reality of the situation out there.
JT: I don't listen to the radio if that's what you mean. Well, I guess I do every once in a while just to see what's going on which usually creates that same anemic- I didn't get enough nutrition from my lunch kind of feeling. I guess I find it sort of sad to think of all the great music that must be happening in the world and this is the best we can get on the air? But you know...there's great stuff out there and there's plenty of mediocre stuff...that's always been the case it seems to me. Sometimes there's great stuff that fits in enough to be pumped through commercial veins such as television and radio. But even that music often has to be somewhat happy or upbeat in some way. I don't really think it's a mystery to anyone that most of what you hear on the radio sort of sounds like it was made for the radio, designed to make money. In other words, it's not really real music, you know? It's all pretty transparent I think, and that's why there's a need for music that speaks to people's souls in those more unpretentious ways. Maybe that's why people like me who don't really fit into the commercial world are still finding success, because apparently there's a need for it.
JA: Do you enjoy touring?
JT: Yes, I love touring. It's one of the highest experiences I've ever had. To be put on the spot, to bear my soul to strangers and just give away my love. And then of course it's very satisfying when people connect with that. It's evidence that there is a real understanding and connection in the world.
JA: You have said that you spend a lot of time in Europe, how large is your fan base there?
JT: I do have a larger fan base in Europe than in the States at the moment. I guess I always attributed to the fact that Europeans are more appreciative of art and music in general, particularly if it is original and it's personally affecting them. Plus they aren't afraid of the dark, which many Americans are, which is a much better fit for what I do.
JT: It's beautiful to hear people express what they feel strongly about through music. But I have to say I did have a bit of a nauseous reaction to the whole 9/11 thing and people making up songs around it, specifically with the "patriotic" oversimplified, God's on our side stuff around it. You know, this horrific thing happens...and not only is it a horrific thing for the people who died, but there's something horrific about what caused people to be so desperate that they could kill and commit suicide. I don't really believe in defending America just because it's my country. I've known what it is to feel out of place here, to be at the whim of people who just take advantage of people for money or power or whatever. So it was pretty disgusting to see the ways in which 9/11 was capitalized on...through music and other ways. And it's just so ironic when you consider the desperation such a violent act inspired. Namely capitalism at it's ugliest.
JA: So do you plan on producing other artists for your record label?
JT: No, it's not really my job. But one never knows I guess. I just have so much I want to do with my own music, it's hard to think about other people's projects.
JA: Tell me about your next album.
JT: My next album is going to be something very special. In my eyes it's a definite step forward in my evolution as a recording artist. I've been working on it for a couple of years now along with my friend David Simon-Baker in the San Francisco Bay area. You know, with The Musician, I gave myself the opportunity to have every bit of control over the outcome and for that I'm so glad because it's an incredibly personal work, which is a beautiful thing. But I also have really been loving working with Dave as an engineer and as someone who has other ideas on the production level. So teaming up with him is definitely bringing out different sides of my music, which I'm really excited about. The record itself is another concept album, and it's just a bit too difficult to explain. I'll just let it be a surprise.
JT: Oh my goodness. I don't mean to be pretentious here, but since what I feel I do is my own really, and since words are invented to capture what is... I would say the most specific word to sum up my music would be: Jennifer Terran.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @JenniferTerran
Visit Jennifer's website: JenniferTerran.com