Talks with Jensen Keets
CEV: When was it that you first found that singing was something that you enjoyed doing?
JK: Wow, I'd have to say always. As far back as I can remember. I love the vibrational feeling of singing. I always loved trying to imitate the sounds of voices when I was young.
CEV: Tell me about the jukebox in your grandfather's bar in PA and why was it that you were so inspired by the song On the Radio by Donna Summer.
JK: The jukebox in my Grandpa's bar was my favorite thing in the bar. It was a pretty interesting bar in and of itself. A real country feeling bar in a one horse town in PA. The jukebox was the coolest thing I ever saw. My parents would give us kids coins to play a few songs. It was the highlight for me to flip through the old 45's and play songs like "Leroy Brown" and a bunch of classic Elton John tunes. Great memories!
Donna Summer's "On The Radio" was probably one of the very first record singles that I owned. Of course the song was a catchy top 40 hit at the time, but It wasn't so much about the song itself, I just loved Donna's voice. She has so much soul and power and that really resonated for me. I think in general R&B and country music were big influences on me.
CEV: Was the singing that you did in church helpful in developing your voice and giving you some direction in how you might use it to express yourself?
It gave me a sense of purpose for the giving of my instrument. It has also allowed me to understand the universal magic of music, and appreciate how music creates a harmony for human unity.
CEV: Was the move to the big city exciting or scary for you? What goals did you have in mind when you made the move?
JK: Moving to NYC was super exciting and freeing. It was an adjustment, but I felt free...like there were a million doors of opportunity opened. My immediate goal was to get through my final year of college at F.I.T. Then, find a job right away, otherwise I was going to have to commute from Upstate NY (3 1/2hrs away) to go on job interviews...Drag. Luckily I landed a job as an assistant designer quickly. I really wanted to sing and get a band together. I tried to a couple times, but it never seemed to work out for me. I sang at a couple showcase gigs at clubs like The Tunnel. I constantly got side tracked by all the little distractions in life, and by trying to make the right fashion career moves to increase my salary and make a decent living. All the while, I really wanted to sing, and try to write a song, but I was never sure which way to go about it.
CEV: Was it hard to make the transition from Vestal to New York City? What were some of the most difficult adjustments that you had to make coming from a small town to a large city?
JK: Initially, the city gave me an immediate headache. Ha! So much noise, cement everywhere, and constant stimuli that I wasn't used to. But I am a chameleon in a lot of ways, so I got used to it in a matter of days. Plus NYC's energy is electric. It's still a high for me. I grew up only 3 1/2 hours away, so I could escape on weekends if I felt the need. And I do need to....I still go up to visit family often to balance myself out. There's nothing like a fresh dose of nature to even me out and put everything back into perspective.
CEV: What is it that the big city brought out in your music that wasn't there before? In other words how did the big city shape the music that you were going to compose?
JK: This is my first record. So much of what I have written about is regarding the struggles of making it here in the big city. So much is just about what my eyes have seen since I've been here. There is so much exposure to all cultures, and stimulus all around. You can't help but absorb the energy and transmit a feeling based on it.
CEV: Tell me about the process that you go through when it comes to composing your music and creating a song. I know that that process won't always be the same for each song but generally when you are struck with the inspiration for a new song how do you go about getting it down into a form that you can work with?
CEV: How has 9-11 and the economic crisis shaped the subject matter of the songs that you have written?
JK: I have two songs on the album, "Strong" and "For God's Sake" that were totally influenced by this time in our life. 9-11 was a horrific awakening for the world. Witnessing something like this, so close to home, really opened my eyes. The over abundance of greed, hate, and the struggle with change due greatly to organized religion is just as barbaric as it was in the 18th century. The one thing that we all know is a constant is change. But it is the very thing that all humans try their hardest to stop. If we could only place this much effort and practice into global unity and peace.
CEV: Your song Expectations takes a hard look at the very fabric of modern consumer society's desire to always be upwardly mobile. How did the song address this perpetual trend and what do you feel the answer is to this seemingly endless cycle?
JK: "Expectations" takes a look at how our society is driven by our idealistic vision of romantic perfection, which leads to isolation. Our moral values have become corrupt by the high praise toward materialism instead of love.
I feel that tragedy and loss has created a new awareness that is circulating now. But it takes a real conscious effort to challenge the cyclical nature of our conditioning. I think it is important to remember that the duration of our mortality could be taken at any moment. It is important to ignore the push of media fluff and conformity, and remember to have faith in our inner voices. This is a natural human sense that has a tendency to be ignored by our busy states of being. Love is what we all really want, and it's the only thing our souls ever keep.
CEV: What will your new album be called? Was there a particular theme that ran through the album?
JK: The album will be self titled, Jensen Keets. I don't think there was one particular theme exactly. Just sort of my own personal cathartic experience. My journey through several years as a single woman in NYC.
CEV: Tell me about some of the songs that listeners will find on your new album.
JK: Well I think we covered "Expectations" in the earlier part of the interview. It seems to be a lot of peoples favorite. Songs like "Upgrade" and "Me World" do have a similar theme as well. There is less and less attention span on most things today without people become bored or jaded. Upgrading applies with materialistic things as well as the trading up of people...sadly so. It is important not to hold back from our natural growth in knowledge of course, but many times people loose themselves in over abundance, or immediate satisfaction. We have so much of what we need within ourselves.
Other songs like "For God's Sake" is a more aggressive side of me taking a look at repetitive history...such as holy war, sales angles on today's media, etc.
"Cry" dealing with the surreal aspect of death
"Distraction" Loving and lusting someone who was not good for me, or good to me.
"Manifest" about desire...desire for a person who may be completely unaware
"Strong" takes a look at the Sept 11th tragedy and our current economy
"Actions" simply talks about the very elementary fact that actions take precedence over words. There is a natural rhythm to the flow of events of all life caused by action.
CEV: Were there any songs that really stood out to you not as favorites but as songs you are really proud of as you near the release date? Why?
JK: I'm really proud of all of them. It is really difficult to single any of them out. Maybe "Manifest" stands out for me in way that I was proud of the chord progression and the metaphorical use of our vocabulary. But I am very proud of each song for multiple reasons.
CEV: Were you more of an observer in the studio (other than singing and guitar) or did you actually get involved in the mixing and mastering of the music? Or other instruments perhaps? What did you think of the whole process of “tweaking” your music and getting it to sound just right?
JK: I was an observer to a degree. Both of my producers are fantastic musicians, therefore, I gave them creative license to paint around my sketch..so to speak. I was present for every track laid down, and every single decision that was made. I was lucky because they were on board with my vision toward how I wanted to craft each song. I trusted my producers expertise with their artistic license as well as experience in mixing and mastering. But again, I was present in the studio and involved for every decision of the process.
CEV: When is the new album coming out and how will it be available for those who want to get a copy for themselves?
JK: I am planning for a pre release at the end of October. It will be available through my website, and through various online distributors such as CD Baby, itunes, Spotify, OurStage.com, etc.
CEV: As a songwriter what are your hopes for the songs that you send out into the world and what would you like to see listeners take away from the experience of listening to your music?
JK: My hope is that my songs resonate in some way for people. If people can relate to the message and are moved by it, I will be a very happy woman.
CEV: When it came time to actually begin work on an album how did you get started? Did you have some idea as to what you needed to get done first?
JK: I knew I needed help. At the time I started working on the record (5 yrs ago), I only played a few chords on the guitar. I heard the music clearly in my head, but had only my voice and those few chords to create it. It was frustrating. That's when my friend, Karyn Kuhl, who was teaching me guitar at the time, introduced me to Barb Morrison and Charlie Nieland of Super Buddha.
CEV: What role did Charlie Nieland and Barb Morrison play in getting your album off the ground and motivating you about your music?
CEV: So what will listeners find on your debut album in terms of songs and the subjects that you chose to write about?
JK: There is a whole lot about soul searching, struggles with relationships, loss, selfishness, materialism, hope, longing, and the modern day struggles in our economic condition.
CEV: Was it difficult to write about the more personal subjects and share them on the album in your songs?
JK: It was new and a little scary to me five years ago, when I started. I soon realized while working with Barb and Charlie that I would have to let my guard down and open up completely if I wanted to develop great songs and deliver a great performance in the studio.
CEV: Now that you are close to releasing your first album (Oct 2010) has the whole process reinforced your dreams of excelling at both your music and fashion goals? What are your impressions of taking your music from concept to finished songs ready to be released out into the world?
JK: I feel I have only touched the tip of my dreams. It's been a long process, between balancing time, scraping finances together, and pushing fear out of my own way, but I am very proud of my album. I look forward to making a lot more music in the future. I look forward to touring, and continuing to build a loyal following. And along the way, I will authentically utilize my design skills to launch my own collection. Most importantly, I am really excited to finally be sharing my music with everyone.
CEV: Do you ever feel at a disadvantage being a woman indie artist trying to get their music heard without a huge promotional budget at your disposal? How will you get the word out about your music?
JK: Yes, budget is always a huge issue. I know women have come a long way in the music industry, but women still have miles to go to get on an equal playing field in all industries. I think that social media is very helpful tool today for indie artists, but television and radio are still massive promotional tools for exposure. I will have a soft release in October, and I am planning a promotional campaign for March 2011, and an East Coast spring tour.
CEV: Are you looking forward to performing your music live? Do you enjoy the live interaction with an audience?
JK: Yes, playing live is so important. There is nothing better than direct interaction with the audience. It is something I am really looking forward to doing more of.
CEV: I was reading your bio on your website and I liked the sentence that ends it "I think a lot of people defer their dreams and I know that life is precious and extremely short, so why just do ONE thing you love? Why not do EVERYTHING you love?” Going forward how is it that you want to see this philosophy play out in your life?
JK: It is an important philosophy for anyone who feels burdened by what they do, or thinks they are trapped in doing one thing their entire life. Life is too short to be unhappy. It is amazing what the universe provides for us if we ask for it, and take small consistent steps toward it. Opportunities open.
CEV: I appreciate you taking the time out to talk to me. I wish you the best of luck with both your careers and I hope that you succeed equally in both of them. That would be quite an accomplishment to look back on.