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Jenny Owen Youngs Interview

Lisa Ward


Jenny Owen Youngs decided last week to fund her next album via Kickstarter, rather than the conventional record label route. So we decided to pick her brain and find out more about the thought process behind this project.

More Than The Music: How did the idea to fund the album away from the conventional label route transpire?

Jenny Owen Youngs: A handful of my musician friends (Allison Weiss, The Age of Rockets, Field Mouse, Lelia Broussard, April Smith) have successfully funded album projects via Kickstarter.  I had reached the point of wanting to start work on a new album, but I wasn’t exactly sure what would be happening on the business end of things… I’ve had to deal with “business-related” delays before, and I didn’t want to get trapped in limbo musically while that side of things gets sorted.

MTTM: Batten The Hatches was originally self released, before being picked up by Nettwerk. Do you think this has influenced your decision to fund the next album via alternative means?

JOY: While considering my options, I was definitely empowered by the fact that I have done things on my own before.  Doing anything independently can be very intimidating, so it helped to look back and think, “Hey, I’ve done things on my own before and I can do things on my own again.”

MTTM: You say that by funding the album via Kickstarter means that you’ll be able to ‘realise your creative vision to the fullest’. Do you feel that Transmitter Failure was affected by label funding?

JOY: I have been pretty lucky so far, creatively.  I’ve never come up against a brick wall of someone telling me “You can’t record that song!” or “This album is junk, start from scratch!”… However, with any arrangement where multiple parties are invested, everyone’s going to want to have a say.  No one bullied me into doing anything differently on Transmitter Failure, but I did defend a number of my and Dan’s aesthetic choices.  To me, TF and Batten the Hatches are very different records.  I want the freedom to take risks and make my next album an individual with its own personality, quirks, and dialect, without having to defend my choices.

MTTM: You reached the $20K mark in just 28 hours, how did it feel when you realised that those responsible for buying music wanted to support you directly in doing something different?

JOY: It really blew my mind.  I thought $20,000 was a really high goal – only one other music project has been successfully funded for that amount on Kickstarter.  I figured if I was lucky, I might make it to the goal in the eleventh hour.  I never dreamed it would be so immediate.  I feel so lucky to have such supportive fans!

MTTM: You’ve pledged to give away your guitar, if a backer is willing to donate $2,500. Do you think you’ll regret the decision to give away your guitar if someone does pledge this amount?

JOY: I have collected a few guitars at this point, and if the Supernova were a guitar I was regularly touring with, the offer wouldn’t be on the table.  If someone pledges for the guitar, I’ll definitely feel a twinge of regret/nostalgia, but it’s for a good cause!!  The idea of giving the guitar away was to show people I’m really serious about funding the recording project.  My guitars are my babies, but sometimes you have to give away your babies to strangers to get the job done.  (I know you are British and I am American so I must specify, just in case: that was a joke. [I love British humour]).

MTTM: 13 people have already pledged $300, the amount you requested in order for them to receive you covering a song of their choice. Are you concerned about the songs which might be chosen and are there any songs which you fear covering?

JOY: I AM concerned!  Though mostly I think it will just be fun.  So far people have hinted that I have some John Mayer and some “Thong Song” in my future… but that all sounds like a hoot to me.  What concerns me more is the person who asked me if I could cover an avant-garde jazz piece… If that is what someone wants, I’ll do it to the best of my ability, but I worry that my performance will be far below the standards of someone who loves avant-garde jazz.

MTTM: What kind of reaction have you had from other musicians you’ve spoken to about the project?

JOY: There have been a lot of high fives going around, as a lot of the musicians I know make up my closest group of friends.  I know some people think the whole idea is humiliating, unacceptable even as a last resort.  To them I say, the music industry is changing, constantly and dramatically.  Major labels are becoming less and less ‘major,’ independent labels are shrinking or disappearing altogether, and every year it becomes easier for musicians to take their careers into their own hands.  I’m not anti-label by any means; I just think it’s tricky to ensure that what you get out of being on a label is equal to what you give up to be on one.  We all have to find our own path, and figure out how best to accomplish what we need to do.

MTTM: It seems the project has been a huge success so far, do you think it’s the way in which you will continue to fund all your projects in the future?

JOY: I am extremely grateful for the success of the project so far.  I think Kickstarter is an amazing platform that makes great things possible.  Ideally I’d love to be able to fund everything myself at whatever point in time I choose to do so… but that may not always be the case.  For now I’ll say if I’ve learned something in the last week, it’s that anything is possible.