Oct 2022 28

In a special contribution to ReGen Magazine, Jim Marcus speaks with his friend and onetime band mate Jane Jensen to dig deep into the artistic wellspring that is her life.
 

 

An InterView with Jane Jensen

By Jim Marcus (Mutilato)

Originally from Indiana, Jane Jensen started as a dancer, performance artist, and actor building a cult following in Chicago as part of an industrial scene that included such artists as Die Warzau, KMFDM, and Stabbing Westward. She released music on a number of labels under a diverse set of pseudonyms, including Oxygiene 23, Ladyvox, and Eve, performing in avant-garde shows at the legendary Organic Theater, as well as various arts centers and nightclubs. She modeled for artists like Alex Ross and became the template for the familiar visual representation of a few superheroes, including Marvel Girl.
Moving to New York to join the Isadora Duncan Dance Troupe at the American Academy of Art in Tribeca, she was recruited to play the lead in Troma Entertainment’s epic film, Tromeo & Juliet. There in 1996, she released her first album under her own name, Comic Book Whore, on indie label Flip, which gained traction and was later picked up by Interscope. She followed that up with award winning records Burner and My Rockabye, assembling a very respectable and diverse discography of post-punk, industrial, club, and hyper-pop music.
You can see her pop up in films, videos, and television on shows like The Big Apple and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, while her music also appears in film and TV on The Good Wife, Slither, Gray’s Anatomy, and various others. With her band, The Dolls, she remained a big part of the Troma family performing regularly for Troma Entertainment and independent film festivals. Long ago, her fans nicknamed her the Super Sonic Cheeka (from the lyrics to her song “Highway 90”), and her new albums, despite being deeply musical and often beautiful, still showcase the unique irreverence, playfulness, and innovation that has characterized her career. There was a time in history when you couldn’t be a grrl without a pair of clunky boots, a copy of Nicole Blackman’s Blood Sugar, and a cassette of Jane Jensen’s Comic Book Whore… and it was a good time.
She appears to not be aging, but has never publicly explained why (probably a vampire thing, which is nothing to get all excited about). She, on the other hand, is absolutely worth getting excited about, as you’re about to find out.

 

One of the things I love about your albums is that they are albums – they are songs that belong together, that sound and feel right together. The songs on My Rockabye wouldn’t really make sense on Comic Book Whore or Enchant. Albums are important to you?

Jensen: First of all, I appreciate that kind overview of my career and yes, I had Nicole’s book as well. Most of those early opportunities for me in Chicago were due to your interest in me as a person and artist. I’m very grateful for that Jim. You opened doors for me.
I’m of the age group that thinks in terms of albums. I appreciate buying or downloading a full album and saving it for a long drive (which happens all the time in L.A.), and listening from beginning to end. It’s very satisfying. If I love or admire an artist, I want to get a deeper impression of their creative mindset. Also, albums have that ‘journey’ quality. The good ones will pick you up, take you for a ride and hopefully drop you off somewhere meaningful, at least honest.
That said, my most recent release is not a full album. It’s more like a meditation on two songs that I worked on through the pandemic. I got a little obsessed with both of them. I wanted to try them in different ways. I kind of wish I included acoustic versions as well… which reminds me of the acoustic version of ‘Icarus’ you included on your recent GoFight release – that was really lovely.

Thank you. I find that I’m writing songs more and more acoustically and then turning them into electronic songs. So that was a more original version, a first pass. How do you most comfortably write?

Jensen: Yes, same. Although, I do that now more often – I still love the spontaneity of writing on the spot in the studio and seeing what transpires. It’s exciting when you go from the control room to the vocal booth, and no one knows what’s going to happen, even me. I remember we did some of Oxygiene 23 that way too! It’s good to have multiple approaches to songwriting.
Lastly, I think I’m being nostalgic here, but the only time I go from the control room to the vocal booth these days is if I am writing for someone else, and since the pandemic, even that happens virtually. Yeah, I miss hanging around in recording studios for long overnight sessions.

Along those same lines, you are one of the most flexible and diverse artists recording today. It’s tempting to think that you have a song for any occasion; yet, if I play all these songs together, they still sound like they belong to a coherent ‘family.’ What do you think connects everything?

Jensen: Well, I do suffer from obsessions, so if I get interested or obsessed with folk or bluegrass music, it’s going to factor into my music somewhere, even if it’s way outside of my ‘genre’ or not wise from a marketing standpoint. I think most of my music embraces drum machines and loops, and then my voice of course. That’s probably the common thread.

And your voice is very unique and does a lot. Do you feel like your voice has evolved since you started?

Jensen: It has, I guess. I love singers and singing. I struggle in the studio. It’s a form of performance anxiety, I guess. I’m really glad to be doing so much recording at home now because it’s horrible to be in the studio and your voice just shuts down – it happens to me more often than not – it’s like a shy feral cat in the studio and I could never depend on it to show up. I never had issues singing with Craig or Martin Bisi. Sometimes though, it’s just a struggle.

Your career has often veered off into the surreal. How much of your career was planned and how much was just saying, ‘Yes’ and letting go?

Jensen: As a kid, I definitely planned on having a recording contract with a big label; not because I thought I was good enough or deserved it – I just fantasized about that life and being like the women I admired so much as a young girl. I wanted to be tough like Pat Benetar, sexy like Debbie Harry, magical like Stevie Nicks, and a badass like Wendy O. Williams and Joan Jett. Then, when Sinéad O’Connor’s The Lion and the Cobra came out, I started to get a vision of music for myself.

Given that, how are you dealing with young girls right now who want to sound like you? People who look at the edge-of-everything career that you’ve had and want that kind of cool for their future?

Jensen: The only young girl whose opinion I am regularly exposed to is my own daughter. I don’t think she wants to be like me. (Laughs)

When I first heard your album Comic Book Whore, I basically cried because it felt to me like a perfect pop record. And I feel like the rest of the world has grown up enough now to accept that this is true. Everything on this record still feels new. Where did it come from?

Jensen: Very generous again, thank you Jim. When I moved from Chicago to New York, I moved with my acoustic guitar and drum machine – the R8. I started writing songs and recording them on a little four-track. They were very dreamy with airy vocals and basically no edge to them at all. A friend introduced me to Craig Kafton, a music producer with a loft studio on Canal Street. Craig used to play bass for Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, and briefly for Einstürzende Neubauten. He was the first person I met in New York who liked the same kind of heavy electronic music that I liked and wasn’t blinded by grunge. I started going over to his loft each night after dance rehearsal or work to record my songs. I think we both recognized that we got along musically very well. One day, he asked if I wanted to add vocals to something he was playing around with before we got into recording another one of my boring acoustic songs. That was ‘More Than I Can,’ which was the lead track from Comic Book Whore. That really opened the floodgate for that album to pour out. I trusted Craig like a brother. It was so easy to be hypercreative on the spot with Craig. After ‘More Than I Can,’ we collaborated and wrote everything in the studio as we recorded. There wasn’t a lot of forethought. The songs just kind of came rushing out. The music reflected the musical past of both Craig and I and the lyrics were my own way of purging all of the emotional shards of childhood, heartbreaks, and disappointments. And then some of the songs were just Craig and I having dumb fun, like ‘Luv Song.’

‘Luv song’ is an important song for a lot of people I know. It’s been described as an ‘intensely liberating’ song; almost like the song itself is freeing the listener from having to do or be anything they don’t want to do or be. Very few artists have reached that level of ‘fuck it, I’ll do it how I want.’ I feel like Jim Morrison would have appreciated the vibe. Did it feel unusual or unique to you when you did it?

Jensen: At that point, we were mixing with Jim Janik at Unique Studios in NYC, courtesy of Flip Records. We considered the album finished before that track was recorded. The only reason it exists is because we had four minutes and 14 seconds left of two-inch tape – we didn’t want to waste it. Things weren’t all digital then and tape was not cheap. Craig made a drum loop and a bass line that ran until the tape ran out. Then I went in and put down my little blues riff and punk rock chords on top. Then we just ran a few vocal passes and Craig cut his favorites together. That was how a lot of the record came together, but this one happened really fast and was so much fun to record.

 

 

You are one of those artists who never seems to tell people what is going on; you show them. When I first heard ‘Luv Song,’ it was clear that this song wanted me to feel jagged and convoluted and even kind of ‘swashbucklingly detached’ about love. Why do your songs seem to always feel like they are ‘walking the walk’ and not just talking?

Jensen: That is a hard question to answer because I can’t be an objective listener. I do try to be honest. It was easier when I was younger. I really didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought of me. It’s a challenge to maintain that kind of emotional creative freedom as I get older.

I’ve heard stories that this kind of pursuit of creative freedom maybe hurt your career a bit. Or put you at odds with Fred Durst?

Jensen: Well, he did want to produce my follow-up album. I didn’t have any reference for him as a producer. I didn’t think that was the best idea for me. That choice may have had some repercussions. We were label mates at Flip and went to Interscope together. Either way, I made plenty of poor choices that made navigating a career at that level very difficult. I can’t blame Fred, though most of my friends do! (Laughs)

I could be totally wrong, but I get the sense that you are a songwriter and storyteller first. Everything seems to come from that. Is that true?

Jensen: Sometimes. Sometimes I just drop into a track I’ve made or that someone has sent me; I settle in, and a line emerges, a lyric, and then it’s like pulling the rest of the lines or lyrics down from… the sky. (Laughs) I know that sounds weird, but sometimes it’s like it’s already written, and I just pull it down piece by piece. Sometimes it definitely becomes a story, sometimes I write many verses and then pick and choose.

Enchant was a very different album for you, but it instantly felt familiar and endemic to you, like a side of you that everyone knew was there and everyone knew was going to wake up and make its own record one day. How did it feel to sink into it?

Jensen: Right, that is a side of me that is always there, but I usually keep it to myself. Also, the dreamy, meditative style on Enchant is not far removed from the album that you and I did together with Vandy (Van Christie) years ago in Chicago, Oxygiene 23, which also included chanting and kirtan. Before I started to record Enchant, I figured I would make a beautiful, meditative album that would help me focus, get centered again, and heal from various stressors, and that would be my last music release. I thought it would be a really nice way to close up shop and have some closure as an artist. Focusing so intently on prayer, meditation, and mantra for that extended period of time in my life had a big emotional payoff for me. Rather than leading me to close up shop, I started feeling really inspired to do just the opposite. I think because I made Enchant, I could let myself be inspired and confident enough to move back into the modern music space and indulge in the kind of electronic music that I love, and reach out to some of my favorites artists for remixing, particularly Delta-S who contributed a few mixes to ‘Changeling.’
 

 
I think making videos has been the most fun aspect of creating ‘Changeling.’ The first video has been released and looks like a love letter to the ’90s, complete with the Friends Jennifer Anniston hairdo and MS-DOS font. The video for ‘Revolution Maker’ is still in production. It is being directed by Valentine Miele, a fellow Troma alum and now horror director in his own right. There is also a video being edited for the synthpop remix of ‘Changeling’ by Eric Hunter. Creating the video portion for me is so fun and satisfying.
I’ve come out of the pandemic embracing being a fan and supporting music I love. ColdWaves IX L.A. was the first show I attended once things began to open up and ColdWaves X this year was even better – also very fun to be attending with John Norten, an old friend from Chicago who recently mastered ‘Changeling.’ I love seeing the iconic industrial artists that I’ve loved for so long like Front 242, and also, I’m so excited for all the new energy from artists like REIN, Kite, and Leathers. I got to visit Martin Atkins’ Museum of Post Punk and Industrial Music last year. As I said, I’m really indulging in being a fan.
I’m looking forward to the video release of ‘Revolution Maker’ – maybe multiple versions of that. That release will probably close out 2022 for me. It’s been a really good year. Thanks, Jim, for taking the time to do this. Your music has been important and inspirational to me. I was a giant fan of Die Warzau before we ever met! You continue to evolve and push boundaries with GoFight. You’ve always been a great artistic mentor for me since the beginning.

Well, I think we learned some things from each other, which is supposed to happen in a collaboration. When I first met you, you were an everything – a singer, a dancer, an actor, a performance artist, all of it. You fell in with those Troma people. Were you ready for the cult success of Tromeo & Juliet?

Jensen: Nope, not at all.

You’ve said that videos are kind of the lynchpin for you now and that makes sense, given how much you do. What kind of video work do you see in your future?

Jensen: I really don’t know. After ‘Revolution Maker,’ I just want to reflect for a while and wait until I am really inspired to dive into the next thing.

I have to ask you this because, more and more, people ask me this. As a performer, songwriter, artist, what do you stand for? What are you all about?

Jensen: Love, care for others, creative expression, music and art as a conduit or connection to something greater, divine (I had to think about the order of those… I think I have it right, but it all feels like the same thing).

Your career has been so full of great songs, but if you were forced at gunpoint by some horrible madman to go back and choose the three songs that most make you the artist you are, what are they? And why?

Jensen: ‘Blank Sugar’ because for me, it’s such a clearly captured turning point in my life and the vocal was effortless. ‘Lost in the World with You,’ my duet with Martin Bisi, because it’s just epic. And ‘Revolution Maker’ because it says so much of what I want to say right now… and I wrote it with friends from high school, Marc Johnson and Eric Klee Johnson.

You appear on an upcoming release in support of reproductive rights with some pretty great women, including Sapphira Vee. This issue is clearly important to you.

Jensen: Reproductive rights are very important to me as a woman, a mother, a feminist, and an agitated Catholic.

Now that you’ve expressed some beautiful songs in the vein of Enchant/’Changeling,’ do you know what your next obsession is? Or do we have to wait?

Jensen: Trying not to get stressed out by this question! (Laughs)
After the next video release, I will settle back into my regular life and wait until I’m burning up to do something else. I’m considering some shows, but it’s not a priority. It all takes money.

When I first met you, you were doing a performance with Jon Schnepp, long before Metalocalypse or The Death of ‘Superman Lives’. We both have a lot of love for Jon. He was a constant well of creative inspiration. So, I wanted to give you a chance to talk a little bit about him.

Jensen: Jon Schnepp was such a bright spot in the web of humanity. He lived in a loft above me on Wabash Ave. in Chicago. He invited me to do a performance art piece with him for a private party in someone’s beautiful home. That was the first time I had done anything like that, and it opened my mind to what performance could be. There was always something creative happening at the lofts, whether it was Jon’s moviemaking or the building of art installations or writing potential comic book ideas… and they (all the dudes that lived there) were all painters too, so there was always a canvas out and drying, a band practice happening, movie night, and our own in-house performance art sessions, which did include a performance of forced vomiting – I remember that clearly. I remember now, I was the only girl living at the lofts; it didn’t seem odd at the time. Jon was always the ringleader, the cheerleader, and the boss with the biggest smile. When I moved out to L.A., he took me on a tour of his production house Titmouse. We had lunch a few times and talked about making a music video together. I regret that that never happened. I attended the premiere of his fantastic film, The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?. It was a packed red carpet affair with lots of media coverage and flashing lights. I feel like it was shortly after that when you reached out to me and let me know Jon was in the hospital. I miss him. After that, I promised to be better about prioritizing time with friends. Once you have a family, kids, it’s so easy to let your other relationships fall far into the background. I try to be better about that now.

Finally, I wanted to thank you for giving me a chance to InterView you. Your voice has been so important in my life, both literally and metaphorically, that I can’t imagine a world where you don’t exist. A million years ago, I learned a little Danish so I could talk to people in your family. I wanted you to know that I still remember some, but it is pointlessly oblique, like the word for coconut, which is kokosnød. That one is permanently stuck in my head. Can you say anything deep and memorable in Danish?

Jensen: Kokosnød has always been my favorite Danish word. The Danish national phrase is ‘Guds hjaelp, Folkets kaerlighed, Danmarks styrke.’ ‘God’s Help, the People’s Love, Denmark’s Strength.’ It’s so very different in tone than the American ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’
Thank you, Jim, I think I’ve said absolutely everything I can, or should. Thanks for being such an inspiring artist and thanks for believing in me years ago when I really needed it.

 

Jane Jensen
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram

 

Photography by Eric Hunter, provided courtesy of Jane Jensen

 

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