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)
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?
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?
‘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?
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.
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?
Photography by Eric Hunter, provided courtesy of Jane Jensen