May 11: Jenny Owen Youngs gets in touch with nature ahead of The Press Room show

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Jenny Owen Youngs by Lisa Czech
Jenny Owen Youngs plays The Press Room in Portsmouth on May 11. Photo/Lisa Czech

It might not be apparent on the surface, but music and nature have quite a dynamic when brought together. Due to numerous instruments such as violins and guitars being made out of wood, nature is an obvious direct contributor to the art form in a utilitarian sense.

Nature also has a way of inspiring songs and there are numerous artists who will use a trail hike or a simple walk in the woods to clear their head before going into a songwriting session. With her latest release that came out in February being a unique one titled, “From The Forest Floor,” via the record label OFFAIR, New Jersey singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs embraced this relationship in inventive fashion.

Following that particular release, she’s going to be performing at The Press Room with the show starting at 7 p.m. and actress and fellow singer-songwriter Emily Kinney opening up the evening. 

Youngs and I had a talk ahead of her performance about the making of the conceptual full-length, having a few collaborators on board and what she has planned for this Saturday night. 


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Rob Duguay: “From The Forest Floor” is intended to be listened to while hiking in the woods, so how did you go about constructing this particular theme?

Jenny Owen Youngs: When OFFAIR invited me to make an album for them, I started digging into the way they have people make albums. Every record they’ve released in the OFFAIR series is heavily themed, they all have a different intentional purpose. I think their mission is to help people create music that’s not just for listening, but also for doing or interacting with the world or cultivating a particular space in your brain while you listen. When I started to think about what would be exciting for me to explore in that general prompt realm, I was thinking about heading into the woods. I grew up in the unsung heavily wooded part of New Jersey and I spent a lot of time in the woods as a kid before I lived in cities for 15 years. 

I recently moved back to nature-ish in Maine three years ago and being there has really highlighted for me how good it feels to be in nature, so I wanted to put together a series of songs that would really celebrate that. Part of it is catching a vibe or spending time in the woods and using that as creative fuel and part of it is the environmental recordings. There’s a very robust choir of spring peepers that I recorded in Wells, Maine that features prominently in one of the songs and I tried to capture insects, animals and leaves crunching underfoot while bringing those elements into the music in terms of composition as well. 

RD: Each track off of the album cycles through a 24-hour period with the first song starting at 7 a.m. Did abiding by this format affect the songwriting where you were consciously trying to capture a certain part of a day through music or was the songwriting affected in a different way?

JOY: Thinking about the time of day was definitely a big part of the compositional process and I collaborated with several people on the music, but most heavily an amazing songwriter and producer named John Mark Nelson. He’s a much sunnier guy than me, so I feel like we really leaned in his direction as we were working on the earlier part of the day in the song cycle. As it gets darker and further into the night, I think my melodic tendencies are way more prominent. It was cool to play with that push-and-pull and explore how our individual tendencies could interplay with this sort of structure that we came up with:

RD: Along with John Mark Nelson, you also brought Hrishikesh Hirway and your wife Jess Abbott, who makes music under the name Tancred, into the fold. What was the experience like having them involved as collaborators?

JOY: With Jess and I being married, I pretty much have easy access to her and as much as she likes writing songs, singing and noodling around on guitar, exploring is really what she loves to do the most. It was really fun to work on something instrumental together, we’ve written other songs together before but I feel that this project was perfect for her to go on the hunt. I’ve worked with Hrishikesh a ton as well, we’ve written a bunch of songs together for my project and his. He writes songs in a very cinematic way and I feel like he’s always looking through the camera lens when he’s writing a song. It’s very scene-oriented and narrative-oriented with the lyrics being very precise and I thought it would be cool to bring in somebody with that kind of musical perspective into this project. 

RD: That’s awesome, that’s great. OFFAIR is known for specializing in experimental releases, so how did you initially get linked up with them?

JOY: It’s a classic, and maybe boring, music industry tale, but the guys who started the OFFAIR label are old friends of my manager and they just got to talking. They thought it would be a cool idea, so we just kind of went for it. 

RD: That makes sense. For the upcoming show at The Press Room, can people expect you to play a few of the songs off of this new album or do you plan on diving into your older material?

JOY: I actually have another new record of my own consisting of regular songs called Avalanche that came out last September and that’ll be the primary focus of what’s going to get played at The Press Room. 

 

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About this Author

Robert Duguay

Robert Duguay is a freelance writer who covers the NH music scene.