For many years, Jenny Lee Lindberg – also known as jennylee – wrote music on her own. Perhaps you have tried it yourself? A song written in secret is less determined by those around you. You’re not posing for an audience, so you can sketch whatever nonsense you like.
If you're working in the dark, however, it helps to be a newcomer. Jenny is definitely not this: she has played bass with the band Warpaint for over a decade and co-created and toured acclaimed records like The Fool. Still, she approached the idea of fronting her own project with wariness. She didn’t like her voice. When I meet her a year or so later in London, glassy eyed from jetlag and sipping a large takeaway coffee, her solo debut right on! is on the cusp of being released. So what changed? “I was reaching far past the voice that was mine. The minute I embraced it, it was more my voice than it ever had been. I started singing and all of a sudden it felt stronger too. I was loosening up. My range can go high or low, but there's a sweet spot which feels effortless,” Jenny says. “It defeats the purpose of being an artist and expressing yourself when you've got rules and you're confined to certain ways of expression.”
She rests her head against her knee. We’re in a Seven Sisters’ flat that's moonlighting as a photographers' studio and the air outside is heavy and wet, although it’s not technically raining. Jenny doesn’t “get” London. The neighbourhoods of her adopted hometown L.A. each seem like their own universe, whereas London is one brick road twisting into eternity. “Is it the grime?” I suggest, but she just shrugs. She can't figure it out.
London is perhaps the antonym to the carefree tone that saturates everything Jenny does. It’s in her bass lines. Dance moves. Her sentences, which take long-winded, ten minute rides as she searches for her version of le mot juste: the core of a feeling. It's everywhere on her new album. Right on! moves with Jenny’s intuitive bass play that's tangible in her Warpaint riffs and that drives her stream-of-consciousness style of songwriting. It seems to erupt from somewhere deep within, a shake in the ground.
“This album was about being in the moment and having no limitations, self-criticism or judgement. I didn't want to monitor myself or my creative vision,” she explains. “It was like being a child. When you're a child, you do things because you feel them. It doesn’t matter what people think. So if I worried that what I was doing was dorky or weird I just kept going. Something was trapped inside that wanted to come out. I know it seems easier said than done, but I swear, it's really easy to sit down and say shh to that voice in your head.”
But this is adult Jenny talking, relaxed and confident with a scarlet bead beneath her eye, a woman who will headbang through a performance and roll her hips to the thumping groove of her bass. Jenny as a child, on the other hand, struggled with ADHD and lacked the attention span to fully immerse herself. Studying for school exams, she would sometimes “freak out” and fling her books against the wall in frustration. She borrowed a piano in the office of her apartment building, but played sporadically and without guidance. “My mum never forced me to do anything, which I loved, but I also now think, damn, it would have been good to have some focus” she reflects. “I started dancing when I was seven or eight and was in and out of it until forever. I loved it so much, but I would take time off because of the ADHD and when I went back in everybody was way better than me and it fucked with my head.”
Like many children facing difficult circumstances, Jenny blamed herself. “I thought I sucked and that I wasn't good anymore. I was very hard on myself,” she says. “I was in denial. I didn't appreciate my true self or inner child or whatever it is. It wasn't precious to me the way that it is now.” When I ask how she managed to get past that feeling of inadequacy, she disappears in a long and complicated train of thought about therapy and self-help books, until one clear answer emerges: picking up the bass.
“It was an instant connection,” she remembers. “I was only nineteen, but I was all over the place. So scattered. I had no idea what I wanted to do. It was the first time in my life that I had focus and followed through and was inspired and wanted to practice for five hours. I wanted to get good at it.” What was it about the bass that resonated with her? “I like the low end,” she beams. “If you do it right, it's really sexy. You can groove out. Just listening to the bass, you can dance, literally feel a vibration. The guitar is pretty, but it's high. The bass is down here,” she gestures with her hand. “It feels rooted, grounding.”
This interview was originally published in issue 29 of Oh Comely.