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Or how not to fall into musical quicksand…
It can be said that in the past few decades, popular music has evolved almost entirely. Artists, once primarily relying on instrumentation as a means to deliver their artistic statements, have been taken by a great tidal wave known as electronic dance music. It exploded as a vibrant energy unparalleled by any previous occurrence – one which is not reflected, but instead absorbed by the neon colors on the backs of those who not only embrace the change, but are intoxicated by its very nature.
In the array of musicians wishing to plunge into the world of electronic music whilst still holding tight to his or her great message or musical complexity, not many can deliver at the same level as musician and songwriter Jenn Champion.
Formerly known as Jenn Ghetto from her earlier days as a member of the alternative rock band Carissa’s Weird, and eventually a later role recording solo albums with former Carissa’s Wierd members under the name “S,” Champion’s ongoing enthusiasm towards dance music provoked her to record her first solo EP, No One (available digitally on iTunes and Bandcamp). The No One EP is essentially a compilation of remixes centered around the record’s title track, a mixture of ethereal sounds orchestrated to center the somewhat morose chorus line shared by each song, “And there’s no one, and there’s no way out…”
Despite the melancholy nature of the lyrics, the piece progresses to include fast-paced, dance-friendly bass beats. Incorporating struggle and sorrow into the lyrics of upbeat dance music proved to be a challenge in the process of creating No One for Champion, as she states, “I have always loved dance music, and it always felt a little off…How can I do what I do, which is kind of sad, and [be] dance music at the same time?” Champion asks.
While describing the process which brought her to writing the track, Champion says, “I must have just been feeling a little bleak, I guess. It’s kind of like, ‘Which way do I turn?’”
Although originally backed by personal emotions, Champion claims that the “nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide” style lyrics of her new piece correspond with the current political situation in the United States. She hints at an unintended link between “No One” and the 2016 presidential elections.
“In today’s world this song feels kind of appropriate. I guess now with our political conflict in the U.S., it seems like there is a lot of turmoil. I suppose I have some hope that things will keep getting better and change, but as a human in the world, I can’t help but think, ‘What’s going to happen?’”
Starting from no more than an interesting bass line, the single grew in its complexity to eventually include piano and digital layers, creating the cornerstone of the seven-track release.
“What’s funny is that I wrote that song [“No One”] on bass. I was learning some bass parts for another band, and then I was just writing and said to myself, ‘Oh, this is a cool riff.’ I then ended up transferring it onto the piano,” she says.
This simple track, however, ended up being the perfect mix for Champion’s longtime plan to enter the world of electronic music: “[Once] I already had this track laid out on the piano, I had this side project that is all electronic music. I thought, ‘What if I made this into an electronic song instead of a sad piano ballad?’ At first, I was just messing around with it, and then it kind of built up, layer upon layer,” she says.
While signed to the Hardly Art label, a sister company to Sub Pop, No One was then recorded independently by Champion in her basement recording studio, originally in an attempt to prepare for a tour last year.
“I thought to myself: ‘Alright, let me try to record this song really quick and try to get it off for this tour,’ and then sometimes things don’t happen the way you want them to, and it got pushed until now. That’s when I added the remixes and all of that,” she says.
In discussing future plans, Champion says that she has been writing more ever since her last tour in October of last year. She plans to release a new album next year, but is not planning on touring in the near future.
“I didn’t really want to do another headline tour,” she says. “Attending to a tour is so much work, and I would have to deal with that and writing a record. Some people can do it, but I just can’t,” she says.
Champion hopes for her next record to be released next year, and for it to follow in the footsteps of No One, being dance-focused, with a similar negativity to her previous work. In regards to her future record, she outlines her current vision. “Dance piano songs,” she says. “There’s going to be a dance element, or hip-hop, but I feel like it’s still going to be kind of dark, and piano heavy on this one.”
There is, without a doubt, a musical quicksand that any artist will inevitably try leaping over during the process of going electronic. The aid of effects and stray sounds can certainly make a song more powerful for the listener, helping them to enrich the meaning of their music, or evoke his or her own feelings into the hearts of listeners. At the same time, though, it is just as frequent that the mystique and energy of electronic sound, like quicksand, consumes the song entirely, leaving the piece’s identity to sink deeper and deeper until it can no longer be seen.
On August 5th, No One displayed clearer than ever that the mystic, dark, gloomy and soulful Jenn Champion has not fallen into the quicksand.
Jenn Champion – No One EP
Standout Track: “No One”
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Follow on Twitter @jenntchampion
photos by Angel Ceballos