PIANO WORKS – interview with North East singer & songwriter Jen Stevens

You played at the South Tyneside Summer Festival this year how did that go ? ‘I was supporting Pixie Lott and it went really well. There were around 12,000 there. Also played there in 2012 supporting Scouting for Girls with a similar sized crowd. We had just brought out an album then and that gig definitely helped sales and local recognition.’

When did you get into music ? ‘I started playing piano when I was four, my dad and my brother where both playing at the time. And I sang in the church choir. I had piano lessons by two doddery old women who charged 40p per lesson and if I got it wrong they used to whack me over the knuckles with a metal ruler! Singing lessons at school and college followed. Then at Uni I studied Jazz and Contemporary music. When I was young I listened to what tapes my dad was playing in the car. Bob Dylan, Queen, Eagles and Dolly Parton. As I got older I wasn’t really into to boy bands, and  Fleetwood Mac are my favourite’.

What is your process of songwriting ? ‘I’ve got a massive list of song ideas on my phone. I can overhear a snippet of conversation on the bus, or I’ll sit at the piano and put a few chords together, it changes song to song where I get ideas from. Sometimes I write using another character or a lot of imagery and metaphors. After my mum died in 2012 we found some poetry that she had written. Really good stuff mixed with swearing and the odd fart joke ha ha. But I took inspiration from it all. I wrote a song ‘Child of Earth’ for my mum’s funeral, it’s an uplifting song with words taken from bits of poetry that she wrote in the hospice. Some people have said the song calms down their kids when they are throwing a tantrum. Mum would of loved that. A song she had a part of writing in, calming kids down – because she loved kids – a real mother earth. More recent songs tend to be based around mental health issues and bereavement. Recently a guy got in touch and said he liked the stuff I was doing around mental health and he really opened up. He told me that he has made an appointment with a doctor to talk through his problems. Well that’s amazing – if somebody feels they can seek help after listening to my music…that’s a pretty good feeling’.

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‘I have a song based around mental health called ‘Gravity’. After my mum died my whole world went tits up. My marriage broke down and I quit my job teaching due to stress and anxiety. If I was depressed, Mum would be the one to get me through it. I relied heavily on her, but now she was gone. Everything came to a head when one night I went to the beach, very much alone. My phone rang and it was my dad. He didn’t know how down I was. I never told him why I was there. But we had a talk and put the world to rights. He said at the end ‘Right, little one, are you ready to go home?’ And I was. So ‘Gravity’ was a turning point where, yes, I’ve been through a lot of crap, but I’m still here. The main chorus lyric is ‘Would a rose still smell as sweet without the darkness of the street,’ meaning, would I be the person I am today if I hadn’t been through that?  I wasn’t going to be pulled down again. I’m on the up. It was a real turning point. ‘Gravity’ was originally a piano ballad on my album ‘Little One’ but the band re-arranged it. (Tony Pottinger, bass, Adam Barnes, drums, Aaron Dixon-Cave, guitars). We put a video together with our friends holding up cards with quotes on about their personal journey through mental health. As the song progresses they hold up more positive quotes, followed by embraces with their nearest and dearest. We didn’t let them know beforehand that they’d be getting a cuddles, so the responses on camera were genuine. There are some really lovely moments in it. When we watched it back there wasn’t a dry eye in the house’.

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Would you consider selling your songs to another artist ? ‘If you asked me five years ago I would of said absolutely not. I’ve always been precious about my songs. But I look at other well known artists and find they were songwriters at first selling their songs. So yeah I think it would be a viable way to go. Once I’ve written, recorded and played a song, it’s out there. People listen to the words, maybe like the music…but it’s gone, it’s out there.’

What do you think about crowdfunding ? ‘As a kid I wasn’t allowed to go trick or treating or carol singing because my parents saw it as begging. So I’ve grown up with this thing in my head that you should sustain yourself. But music is changing because of downloads, Spotify, YouTube bringing out a new platform, i-tunes changing next year… So less money is going in the pocket of the artist which results in less money to put into future production. So now crowdfunding is a sort of viable way to go in as much as it’s just a different way for an audience to give back. I’ve been thinking about it for the next album. I am lucky that I have access to a grand piano and my other half is an excellent producer – he worked on the last album. There’s less demand for physical product now, with streaming and downloads taking over. So obviously these things keep costs a little lower, but it’s necessary to put a lot of money into advertising etc. the way things are in the music industry right now. But I still prefer to have the physical product of a CD or vinyl. I grew up buying cassettes at Woolworths, pouring over the lyrics and notes on the bus on the way home. I love listening to a record as opposed to something on Spotify in the background’.

What does music mean to you ? ‘Everything. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for music. I can turn around a bad day by sitting down at the piano for a couple of hours. Music has saved me’.

For more information, music and live dates contact the official website: 

https://www.jenstevens.co.uk 

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018. 

 

Recommended:

Dave Taggart, Music Still Matters, 15th April 2018.

Tony Wilson, For Folks Sake, 10th May 2018.

Ben Hudson, Bees & Bouzoukis, 24th May 2018.

Celia Bryce, Folk Law, 1st June 2018.