Jenne Lennon ( Pronounced JEHN) is our guest for today from the United States. I discovered her music around two years ago through MySpace. There is something about her voice that’s captivating and beautiful. Of course, upon realizing that she is also a talented instrumentalist and song writer, I placed her on my map. It took two years- and eventually this blog -to get me in touched with her.
Her full-bodied vocals and operatic range has endeared her to critics and earn her countless followers. It looks like many things are looking up for this artist after years of hard work and dedication to her craft. I personally found her responses interesting!
Jenne, before we start I want to thank you for taking time to answer these questions. It is a rare opportunity to get in touch with someone of your caliber, being a vocalist of high order.
Critics call you as the “Janis Joplin” of Celtic music due to your passionate live performances and the unusual strength and depth of your voice. How do you react to this?
I find it amusing. After all Janis was never known for her vocal quality, but rather for her stage performances. But it says to me that critics recognize and edge and unusual quality both my voice and performances. I am grateful that I can convey something different and unique within Celtic music and to be recognized for it.
You are from Chicago right? What influenced you to take the path of Celtic music ?
-Yes, born and raised. My father’s family is Irish by origin. The Lennons come from County Mayo. Celtic music was always played in our house. Everything from traditional to contemporary. Chicago also has one of the largest concentrations of Irish diaspora around the world. The city itself is run by Irish families, so throw a stick and you’ll hit an Irish cultural center, a pub, a festival, an art gallery, etc. We also have the grandest St. Patrick’s day celebration in the world. We dye our river green every year! lol. The rest of the Celtic nations are very well represented in Chicago. Especially the Scottish. So, Celtic music was everywhere. In my home and everywhere I went. I couldn’t avoid it.
You have been singing since three. Who inspired you musically as a child?
Well, my parents for starters. My mother was an amateur opera singer and my father was an enthusiast of ancient choral music. Some of my favorite artists as a child were Moya Brennan, Clannad, Lisa Gerrard, Enya, Anuna, Eine Meneghan, Sinead O’Connor, Niamh Parsons, Afro-Celt SoundSystem, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Simon and Garfunkel, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and U2.
Do you have other siblings who are into music?
I have an identical twin sister Danielle who is an up-and coming actress/director in Los Angeles. She has a similar voice and still keeps up training, but has chosen another artistic path. Our older brother Sean works in computers, but he is fanatical about his musical tastes just like we all are. lol. Completely different from mine entirely.
You have two tracks up in your MySpace . Bonny Portmore and Open my Eyes. Can you give us the background behind these songs?
-This particular arrangement of “Bonny” was written specifically for the Going Back Home Vol. II series through Quickstar Productions. I was asked to record a traditional track and I could think of no better one. I first learned the song working with the Irish academy of music in Chicago and Noel Rice. The haunting air never left my brain and I just had to have a go at it. I arranged the song in an unusual setting, scoring the instrumental intros and breaks in 4/4 meter, while keeping the air in 3/4. I took this arrangement to my producer and my band and they worked their magic. Eric Remschneider, who has worked with the Smashing Pumpkins and the Plain White Tees, graciously added his distinct cello parts and it all came together.
“Open My Eyes” is an original song that I wrote a couple of years ago. I am a Native American rights activist and a poverty advocate, and I was particularly moved by an experience that I had had working in those fields, and poured the emotionality of the experience into the song. I sent a demo track of the song to my dear friend Sarah Class in Bristol, U.K. She liked the song so much, that she scored the orchestra parts and recorded them on top of the vocal line. We were both very happy with the outcome.
What’s the recording process when making each song?
-I typically start by presenting a piece that is fully complete and arranged to my producer, Chris Wilson and band and we rehearse for about a week or two and bring it to the studio. I like to devote a day to laying down all parts of a new track, and then a second day spent mixing with Chris and the engineer. It’s all rather organized and straight-forward. We’re recording the new single tomorrow actually, and we’ll be working with the sound engineer from Styx. It should be good fun.
Bloomington Herald calls your style as “deliciously eccentric”. What’s your reaction to this statement?
-I am delighted by this statement. Anyone who spends five minutes with me learns that I am a bit eccentric in my taste of music, clothes,food, performances, etc. This is another statement in the press that comments positively on my uniqueness and I am glad that they get it and it is well-received.
Is this a conscious or unconscious effort for you to be ‘different’ in terms of your vocal style.
-As far as vocal style, initially it wasn’t intentional at all. It was after years of feedback (both negative and positive) from concerts and competitions that I realized my voice was truly different. I hadn’t noticed before then. I had just written music that satisfied my ear, my taste as a writer, and suited my voice.When I sit down to write a song, I won’t write it so that it will challenge my voice, it’s in the end of the process when a song is nearly complete, that I go back to certain sections and will add trills, lilts, or other distinct techniques that fit stylistically and artistically with what I originally had in mind; and can also reflect facets of Celtic/World style.
You have an amazing range and a beautiful timbre. Any advice to aspiring singers on the genre?
-Thank you.Yes, practice, practice, practice!!!!! Experiment with your voice and technique even in moments when you are most satisfied with your talents. Study works of the many artists in the field who have come before you. They are your greatest inspiration and your greatest resource.
Your resume says that in 2006, you are the only American singer out of 5,000 Celtic artists worldwide to be selected to perform in the Interceltique Festival in Lorient. That’s quite a feat!
-Indeed, it was. I can hardly believe it myself sometimes. I was virtually unknown as a Celtic singer at that time, and to be added to the line-up two weeks before the start of the festival no less-was quite an honor and a defining moment in my career. I look back on that time as one of the best times of my life.
What’s the best thing about doing what you do now?
-The people I have the fortune to meet and work with. I’ve met and worked with many of the artists that have inspired me and am in talks to collaborate with others in the future. And it’s not just the Celtic artists themselves, it’s the back-up musicians I work with, the producers, and the lovely fans who are not shy about sharing their thoughts about my music.
What’s the downside?
-The only downside I can think of right now is the internal pressures I place upon myself sometimes. To be recognized for being unique and sort of groundbreaking does not come without its pressures. In weak moments I tend to push myself a little too hard musically, physically. But, I’m learning balance and to focus on being creative, not different.
Jenne, today you are still recognized as the lucky student who got to jam along with Sting on an episode of MTV’s Stand In (April,2004). You played Native American flute to Every Breathe You Take. The episode continues to re-air on MTV late at night.( For footage of the episode, check out MTVU.com or locate the clip at youtube.com.) How did it feel at that time?
-I was shocked. I didn’t really have the time to digest what was happening. We were all just so excited (ironically, we were all Sting fans). I remember being giddy with excitement, but when he pointed to me and said ‘flute solo”, I think my exact thought at the time was “oh, s**t. ” lol.
Were you able to talk to Sting after ?
-Unfortunately, no. Would have loved to. We all would have. But, we were able to ask loads of questions that weren’t aired. He had a concert and took off immediately.
You have been to different parts of the world and performed with great musicians. What did you learn from all these?
-That to be a musician is truly a gift. To have the courage and the stamina to pursue a lifestyle that is off-the-beaten path, to satisfy a personal need to create and to be fulfilled is a gift.
When you are up there singing, surrounded by these wonderful musicians and watched by many; how does it feel?
-Strangely, intimate. Though there are many in the room, it feels like only a few. It’s one of the few moments I have to express myself purely, and openly, without question or pause. To be truly Jenne, uninhibited for a little bit, is a freeing experience. I also feel an immense sense of gratitude to be onstage with such wonderful musicians and to be appreciated by lovely guests. There is nothing better than that.
What are your current projects? Upcoming ones?
Well, we are recording the new single for “Celtic Dreams” through Quickstar productions. I am in production for my debut album, that we will start recording in the New Year. I’ve launched and indie record label, Glencoe records, and am working on many concerts and festivals for 2010.
Is there an official website that fans can check updates?
When can we expect a full length album from you?
-I’m hoping no later than the summer of 2010.
If you were to promote another artist other than yourself who would it be?
Lisa Gerrard, Moya Brennan, and Afro-Celt SoundSystem.
When not teaching or doing music, what’s your usual routine?
-Working on the label, or I love kick-boxing, horse-back riding, cooking, and working with the Native Americans.
Once again thank you Jenne for taking this time with us. 🙂
My pleasure. Thank you for your interest.