It didn’t come easily for Jennifer Evans. Having struggled with shyness, stage-fright and the harsh fiscal realities of trying to put out a record in this day and age, the under the radar chanteuse is finally ready to release her much anticipated debut full length Works from the Dip and Foul. And you know what? It’s pretty damn good too. We sat down with the charming singer for a pot of peppermint tea and a natter about self-belief, jazz and Japanese S&M.
I think it’s probably fair to say there’s a certain eclecticism evident in your sound. What’s your background musically speaking?
I guess the musical background in my family is Irish folky stuff. My mam and my uncle played Irish ballads and republican stuff, but that didn’t really trickle down with me. There was always an acoustic guitar around the house though. I mean, I wrote the shittest song ever when I was really young about a rollercoaster of love or something. The first real song I wrote was when I was about 13, that was the first time it was a serious, private, emotional expression.
In the way only 13 year olds can be serious and emotional I’m sure.
Oh yeah, seriously angsty! Nothing much has changed [laughs]. There was always a guitar knocking around though, that was always part of my life.
Despite the fact you come from that folky background there has been an obvious evolution to your sound. Every time I see your name mentioned in print there’s always talk of some perceived ‘jazziness’.
I find it hard to be objective about my own work, and any ‘jazziness’ is entirely unintentional on my end. I’m not really that comfortable with it, but at the same time I don’t really have any suggestion of how else to categorize it. If there is something unusual going on with the timings, maybe that’s it or a certain swing to it. Shane and Sean, the guys that I play with now, both studied jazz. They play all sorts of stuff, but I guess it took jazzers to get the right sound I was after.
I guess when you say ‘singer-songwriter’ in Ireland there is almost a negative connotation sometimes. Do you think there is a stigma to being identified like that?
It sounds boring though, doesn’t it? It sounds like it’s three chords and moaning. But there is almost a stigma attached to everything. If I say I’m ‘rock’ that sounds like crap, if I say ‘jazz’ that sounds pretentious, if I say ‘singer-songwriter’ It sounds really predictable. I don’t know, maybe we’re all in a sort of negative frame of mind about everything at the moment! Or maybe we’re all just sick of the same terms. What genre doesn’t have some negative preconceptions about them? I think it’d be great to have some new descriptive words. I actually came up with one there, not so much for this album, but the new stuff that’ll be on the next album. I like lushcore [laughs]. To me that hints at the sort of positive sound I’m working towards.
It’s been nearly five years since your debut EP and you’ve been gigging for a long time. Why the big delay between releases?
There were all sorts of reasons, some of them practical and some of them personal. I was never actually gigging that intensively, and I ended up taking a big break where I didn’t play a show for a year. I was feeling very fragile in front of big crowds of people. I didn’t think I was really ready for it, so I took some time away from it. I wasn’t signed to anyone. Nobody was putting any pressure on me to go out and do it, which was good, because I think that’s the kind of thing that leads people to break down. So I hibernated for a while.
Practically speaking though, it took me a long time to get enough money together to get the album where I wanted it to be. It was suggested to me that Steve Shannon would be interested in working with me, but Steve’s a real professional, so he was already really busy and he wouldn’t be cheap. I knew he’d do a really good job though. So, initially we said we were going to record over a week and it’d be really simple but as the songs came together they took on a life of their own. They were craving more and more. Steve was really nice and willing to give me time to improvise and experiment a bit. That took more time, more money. We eventually started up again after a few months and finished it up. Then I had to start saving again for mastering…
I guess that’s all the stuff they don’t tell you, all the practical concerns relating to releasing a record like this. It’s not just about being in the creative headspace, but also so much else to consider to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed with it.
It depends what you want from it. You can just throw it out there, which I think is cool as well. It’s music and it’s for people to enjoy and it doesn’t have to be such an institutionalised thing. Then again, I’d ideally like to make a living doing what I love and I’m happy to play by some rules that seem to work in favour of that and see how it goes. I’ve known since I was a kid that I wanted to do this for a living, but I was so scared about performance for so long. Only maybe six years ago, I decided that this was my priority. It took years to get the confidence to make that decision though. I was still so shy and nervous of the stage.
Tell me about the video for Colours of Bruises. It’s pretty remarkable piece. What’s the story behind the hanging rope technique you are doing?
Originally, it’s a thing called shibari, which is Japanese rope-bonding. As far as I know, the history is that the Japanese authorities would use it to tie up their prisoners, and the they’d tie them up in different ways depending on their crimes or their punishments. Then that turned into a sexual, bondage, S&M type thing. What we did is something that Dasniya Sommer does, called unshibari. If you look up shibari, it’s very organised and ornate and symmetrical. Unshibari is conversely very anarchic. I’m sure you could play around sexually in it, but that wasn’t our vibe. We were trying to allude to a different space or frame of mind that you get into when you’re tied up in that kind of mess.
Were you interested in dance previously?
When I was younger, I did gymnastics for a few months and loved it. I was out with my friend Emily, who is in the video and on the cover of the record. We were locked and throwing each other around and she said ‘Jennifer, you’d be really good at acrobatics!’ She’s an aerialist, and she introduced me to a really small, closed acrobatic group. This was around the time I stopped playing. I needed to do something else and ended up dipping into more physical art forms.
Do you think that had any influence on your music at all?
I’m not consciously trying to meld dance with my music or anything. The video was the most obvious point of crossover. I didn’t want to do a standard, shit promo for the sake of promo music video. I’d rather do less videos and really care about them rather than spew it out. There’s so much waste, so much internet vomit. It’s funny though, by the time I was finished the video I’d convinced myself it was shit [laughs], I was just so tired! But now I think it’s the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. I hope people like it but I really do. The whole experience was something I really needed to do.
I’d say those themes of bondage and order from chaos are touched on on the record as well.
Maybe. I think you’re right. It took a long time to finish those songs, and it was a hard time as well. It was all coming out of a very insecure place. A lot of that time, I was very scared of the whole reality of defining myself as a musician. I think you can definitely hear the sort of self-imposed bondage in the songs – perceived restriction coming from my own mind.
So you’re saying you already have another album in the pipeline. It won’t be another five year wait?
Well, because everything took so long, it’s all a bit overlapping. The gigs have stuff in them that isn’t on record yet, but that’s just because I love playing it live. My favourite song tends to be my newest song. The newer stuff can be a bit more exciting live as well, because it’s so fresh that something could almost go wrong. It’s funny considering how nervous I used to be and how I’d be second guessing myself when playing live, now I’m eager to play songs I’m less comfortable with for the thrill.
Works from the Dip and Foul is out now on Delphi Records.
Words: Danny Wilson