Jess Klein’s Leap of Faith
After 15 years ‘I’m just gonna do and say whatever I want’
By William Harries Graham, 1:30PM, Wed. Jul. 2, 2014
Thursday night at Strange Brew, Jess Klein celebrates the release of Learning Faith, produced by her manager Mark Addison. Klein moved here in 2008 from New York. Within the first month, she met Addison, who propositioned her. “He made the offer that if I dog sat for him while he was away I could use his studio to demo my new songs for free.”
“Things developed naturally from there,” chuckles Klein, noting that the pair have now worked together on a total of five projects.
“I pulled no punches on this album,” she continues. “It’s edgy and brutal and was inspired by true love for this world. I called the album Learning Faith because every song is about something that felt scary but necessary for me to say. Each song feels like a leap of faith.
Austin Chronicle: What were the elements that created the vibe for the new disc?
Jess Klein: I wrote all of the songs on Learning Faith. Once we had the basic rhythms and structures from me, my guitars, and a porch board, we brought in guitarist Billy Masters to create a layer of atmosphere, Rob Hooper to add some meatier drums on some tunes, and Wendy Colonna to add some soulful low harmonies. Feathers also added some cool, subtle noises with his menagerie of keyboards, percussion, and other instruments.
AC: How is Learning Faith different from your previous work?
JK: I’ve been making albums for 15 years, so now I’m just gonna do and say whatever I want. I was touring solo a lot between studio sessions, playing with just my acoustic or electric guitar and stomping on my porch board. We kept that raw intensity on the album. Addison built a lot of the tracks by doubling the porch board and some of my guitar licks so that the rhythms and riffs, while simple, sound huge.
AC: Some of the songs are politically inspired?
JK: Two of the songs were inspired by Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster and the accompanying protests at the capitol last summer. All of the songs, whether personal or political or both, were inspired by powerful feelings of the times.
AC: Your dad passed away while you were making the record.
JK: My dad’s spirit is always with me, reminding me to be brave, open my heart, and live while I can.
AC: Tell me about working with Mark Addison.
JK: I think we’ve both grown a lot by working together. In addition to being a sharp engineer and producer and playing every instrument known to man, Mark has a great sense of structure and emotional punch and doesn’t mince words if he doesn’t think a song is ready. He’s sent me back to the drawing board many times and that’s what I’m most grateful for. It’s made me a much better songwriter. In return, Mark’s gotten more in tune with the workings of my voice and how to capture it.
AC: Why Austin?
JK: I moved here with $300 to my name. The hustle of New York was killing me. I had visited Austin the winter before when I had a few days off on tour and my tour-mate, Jonathan Byrd, took me to see the Resentments play at the Saxon. I couldn’t believe musicians of that caliber were playing every week. I said to myself, “I want to be around musicians who play like that!” And the fact that this crowd was showing up every week and packing the place and dancing was exciting.
I wanted to live where people were that excited about music. A lot of things feel different here now with the population explosion, but I love that that core group of music fans still goes out every night because it’s just what they do. Dedicated music fans blow me away. They’re the life blood of people like me.
AC: What’s sustained you?
JK: I count myself lucky for two reasons. When I started out I was in the folk scene in Boston and everything was very DIY. I learned early on about getting people on my mailing list and the importance of connecting directly with my fans. Then I got signed to Rykodisc in 2000. They really pushed my first album for them, Draw Them Near, and sent me all over the world on tour.
That deal eventually fell apart, like most record deals do. Ryko changed hands a million times and even though my first album had sold 20,000 copies, I couldn’t get anyone on the phone there who knew who I was. It was heartbreaking.
But I just stuck it out, kept showing up and playing for my fans. I’ve had a lot of other cool breaks, touring with Arlo Guthrie in Ireland, singing and recording with John Fullbright. It’s all about the fans for me.
AC: What do you like most about playing live?
JK: Anytime I’m really connecting with a crowd feels like a top moment, which is cool because that can happen almost any time. I played the Fuji Rock Fest in Japan in front of 10,000 people and felt that. I played in D.C. to 10 people and felt that. The longer I do this, the more important that connection is to me.