AN INTERVIEW WITH JANN KLOSE
By David Iozzia
Photo by Julie Mardin
The name of singer Jann Klose was on my musical radar for a year or two, yet his music never made it to my CD player. I'm on the e-mail distribution list of Jann's publicist, so I was familiar with his name and aware of his East Coast performances. When approached directly to interview Jann, this 70s punk rocker agreed, deciding to broaden his music listening range and to stretch his music journalist comfort zone. I'm really glad that I did! I was hand-fed a musical diamond-in-the-rough. Jann's a terrific songwriter with incredible vocal range. His latest CD, "Reverie," is a highly recommended listen that takes you on a musical journey. The songs don't play in the musical tempo that I prefer to listen to. Yet, when I'm in the mood for something new and fresh, slow-tempoed and melancholy, I'll be reaching first for Jann's CD "Reverie." I enjoyed interview him as much as I enjoy hearing Jann's music. Click on the links to his website and MySpace page after you read this interview. I promise that you'll enjoy the back roads side trip off the rock and roll highway that you cruise on at Dave's On Tour!
Dave: Hello Jann, and thanks for taking the time to chat. Best of luck with the release of your latest CD, "Reverie."
Jann: Thank you.
Dave: The Jann Klose E.P.K. [electronic press kit] labels your music as "Pop," and the Washington Post said that your voice "may well be a staple of chamber pop for a long time to come." Yet as I listened to your music for the first time, it touched upon many different musical genres. "Hold Me Down" had a reggae beat and "Clouds" has a Latin influence. How would you verbally describe your music to somebody who's unfamiliar with you?
Jann: The key to describing one's music is to keep it simple. If you start going on and on about all of your different musical influences, that may work well for some, but for others it's easier to keep it to one or two genres rather than five or six. I usually describe my sound as a mix of styles, with a very strong pop element, because it's so melodic. That's how most people have responded to me about my music. One of the most important things for me to do is melody. I want my songs to be memorable, and melody plays a big role. That's always been an important part of popular music, and I do feel that I fit in that genre. But like you said, there are many other things that have influenced me musically that show up in my songs.
Dave: I've always hated trying to label a performer or a band to a certain style of music. Yet I think that if I'm walking in your shoes while riding the New York City subway, and you tell somebody that you're a musician, the inevitable reply is "what type of music do you play"? It's the quick answer there that I like musicians to provide. I'll be adding links to your website and MySpace page where, hopefully, some of my readers will stop by and give your music a listen.
Jann: One thing that I'm finding is that when you're asked that question and you say one short thing, you've moved on from that. Pop as an answer is such a wide bag. Then you can personalize it from there. I've found that you can bore someone very quickly by standing there naming all the influences, going on and on about this, that, and the other thing. I prefer not to have to describe my musical style at all but almost everybody wants to know the answer to that question. Unless of course they've already heard it. Then I like to draw on that. I try to use what other people have told me that my music is.
Dave: Jann, you were born in Germany, raised in Kenya and South Africa, and you were an exchange student in the United States. These days you are a resident of the Bronx, one of the five boroughs of New York City. Given those travels, one could easily state that your music has a world music influence. Did the time you spent in Africa influence you as a songwriter?
Jann: I think my travels influenced me more as a person. That, in turn, has influenced me as a writer. Growing up listening to African music and watching African performers had a very strong influence on me. It's so raw; it's so close to the earth literally. It has a really fundamentally human element to it. It's so overpowering. African music has a very simple configuration of melody and rhythm. It strikes you right in the heart. Seeing and hearing that from people who often would clap, sing, and dance instead of playing musical instruments, they would be able to make so much music using their bodies. That was fascinating to me. I don't know if that's what made me want to be a musician, but I was certainly drawn to it. Those were the first live music performances I saw. It wasn't a show with lights and sound in a theatre or nightclub. It was African people singing out wherever they were standing.
Dave: Does geography and your world travel also influence your lyrical content?
Jann: Probably. I generally write in a way where I feel that not only I can understand what I'm saying, but I want other people to understand it too. That's obviously something that you should do anyway, but I do it consciously. I love meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures, especially when I'm traveling. I love connecting with local people. They know something or they've experienced something that neither I nor the people who I live around have. It's inspiring to travel and to meet people. It's good for the brain.
Dave: No doubt. Once you settled in NYC, you performed in Broadway touring companies of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Jeckyl & Hyde." How did the time you spent on theatrical stages shape and/or change the way you deliver your songs on a musical stage?
Jann: That's a good question. What I've mainly learned from doing those shows is to have a steadiness in performing. You can't overdo it in the beginning of the show when you still have two hours of performing ahead of you. I've learned about getting into a rhythm and warming up. I've learned about knowing and staying disciplined about what needed to happen before, during, and after the show. Those touring gigs were the first times in my life that I was singing every day and every night. They got me into really good shape as far as knowing how to handle travel and performance.
Dave: With my next two questions, I want to work in examples of how your music evoked an emotional response from me as a listener. I think musicians like to hear that.
Jann: That's a really good idea.
Dave: Your song "Ithaca" makes me think about a childhood friend who lives in that area. I haven't seen this friend for years, even though he's not really that far away. We've lost contact. When I listened to that song for the first time, knowing the title, it brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. The smile was for hope; the tear was for a friendship lost. The Internet makes a very big world a lot smaller. It gives me a way to reach out and find people that I've lost track of. Your song saddened me, while still giving me optimism.
Dave: What was your thought process on recording the instrumental track "Ithaca"?
Jann: I had the idea for the melody when I was there. I was walking around outside and it was very cold. There was lots of snow. I have a home in Ithaca now and it's a very beautiful place, no matter what time of year that you're there. When I got the idea for the melody walking outside, I rushed back in and started playing it on the piano. Right from the start, I envisioned it as an instrumental. I didn't want to touch the melody. I wanted it to be what it was when it first came to me. I didn't want to mess with it. Chris Maroth, my bass player, had the idea of using his wife Megan, to use oboe on that track. I was wondering what to use on it. We started playing it with me on guitar, Chris on bass, and Megan on the oboe. As soon as she started playing, I said that was it. It was all we're going to use. It was beautiful and it captured the energy of the song.
Dave: Another song that saddened me to listen to on a personal note was "Mother Said, Father Said." Not so much the context of the song, divorce, as you mention. It's more the title. I live this daily contradiction where I have my view of my childhood years, and my parents have a much different view. They think it was all Shangri-la; I see the struggles and I don't only remember the good times like they do. They've conveniently forgotten the bad times. Thoughts on that contradiction came to me as I listened to your song.
Dave: What were some of the most important life lessons that you learned from your parents?
Jann: They weren't musicians so there were no musical lessons. The biggest life lesson was probably forgiveness. Their divorce was very hard on my brother and me. The older I get, the more I remember how painful it was. It was a very hard thing. I was very attached to my mother, and she was just gone from one day to the next. There was an ongoing battle on how much she was going to see us. Like most divorces, my brother and I were stuck in the middle of an argument between two people who don't get along anymore. It was very confusing. I'm closer now to my father than I used to be. I'm close with my mother. I love my parents. It's hard to judge people forever because it takes a lot out of you. The only thing you can do is fix yourself as much as possible and see if there's a place in the world that can appreciate that, wherever it may be.
Dave: You already mentioned the oboe and I was thinking about your song "All These Rivers," where you feature the flugelhorn. Is it disappointing that cost-prohibitive touring doesn't give you the luxury of playing your music live the way it was arranged in the studio?
Jann: I don't think "disappointing" is the right word. If I could take six or seven people out with me at all times, I don't know if I would. I really love doing a broken down set, just myself, or just Chris and I. The different formations keep things interesting for the live show. Generally, people don't have a problem with that. They appreciate hearing the different arrangements. We do band shows, which I love, but it's still impossible to have everything that I use on the record. I'd love the chance to play the record as a whole with everyone who played on it, but it would be very difficult. Some of the musicians were hired, and they could be out on the road doing other things. It could never be quite like that because, after all, it's a studio album. I'm okay with it, the different formations, but I wouldn't mind having a string section with me every night. But unfortunately, that's not always possible.
Dave: Since you're often faced with re-arranging your material for live performance, would you call the re-arrangement a welcomed challenge or a necessary evil?
Jann: It's definitely a welcomed challenge. As I said, it keeps things interesting. We don't always do the same songs, and we never play the set the same way. For my next release, I'm actually thinking about recording something very broken down, unlike "Reverie," which was very arranged. It'll be nice to do something simpler. People like that too. I get asked for both. In some ways, I feel like I'm offering more than less.
Dave: Sequencing a record is always a challenge. Why did you choose to end "Reverie" with a song called "The Beginning"?
Jann: In the end, it worked well because that song was so different than all of the other songs. But to be honest with you, I always thought it would be very interesting to finish a record with a song called "The Beginning." I wanted this record to be a journey. You hit play and don't stop until the record is done. When you come to the end, hopefully you understand more about me as an artist. Hopefully, you've been entertained and you've arrived at a spot where you can now go somewhere else. That's how life works. So when you come to an end, you don't really come to the end. You never do. It all worked out well for me, both conceptually and musically. With sequencing in mind, we actually recorded two more songs for this record that weren't released because there wasn't any place for them. They didn't fit anywhere else. After these twelve songs had ended, I was like "that's it." It's done. The record doesn't want anything else.
Dave: Today's ever-changing music business truly is a business. Talk about the approach you took trying to fund the recording of "Reverie."
Jann: After my previous CD "Black Box," I had built enough of a following where I thought I could ask my fan base for help. I put together a one-page letter that detailed the situation we were in. I told them that with their help, we could get this type of record done. Everything was thought out very carefully with a lot of time spent on the details. It worked. I ended up getting enough donated money to put me over the top getting it funded. Various other things came into play, like industry connections and help from folks in the industry. It felt like I was doing a record deal without a contract, and it got more people involved. I got the people who already know who I am involved, not people that didn't know me. It worked and it was encouraging for us to see that the money was coming in. It proved to me that people really wanted me to make this record. One of the toughest things that artists deal with is feeling insecure about their art. We constantly need not only the attention, but the encouragement. It lasts longer than somebody saying that you're great. Somebody giving you a gift so that they can be a part of you making the album is very special.
Dave: When you walk into the studio with a limited budget, does that force you to prepare the songs more and to pre-conceive the record? Or, is there still the time and room for the music to take shape once you're in the studio?
Jann: There is always time to let things take shape once you're in the studio. I'm a believer in preparation and rehearsing and all of that. We did a lot of work beforehand. We rehearsed the crap out of this one. We've been playing some of those songs for two years on the road, and there were some brand new songs. It was a really good process because we were finally able to record songs that we were already playing and people were asking about, plus we were able to add brand new stuff. We had a great producer, Stewart Lerman, that we worked with on part of the record, and James Frazee, a great engineer who is an extremely big part of how this record sounds.
Dave: I recently did an interview with a rock guitarist from the 1980s. He commented that the size of the venues his band played, and the levels of security at those venues, made him feel totally insulated from his audience. These days, playing in small clubs, he now has an intimate connection to his fans. For a singer-songwriter like yourself who plays smaller venues, does the size of the venue force you to be intimate with your fans or do you find that you have to distance yourself?
Jann: No, it does force you and that's not always what you want. You have to learn to be comfortable with somebody sitting three feet away and staring right at you. At first, it could be kind of daunting. It sucks if they are talking to somebody else when they are sitting right in front of you, and you're trying to perform. As we started playing in bigger and better clubs, I got used to it and started to enjoy it. The interaction with the audience is a part of what makes the show enjoyable for both the audience and myself. I've always had insecurities about whether my writing and performing were good enough, and about people telling me what to do and what not to do. That journey is never over, but it has gotten to a much bearable point.
Dave: How pro-active are you as a musician trying to market your music and find new listeners via the Internet?
Jann: I'm pretty active. I'm into technology. I'm trying to make my website more interactive. MySpace, and especially Facebook, gives me a personal rapport with my fans. They post things all of the time and it's a great way to connect with people to see where they are and where they want me to play. When I'm online, I like to feel like I'm part of what's going on. I like to feel like I have a personal connection to a person on the other end of a different computer, as much as that is possible. As we move away from static websites and into an interactive web, I want to make sure that I'm part of that too.
Dave: Does the time you spend on the computer interfere with your creative process?
Jann: Yes. Absolutely.
Dave: Knowing that it does interfere, how do you address the problem?
Jann: To be honest with you Dave, being an independent artist in this day and age means that you have to juggle a lot of things. For the foreseeable future, that's how it's going to be. Even though I have people who work with me who are a huge asset to what I do, there still are things that I have to do myself, and I don't mind. Trying to set aside time to sit down and write can fall by the wayside. Writing is much easier to do when I'm on the road and in that mindset anyway. It comes a lot easier. When I'm not on the road, I try to take care of all the other aspects that need to be addressed. In the middle though, I do force myself to pick up a guitar and pluck around a bit to come up with ideas.
Dave: By the time this interview is uploaded, I'll have seen you perform in Asbury Park, New Jersey, opening a show for singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy. Please share your thoughts on sharing the stage with Elliott.
Jann: He's a true poet. I love his music and I love doing this with him. It's a lot of fun. I love his guitar player Olivier Durant. It's a blast. Elliott's the real deal. He's been doing it independently for a lot longer than everyone. He believes in something very simple: that if you put on a good show people will come back the next time you play. It's a simple notion that works. Elliott not only has a song called "Last of the Rock Stars," he is the last, and that's pretty cool.
Dave: What's the rest of your plans for 2009?
Jann: We'll be touring later this summer in the United Kingdom and in Germany. If this record does as well in Indonesia as my previous record, maybe we'll tour there later this year. A lot of different things can happen. I'm excited that people are responding to my music this well and that I'm getting to play in bigger venues and getting to reach more people. That's a big step. It's been a lot of work and there's a lot more work that I have to do.
Dave: Thanks for the interview Jann.
Jann: My pleasure Dave. Thank you.