I love it when ends meet, the circle is completed. So not only, there is a chance to see Siv Jakobsen going to tour her magical album The Lingering and older and new songs but she is bringing Jess Morgan with her as support act. Two fantastic artists, singers, singer-songwriters and guitar players that I so far had not connected.
But it is a perfect fit: Both play guitar in a unique style and their assured voices soar over the music, taking you with spell-binding stories into their world.
Jess Morgan follows folk tradition from both sides of the Atlantic and entertains her audience tonight in Cologne’s great venue Die Wohngemeinschaft not only with her accomplished musicianship but with witty banter in-between the songs.
Siv Jakobsen takes you into a magical world of her own, starting out with two new songs which are a breathtaking indication of what’s to come and then some old and new favourites, songs from The Lingering featuring towards the end of her set as well as a cover of a, yep, Britney Spears song, Toxic.
For Siv it is deadpan humour between songs. The audience sits so still, you could hear a needle drop. Not a sound, not a word, they want to miss from both performances. It takes some coaxing to get communication going in the breaks but is not out of not having anything to say from the audience’s side but out of respect and not daring to break the atmosphere.
So, there we go. Thank you, Wanderlust Booking for taking Siv and Jess on tour and thank you so much Siv and Jess for taking time for a little chat which comes here.
Offbeat Music (OM): Jess, would you introduce yourself?
Jess Morgan: Sure. I am Jess Morgan from Norwich in the UK. I am on tour in Germany for a week and having a great time so far.
OM: From what I read, you started out with music fairly late. But surely, you must have sung before and played guitar before you started out professionally?
Jess: That’s right. My father is a bass player. He would always play in rock bands. So growing up, I would go an watch him playing in pubs and clubs. I grew up with the idea of a guitar as a special kind of thing from a young age on. I was lucky since I was always the one going with my Dad to the guitar shops.
I would play in bands but I would hide in the back with the bass guitar and singing. It wasn’t until university that I had the courage to get up and use my voice.
The reaction was so strong – it changed my whole life. And I started going from there.
OM: Did Norwich influence your music? The landscape, the town, the people? Is there something specific in your music that people could pin down on Norwich?
Jess: (Thinking). Erm, I don’t think, particularly. I got my start when I was living in the North, in York, for three years. That is where I started playing and writing songs. Then I moved to London for another two years. When I moved home, that was the time, when I started to settle down a bit and had a picture of who I was as a person. Maybe I owe that to Norwich.
It’s a small city with a lot going on. You can have an exciting life but not feeling lost like in a big city which is perfect for me. Maybe it just contributes more to my state of mind.
Also the fact that it is a long drive from anywhere else. You have an extra two hours before you can get anywhere. These long boring roads…I am sometimes writing songs when I am driving. (Laughs).
OM: How is the York music scene?
Jess: Well, it feels like a long time ago. I remember it being vibrant, very singer-songwriter friendly. If you wanted to stand on a stage on your own with a guitar, there were lots of people doing that and encouraging it.
I love going back to York now. I work with a bass player called Bradley who is based in York. He always manages to know the spots for really good gigs, the secret places in the old buildings in York. He can always find somewhere to do a really unusual gig which is nice.
OM: You were on tour in the States and planning to go this year again (Jess quips: I hope so). How do you like the States?
Jess: I love playing in America. The singer-songwriting tradition thrives in America. I loved when folk music bounced over to America and mixed with the blues, old-time and bluegrass music. When I go over there, I get filled up with that music and I bring back enough inspiration to last year with me.
OM: Would you find it difficult to play in a band?
Jess: Well, I am part of a band right now. We are a three-piece band with me, a bass player and a dobro player. It’s very new but it’s coming together and we had some good reviews. We have a few festival bookings for summer and I’d love to bring them over here.
OM: Do you play your own songs or is a very different thing, the band?
Jess: It is very different. It plays on the American roots a lot more, having the dobro player. But there are my songs. The great thing is: We get to go back into my back catalogue and get to play some of the songs which I choose not to play any more because they are hard to carry on your own. Like some stuff from my first album that I thought I would never play again and it comes to life with the trio.
OM: Surprisingly, I probably finally found someone who writes their lyrics first, so I read. Is that true?
Jess: Alright. You know, no, I wouldn’t say so actually. Sometimes I have the idea first. I normally need a melody to work on. Not much music, but usually music first. Then I can come up with hundreds of words if it’s a promising start.
OM: You said somewhere that you need to write about your own experiences first before you tackle to write about other people’s experiences. In the song-writing process, would it be difficult to write with other people?
Jess: I think, what happened is: I have written lots of songs influenced by other people’s stories, by history or just by things I picked up. Just last year, I decided to try and write some songs based on my own experiences. So it felt like going back to the beginning and doing something I hadn’t done before.
But it is very different and I think when you make a choice of putting so much of yourself into your music, it is kind of a risk. For me, I worry that maybe people aren’t interested.
People like folk music because it is folk music, for everything that it stands for and it is ordinary songs about ordinary people. It’s in no way self-indulgent and then I made a record which was very much based on where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
But I was lucky. People said that they found it easy to relate to. I got some nice feedback. I am not saying, I want to do that again but I know it’s okay. I got away with it.
OM: You love travelling but do you find it hard on relationships, whether friends, partners or families. (Thinking of Sharon van Etten here, who had a lot of heartbreak due to her touring). Do you find it hard to come back to Norwich and settle in again?
Jess: A little bit. It is definitely a challenge being away so much. I’m on the road a lot. Sometimes you just have to be very careful and learn to say no to things and have some faith in the idea that your time at home is as valuable as your time away working. I mean, everybody has to work. I have to earn money. I have no other way to make any money other than my music. But I try to plan projects which will mean I am going to be at home.
Recording is like that. I always try and record locally now. Sleeping in my own bed every night. I try and get involved in my local music scene as well.
You just have to be careful and if you make a mistake, become very good at saying sorry (laughs).
OM: You found women with guitars are still looked at a bit funnily. Do you still think that?
Jess: I think so. There is still a stigma around – a woman not playing a guitar as good as a man. But there are a lot of really great people playing. Just try and shout about them where you can. Siv Jakobsen who I am touring with, she is a wonderful guitar player. I had the pleasure of mixing with inspiring female guitar players. Hannah Sanders, amazing folk artist from Cambridgeshire – she is the most wonderful guitar player. I am sure will talk about her as soon as they open their ears and listen to her playing. Sarah Howells (Paper Aeroplanes), she is an excellent player.
You just need the role models. People need a reason to try. They need other people out there to do well to see and say “I can do that”. I saw Sheryl Crow on an album cover when I was ten when Tuesday Night Music Club came out. She has a guitar on the cover and I thought “wow, girls can do that. Meredith Brooks on the cover of her album. The picture is engraved in my memory.
Women need to see other women doing that to feel inspired to try hard and have high standards.
OM: What do you think about the music industry nowadays? Do you find it has improved through globalisation or do you find it more difficult?
Jess: Well, it’s changing every week and it is very hard to keep up with. But I am trying my best. It’s a very careful balance between doing what you want and trying to make a living by suiting your market, finding your market and trying to do what they want.
I don’t want to sell out too soon but I have to make ends meet. It is a very delicate balance. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open.
OM: What are your next plans after the tour?
Jess: I am home for a few days, for a week. Then I go off to Belgium with another singer-songwriter called Danni Nicholls. She is a wonderful songwriter and a great guitar player as well. We have a week’s worth of tour dates in Belgium, playing separately and together, collaborating on each other’s songs. Hey, we might even write something together while we are travelling.
In spring I have a tour with my trio., our first ever tour in May, a mix of small venues and a couple of festivals. I am really excited about that, have to get some rehearsals in and make sure everything is great for that tour.
OM: If you set out do a new album or EP, do you have a concept?
Jess: Noooo, I just write a lot and when I feel I might have ten songs that I am particularly proud of, then I make a record. At the moment I am really lucky that it happens every two years (laughs). I have a new record planned and I hope to get it out this year.
OM: Do you find it hard to discard a song?
Jess. Yeah, very hard! Sometimes the song does work but then you have two things that are doing the same job. And on any record it is better or it suits the format to have the idea only once and you have to make a choice.
That’s what live shows are for. People should go out and support live music because it gives the artist the choice to say: That song is on my record but I am going to play this tonight. I find that exciting. I like to have the chance to play something that never made it to the record but is there for the people that showed up on a Wednesday night.
OM: The songs will develop over the years. You see them in an other light?
Jess: Yeah! That’s right! Only the other day, I sat down and rewrote the lyrics to an old song. It was so much fun. I don’t know whether I am going to do anything with it. I just felt, yeah, it’s my song – I can do whatever I like with it.
OM: Thank you so much, Jess!
Jess: Thank you, it’s been lovely.
And here comes……..
Offbeat Music (OM): Siv, thank you very much for your time.
Siv: You are very welcome.
OM: How is the tour going?
Siv: It’s been going well. We only had one show so far but it was a really good turnout in Hamburg yesterday. It’s all good. I think the venue tonight in Cologne is really nice, you sit down in a little theatre. I am here with some really good friends which is always a plus. All good, so far. No kinks.
OM: Are you playing solo tonight or playing with others?
Siv: I am playing with that lovely lady which just walked into the elevator, a grey elevator, quite an ugly small elevator. I have my cellist with me which is really really great. She’s fantastic. And we have Jess Morgan and our tour manager, promoter, our everything – so that’s the tour party.
OM: But the songwriting you do strictly on our own?
Siv: I would say so. Have never been very good at doing co-writes.
OM: Is the a kind of a control thing as well?
Siv: I think so.
OM: Because the songs are so intimate that you cannot really share writing a song?
Siv: No,that’s not a big issue for me. It’s just that I have such a strong intuition for how I want things to sound that I just know when it feels right to me. So I always feel when I am in a room with someone else that is kind of like pulling in different directions.
I have done quite a bit of co-writing because in college I studied songwriting. It is really interesting and I can do it well for other genres other than my own. Like for teenage pop or whatever, it’s fun to do. But for my style of music or my own music, I really haven’t been able to write anything with anyone else. But it’s good to learn. Probably at some point, I’ll do it.
OM: We listen to your music and we can tell that it is from Scandinavia. Not at all because of your accent (Siv has a perfect US East Coast accent)…
Siv: (Laughs). I think it’s because we are all very much – not 100 per cent – a part of our environment, the places and the people around us, where we grew up. Traditional Norwegian music is just in my ears. Traditional music wherever you’re from manifests in your bones a little bit. We grew up singing these tunes in school. What’s natural for my ear, sounds Scandinavian or Norwegian to others. To me, I don’t hear that because I grew up with it.
A lot of our traditional music has a lot of odd rhythms, I would say. It is very rhythmic and a lot of it is in 3 which I find interesting as I write a lot of music in triple meter. In the States, they usually have one song on their album that’s in 3 and on my songs it is hard to find something that’s in 4.
That’s really because I think our traditional music is almost always, a lot of it, is in 3. Or it has a triple feel under it. That’s really stuck with me and that’s where my comfort zone is.
OM: We do not get know so many artists from Norway (apart from maybe Ane Brun or Highsakite) than we would from, for example, Sweden. What is the Norwegian music scene like?
Siv: I think it’s really lovely. My favourite part which might not have to do so much with the music, is that’s it is a very close-knit family. I feel that everyone that I met and everyone that I surrounded myself with in the Norwegian industry, they are all such wonderful people and it feels like we are all just really good friends looking out for each other. No matter what label you’re on or what management. Everyone looks out for each other which I think is rare and quite special. It’s a really beautiful thing and because of this, Norwegian music is getting more and more on the radar of other countries. There are not so many elbows between the labels. The companies push their own artists but they also help to push Norwegian music in general.
It’s about the music and I think that’s very rare and really beautiful and something that I didn’t know was the case. I was very positively surprised.
It is very small community. Everyone knows everyone which is nice, I think.
OM: You spent a couple of years in the U.S. What took you there?
Siv: I went to college in Boston, Berkeley, quite a famous music school. It was really good. So that took me there for four years and then I moved to New York after that which is where I wrote and recorded my latest album (The Lingering). I took it home, moved back to Norway and released it.
OM: Did you like living in the States?
Siv: I loved it. Especially in Boston when I went to college. It was my first time living away from home as an adult. Especially moving across the world like that, really helped me grow up and grow into who I am. Sounds really cheesy but I think that it was really healthy. I think it is healthy for everyone to go somewhere far away from where you’re from and really properly be on your own. I could not call my Dad to help me putting up my curtains. It is quite good for you, it forces you to grow up and to be on your own and to be okay on your own.
Being in the music industry that is a really good skill to have, not to have to rely on so many people and to be able to stand your own ground.
It is really brilliant school as well and I made really good friends. One of my best friends who I lived with for two years, lives in Cologne and she is coming tonight. At that school, people are from the whole world and whenever I tour, I always get to meet some of them.
OM: Your album The Lingering was very well received. What is it like now in the music industry to do a lot of things on your own. Is it hard?
Siv: Well, it’s really wonderful and also really hard. To be completely honest, I have a day job (as a barista) because it is hard to make enough money to support yourself as a musician, especially being a solo artist. You also have to pay your band. I am kind of the boss in my little company which is my music, my artistry. So it can be tough but I love it still. I get to do what I love which I feel so lucky about. I am able to travel the world and play music. Hopefully, quite soon, I can live off that.
OM: A lot of people find your songs very intimate. Is it hard for you to perform some of the things a while after you have written them?
Siv: Not so much because of the song itself. But sometimes if there is a certain person in the room that has inspired the song, that could be hard. Or if something has happened to change the meaning of the song. A few years after you have written something, you grow more and you see things from a different perspective. Sometimes, it can be challenging. 99 per cent of the time I just love it. I find that every time I perform the songs I learn a little bit about myself and where I was at the time when I wrote it. I get to go back to that moment, for better, for worse, but relive the moment I wrote the song. I can analyse my words and understand what I was feeling when I was writing it.
So I think it is a very therapeutic thing – I know everyone says that but it really is. I don’t mind it at all, I love it.
OM: Do the songs change over the years or your performance of them?
Siv: The more you perform something, the more comfortable you get and you kind of sink into the song. There are definitely some songs that I naturally play slower/faster than I do on the recording. A few weeks ago, I was in this masterclass where they played one of my songs from The Lingering and I hadn’t heard it in a year. I realised that when I play it live, I play it so much faster. I listened to it and was like: Man, it’s so slow – did they do something , did they slow it down? What’s wrong with it?
Then I realised, it just had developed.
OM: Your music is very sparse on The Lingering. Do you do that also to get the lyrics in the foreground?
Siv: That was not why I did that. I had wanted to do for a while a concept record with a string quartet, double bass and piano and me and my guitar and keep it at that. And make a concept record round that and record songs that would fit in that mode.
One of the records that got me into songwriting is a record called Live in Scandinavia by Ane Brun, a live album. You would think, it is strange that I am inspired by that. It was such a big thing to listen to that record when I started writing music. It was really an inspiration to listen to her and that live album where she has a string quintet. Absolutely breathtaking recordings, live-sounding recordings.
I thought for years, that I want to do an album like that with the same kind of arrangements, do it in the studio but do it live.
The strings were recorded live, all in the same room. I was recorded live, voice and guitar, at the same time. So you know, it’s not perfect but it has that kind of nerve to that. We nailed what we wanted.
So, it wasn’t for the lyrics, it was for the music that I could not record it super loud, it would not fit.
OM: When you set out to write out a song, do you want it to be as close to reality as possible or do you abstract it?
Siv: I don’t really think about it that much. It is pretty often just stream of consciousness. It’s rare for me to sit down and go: I am going to write a song and it’s going to be… Writing is a very natural thing for me. Because I studied songwriting, I am very aware of the different tools that you can use and the typical things that will work and will not work. So I use that. But one thing I really love is metaphor and using visual images for people in my music. So that they cannot only hear but taste and watch the music with me.
Rather than describing feelings with abstract words, I try to make it visual because I think, it’s so much more powerful if you can use more of your senses to listen to the music, if that makes sense.
OM: People might have a different picture in mind?
Siv: I think that is better. I don’t want to tell everyone what the song is about. That can ruin it for the listener.
OM: A bit like when you watch the movie before you read the book.
Siv: Yeah exactly. I know where I came from writing the songs. What I write about is all pretty universal. I like that people can relate in their own way.
OM: What’s up next for you?
Siv: After this tour, we’ll have a little pit-stop in Switzerland which is fun. Then I go home and we have a week of rehearsals and pre-production. Then I play this really cool festival called By:Larm in Oslo which I am really excited about. It’s like an industry festival. We are going to have a live string quartet with us. We will perform The Lingering as it was recorded with all the instruments present which is going to be fun.
Next is an exclusive for you: We are going to do a tour in the UK in April.
OM: Thank you so much, Siv!
Siv: Thank you for having me!