Singer-songwriter jennylee is the type of laidback friend who puts your fears at bay before you even collapse on her couch, where every phone call feels like an afterschool chat—as evidenced by her pausing our conversation twice to shoo her dog from snooping through grocery bags—over landline phones, and where ruminations on intent and fear feel like open dialogues driven in the direction of self-improvement. It’s a strange level of total chill-dom given she’s the bassist in four-piece Warpaint.
Whereas Warpaint’s music is mysterious and aloof, trading traditional choruses for breezy, haunting rhythms that both mirror and contrast their Los Angeles hometown, jennylee’s solo music takes a sleek, monogrammed pickax to post-punk. It’s gritty and oh-so-‘80s. Don’t worry; she doesn’t give up her trademark off-kilter basslines that leave you cautious of its eerie grooves. Her solo material combines the two, sounding in line with Joy Division while remaining distinctly original.
After lots of technical talk about Rickenbackers (she was gifted one when learning to play), the importance of bass in songwriting (despite being labeled the easiest of rock’s usual instruments, she firmly believes it’s essential for gluing each instrumental part together), and her own education (she was entirely self-taught in her late teens), she began detailing her nerves both behind the bass guitar and behind the microphone. Naturally, the conversation turned towards tackling irrational fears onstage and off — and how others can do the same.
A few months after the release of her debut LP, right on!, jennylee dishes out advice on conquering those fears, dancing onstage, and what it takes to ultimately follow your own, weird path. True to onesie–wearing form, it all comes back to giving no fucks.
What’s the best way to step into the role of a lead vocalist?
It’s not adding cherries on top with harmonies or backing vocals. You have to step up to the spotlight, but the trick is not being too hard on yourself. Let yourself have fun and let yourself go. If you try to control your vocal process and what’s coming out, you may put a stop to something that works. Children don’t do that. They do what’s natural and have a good time. When I don’t do that, things happen effortlessly. That’s what people look for in a singer.
So how do you overcome the nerves that come with it?
I still get so nervous. Sometimes when I get nervous, my voice cuts out or trembles. When you’re trying to sing, that stuff’s not okay. You can tell! It’s because I tighten up and get nervous, so before I go onstage I have to jump around and stretch and calm down. I constantly have to remind myself that the whole goal of this is to have fun. The first couple minutes may be nerve-wracking, but remember that it will fade after a couple minutes. Dancing around helps, too.
That’s nice to hear having fun ranks pretty high for you.
People want to see you having a good time, but they also want to see you being yourself. It’s important in entertainment and music in particular for people to be the realness. There’s no need to paint a façade that separates you from the people who come to your shows. You’re already on a pedestal. It’s refreshing to remind people that you’re a human, too. Everyone shits and pees and hears and eats. Obviously it’s important to shine, but what I think is the most rewarding is when you’re as much yourself as possible.
How do you do that musically? The natural pressures of friends, family, or the general public hearing your music often pushes artists of any size to write songs a certain way.
In Warpaint, we always do what we want. If you get a song on commercial radio, that’s great, but we’re not going to sit there and write a song for fucking commercial radio. Writing this album, since I knew it was my first time releasing, the concept was to follow a stream of consciousness. Don’t rewrite your stuff 500 times. Don’t get heady. Let the music flow and trust in what comes out of you. It takes a lot of force to do that. By the time I had 10 songs, though, I was surprised. Doing that on your own can be hard, but sometimes you need to let your inner self guide the way. Prove to yourself that you can do it!
What advice would you give at-home musicians who want to make an album but let doubt block them?
Know that it doesn’t have to be the best song. It’s just important to finish things. Choose to write one song in a day and tell yourself before you start that, no, this may not be exactly as you envision it, or flawless, or “normal.” Then do that the next day and the next day. When you get into a flow of writing songs, eventually you know how to do it – and there’s no right way, too. You begin to set exercises for yourself, like, ‘Oh, I want to write an angry song. Today I want to write a pop chorus.’ Nine times out of ten, that doesn’t pan out as you hoped, but even if you don’t follow it, you completed your goal. The overall aim is to get comfortable with the microphone. When you do this, it gets you going – or, at least it gets me going.
CANCELLED: JENNYLEE, PALE HANDS, FACIAL. WED 2.17. BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL, 158 BRIGHTON AVE., ALLSTON. 7PM/ALL AGES/$15. CROSSROADSPRESENTS.COM.