Five Questions With… Jeen
The Toronto alt-pop songstress releases a self-titled new album this week. Here she describes the value of producer Ian Blurton, the difference between writing for herself and others, and a longtime love of the Beastie Boys.
By Jason Schneider
Canadian alt-pop songstress Jeen is set to return with her self-titled album produced with Toronto indie-rock legend Ian Blurton (Change of Heart, C’mon, Future Now). Recorded in 2019, the 12 songs on Jeen are her strongest yet, featuring Blurton on lead guitar, Stephan Szczesniak on drums, Brendan Canning (Broken Social Scene) and Ben O’Brien on bass, and Jeff Heisholt on synths.
A songwriter with a penchant for crafting hooky, sync-worthy songs, Jeen first emerged as the vocalist and co-writer for Cookie Duster, the 2012 side project from Canning. In 2014, Jeen released her debut solo LP Tourist, followed in 2016 by Modern Life, both of which resulted in significant sync and song placements in various commercials, films and televisions shows.
If her own songwriting resume isn’t impressive enough, Jeen has also written for many other artists including Great Big Sea, Serena Ryder and Hawksley Workman. Jeen will be released on Oct. 9 and more information can be found at jeenobrien.com.
What makes your new self-titled album stand apart from your past work?
This is the first album in forever that I made at a real studio—Pro Gold—with a proper producer. Having Ian Blurton behind the board was a godsend. I like putting songs together but I’m hardly a legit producer. I produced my last three records out of necessity but the word “producer” gets thrown around a lot; there’s no substitute for the real deal in-studio, someone who just knows their shit. So I’d say that’s what sets this album apart the most. It’s a much bigger record with a much bigger sound than anything I’ve done by myself.
Which songs on the record have particularly special meaning for you?
A bit weird to say maybe, but one for sure would be Slow And Low. I made the original demo the day MCA [of Beastie Boys] died in 2012 because I have the hugest crush on him and that was just the saddest day. But I lost the recording forever when my computer crashed. Fast forward six years and we’re at a jam talking cover songs for this new record. I got the demo back on its feet enough to bring it back to life in-studio. I still feel like I might get beat up for covering the Beastie Boys, so we’ll just have to see how that pans out.
How do you approach writing songs for yourself as opposed to writing for other artists?
I write a lot of songs when I make albums for myself so that’s one big difference. When I’m writing for other people I’m usually doing one song or a smaller handful, so it’s more of a honeymoon. Writing albums can be a real grind. The goal when I’m helping other people write songs is to make them happy, to have them love their tune and feel they got it where they wanted it. When I write for myself I have to make myself happy, which is basically impossible so it can be more annoying.
How have you adapted to engaging with your audience over the past few months?
Everything is so shit right now. I’m just trying to tread lightly but also promote a record. Social media is hard for me because I’m a pretty nerve-wracked person as it is, and talking about myself on the Internet every day feels so stupid sometimes. But I am forcing myself to use it more this year, with this new album because that’s all we really have now. I'm grateful to have an album this year and for the connections that are coming with it. We did a little live two-song pre-record for a skateboard show a few weeks ago and that was super fun. I’d like to do more of that. Live- streaming terrifies me so no plans for that just yet.
What's your mindset looking ahead to next year and the prospect of hopefully playing live?
Before everything crashed in March I was hoping to get a label to put this album out with the idea it would potentially help build the touring side of things for me but then everything changed. So I decided to make a new, little six-song album, and see what happens. My problem before was how to get the money and support to tour. Now I’m just worried there won’t be anywhere to play! Music is religion so it’s not going anywhere, but I think we might find ourselves starting over.