Five Questions With… Jeen
Just ahead of the release of new album Gift Shop, the Toronto singer/songwriter reflects upon the record, her early stagefright, gate-crashing Lollapalooza, and the decline in the monetary value of songs.
By Jason Schneider
Toronto songstress Jeen O’Brien—known simply as Jeen—is set to release a new LP entitled Gift Shop on September 14 via Red Brick Songs. It promises more of her patented anthemic indie-rock, as evidenced by the current single “Any Moment.” That track also features guitar and co-production by Ian Blurton on top of his work mixing the full record.
Known for her role as vocalist and co-writer for Cookie Duster, a project that has featured Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning, along with Blurton and some of his former Change Of Heart bandmates, Jeen released her debut solo LP Tourist in 2014, which immediately attracted attention across North America. The 2016 follow-up Modern Life continued to build on that critical acclaim while landing song placements in a host of commercials and notable movies and televisions shows, including the CBC’s Republic of Doyle, and Workin’ Moms.
During that time Jeen has also built an impressive resume of other artists recording her work, such as Great Big Sea, Serena Ryder and Hawksley Workman, but with Gift Shop, she has honed her sound into a potent blast of edgy guitar pop all her own. For more info go to jeenobrien.com.
What makes Gift Shop stand apart from your previous work?
I think this album is the closest I’ve gotten to what I like. I’m not a producer, so recording my stuff has been challenging. I look back at some earlier stuff, and it’s a bit off target for me. It’s all part of the process, so I don’t have any regrets—well, maybe a couple—but on Gift Shop I think I finally figured out what I need to do and more importantly what not to do. Having Ian Blurton on board has been a great asset as well.
What songs on the new album are you particularly proud of?
I have a soft spot for “Shallow” and “Jungle.”
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
Lollapalooza in 1992 was a good one. I was just a kid and lost my ticket—it dropped out of my pocket—but as I walked back to the front gates feeling devastated I met a guy who told me how to sneak in. We headed off, patiently waited while security passed and made our move with, like, 15 other people. Everyone got nailed except for me. So a great musical memory for me was hearing Pearl Jam perform “Alive” while I scaled a barbed wire fence.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
In my first band, I had a lot of trouble facing the audience when I sang. I performed with my back to the crowd. It took a long time before I finally turned around and I still have this tendency at times.
If you could fix anything about the music industry, what would it be?
Sooo many things… Getting more money to the songwriters and musicians would be a good fix. The monetary value in terms of song purchase has been reduced to practically nothing. You get what you pay for, you know? If the purchase decline keeps up, the song quality will go right along with it. It’s definitely time for a revolution.