Sydney-based US songstress Jenny Queen has released her third album, Small Town Misfits, through ABC Music / Universal. The emotionally-charged country album is packed full of themes of love, redemption and sucker punches. We chat with Queen about the new record, her US country roots and her love of cooking.
What first brought you to Sydney?
I chased a boy here…and caught him.
Small Town Misfits is pretty emotionally charged. Was it cathartic to release this one?
In some ways, this record is less personal to me than my first two. They were both written much more autobiographically. Small Town Misfits has some very intensely personal songs, like Shaken on the Wire or Mother’s Son, but far more stories based on American myth or songs based on characters. That said, you write a record, live with it for a year or more, and it becomes a huge part of you. It’s hugely cathartic to let that go and give it up to the public.
Tell me about the title of this one: what inspired this one?
Several of the songs on the record were inspired by my trying to work out the contradictions of the American Myth – the whole westward expansion, exceptionalism, the relationship of religion with the populace. And in thinking about this stuff – which I am sure I was able to do more clearly through the lens of living in Australia – I began to think of the ways in which all small town folks are alike. We are far more similar than set apart by difference. The title just seemed to tie into the universality of small town experience.
What was it like working with Brooke McClymont, Shane Nicholson and Matthew Ryan on this record?
I feel so lucky to have worked with the crowd I did for this record. Brooke was amazing. I really struggle with vocals sometimes – getting it all there takes a few goes. But Brooke walked into the studio with her daughter Tiggy on her hip, set the baby down, hopped into the booth and nailed it on first take. BOOM! She’s just my hero. Shane was really the secret weapon for the record. I was set on him for the producer from the beginning. He was able to take all that beautiful riot in my head and translate it into the slightly left of expectation, messy record I wanted it to be. He works like a mad scientist in the studio, so that was great fun too.
I am a huge Matthew Ryan fan. He did his vocals from his home studio in the US, and they are so devastating and gorgeous.
Who have been the biggest musical influences in your life?
I grew up in a little backwater church, and the music there was a kind of bluegrass gospel. I think that definitely set my musical tastes up early. My top influences are probably Gram Parsons, Wilco, Tom Waits and maybe early Sinead O’Connor, for the fierce and heartbreaking way she could sing a story.
How have you managed to maintain your US musical roots while here in Oz?
There is a vibrant and really exciting roots and indie folk movement in Australia. Artists like Catherine Britt and bands like Mustered Courage, Boy and Bear and Winterbourne are bringing a new audience to the music I grew up with and love. They call the genre Americana, but it’s incredibly short-sighted. We need a better, more inclusive name.
You love to cook! Tell us your favourite dishes to whizz up in the kitchen.
I DO love to cook. You can gauge my stress level by how many giant pots of soup are bubbling on my stovetop. I have a soft spot for US Southern cooking, and can’t get enough collard greens and cornbread. I also love cooking rich French dishes like my favourite winter bouillabaisse.
Small Town Misfits is out Friday 23 May through ABC Music / Universal.