Interview: A Q&A with Jennie Vee

Singer/songwriter and bassist Jennie Vee grew up as “the goth girl” in a small Ontario town. And as the story goes, she Vee had pen pals, who had changed the course of her life, when they introduced her to the Manchester post-punk scene. Sometime later,  the Canadian musician left her small  Ontario town and spent time living in England and Nashville before finally settling in NYC. After spending the better part of a year living much like a hermit, writing and recording in her home studio, Vee played her first solo gig last May. And as a result of a sound that draws from 80s post-punk and from shoegaze, Vee has received quite a bit of attention across the music industry from journalists, execs, producers and musicians – she caught the attention of Grammy-winning producer Chris Lord-Alge, who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Green Day and Stevie Nicks. and has remixed Vee’s single “Wicked,” and she’s a member of the touring bands for Courtney Love and Lana Del Rey (both of whom are touring together throughout the summer). 

Interestingly, her stint in both Courtney Love’s and Lana Del Rey’s backing bands come at a rather opportune time, as Vee is set to release her sophomore EP Spying – and that should drive much more attention towards both Vee and the EP. Sonically, Spying is swooning and seductive bit of shoegaze that channels Echo and the Bunnymen, RIDE, The Unforgettable Fire-era U2, The Stone Roses and contemporary acts like Dum Dum Girls as you’ll hear guitar played through gentle washes of reverb, propulsive bass and thundering drumming paired with Vee’s ethereally cooed vocals floating through a gorgeous yet turbulent mix. And thematically, the material at its core deals with frustratingly unrequited love, dysfunctional relationships and unbridled desire that feels familiar – and yet manages to feel more vulnerable, seductive and present. But it shouldn’t be surprising that the breakout single on the EP is a rather straightforward cover that not only retains the swooning Romanticism of the original, it manages to simmer with a palpable and irresistible sensuality. And on another level, Vee’s cover reminds me (and it should remind all of us, really) that well-written songs are truly timeless, and could have been of their time and contemporary. 

I recently spoke to Vee about her new effort Spying, what it was like to tour with Courtney Love and Lana del Rey, her influences and of how the video for her cover of “Lips Like Sugar” manages to channel the original video. And of course, there’s much more. Check out the Q&A below. 

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WRH: I’ve started a number of interviews with this but as
a bit of an introduction to my readers, please tell me (and us) something cool
about you.

Jennie Vee: I’m Jennie
Vee, I’m a songwriter and musician from Canada but based in NYC.  I release my debut solo EP last year and 2
follow up singles.  I also play bass for
Courtney Love and Tamaryn.

WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know it
was your calling?

JV: Music has always been my main
passion.  Both my parents were huge music
fans themselves so there was always something on the radio or turntable.  My mother is also a trained pianist and
accordion player.  I kind of fast
forwarded over most childhood hobbies and wanted to listen to music and design
clothing from the time I was about 4 years old.
My earliest favorites were Buddy Holly, E.L.O., U2 and ABBA.

WRH: How would you describe your sound?

JV: A sweet and dark sonic
soundscape with painstakingly crafted hooks and melodies on top.

WRH: How did you meet the members of your backing band?

JV: I met Rich when I was
booking and bartending at a venue in Toronto and he came through with his solo
project about 7 years ago.  He was a very
well mannered Kentuckian and we bonded over a shared interest in touring and
making music.  My drummer Naomi and I met
many years ago after I read an ad she posted online looking for a band.  She was based in Buffalo at the time, but now
lives in Nashville.  She has played in
every single one of my musical projects ever since.  One of the most solid, dedicated and lovely
musicians I’ve ever met.  Blaise is my
bass player and I met her through musician friends here in NYC.  At 21 years old she has already accomplished
so much and has the chops and attitude of a seasoned pro.  I’m extremely grateful for my backing band!

WRH: Who are your influences?

JV: My biggest influences
hail from the UK – The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen, New Order.  However, U2 was my first favorite band and
sometimes I forget to mention this in interviews, but I saw them live when I
was 11 years old and also had watched their Live at the Red Rocks video over and over as a young girl.  I
was truly inspired to be like them.  I
wanted to be on that stage playing
music that touched so many people.  Fast
forward several decades and this year I did
play Red Rocks in Colorado with Courtney supporting Lana Del Rey.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

JV: My 3 favorite new
albums are from Tamaryn, The Black Ryder and Best Coast.

WRH: You’re originally from a small Ontario town and
you’ve spent time in the UK and Nashville before relocating to New York. What
inspired the moves from Ontario to the UK, the UK to Nashville and then to New
York? How has your time in each of these cities influenced you and your work?

JV: I often say I have
love affairs with cities.  Perhaps it
stems back to living in that small town, and always sensing there was something
bigger out there, something more exciting or appropriate.  The second I get a little “bored”
in a certain place I start plotting my next move.  Cities do
have an influence on me.  In Nashville I
was feeling out of place very quickly after moving there and I delved into
volunteer work and was a full time animal rescue coordinator.  But as soon as I got to NYC my focus shifted,
first into the fashion editorial world and then about 18 months ago back to
music after that period of self- exploration in other fields I wrote my
strongest material.

WRH: You’ve been a part of Courtney Love’s and Lana Del
Rey’s touring bands. What was it like to tour with these renowned artists? Did
they offer any career advice to you?

JV: Courtney offers so
much good advice to me all the time.  She
always reminds me that gratitude crushes anxiety, so no matter what the
situation, any time nerves creep up on me, I remember that and can become
grateful for just being in the moment.
The tour was an amazing experience.
Every single band and crewmember was lovely, professional, personable
and a joy to be around.  We played some
beautiful venues and speaking of gratitude – there was an overwhelming sense
of that from all around.  Lana was
extremely kind and thrilled to have Courtney on the shows. It was a really
special time.

WRH: After listening to Spying EP, I was struck by how much the material on the album
channels 80s and 90s post-punk and shoegaze — i.e, Echo and the Bunnymen, The
Cure, RIDE, The Stone Roses, as well as more contemporary acts including Too True-era Dum Dum Girls. How much of
an influence did those acts have on you and your work? How does this effort
different from previous releases?

JV: I really love all the
bands you mentioned, so yes they did have an influence on this release.  My influences have always been the same since
I started creating music myself some time after my “formative years”
as a music fan.  All of my songs have
been very reflective of my life condition at the time I wrote them.  Everything I write especially lyrically is
very stark and honest and slightly vulnerable.
But I find my power in that vulnerability and sharing it is a really
cathartic experience for me.

WRH: According to your bio, when you arrived in New York,
you spent the better part of a year holed up writing the material that would
wind up comprising Spying.
Interestingly, the material is based around relationships — the ones that were
frustratingly unrequited, dysfunctional and failed, those that seem to work out
well but manage to fail, and a variety of other situations. How much of the
material thematically speaking based on your own personal experience or those
of someone you know?

JV: These experiences,
they can be mine or those of close friends, usually the ones I create
with.  I’m always pulling from my entire
life and the heartbreak and loss I’ve experienced.  Families torn apart to ultimate betrayals via
lovers or friends.  Searching for
accountability, recognizing guilt as a useless emotion and finding the ability
to take responsibility without self blame- those are all themes present in my
songs.

WRH: I’ve spoken to a number of artists and for some the
writing process is incredibly easy — it’s as though they can spit it out at
will. While others have admitted that the writing process can be incredibly
difficult and painstaking. Was there any point during the time you spent
writing where things came easily or more difficult than before? Did your
approach and process change for this particular effort? And lastly, how do you
know when you have a finished song?

JV: For me the writing
process is both- it can be easy and it can be frustrating.  Nick Cave often speaks of the
“muse” and I tend to relate to that concept as a songwriter, when the
muse is present, I listen, and that’s when it can be an easier process.  You can never really force a good idea- it
just comes.  THEN, it can be a bit more
involved to shape it and structure it.
You can take a good idea and make it excellent with work and time.  I am a very structured writer, meaning I
generally do not explore quirky arrangements or “mathy”
approaches.  I know a song is done when
the story has been told and it feel[s] like a natural conclusion, usually
between 2 and a half to 3 and a half minutes!
Haha!

WRH: Spying features
one of the most impressive and sexiest covers of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Lips
Like Sugar,
” I’ve ever heard. What I think makes the cover so successful is the
fact that it should remind listeners that that “Lips Like Sugar” is an
exceptionally well-written song — the sort of song that you can practically
imagine a contemporary band writing a similar song today and it resonating with
audiences in the same way. And I think that it also should remind listeners of
how incredibly sexy the song has always been. What drew you to covering the
song? Has the band responding to your cover? And if so what has been the
response for the cover?

JV:
I have yet to hear from the Bunnymen
since releasing my version of “Lips Like Sugar.”  I knew I wanted to do a cover and as a huge
fan of their songs and sound I originally thought of “Bring on the Dancing
Horses
” as the one to tackle.  After
a few days of thinking I just concluded that “Lips Like Sugar” would
be the way to go despite my initial thoughts that it might be too “obvious”
a choice.  It was a huge hit and their
songs reach the level of perfection more often than not so I didn’t want to
stray at all from the arrangement or sonic quality – I stayed true to all of
Will Sargent’s amazing and intricate interplay of guitar lines.  I think my version has a dreamy, whimsical
quality and stands as a true tribute to them – I wanted to create a version
that transported the listener into my world, my perspective of being a real fan
of the Bunnymen.  We had a blast
recording it and making the video.  

WRH: I also noticed that the music video for “Lips Like
Sugar” channels the original video at points. Was this intentional?  

JV: Yes!  Especially the shot of me with my guitar
slung around my back – there’s the scene where Ian is walking to the boats with
his acoustic guitar slung over his back.
I just wanted the whole experience of my version of “Lips Like
Sugar” to encapsulate the love and appreciation I have for them as a band,
musicians and songwriters.

WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make
a name for themselves?

JV: Never let insecurity
hold you back, let it propel you and feel free to examine, dissect and share
your feelings including any insecurity you may feel.  Work with others as much as possible, while
still honing your own craft and skills on your own.  Never compare yourself to anyone else
creating art.  No one can alter your path
except you.  Be kind to yourself and
others.  

WRH: What’s next for you?

JV:
I am touring Europe and the US playing
bass for Tamaryn and then releasing my own first full length album in the Fall
in the UK and Europe on Gary Powell from The Libertines’ label 25 Hour
Convenience Store
.