Born Jennifer Hays, the Tucson, AZ-born, Seattle, WA-based multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer Jenn Champion can trace the origins of her music career to when she met her then-future Carissa’s Wierd bandmates Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke at the local pizza shop, where they all worked at the time. In 1997, the trio moved to Olympia, WA for about a year, before settling in Seattle, where the trio formed Carissa’s Wierd.
The trio released three albums before splitting up in 2003 — but interestingly, the trio cultivated a rabid cult following, which has resulted in the release of three compilation albums of their work, including 2010’s They’ll Only Miss You When You’re Gone: Songs 1996-2003, which was released through Hardly Art Records.
Since Carissa’s Wierd’s breakup, Champion has moved forward with several acclaimed solo projects including the guitar and vocal-based pop project S, with which she has released four albums, including 2010’s I’m Not As Good At It As You and 2014’s Chris Walla-produced Cool Choices. While critics and fans have raved over her open-hearted and willingness to eschew conventions while crating sad songs meant to be cried to and with.
The last half of Champion’s last S album found her moving towards an electronic-based sound with album track “No One” being a complete embrace of electronics. “I feel like a door got opened in my mind with electronic and digital music. There was a room I hadn’t explored before and I stepped in,” Champion said at the time. And although she intended to follow up Cool Choices with “a rock record — guitar, a lot of pedals, heavy riffs,” her plans had changed. “I couldn’t pull myself away from the synthesizers and I realized the record I really wanted to make was more of a cross between Drake and Billy Joel than Blue Oyster Cult.”
After the release of “No One,” Champion’s music publisher partnered her with Brian Fennell, an electronic music artist, songwriter and producer best known as SYML and the pair co-wrote “Leave Like That,” which was featured on SYML‘s Hurt For Me EP.
Champion and Fennell hit it off so well that after Champion had written the demos for 2018’s Silent Rider, she enlisted Fennell as a producer. Fennell agreed and then they spent the next five months working on and refining the album’s material. “In the studio with Brian, I was more open than I had ever been,” Champion recalls, and as a result the material evolved into a slickly produced collection of dance floor friendly anthems. But the album saw Champion maintaining the earnestness and vulnerable that has won her critical praise — all while imploring the listener to dance, dance, dance, dance, dance their heartache, outrage and disappointments away for a little bit.
Champion’s long-awaited third album The Last Night of Sadness is slated for an October 13, 2023 release through Gay Forever. The self-produced and self-recorded The Last Night of Sadness will remind the listener of her technical skill as a musician, but more important, it places her production process front and center. “I’ve always been able to be vulnerable in my music but with these songs and what I was feeling I wanted to keep this album pure. I was afraid that if I let it go outside of me, I’d dilute it,” Champion explains. “Sadness is in the title but this is the most confident record I’ve ever made. I took away all the places I could hide.”
When asked what it was she wanted to express with the album as a whole, Champion says “Suffering. And what a miracle it is to be heavy.” So yes, the album is heavy. But it’s also open and vulnerable the way you can only be when grieving. The album’s material sees the Seattle-based artist grappling with morality — of others, of herself and of the world in general. And yet it isn’t hopeless or joyless. There are moments of reprieve, in which you’re reminded that life is ultimately about the small joys and small victories.
The Last Night of Sadness‘ first single “Famous” is an 80s synth pop-inspired mid-tempo ballad built around glistening synth arpeggios, a poppy drum machine-driven groove paired with an incredibly catchy hook and Champion’s earnest, heartbroken delivery. At its core, is a wizened, self-aware narrator, who is coming to terms with their life — and they do so with an unvarnished, vulnerable honesty as she reflects on a rebellious youth and the gradual compromises and adjustments of adulthood. But the song is rooted in an existential dread and uncertainty that comes as you get older.
“I wanted to make a song about coming to terms with fame versus success and what it feels like to realize I have what I want,” the Seattle-based artist says. She continues, “As an artist sometimes it feels like fame and success are used interchangeably and over the course of my career in music I’ve seen how fame can bring with it all this money and opportunity but is also a gilded cage. This song is one that just came to me on a run one morning as I looked out over the city and I had to pull out my phone and start writing. I’ve gone through a reset of my priorities in the last few years and this song and this album are about the journey through existential dread that has me where I am now.”