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. In 1997, the trio first moved to Olympia, WA for about a year, before settling in Seattle, where the trio formed Carissa’s Wierd. The band 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, the Tuscon-born, Seattle-based Champion has focused on several acclaimed solo projects such as 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 applauded and gushed over her open-hearted lyrics and willingness to eschew conventions while crafting sad songs meant to be cried to and with. Now, as you may recall, the last half or so of Champion’s last S album found her moving towards an electronic-based sound with “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 last year’s Single Rider, she enlisted Fennell as a producer. Fennell agreed and they spent the next five months working on and refining the material on Single Rider. As Champion recalls, “In the studio with Brian, I was more open than I had ever been,” and as a result the material evolved into a slickly produced, anthemic dance floor friendly album; however, the new album reportedly finds Champion maintaining the earnest emotionality and vulnerability that has won her attention — but this time, the album’s material finds the acclaimed Seattle-based singer/songwriter imploring the listener to dance, dance, dance, dance, dance heartache, outrage and disappointment away, for a little bit at least.
Turntable Kitchen has spent the past few years with the Sounds Delicious vinyl club. Over the course of its 13 previously released editions, a carefully curated collection of bands have released a full-length cover album. Interestingly, Jenn Champion has joined the ranks of an eclectic array of artists — and her cover album, the 14th of the series will find her taking on Weezer‘s 1994 full-length debut, The Blue Album. The first single off Jenn Champion’s The Blue Album cover is an icy, New Wave-like synth-based reworking of “Undone — The Sweater Song.”
Although Champion replaces the fuzzy power chords with layers of shimmering and atmospheric synths and propulsive industrial synth pop-like beats, she retains the song’s enormous and beloved hook creating a modern rework without erasing the original’s social unease, awkwardness and longing. The Jenn Champion cover reminds the listener that despite its release over 25 years ago, it’s a crafted bit of incredibly anthemic fuzzy power pop that manages to still sound contemporary and relevant, which is a rare thing for most of the material released during the same decade.
“I knew I wanted to take a synth heavy approach to this album, and in my mind The Blue Album was pretty straight-forward indie power pop,” Champion says in press notes. “But as I was deconstructing all the parts and putting the songs back together, I realized how much nuanced there is to [Rivers] Cuomo’s songwriting style. It’s a testament to his talent that he can make an entire record of songs we want to sing along to and don’t realize just how weird those songs are.”
“I will say it was a challenge, a really fun challenge (!) to keep true to what makes these songs so great while putting them through an electronic lens.”