Inside D.C. entertainment

Jenny Owen Youngs talks new album, cancer, Avril Lavigne

September 29, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Jenny Owen Youngs, who plays Friday at Red Palace, has the voice of a Norah Jones and the mouth of a sailor. "Fuck Was I," her first song to garner mainstream success, was featured on Weeds. Owen Youngs calls the album it came from, 2005's Batten the Hatches, a "diary album," a largely acoustic and intimately arranged poetry and writings from her college years.

Transmitter Failure, from 2009, was built on electric guitars and shows a broader lyrical scope: the self-loathing of "Drinking Song," for instance, gives way to the critical, visceral chorus of "Led to the Sea." Owen Youngs recently released a one-off single, "Great Big Plans," and will finish her third album by the end of the year.


I wrote the lyrics for that when four people I knew within a month were all diagnosed with different types of cancer. Everybody except one person is now okay. Three of the four recovered, and one unfortunately passed away. It was a lot to deal with in a very short span of time....I just stopped in my figurative life track and said, Holy crap, this can happen to people I know. This is something I’ve read about. This is something I’ve seen in movies. But this is not something I’ve had in my life before.


What I’ll say was it was my first television placement and I was so excited. But I also didn’t believe it was going to happen until they said, "Yeah, it’s probably going to happen, but you never know about these things until they air. Then you know for sure."

I had a little party. I had some friends over and they were all watching. And when it finally came on my reaction was relief that I did not have a bunch of friends over to discover that my song did not actually make it on the show. I was like, Oh thank God! This doesn’t have to be really humiliating. And then I got very excited after I was done being relieved. Until it aired, I was on the edge of the couch, white knuckled, gritting my teeth, thinking, Is it going to happen?

TBD: Did you enjoy the episode?

Jenny Owen Youngs: That was the first episode I watched, then I thought, Holy shit. This is awesome. Then I went back and watched the whole series.


That’s a good question, and I wish I had a ready answer for. I want to confer with [drummer] Eliot [Jacobson] quick, because he’s sitting next to me in the van, and he might have a better answer. Is that alright? May I phone a friend?

Eliot says Lisa Loeb. Not that there’s anything wrong with Lisa Loeb, it’s just not what I’m going for....I am more like Lisa Loeb than most people that these people encounter on a day-to-day basis. So it’s totally reasonable for them to be like, You’re kind of like Lisa Loeb. Well, yeah, I have an astigmatism, and I have a guitar. Let’s do it. Whatever.

There’s nothing wrong with Lisa Loeb, and I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with anyone I’ve been compared to or heralded as the next of. It’s just frustrating to hear things, because, whatever. Ultimately it’s not a big deal. And it’s taken me a long time to get to this very zen place. Compare me to whatever you want. But it’s never because the artist is bad, it’s just like, Please don’t let the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear or see me be an acoustic guitar and a voice. And that’s it

I’ve heard you compared to Avril Lavigne, and I still don’t understand that.

Man. I mean we both have long, light hair. And I was wearing neckties when she was still in modeling clothes. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it. 


It’s so hard, because they both are what they are. Until a year ago, I would have said Bon Jovi immediately, because — come on — “Living on a Prayer,” fuckin’ “Dead or Alive.” But now, I’ve gotten into [Bruce Springsteen's] Nebraska, which is the most legitimate thing either of those entities has recorded. Nebraska really has been speaking to me. I guess I have to go with Bruce.

What would the majority of Jersey people say?

As someone from New Jersey, I can totally say this: Jersey people are so pumped that Jersey has stuff that they don’t care if it’s Bruce or Bon Jovi. You put it in front of them, and they’re going to be like, Jersey! That’s what they see when they look at either of those guys.

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