For all those late-twentysomethings and early-thirtysomethings whose childhoods were soundtrack largely by the beauty of ’90 alt rock, Jeen O’Brien’s (better known simply as Jeen) Tourist should likely be the summer’s most satisfying release… Although Toronto singer/songwriter Jeen may not yet be a “household” name among indie music aficionados, there’s a reasonable chance said aficionados have come across her work in Cookie Duster, where she collaborates with Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning, who appears on Tourist as well, in addition to Great Big Sea, Griffin, and Jeen’s own husband, Stephan Szczesniak, who handles drumming duties throughout.
While Tourist has actually been out for a while now in Canada, its U.S. release is set for next Tuesday, June 30th, in a “Deluxe Edition,” which includes four new songs which, to be honest, are easily as good as the album’s 12 original tracks [from the wonderfully wispy, Tanya-Donelly-esque “Higher and Higher,” which quickly turns into a somewhat hushed but subtly soulful anthem, to “Be (One In A Million),” which recalls the ineffably beautiful and sing-alongable folk pop of Tegan and Sara’s If It Was You]. Upon the album’s initial release it drew comparisons to icons of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s alt scenes such as 4AD and Veruca Salt. And while Jeen O’Brien admits to me in a recent chat that those entities weren’t necessarily at the forefront of her mind she also states that they’re not exactly off-base.
Izzy Cihak: So before getting to your solo record (which I really dig), you’ve collaborated on a lot of really cool projects and with a lot of really cool musicians. Is there anyone you dream of getting to work with or anywhere you would especially love your music to wind up? Or are you mostly focused on your solo work and Cookie Duster at this point?
Jeen O’Brien: Thanks! For sure my solo stuff and Cookie Duster are my main focuses, but I’m always up for anything. There’s a lot of pretty cool television out there these days so song placement there would be great…A song in the new Star Wars movie would be rad, but I can’t really see that working out [laughs].
Izzy: What were the biggest influences and inspirations (musical or not) behind Tourist, which is just about to drop here, but has been out for a while in Canada? Do you feel like it enabled you to explore or experiment with things you hadn’t in the past?
Jeen: The songs on Tourist were written over a pretty wide space of time, some very current, some a while back, so the influences and inspirations vary greatly from track to track… To be honest, I’m not a big music listener these days, so if there are any musical influences they are more from earlier years, more ingrained from the past. Ultimately my mood is my greatest influence. The only person I really had to answer to for Tourist was myself… But I can be my own worst enemy.
Izzy: And, especially in regards to your solo work, is there anything you think is especially important for fans and potential fans to know about your process of creating music?
Jeen: I produce it myself (although I have an amazing mixer)… And production is not my forte [laughs], I do it out of necessity… This way I can write, record, and move on, no waiting for other schedules… So needless to say there are not a lot of extras in my recordings, it’s just me trying to get the songs across without ruining them in the process ;)… Definitely have a new found respect for producers, that’s for sure… I work a lo-fi set up so you kinda get what you get with me…
Izzy: Have you had any particular favorite reactions to the album?
Jeen: I had a plug from NPR, which was nice… Another writer had said he felt it was more than just someone’s “solo record,” which I liked too. And of course the Emails I get from someone telling me my music helped them get through a bad patch of their life and thanking me… That’s always the best thing you can hear really.
Izzy: Since the deluxe edition of the album contains four new songs, I’m curious if you might possibly have a favorite one, that you’re most excited to have recorded or that you wished had made it onto the original release? I think “Be (One in a Million)” is currently my favorite song.
Jeen: Nice, happy to hear you like that one. Maybe “Higher and Higher?”… Funny enough I just wrote a track a couple weeks ago that I felt pretty excited about so I’m going to release it as a B-side immediately after the record comes out this month… I write a lot so there are often moments I feel that like – “shit, wish that song had surfaced sooner”… But I’m trying to build a new record which can be a slow process and biding my time (and tracks) would be wise… Unfortunately I’m just not a very patient person
Izzy: Your press release compares the album to, “The golden age of indie rock and 120 Minutes, where both fans of 4AD and Veruca Salt could come together to find some common ground.” So I’m curious, are 4AD and or Veruca Salt things you’re actually a fan of? (Bauhaus, Belly, and Pixies are like some of my favorite bands ever and my musical highlight of the past year is seeing legit Veruca Salt play “Shutterbug” in Philadelphia for the first time in almost two decades.)
Jeen: Not directly but I’m a nineties kid, it definitely runs through me. It’s kind of what I’m made from… And due to the fact I don’t listen to much music right now, that time still holds the most influence over me for sure.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you? Can we expect any live dates in 2015 or any new music in the relatively near future?
Jeen: Well, I’m working on my next record and hope to have another album out in the next year or two… And yes, trying to line up some shows for late summer/early fall… Playing live is something I’ve incidentally let slip to the back burner so it’s time to get on that.