Hailing from sunny California, Ghost Town Jenny is a magnificent trio that effortlessly blends lead singer Kim Kylland’s haunting and powerful voice with remarkable string arrangements and brooding ambient soundscapes to create their own unique genre of spooky, cinematic soul music. The band’s dark and hypnotic ballads have garnered them fans around the globe and have started to turn the heads of many in the music industry. The band is as focused as ever as they are preparing for the release of their most ambitious work to date — an EP titled ‘Golden Hour.’ Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Kim Kylland to discuss the band’s history, the creation of the ‘Golden Hour’ EP, her songwriting process and much more.
How did Ghost Town Jenny initially form?
Ghost Town Jenny was my solo project for a long time. Anytime I would record, I played all the instruments and had various friends sit in with me during live shows. I met our violinist Corey when I was going to school in Berkeley, CA, and we just fit well together. He understands me musically, is an incredible violinist, and is a really great person to be around. After playing a few shows together, we just kinda kept going. I then met Johan at a music festival in Denmark, and after years of writing letters he moved out to California too. In February 2010, we drove an RV coast to coast, and during those four months of traveling I convinced Johan he should try playing music with me (he was not a musician before that time). Once we started playing together I was amazed at how good he was, especially for someone who had never played an instrument before that time. We three have been playing and writing together ever since.
Who are the players involved and what does each bring to the table for a project like this?
Ghost Town Jenny is a trio. I sing and play guitar/piano/harp/saw, Johan plays synths and keys, Corey plays violin. We also have a number of talented friends who sit in as drummers from time to time. I write the majority of our songs, but sometimes Johan will be playing a great chord progression over and over, and I will just start singing. We wrote our song “Natural’ that way. I had never collaborated with anyone when it came to songwriting before I met Johan, and it’s a wonderful feeling. It has really opened up my musical world. After I write a song, or Johan and I work on a composition together, we bring it to Corey (our violinist). Sometimes I will have an idea of how I want the strings to sound and Corey will bring what I hear in my head to fruition, and sometimes the strings are Corey’s own arrangement entirely. Corey’s playing and arranging complements our songwriting so well… I feel extremely lucky to be working with people who know exactly what I want, and understand me musically.
For those who may not know, what is the band name all about and why did you chose it?
Years ago I found a box of old photos on the street, and the one that held most mystery was a portrait of a woman sitting on a giant rocking horse whose base read ‘Ghost Town Jenny’. The photo looks like it’s from the 1930’s or 40’s. I really wish I knew who it was, or what her story was. But maybe it’s better I don’t. That way I can continue to create my own story. The photo can be seen on our Facebook page, for those who might know who this mystery woman is…
For those who may not be familiar with your work quite yet, what can they expect sonically?
I have trouble explaining our music because it’s such a familiar part of myself. We have been calling our sounds ‘cinematic soul’, which is a term I came up with while talking to Chris Isaak. I just thought he would totally get it, after having worked with David Lynch in that strange cinematic-musical realm, and I think he totally did. After that conversation I just kept using the genre that I made up because I felt that it fit. But I am sort of bad at explaining our music really… I loved what a few journalists have said about us, and I think they are a bit better at describing our sound than I am… one of my most favorite recent quotes was from an Irish magazine called wearenoise, who said that our music was built around the “memorable voice of Kim Kylland, with instrumentation of piano, qchord, violin and saw, creating wracked Western-style soundscapes.”…another from SF Chronicle said that our music was reminiscent of “afternoon light falling on an unmade bed”, or something to that effect.
You have been hard at work on a new EP, ‘Golden Hour,’ which drops on January 28th. What were you expectations going into the process of creating the album?
To be honest, I expected us to finish this EP much sooner than we actually did. We are definitely a band who feel more comfortable on stage than we do in a studio, and being in that environment has taken some getting used to for us. What works live does not necessarily work in a studio environment, and this EP really confirmed that. We want to try recording totally live after this EP, as I think that might help to capture our sound a bit better.
How did the title come about and what does it mean to you personally?
‘Golden Hour’ was written with a certain time of day in mind, late in the afternoon before dusk when everything looks beautiful but has a heavy tinge of sadness to it. It’s always been one of my favorite times of day… colors look brighter, things seem hopeful and hopeless all at once. It’s a bittersweet time that means a lot to me. I feel like some of the best, most transformative moments of my life have taken place during Golden Hour.
What can you tell us about your songwriting process and how you bring a tune to life?
My process is always very different. Sometimes I will work on a song for months. Other times I sit down, and it comes pouring out, leaving me with a finished song in hours. I wish I had a method, because it would make things a lot easier. I actually began writing my song ‘Golden Hour’ years ago… it began as a piano riff with a few lyrics, and I revived it in 2013 and finally finished it. I am writing all the time though. My phone is full of voice memos, as is my home computer. I have tons of demos of songs that I can’t wait to record properly.
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
In books and dreams. I dream a lot. Sometimes too much. The open structure and unreal nature of dreams is a great source of lyrical and melodic inspiration to me right now. I also love reading, and sometimes one sentence in a book will set forth hours and hours of the wheels in my brain and pen spinning.
Looking back on the entire process of bringing it to life, what stands out at as the biggest challenge in creating this EP?
Time and money. Two of the biggest constant pains in my life really. I am sure it’s that way for a lot of artists…
What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself during this intense process?
The biggest thing I learned being in the studio for this last EP, is that if I over-think something, it turns out sounding contrived and unfamiliar to me. If I let go, give myself completely to the music (like I do on stage), then I love what I hear in playback.
Any plans for a return to the studio in the near future for a full length release? If so, where are you in the process of creating new material?
Yes, definitely ! I have started demo-ing all of our new songs, and truthfully we have more than enough material for a full length right now. It’s just a matter of finding a time to get everyone in the studio between tours and shows.
What are your tour plans at the moment?
We will be heading to SXSW this March, then doing a small Pacific Northwest tour in the US this April. We will also be touring in Europe at the end of summer, filling in dates around a festival we are playing in Cork, Ireland called Mountain Dew Festival. We have plans to play in Canada, and on the east coast of the US this fall as well. If it were up to me we would be on tour all year. I hope that day comes soon. I absolutely love touring and traveling.
What are your favorite songs to play live these days?
If you are talking about our own songs, I really like playing our song ‘Golden Hour’ live. It has an energy that we couldn’t quite capture on the EP. It’s also fun to sing because it’s so new… If you are talking about other people’s songs, we like to cover ‘Wicked Game’ by Chris Isaak, & ‘Falling’ from the Twin Peaks soundtrack quite regularly.
Is there something you hope people come away with after they catch one of your live performances?
If someone is seeing us for the first time, I hope they come away with the feeling that they have just discovered something that makes them extremely excited. I really just hope to transport people, envelope them in music, and make them feel really strongly, whatever emotion it is that comes to them. I want them to be mesmerized.
Are there any video plans in the making?
Yes, we are actually shooting a video for our song ‘Lights’ next week. The video will most likely be released in late February or early March. This is our first music video, and we are really, really excited.
What do you consider your biggest milestone so far?
Personally, one of my biggest milestones was having my father come see us play at a music festival in Norway before he passed away. That meant the world to me, having him there in the audience. We covered one of his favorite songs (‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ by Smoky Robinson), and I looked out at him to see him closing his eyes and just listening. That is one of the happiest moments of my life. I am also really grateful that we got to play at Iceland Airwaves Music Festival in Reykjavik. They were really good to us, and we made so many life-long friends there. Every new tour we finish settles into my memory as a milestone though. Our last tour of Ireland, though small, was fucking wonderful.
How do you feel you have evolved as a musician since first starting out?
I feel that I have found my own unique voice. I am not trying to imitate others, as I feel I was doing so much in youth. When I sing, I sing from the heart and with no one else in mind except my audience.
What are some of your musical bucket list items?
Hmmm… some big ones would be to play Glasonbury in the UK and Coachella in the US. I also really want to tour with Nick Cave as his opening act.
What bands are out there right now that have made your stand up and take notice?
I realize this is the third time I have mentioned him in this interview, but Nick Cave continues to be an artist who puts out consistently great, unique music. His last record is phenomenal, and I can’t stop listening to it. I have gotten really into Jay Z in the past few years, and am very excited by his music right now. I also really love a guy in Ireland called Hozier. Our friends who run a film production house in Cork called Feel Good Lost recently did a music video for his song ‘Take me to Church’ that is breathtakingly beautiful. Also, another Irish friend called Conor Walsh is making some beautiful, sweeping, ethereal piano music. We toured with him last fall and I never got sick of hearing his set.
What is the best piece of advice that you can pass along to someone who wants to pursue a career in music in the industry’s current climate?
If you believe in the music you are putting out, chances are there will be others who love what you are doing. Just go for it and see where it takes you.
What are you most excited about when you think about the year to come?
TOURING! and finally putting out our first full length record!
Anything you want to tell your fans before I let you go?
We love you. We love playing for you…and we can’t wait to see you out on the road in 2014.