FEATURE: Jen Stevens – Bunch Of Fives | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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With a new album out now, we caught up with Jen Stevens to find out her five songwriting essentials.

I’m a coffee snob, and don’t do instant; I tend to buy beans from the Ouseburn Coffee Company or Pumphreys. When I’m writing I’ll often wind up sitting at the piano for hours on end. Beforehand I’ll put a pot of coffee on and grab a big glass of water. It’s good to have these things to hand, because once I’m in the zone I need to stay in it; I have problems with my memory, so if I walk away to get a drink part way through writing without having recorded or written down what I’ve been working on, chances are it’ll have fallen out of my head by the time I get back to the piano!

I’m Jen, and I have a problem. I can’t walk past a stationery section without buying something. I’m ill for a bonny pen, and at any given time I’ll probably have at least two notebooks in my bag. They’re full of lyrics, melodies and chord progressions that pop into my head when I’m out and about, to-do lists, doodles… Like I said, I have memory problems, which is why I’m often surrounded by a plethora of notebooks full of songs on stage – some I’ve carried around with me for fifteen years! I know I could do the same with gadgets, but I’m an old-fashioned technophobe.

My music room is a work in progress – I’ve taken out a revolting 60s style fireplace, stripped polystyrene tiles from the ceiling, and repainted two of the walls…That’s as far as I’ve got with limited DIY skills and no budget! To mask the gaping hole in the wall and give the room a little ambience, it’s basically covered in throws and candles. I like to write by candlelight. I also have a colour changing light bulb in the main light, and burn incense, both of which I change depending on the kind of music I’m working on. I find that colours, light, and smells have a very strong influence on what I write. 

Photographs and Art
Photos of my family, particularly my mum, who I lost a few years ago, are few and far between. I like the ones that I have to be beside me when I’m working – they inspire and infuriate me in equal measures! 
My favourite artist is Gustav Klimt, and I have a few prints of his work dotted around my house. I find his use of colour massively inspirational. I was lucky enough to see ‘The Kiss’ on display in Vienna a few years ago. I cried when I saw it, because it was such a big deal for me to actually be in the same room as something that I’ve adored since I was a kid.

Fur Babies
I find that writing is best done in solitude. I struggle if there’s anyone around because I become very aware of what I’m creating, and it shouldn’t be like that – Whatever falls out of my brain and onto a page should be entirely natural and honest. The exception to this rule are my pets; my dogs, Bruno and Colin, and my newest addition, Stevie (Nicks) the kitten. I’m very aware that I sound like a mad old cat lady…But songwriting, for me, is massively cathartic; a definite form of therapy, and I often get very sad when I’m working (obviously depending on the song), and animals are very intuitive; They know when to leave you alone, and when you need a bit of love.

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