INTERVIEW: Me Lost Me | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Spending time with Jayne Dent will make even the most energetic person feel like a slob: Dent is a whirlwind of restless creativity, always on to the next project while you’re still digesting the one before. Which explains why since finishing her third, genuinely remarkable album RPG, she’s formed new projects, developed new artistic practices and generally created! For Dent, it’s all one thing.

“I find it hard to totally distinguish stuff sometimes, I guess it depends on the context people experience it in,” she explains. “I just make stuff. I’ve been doing a lot of textiles stuff recently, a lot of printmaking and drawing, and a lot of that doesn’t leave my room, but it might inform the music in other ways. Like I might have an idea and think, ‘well I could explore this in a drawing and maybe I’ll make a song inspired by the drawing’ I do sound art commissions and stuff, galleries and installed stuff.”. As RPG’s closer Science & Art makes clear, the creativity is the whole point. “I’m not gonna stop making stuff because I don’t know what else to do, it just feels like a natural compulsion to make stuff. That’s what it’s about for me, just making stuff. It’s just the joy that comes from it.”

Dent didn’t set out to make an album rooted in ideas about digitally generated landscapes and adopting roles, but it soon shaped the songwriting. “I wrote a couple of songs that were more game-focused because I went through a phase of being like really, really games obsessed and I thought, ‘this might be fun and interesting… all of the songs on the previous album were inspired by real landscapes, and now I’ve written some that are inspired by digital landscapes so that might be an interesting rabbit hole to follow.’ After that it was a more considered thing about real places, imaginary places and digital places, things like that.”

One of the most powerful songs on RPG is The Oldest Tree Holds The Earth, a beautiful track of layered acapella vocals which was written in collaboration with Newcastle-based musician Ditte Ely. The pair sat in the woods near Aarhus and passed a piece of paper between them, like a text version of the surrealist tactic Exquisite Corpse. This is typical of Dent’s approach to creativity. “I love little prompts, little tasks. I love setting myself word games or something, I’ve been doing that a lot more recently, since this album. Things I’ve made since then have used more prompts and word games. I’ve always liked having word clouds, just experimenting, it’s fun seeing what comes out. And it just seemed like a really good way for me and Ditte to write lyrics together, and it ended up being like nothing else we’d written, melodically or lyrically. It was fun – you’d write a line and think where it would go next and you’d have to pass it to the other person and they’d completely change the direction, you’d follow that lead…”

One of the many ways in which RPG represents a real step forward in Dent’s work is in the collaborations with Faye McCalman and John Pope (unofficially the Me Lost Three) and it’s obvious that working with a pair of such accomplished and simpatico musicians has opened up a whole world of possibilities for her songs. Dent is typically diffident about how the collaboration works. “Some of the songs I’d written really bad midi parts for – really bad midi clarinet – and I was like ‘this is the sort of melody that I have, I think a clarinet could maybe play it, but if you want to riff around it, because you know your instrument better than me…’. I don’t profess to know how to write properly for double bass and clarinet. There are some songs where I’d be like, ‘could you just sound like a car alarm?’ or – on In Gardens – ‘could you both sound like flowers that are growing, independently of the main song, kind of ignore what I’m doing – you’re just doing it, you’re just growing? You’re flowers in a garden and you’re just growing’ and they can do that because they’re just really great! And then sometimes I haven’t a clue, I just know I want bass on here! It would to be nice to work with them again. I’ve got an album’s worth of demos but they’re all in weird tunings, so whether I can have any real instruments on them I don’t know!”



The album was produced by Sam Grant at Blank – “every single musician on the album who hadn’t recorded with Sam before was like, ‘I need Sam to record me forever, for the rest of my life!’” and is being released by the excellent Upset The Rhythm! label, which came about through her work with Scottish weird-pop outfit Buffet Lunch. “Upset The Rhythm released their first album and they also put me on supporting them in London. They were just really enthusiastic immediately and it just seemed to work really well – we seemed to have a lot of priorities and approaches in common.“ It appears being on a bigger label hasn’t affected how she works either. “I’ve always been a bit of an obsessive planner, really far in advance, which they were very happy about. So I’ve always been quite strict with myself about things like that, but it’s been really nice to have other ears to bounce stuff off. “

It’s almost become a running gag with Dent that her music is ‘folk-adjacent’, but while in many ways RPG does see her move further away from the music that first inspired her, it does also include a 13th-century acapella song. So how does she relate to folk now? “I think there’s something about the melodies that I find really appealing, that draws me in still. And that way of storytelling is my natural go to, I guess. I play around with it obviously but it draws me back, and even the way I sing – the drawing out of consonants and stuff – it all just comes out like that, I just can’t help that in some ways. I do really love, mainly, the approach, and the idea that it’s supposed to be for everyone, people making stuff with what they have at hand. The music that I’m drawn to is music that’s about people wanting to communicate something of their story or experience, whether it be joyful or sad. That’s what music is to me! I don’t listen to recorded folk that much. I go to folk sessions and folk gigs, but I don’t sit and listen to it at home very often. I get really into folk in the winter! – it’s a Christmassy, wintery thing for me.”

I wondered if there had ever been an acoustic guitar-wielding bedroom singer songwriter in her past? “I started singing folk songs at sessions and stuff, I tried playing guitar a bit but I just didn’t love it. I played piano and fiddle a bit when I was a kid, ukulele and stuff, various instruments that were easy and cheap to get hold of. But my voice was always my main thing and when I came to Newcastle to study art, I got a loop pedal and some electronics and started messing about with that. It became a performance / sound art thing and came back round to music again.”

I wondered whether Dent is one of those artists who avoids other people’s music while she’s creating her own to avoid getting overly influenced but it’s not the case. “There are certain points where I’ll sit down and listen to music as a sort of exercise, consciously thinking about music and what I love about it. But it’s not necessarily to inspire a song or anything, I just really feel like listening. I don’t tend to lock myself away from it but I do go through phases where I don’t listen to as much recorded music. Or it’s more passive listening, the radio, the way things go in constantly.”

Another key influence from her youth is growing up in Chesterfield. “I think one of the things about it – and why I’m also drawn to Newcastle – is that it’s near cities, but it’s also really close to the Peak District. I was back there last week and I was walking round where I liked to go and hang out as a teenager, and I was like ‘this is so rural! I’m in the middle of nowhere!’. It’s just really funny that I was hanging out with my teenage friends in such a beautiful landscape, I think being really drawn to landscapes, and place being a really important thing, kind of comes from growing up like that. And Chesterfield is where I started making folk music and decided to do art and stuff. I guess everything is really informed by that.”

Dent is incredibly enthusiastic about her adopted city and the current rude health of the music scene. “I think it’s really exciting at the moment, we’ve got some really great venues which makes a massive difference, venues that are equally invested in bringing in really interesting artists from outside as well as having local artists, because then they mix and meet, the local artists can get gigs in other cities. That’s a really important part of the scene, lots of really interesting people coming here. I had friends visiting to play a gig here recently and I just remember feeling so proud, they were like, this is so brilliant and I was “IT IS!”. It’s a lovely feeling, I do feel really proud of the Newcastle scene.” She’s quick to praise its supportiveness, the sense of everyone being invested in each other’s success. “And not just Newcastle but the whole north east.. it’s like anyone is proud of anything from the north east, like ‘Yeh, they got on a radio playlist, that’s amazing’ – everyone’s just so chuffed that someone from up here is getting something.” When we spoke, Jayne had recently come back off tour supporting Richard Dawson around the UK which by all accounts made for a brilliant night. “It was really nice, a bit surreal playing such big places. Every single gig was so lovely and I got so much good feedback.” It’s pure coincidence that Dawson’s recent The Ruby Cord album also dealt with gaming and reality but any attempt on my part to start some beef fell flat. “We met for a coffee and had a chat about songwriting and video games, just had an enthuse!”

Like most upcoming artists these days, Dent relies on commissions and other paid work to get by (rock’n’roll isn’t making anybody rich these days) and has also benefited from a number of residencies. “A lot of residencies aren’t funded, but if they are, you make some money but mainly you have an excuse to do it, you can set a week out for a residency and feel okay turning down paid work – ‘if I’m getting paid to make music this week then I don’t need to take on anything else’. You can give yourself permission to spend time on your creative process. But they’re so competitive to get on, because it’s so hard to make money from music.”

As well as promoting RPG, the next few months seem as busy and creative as ever – theatre and sound art commissions, and her other bands Worm Saliva and Bitchfinder General. “I asked Instagram for suggestions of names and Worm Saliva won. I just wanted to do some noise stuff! I dunno, a lot of this seems to be about being more shouty! It was just ambient, droney, more noisy kind of stuff, kind of adjacent to MLM stuff but more improv drone, dense textures and atmosphere, just going down that rabbit hole a bit more. And I don’t really know what Bitchfinder General are, we were aiming to be sort of punk but I dunno, we’re novelty punk with tin whistle solos. I do a lot of screaming and shouting and things, I really wanted to be in a band and do that because I get brought in to do pretty vocals a lot. Maybe I just wanted to try out being a bit radge. It’s just really fun to experiment and everything is informing everything else. And I’m a fully-fledged member of Buffet Lunch now, I’ve been doing some remote writing for their next album. Mainly songwriting and vocals, maybe a little bit of synth. It’s very different to what I do musically. And I’m planning a tour for the autumn, it’s half formed at the moment. Over the summer I’m doing a commission for Sonic Arts Week in Middlesbrough. And doing some more music for theatre stuff which is exciting… “

When does she sleep? There’s probably a dozen other thing besides that have burst into life since writing this piece. Dent should probably be available on the NHS, her enthusiasm and infectious energy is genuinely inspiring. But while Dent is off creating like a demon, you need to spend some time with RPG – it’s a very special thing indeed.

Me Lost Me releases RPG via Upset The Rhythm on 7th July, there’s a launch party at The Lubber Fiend, Newcastle on Saturday 15th July with Bulbils and Clementine March.


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