June 26, 2020
Culture & Music
The leap of faith from band member to solo artist can be trying for any musician. Will it empower reconnection with their innermost self? Or will the constant pressure of a perfection-obsessed industry swallow them whole? It’s a precipice not many of us would feel brave enough to confront, and yet some of history’s greatest solo artists have emerged from the successes of their band beginnings. Jehnny Beth was met with that very decision when she felt creatively stifled by the busy success post-punk London-based band Savages had brought her. As the band’s lead singer for nine years, Jehnny was an adrogynous antithesis to the music industry’s knack for pigeonholing women; and yet, she felt caged. So, after a period of introspection and returning to her native France, Jehnny has created a solo project album To Love Is To Live. It’s deeply honest, cathartic and sonically rich. As an artist, she’s quite literally had to deep-dive into her innermost confidence, putting her desire for true self-love on the line in the vulnerable but empowered single Heroine. Her ability to present herself as multi-faceted is refreshing in an industry built on manufactured meaning. Here, we spoke to her about love, sexuality, and the state of the world.
Photo by Ella Hermë
IH: After nine years in Savages, has pursuing a solo album been a massive creative release for you?
JB: It came as a necessity. At the end of the last Savages tour I felt fragmented and unhappy and started to ask myself why. I came to the realisation that if I carried on working in the same way I always had, it would eventually shut me down, creatively and personally. I needed to regroup and I moved to Paris after 12 years living in London. I started therapy in my own native language, connected with parts of myself I had abandoned when I left France at 20 years old. Creatively I reconnected with that place of ‘not knowing’ that I felt intensely when I was younger. Everything was new, the city I was living in, the people I was hanging out with… all along my work on the album I tried to stay focus on doing everything the opposite way I had done them before. I didn’t want to repeat myself.
IH: To Love Is To Live is the name of your new album… What does love mean to you?
JB: Love is everything. There’s no humanity without love, but not any kind of love. I think too often we have strangled the idea of love with the ancestral codes of romanticism. The way we value relationships and the frustrations generated by seeing our reality disagree with the idea of love that we have been made to believe was the only alternative. We fall in love and yet, we are unhappy! I like to believe that in 2020 we should now enter a post-romantic era, where love is something we can learn and shape for ourselves. In my art I always try to represent alternatives that can work in parallel to the norm, to monogamy, to family, jealousy…
Photo by Steve Gullick
IH: It’s such a tumultuous time in the world to be releasing an album. Has the meaning of the lyrics throughout the songs changed/evolved at all for you lately?
JB: Yes it has, a lot of the things I tried to convey in the album resonate strongly today, sometimes as if premonitory. I think this album coming out at this moment will feel important, maybe even comforting. With the recent racist events happening in America we were reminded of our own dysfunction as a human race. I wrote the song ‘I’m The Man’ where I portray a male character prone to violence, because I wanted to show that the root of evil isn’t just on the other side, it lives inside each of us. It’s been implanted in our core by generations of parents and grand-parents, and society. We must fight against the aggressive powers that control us, our education, our conditioning. I try in my art to show what I know to be true about human kind, how ambivalent we are, how never safe from doing the wrong thing. “I’m The Man” is about admitting responsibility for the violence that lives inside of me, “Innocence” is about facing the sad feeling of disconnection regarding others. Everything starts with the admittance of our own imperfection, our own violence and darkness, so we can walk from there towards self-betterment.
IH: What was the process of creating the album like? What helped creatively/what inspired you?
JB: I had never been a fan of Beyoncé’s music but when the album ‘Beyoncé’ came out in 2013 it really interested me. It is the only album of Beyoncé I have listened to extensively. It involved underground producers and there was a real freedom in the songwriting, it felt like a new kind of pop, the songs were fragmented which I thought was a real expression of our time. I got interested in this idea of mixing genres, having a song within a song. This album weirdly freed me from the codes of what one can do or cannot do. ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ by Kendrick Lamar had the same effect on me, especially for its sense of narrative and its urgency. Then there was the Low album that came out ‘Double Negative’ which was so brave, the production even went as far as destroying the beautiful songs. And again there was something about that saturation that was so evocative of our times, as if beauty had to be seen from behind a veil of dirt, beautified by its inaccessibility, filtered, but still retaining elements of its beauty that you could guess through all the layers of bullshit. For me that record is as important as a painting of Rembrandt, or Egon Shield. Finally, I weirdly found myself listening to a lot posthumous albums at the time. ‘Skeleton Tree’ by Nick Cave, ‘You want it Darker’ by Leonard Cohen and of course ‘Black Star’, which had a huge waking-call effect on me.
Photo by Steve Gullick
Photo by Ella Hermë
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