Jeff Jepson is a musician’s musician, a master song spinning teller of tales, gifted producer, with a voice that transverses the landscape of the listener’s heart. Jeff is well known in Liverpool, England and has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows. We here at Songwriters Marketplace want to introduce Jeff, and let the world get to know a remarkably talented and honestly good guy. And his current and future fans need to know that he …Baths regularly, is kind to animals, and loves cheese.
…the most excitement that is to be had is probably the same for any other musician – when everything takes off and stops being mere musical performance and becomes something organic and transcendent. Jeff Jepson
Jeff, the bios say you are from the Isle of Mann and now reside in Liverpool. Tell us something of your journey and influences.
I was born in Liverpool, in Walton Hospital, and brought up in The isle of Man, yes. I grew up listening to pop radio, especially oldies on car rides on a Sunday afternoon. I started making music of my own as a teenager, first on an amateurish electronic keyboard, then on a cheap nylon string acoustic guitar. I didn’t try to learn covers, just started writing my own dubious creations. I studied in Wales, then in London, playing solo and with bands along the way, learning and making mistakes. When I first tried writing on the guitar, I was excited by the songs of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello and of course The Beatles. I loved the guitar sounds of The Smiths, The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine, and the soundscapes of The Cocteau Twins and Talk Talk. Later on I fell in love with the twang of country in the shape of Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams, and Gillian Welch.
From an Internet garnered perception you are a very private person (Other than the revealed facts that you bathe regularly, are kind to animals, and like cheese) is that assumption true of you?
I wasn’t aware I was perceived as private, that’s not intentional. I have a new album on the way, I’m hoping to put a lot more out there once it’s finished. I don’t have a publicist, or anyone else to control my public perception, which is both a good and bad thing. I’m never going to be Lady Gaga, and I don’t want to be famous as such, just successful at what I do. And I do like cheese.
You are well known in the UK, and we wouldn’t have known about you here in the US without a fan pointing us to you. It has always been the toughest thing in the music biz to get your music to a wider audience. Give us an idea how you promote yourself and what you would like to see happen.
I could be better known in the the UK than I am, and self-promotion is anathema to me. It really doesn’t come naturally, and if you’re a nice person it shouldn’t come naturally to you either. I’m never impresses by people who are that impressed with themselves. It helps having someone telling everyone “Listen to this guy, he’s great”, rather than going “Listen to me, I’m great”. I have a few people doing that (for which I’m eternally thankful) but it stops short of a publicity machine.
You often play solo, with your band The Jeff Jepson Band, and sit in with other artists. You are also a producer. Which is the most personally satisfying and why? Which the most gratifying artistically?
They are all distinctly satisfying in their way. I like the independence of playing solo, being wholly responsible for what’s being heard, and some of my favourite songs to play are just solo arrangements; and it’s a thrill to feel you are captivating a large number of people all by yourself. But I love the camaraderie of working with a band, and the alchemy that happens when you start getting band arrangements together. Sometimes it can ease the pressure of playing live too when you have mates to fall back on, and personalities to bounce off. It really depends on the material – ultimately that’s the most important thing. I just want the song to be presented in its best possible light. The song, to me, is the star, and no individual ego should get in the way of that. I hesitate to refer to myself as a producer, which always feels a bit pompous and self-important, when I’m just trying to capture artists as they are and want to be heard. I love it when a recording really starts coming together, and the musicians and I are getting really excited about it. And I like the fact that musicians are often pleasantly surprised at the quality of results they can get from what is simply a studio in a family home rather than a professionally designed space. In an attempt at answering your question, making good recordings and mixes of other artists feels like the most satisfying from an altruistic point of view, and when playing live, it doesn’t matter whether I’m solo or with any combination of bandmates, the most excitement that is to be had is probably the same for any other musician – when everything takes off and stops being mere musical performance and becomes something organic and transcendent. When it all starts to fly you can feel it.
A song is a very mysterious thing. You can’t hold it, taste it, or see it; it doesn’t really exist. For that reason it has to be as concrete as nothing can be. That’s what’s so satisfying about the best pop songs – they have that fatness, they feel like food.
This is a songwriter’s site, so I want to spend some time chatting about songwriting. Your lyrics are remarkable to me in that they are, to the listener, very accessible sing-able and sticky. Give us an idea of the process you go through in writing a song. What inspires you to write? Are there conscious choices you make consistently in every song?
Thank you! That is the plan, so I’m glad it appears to work. I’ve long been aware of Lennon & McCartney’s remark about their songwriting, that if they couldn’t remember their own songs, they couldn’t expect anyone else to. I now tend to chicken out of not recording every idea I come up with, but it seems to help to strengthen a tune if you partially forget it and then have to reconstruct it. A song is a very mysterious thing. You can’t hold it, taste it, or see it; it doesn’t really exist. For that reason it has to be as concrete as nothing can be. That’s what’s so satisfying about the best pop songs – they have that fatness, they feel like food. My usual process for songwriting is that I’m not doing anything, just minding my own business, when a melody will appear in my head, and I have to get to the guitar, and start placing it in a official musical context, building chords and structure around it. Sometimes this can produce a half-idea, or a fragment, or sometimes a whole, finished song. They are usually the best of all, and are written in a matter of minutes. Some other songs take literally years to complete, and are often never quite right. Then I feel it’s important to distance oneself from the song you’ve created, otherwise you just have an outpouring of emotional intensity, and you can lose sight of the substance you need. You have to be cold and objective, to be sure this is a real song. So I try to approach it as if it’s been written by someone else, and reinvest it with an outsider’s emotion.
Your music is very eclectic as to genre – do you write a song to a pre-determined genre?
No, I don’t seek to occupy any genre, I just write whatever feels true. I would perhaps be easier to place in the musical spectrum if I wrote the same kind of song each time, but that’s not how it works for me. Once again, the song is king; once it’s started being written, the song itself decides what the genre is. I’ve also been involved in songwriting collaborations that have stretched me genre-wise, which I love. My musical tastes stretch far beyond the kind of music I make, but I’d never start off deciding to write in a specific genre, that would be disastrous.
I had a lovely time listening to the cuts on your site – adroit and lucid writing, fantastic vocals (All you?), and crisp and clean musicianship. You produce your own music. Is it difficult to wear all the ‘Hats’ from songwriting to the finished CD?
The vocals are all me, yes. It is difficult to wear all the hats, but I find it hard to let go! I think the fact that I record other people helps me to be as objective as I can about my own work.
We read about your bass player, Helen Seymour (She seems to be quite pleased to brag on you a bit as well). Introduce us to the folks who share a stage, and the studio, with you.
Helen Seymour is a truly fabulous bass player, wonderfully fluent and technically gifted, without being too showy. On drums for my most recent recordings is Martyn Thomas, also from the Isle of Man, a multi-instrumentalist, who plays guitar on some tracks as well; Martyn always plays to the song’s strengths which is all one can ask of a band member. I have also had Endre Olsen on guitar, who has now returned to his native Norway, and plays his own utterly brilliant songs, with his bands The Kambourines and Angry Wasp (please check them out next!). My most recent gigs have been performed just with my cellist Siofra Ward, who glues the songs together wonderfully. I’m currently working on a new band line-up which is still in its infancy.
This is where the interviewer presumes to analyze your music with the intention of revealing some of the processes that created a song – if I miss the mark be sure to correct me. ‘Odette’ has a classic 60’s AM radio feel to me. It brought to mind a great many 45’s I once owned. Was that your intention?
That wasn’t really the intention, but that sounds like something I’d like to listen to! I wouldn’t seek to pastiche a retro sound deliberately, for fear of becoming Lenny Kravitz.
It’s hard to classify your work in any one genre, is that, in your way of thinking, an advantage to a performer, or a hindrance?
I don’t see myself as a performer in any genre, and I wouldn’t want to be limited that way. If you listen to the great later Beatles albums, they don’t really conform to a genre, they’re incredibly diverse, but it’s always recognizably them. So it shouldn’t be a hindrance, but I guess the way the industry works these days it probably is.
‘Beauty is all I serve’
‘Dancing’ is a delight. I played this one over and over – I believe your other fans do as well. What I enjoyed was the guitar riff and voice using the same melody. If I got this right there was no clear chorus, the verse/melody is what is sticky – the hook. The lyrics are rich and lovely dark. You clearly did not write this from a formula. Tell us about this song – from writing to the CD cut.
Not sure how it started musically, I think it was one of those emotional outpourings I mentioned earlier, that then needed to be sculpted into place. It stemmed from a particular experience, but has to live beyond that to work as a pure song. But it remains very stark, so I felt no need to embellish it.
‘Charge me with saving a world I don’t care to be in’
‘Fall Of The Romans’ is my favorite for a lot of reasons. The tight harmonies with a country flavor are appealing. ‘Fall of the Romans, well’ in the verse is a ‘hook’ to me. The way the refrain starts is an attention getter – ‘Charge me with saving…’ This one had a strong poetic feel to the lyrics; love the metaphor, but a surprise given the modern country aire. The same old songwriter questions arises here – did the words come first or the music? How did the arrangement and production choices come about?
It’s quite an old song, which I’ve attempted to record several times (still not totally happy!). The verse is the hook, if you call it a verse. Sometimes I want to just get on with the catchy bit, rather than building up to it. The music came first, as it usually does. Somehow the song title suggested itself, and the rest of the lyric emerged from that.
‘In a myriad stars I saw what you were dreaming of’
‘1001’ was startling. What a voice you have. What a wonderful bit of songwriting and arrangement. I see it as International Pop. Fantastic lyrics and melody that would fit just as well on a large stage, orchestra, and you – or Bocelli covering it! As a songwriter myself this is one I wish I had written. So different from the others – what, why, where, and how did this song happen to be?
Thanks again. It’s one of my favourites too, and always goes down well. I tend to leave it as a “biggie” to hit people with later in a set. I think it derives from a desire to create a kind of uplifting melancholy. The songs just get written, there isn’t a plan, but that’s where I think it fits in. I tend to spend a lot of painful hours trying to fit lyrics into a melody I’ve done earlier, and some come about quicker than others. I think 1001 was easier than most.
‘Aligned’ is lovely. It has for me a Beatles’ feel. Was that intentional?
The Beatleyness wasn’t intentional. I wrote it for some good friends who live in Brooklyn, for their wedding day. I had an absolute deadline, which was scary but productive. I had literally days to come up with a song that I was then going to perform on the shore of the East River. Sometimes pressure produces good results, and it inevitably made its way into my usual set.
What do you want your current fans, and your new fans, to get about you?
My new album!
What’s next for Jeff Jepson?
A new band line-up, some fun gigs, a few more microphones, new songs for sale in a few more places.
It’s been a treat for me to listen to your music and chat with you. Thank you for a wonderful interview. I am sure we will hear more of Jeff Jepson on this side of the big pond very soon!
Thanks for your probing questions! Hope to make it Stateside again very soon.
Listen to a selection of Jeff’s songs:
Copyright © 2011 SongwritersMarketplace.com All rights reserved