The Earthy Sounds of Jen Sygit.
Jen Sygit is a Michigan-based singer-songwriter. The self-taught multi-instrumentalist crafts songs that come from a real place. Her songs excude a lively warmth. Jen recently wrote in to discuss her favorite albums, how she approaches a cover song, and her songwriting process,
Did you come from a very musical family?
Actually no. No one in my immediate family plays any musical instruments. We did grow up with a healthy appreciation for music though. My father used to play records all day long on the weekends. I even had a couple little portable record players of my own when I was in grade school. I grew up listening to James Taylor, The Beatles, Patsy Cline, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Sam Cooke, The Cars, Cat Stevens, Eric Clapton… I think I was exposed to some pretty great artists via my dad’s vinyl collection (which I now have at my house in Lansing).
Are there any albums that you find yourself listening to all the time?
The answer to this question probably changes every couple weeks. I’m a self-proclaimed audiophile- I can’t aquire enough music. My current album obsessions are: The Black Keys “Brothers”, The Avett Brothers “I and Love and You”, Ry Cooder “Chavez Ravine”, Dangermuffin “Moonscapes”.
How does your songwriting process work?
It varies. Sometimes a song starts with a line, sometimes an idea, sometimes a chord progression or a lick I’m fond of. I don’t really have a standard process, just an overall awareness of what’s going on around me and an ability to store little nuggets of info away to be used in songs at later dates.
How did you first become interested in bluegrass?
I don’t really consider my music bluegrass, but it definitely has a bluegrass influence. I did most of my musical woodshedding at Elderly Instruments. In the 3 or so years I worked there I became interested in what I now refer to as Roots Music. Genres like bluegrass, old-time, western swing, Americana, celtic & cajun music, indie songwriters…these styles all effected my songwriting.
Do you remember the first song you learned how to play?
Hmmm… On guitar? I honestly don’t remember THE first song, but I can remember some of the first songs… R.E.M.- “Everybody Hurts”, The Cranberries- “Icecycles”, Julianna Hatfield- “Make it Home”.
What inspires you lyrically?
Everything. I’ve been inspired by everything from a single word on a muted television screen, to a flower in my garden… it’s really kinda a mystical process to me.
What was the first instrument you learned how to play?
Probably piano/keyboard. Though I’m not sure I’ve officially ‘learned’ the instrument. With the exception of two months of summer camp, I’m self-taught. It was the first instrument I wrote songs on however, so I guess I know enough to accompany myself. I recently obtained a Fender Rhodes and have returned to writing on keys. There may even be some on the next album…
How do you approach a cover song to make it your own?
I just try to earnestly convey the words to the best of my ability. I believe if you’re really listening to the lyrics and thinking about what you’re saying, then the song will become ‘yours’.
What are some of your favorite memories of growing up in Michigan?
The lakes/rivers, the freighters and the loud booming horns that sound when they pass other vessels on the river, the seasons, the Bluewater Bridges, having a foreign country- Canada- as a neighbor, Interlochen Fine Arts Camp in the summers…
Where did you play your first gig?
I was in a band in high school called “Omni”. We played played at our Senior Prom. My first solo gig was probably at this little irish pub called Paddy Flahertys in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. The drinking age is 19 there…so they paid me in free drinks. There were always these tipsy old Irishmen requesting irish ballads they could drunkenly sing along to. It always made me laugh.
Do you have a favorite gig you’ve played?
I recently did a PBS show called Backstage Pass. That was a pretty cool experience. Two days of taping on a soundstage in front of a live studio audience…kinda a smaller version of Austin City Limits. The show was picked up nationally last spring and has begun airing around the country. The best part is that it doesn’t cost the stations anything to air the program, it’s free. You can also watch full episodes online.
What have been some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your career?
Money is always an obstacle. Time management can sometimes be difficult- when I have a busy schedule I fall behind on other duties. I’m basically self-employed. This has it’s perks and it’s downsides.
You are a very passionate vocalist. How do you feel your skills as a vocalist have grown over the years?
I was classically trained in voice from the age of 12 til I graduated high school. I think you can still hear the classical influence in my voice on my first album “Here to There”. Over time I’ve slowly developed my own voice by trying various styles out and seeing which vocal styles suited me. I use a hodge-podge of vocal styles now.
What advice would you give to artists just starting out?
For more info on Jen Sygit, check out http://www.jensygit.com/