Local Spotlight: Alexa Jenson
Always on the search for new music in Charlotte, I wandered into the Evening Muse for Open Mic Night. I noticed there were many different artists waiting their turn to perform. At Open Mic Night, anyone who wants to perform, shows up, signs up, waits for their name to be called, gets on stage and then they show off their talent. A number of comedians, rappers, R&B singers, and some Americana singers kicked off the evening.
Towards the end of the evening, a young woman approached the stage, moving through the crowd, white Strat in tow. Quietly confident, the 17 year old Alexa Jenson plugged in her Fender and then her voice took over the room. Standing in at about five feet tall, you wouldn’t expect to hear such a powerful voice, but never judge a book by its cover. You get to play two songs or play for ten minutes whichever comes first, so Alexa played two songs. Both were original songs that she had written.
Immediately the energy in the room picked up once she started singing. I think everyone was surprised to hear how strong her voice was and the range she showed, at least those of us who didn’t know her. There were a lot of people there who were not surprised at all, as Alexa has found a second home at the Muse. She is there almost every Monday night trying out her new songs. Every now and then you hear someone that is really interesting, and I thought to myself, I want to hear more from her and get to know a little more about her. I reached out to her and we had a chance to ask a few questions and get some thoughts from her.
Shutter 16: From whom did you get your musical ability?
Alexa Jenson: My mother’s side of the family has always been pretty musical. They love to sing, they love musical theater, really anything pertaining to music. My mother, with all my aunts and uncles included, grew up in the ‘60s and 70s, the best time for music. I’m constantly stealing albums from my mom’s old record collection, my dad has this big crate of Rock ‘n Roll CDs which coincidentally ended up in my room, and my step mother taught me a lot about ‘80s pop. I’m in love with ‘80s pop. My mother and my sister loved musicals so whenever we went on long car rides, we’d all be singing showtunes at the top of lungs. But as far as singing goes, no one in my family really does that seriously, with the intention of actually performing. And no one in my family plays guitar either so I took up both of those on my own. My family can carry a tune, and they can definitely appreciate music, but that’s the extent of it really.
S16: What artists influence you?
AJ: About a couple years ago I got really into the political music from the ‘60s. Ya know, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Young, even some stuff of the Beatles. By looking back at that type of music I saw exactly how much of an impact music has, how one lyric, one voice can impact a generation. This music brought people together, people who felt alone in their ideals finally had an anthem. That type of power in music, I believe, is very beautiful and special. The opportunity to convey a message, voice your opinions, and unite with other people is right in front of you. This type of music has greatly impacted me, and I hope someday that someone will be moved by what I have to say, that I can spread love and kindness through my words.
Some other influences of mine include Billy Joel, Doris Day (love the ‘50s vibe), Whitney Houston, Matty Healy, Janis Joplin. Billy Joel has that ability to write a song how you would write a short story and it’s absolutely amazing to me how well it flows. I think lyrically he had a great influence on me, as well as Matty Healy (the lead singer of The 1975). Healy’s lyrics are so raw, so honest and vulnerable, and his phrasing is impeccable. How do you fit so many words in one line and make it flow seamlessly? I don’t know but he does it. And as far as Whitney Houston and Janis Joplin, they’re both very different but their vocal abilities were beyond compare. Janis was raw, so rough around the edges, so passionate. I can’t listen to a Janis song without saying “wow” to myself every 30 seconds. And Whitney is a classic. Her voice was so powerful, yet so flexible. When you listen to Whitney, it really shakes you, jolts you awake, and damn near brings me to tears. I could be half asleep, but if I hear a Whitney song, you’ve got my attention, I am wide awake and ready to dance or cry, whichever comes first.
S16: Can you describe the first time you performed?
AJ: The first time I performed, that I remember anyway, was my first grade talent show. I was what, maybe six? I believe I had on a little leopard jean skirt, and some other atrocities that do not come to mind right now. But I performed a Cheetah Girls’ song I remember, not sure which one. I was a big fan of Disney, as are most little kids. I remember my mother burned a karaoke version of my Cheetah Girls’ song onto a CD and I sang along to that. Of course this came before I started to play guitar. I didn’t pick up guitar till I was twelve and up until then I always used karaoke tracks. Anyway, I remember being very nervous, but that was when I was cute and little so everyone just found it amusing. But about halfway through the song I got really confident and for a six year old, I killed it. I laugh thinking back to it, and how silly I must’ve looked, but I remember feeling so proud of myself. When I sat back down in the audience a bunch of fifth graders ran up to me, yelling and screaming compliments at me, and I remember feeling so cool. “Oh my gosh fifth graders! I’m famous!” The whole ordeal still amuses me, but it was a great start and a great boost of confidence.
S16: How has that experience changed since the first time?
AJ: Since then, I’ve obviously improved a little, I hope! Now performing is what I do, I definitely don’t get as nervous as I once did. Although I do still get nervous most times… but I believe that’s a good thing. It’s important to get nervous when doing something you love because it means you care. If you never get nervous, you’re probably bored. Everyone needs some butterflies in their stomach before they go onstage. But yeah I’ve changed a lot since I was six years old. I have more control, I’ve grown more confident, not just with my performing in general, but with the audience, I’ve picked up an actual instrument, I write my own stuff, and I’ve grown so much as a person. Music has really helped me mature. I see things and comprehend things better with music. Music gives me the chance to really feel something.
S16: Do you write your own music and if so, what is your process? If not, how do you decide what to play?
AJ: For the most part I write my own songs. Occasionally I’ll perform a cover or two, but I’m always trying to build up my repertoire of original songs. When I perform, all of my songs are original unless I announce otherwise. As far as my writing process goes, well, I don’t have a very solid answer. I’m always writing but it’s usually in bits and pieces. For example, I might be in the car and I see something that interests me while I’m driving, so I type a lyric or two into my notes. I’ll be in class trying to learn an algorithm and a line will just pop in my head. Something might happen to me, good or bad, and I’ll write a verse about it or maybe even a chorus. It’s all very disorganized. I have lyrics in my phone, various notebooks, the back of receipts. The other day I found a note card folded into tiny squares stuffed down into the bottom of my purse, with lyrics that I most certainly don’t remember writing. But it’s when one lyric really sticks out to me that I actually sit down and finish it. And sometimes it takes minutes, days, or even weeks, but I’m always working on multiple songs at a time. As far as melodies go, a lot of the times I’ll come up with a chord progression on my guitar and then I’ll write to that. Or I’ll be humming to myself in the car and I’ll think “Ooh that sounds good” and I’ll make a quick voice memo. It’s very hard to distinguish a pattern in the way I write or a “proper” way of doing it. Sometimes a song is built off of nothing more than a feeling, which is when I might come up with the melody first. Or maybe there’s a message that I really want to deliver to my audience so the lyrics come first and everything else is secondary. It really just depends. But in my writing I think what I value most is honesty. I struggled with that when I first started writing because I was young and I always kept my walls up, but now, if I can’t be honest, I can’t be me, and that’s a big part of songwriting. You have to show your audience who you are, what you believe in, what matters most. If you do that, people will automatically be able to identify with your lyrics because they’ll know it’s real.
S16: What are your dreams of where your music will take you?
AJ: My dreams… Hm. That’s a loaded question. I have all types of dreams, but in music I guess I dream most about being successful. And when I say successful, I don’t mean that I want to be filthy rich or Kardashian-level famous, god no. That kind of power scares me. Plus how do you stay true to yourself when you gain so much wealth? I don’t want to be a diva. I don’t want to have so much money that I don’t know what to do with. And I most certainly don’t want to lose all of my privacy. I think being rich and famous makes people blind and unhappy. I’d like to be successful in a way that I can simply make a living off of what I love, meaning I can pay bills, pay rent, and put food in my refrigerator. I’d like to make an impact on people’s lives. It doesn’t have to be thousands of people, but even if I did a small show of maybe a hundred people, and a few of them told me I made an impact on them, I’d be ecstatic. Being happy with my music is so important to me. I want to be able to create freely with no doubts, no giant record label breathing down my neck, I just want to be happy with what I do and how I do it. I think it’s hard to create raw, honest music when you’re trying to please everyone else. I just want to stay true to myself and true to my music, and most importantly I always want to stay humble.
S16: What else do you like to do other than music?
AJ: Even though my life pretty much revolves around music, I enjoy other things as well. Let’s see, I love going to the mountains, exploring different cities, especially big cities, but for now Charlotte will do! I love watching films, which at first just started as me being a couch potato, but now it’s sort of a hobby of mine. My two favorite directors are John Hughes and Woody Allen, but I also love foreign films because if I can’t travel abroad right now, at least I can live through a movie for a couple hours. I love trying new foods, meeting new people, street fashion, beat poets such as Kerouac or Ginsberg, I love books but lately I’ve been getting bad about reading them. Politics are becoming a recent fascination of mine, health food documentaries (I have no idea why), raspberries, Denny’s is my spot when I’m out late on the weekend, oh and I love my job. My coworkers are like my family now, and I work in food services so I meet new people everyday, but I love getting to know the regulars who come every week, if not multiple times a week. I love when I get so familiar with a customer that I know them by name, and vice versa. Yes, some days I’m sleep deprived and I get a “fuck this” kind of attitude, but I really do love interacting with people on a daily basis. It makes me happy to have polite conversation with customers and then give them some killer food, because then everyone’s happy!
S16: What do your family and friends think about your musical endeavors?
AJ: My friends and family are very supportive of what I do. If I post an original song or a video of me doing a cover, my friends are the first ones to hype it up. They’re always really good about coming out to shows, or open mics, which I appreciate so much. My mom is probably my number one fan. She’s always asking to hear any new songs I’ve written, or asking when I’m going to record an EP (soon). She’s the best when it comes to my music because she gives me honest feedback, which sometimes frustrates me but really helps me in the end. My mother was the first one to recognize my talent and she really has remained one of the best support systems a girl could have. She’s the one person I know who will always believe in me and push me to do better.
S16: What about music do you love?
AJ: I love everything about music. It serves as a great outlet for expression, communication, it’s even therapeutic. I love how it brings people together, especially in times of struggle and suffering. I love the way music makes you feel, how you can convey any emotion through music, whether that be happy, sad, angry, whatever you want. Music is the ultimate language of love and without it, people would be lost. Even if someone says they don’t listen to music, god forbid, music is a part of everyday life, you can’t ignore it. Music makes us dance, imagine if we didn’t dance. Life would be boring without music.
S16: How would you describe your style?
AJ: As far as my style goes, I am pretty conflicted. I personally don’t know what I identify as, but if I had to give someone a very general genre of music of which I would be categorized under I would say alternative, but that’s too easy. I’d say the most popular genre I’ve heard from other people is Indie Pop, which is okay. I love indie bands, but I identify with other things as well. I love the sounds of the 50s, the doo wops and the simplistic, yet effective melodies. Some of the best love songs were written in the 50s, but when you listen to them and try to play them on guitar, there’s really not much to them. Maybe four or five chords with a chorus that repeats itself. I like to try to place that kind of effect on my music, not that my lyrics are repetitive, I just love the feel of the 50s. But sometimes I can imagine myself with a full rock band behind me, taking me back to that feeling I get when I listen to one of my mom’s old records. I’d say my music is versatile, and whatever people come up with, as far as genre goes, is okay with me.
S16: If you had unlimited money and time, what would you do?
AJ: If I had unlimited money and time I would make the best record I could, with the best materials and producer I could find, and then give it to people for free. I’d travel the world with my music, going to each and every small individual town, slowly making an impact with what I love most.
S16: Where can people catch you performing?
AJ: I try to do as many open mics as I can, for instance I’ve done open mics in Charlotte, Concord, Davidson, Cornelius, Gastonia, and I’ve even done some in New York, but I’m mostly familiar with the greater Charlotte area. Most Mondays you can catch me at The Evening Muse for their open mic, or on Wednesdays I like to go to Summit Coffeehouse in Davidson. I also have a Facebook page, an Instagram profile, SoundCloud, and YouTube account purely dedicated to my music, so people can see any new projects I’m working on, or shows I have coming up, so feel free to look me up!
Like Alexa said, look her up. Go out and see her at the Muse, and check her out on Social Media. She has big plans on pursuing her musical career, and she has a bright future ahead of her. We have a lot of local talent here in the area, and it’s becoming ever more important to go out and support the talent we have. Thanks to Alexa for spending some time with us, and we hope to see more of her in the future.