Jennifer Evans: in search of the essence

Jennifer Evans tells Jim Carroll why she took her own sweet time making her debut album

The musical moments that matter are the ones where a connection is made. Jennifer Evans is recalling some of her musical connections down the years.

"The first one was really funny and it was me singing Itsy Bitsy Spider when I was really young," she says. "When I started singing it, tears started flowing, but I wasn't necessarily sad. Maybe it was because people could hear me and I realised it was a public performance."

Fast-forward a few years and Evans was making connections with what she heard on the radio. "When I was in my early teens in the early 1990s, I listened to Atlantic 252 a lot and loved Rhythm is a Dancer. That was another feeling."

There may be nothing on her debut album akin to Itsy Bitsy Spider or Rhythm is a Dancer, but there's plenty of evidence of a songwriter who knows what's required to embed songs with strong feelings. Works from the Dip and Foul is testament to Evans' fine knack for writing songs full of emotion and resonance, which are well capable of bewitching the listener and making that connection.

“It starts from the emotion first of all,” she says about her songwriting. “That’s the foundation. You need emotions to create expressions. I do know that I am sometimes very emotional when I perform these songs and I wonder if the audience can feel that.”

It has taken Evans some time to get here. The Salient Point EP was released nearly five years ago and she has spent most of her time writing since then.

“I know I operate at an extremely slow pace because I’m trying to understand what I am writing about. It would often take years to understand what a song was about and it was very therapeutic. If it takes that long, it takes that long.”

Of course, writing and recording her album with her band, Shane Holly and Sean Maynard, is not the only thing she’s done during this time.

Learning to breathe

“I trained my voice really well, I learned about my voice and I strengthened my body. I had been pushing my voice too hard because I was so inexperienced so I went to a vocal therapist and to an unreal breathing instructor called Anna Simms and learned a lot from that.”

She also got a taste for what she wanted to do with music beyond the rock and pop world. One of these projects involved contributing "semi-improvised vocals" for a performance of Aerial directed by Emily Aoibheann of Paper Dolls at the Smock Alley Theatre.

She also worked with choreographer and artist Dasniya Sommer on a video for Colours of Bruises involving Shibari Japanese rope performances.

All of these sidelines are grist to the mill when it comes to doing more than just straight rock and pop.

While Evans says there are touches of this edge on the album, “bringing that element to the recording is the next step. I don’t have a particular sound in mind; I’ll know it when I hear it”.

Her debut album maps her life so far. “The album title, I suppose, reflects the fact that the songs are from a certain time in my life. I suppose everyone goes through similar times when things are really hard and they don’t know what they really want to do.

“But it’s very confusing because your morals, your perceptions and your prejudices are all changing. When you’re confused, you have to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong and you have to do that yourself because no one else can tell you.”

Evans is in no doubt that she’s in a very lucky place. She was awarded an Arts Council bursary – “a lot of singer-songwriters don’t think they can get Arts Council funding because they’re not a jazz or classical player, but you can” – which has allowed her to take the time to hone her work.

“I’m not comparing myself to an athlete, but I am trying to reach my potential. I’ve worked my arse off for so long that I feel really privileged to be in a situation where I can play and write all the time.”

Works from the Dip and Foul is released on Delphi on November 14th. Jennifer Evans plays Whelan's, Dublin, on November 21st, 2014