Drawing you in with whispering vocals, the strums of an acoustic guitar, and an ethereal sonic presence is Jenee Halstead. The Spokane-raised singer’s music straddles the line between folk and alternative amidst elements that are neither the former or the latter, but rather enchanting and mysterious. Meet Jenee Halstead.
MajorHiFi Music Monday: Jenee Halstead
Halstead knew she was destined to perform at the age of four after witnessing the splendor that is the late great Michael Jackson. “I remember even early on thinking, ‘Wow, this is what I am going to be when I grow up.’ That desire never left me,” writes Halstead. As she grew older, so did her love for music – exploring everything from Led Zeppelin to Dolly Parton. Riveting rock melodies, captivating medieval chorals, and toe-tapping folk rhythms gripped her. She eventually moved to Boston and began cultivating her talent.
In 2009, Halstead released her debut album, “The River Grace” which earned her the esteemed Emerging Artist award at the 2009 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. While she’s loved by the folk community, her sound has become something all its own. Influenced by visual art, her latest pieces are sonic creations of the visual landscapes she sees and the emotions she feels. “If I get captured or as I say ‘haunted’ by something, I try to create a sonic landscape that matches the feeling of what I am seeing. I also love eery, etheric music. Something that makes me feel like I could slip into other realms of existence or other magical places,” describes Halstead.
P.S. MajorHiFi’s own Steph Durwin mixed some of Halstead’s “Edge of the World” album.
Jenee Halstead had a brief chat with MajorHiFi about her career and favorite headphones. Enjoy it below!
MH: What headphones do you use while recording? Traveling?
Jenee Halstead: Okay, I am kind of embarrassed about this. I am new to the whole world of high end audio and it has been a fascinating eye opening experience. Right now, I rarely listen to in ear headphones for fear of damaging my ears. However, I recently had the fortune of trying some of the IEMs at CanJAM NYC. I tried a pair of Final Audio Piano Forte III headphones that completely blew my mind about the possibility of listening to IEMs and salvaging my hearing… I know this is part of the reason people choose these type of IEMs…besides the insane and purely enjoyable listening experience. Now I just need to put them on my Christmas list. In the studio I work with producer Sean McLaughlin from 37′ Studios. We use either Focal Spirit Pro or the Audio Technica ATH series and a ton of reverb in my ear!
MH: At what age did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Jenee Halstead: I think I realized at the age of three or four after seeing Michael Jackson that I wanted to be a singer and stage performer. I remember even early on thinking, “Wow, this is what I am going to be when I grow up.” That desire never left me.
MH: Your music sounds like folk and alternative, how do you describe your sound?
Jenee Halstead: I think that is a good way to describe it. Some people call it indie-folk or avant-garde. I personally don’t think it is strange or weird enough to warrant the latter category, but it certainly feels like a compliment to me. I think there are some elements of rock and alt-country in my music as well, but folk and indie are perfect genre descriptions.
MH: What influences your sound?
Jenee Halstead: Oddly enough visual art has an incredible influence on my sound. Anything visual. Film as well. If I get captured or as I say “haunted” by something, I try to create a sonic landscape that matches the feeling of what I am seeing. I also love eery, etheric music. Something that makes me feel like I could slip into other realms of existence or other magical places. I am currently listening to Laura Marling’s new album “Semper Femina, which I think just grabs onto a sensuality and femininity I cannot put words to. It is profound.
MH: Who is your favorite artist and why?
Jenee Halstead: Probably Joni Mitchell. I think she is the most vulnerable lyricist and tender musician/player. You can hear and feel all of her emotion in a song. Her evolution as an artist was incredible to explore and discover growing up and it never ceases to amaze me. I listen to some of the albums I grew up on like “Court and Spark” or “Songs to A Seagull” and I hear new lines in a different way every time. Her later push into Jazz and exploratory song form is incredibly inspiring. She is a true artist through and through and never played to the audience.
MH: You perform quite a bit overseas, when did you start performing in Europe? What was your first experience like there? How does it compare to performing in the U.S.?
Jenee Halstead: I started touring in 2009 in Europe. This April I am going over again for what will be my 5th tour. I had a distribution deal in Holland with Continental Records for my first three albums, which made reaching a larger audience more accessible. I absolutely love playing in Europe. The audiences really listen and enjoy engaging with the music. The rooms have been incredible and the sound is almost always top notch. I think the difference between U.S. audiences and European audiences is a respect for listening. I have only once played a room in Europe where people where talking. I also tend to get standing ovations in Europe quite regularly, which is pretty humbling and amazing. In the U.S. I think you just have to have a thicker skin and be prepared for anything with an audience, which is kind of unfortunate.
MH: What is your career trajectory and what is next for you?
Jenee Halstead: I was thinking of taking a break and backing off making music and touring for a while because I rely so heavily on fan base support to make my recording projects happen. I was feeling a bit tired and overwhelmed by it all this winter. However, with the spring European tour coming up and ideas brewing in my head, I am feeling inspired to keep pushing forward. I have plans to do an album of covers and some pretty original sad songs I have written about a recent breakup called “Songs for Broken People.” It will be a sparse album. I feel like those sad songs need a home or place of their own away from other projects. I also plan on branching out more into multimedia performance pieces that have less boundaries as far as song form and expression. I am hoping to do a piece centered around technology and our relationship to it. I have a lot of questions I want to raise about stewardship and whether or not this is still possible for us to manage this relationship or if we have already lost control of technology. It seems, even without the idea of sentient bots, that we are on a trajectory that seems pretty scary for me as far as what the production of technology is doing to pollute the planet and how these technologies such as smart phones and iPads are changing our brain chemistry, patterning and physiology. I hope to explore these topics in the next few years.