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Q&A // Jinnwoo

by Kyle McCormick
Kyle McCormick
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on 14 September 2016 in Features

Ben Webb is Jinnwoo, and this is our Q&A piece, with Ben Webb and Jinnwoo. Following on from our rather positive take on his debut record Strangers Bring Me No Light - you can read the review here - we sent some questions to the man behind the music, and what follows are his answers. As well as his dark brand of folk being exceptionally personal and emotive, the responses he gave to our queries about the past and future also hold a certain sincerity which is refreshing to read. For more details on the Brighton-based musician, read on, and we hope you take as much joy in reading this as we did:

Hello, firstly could give us a brief history of Jinnwoo so far, and let us know where that moniker came from?

I took the name from a toy I had when I was a kid. I started using the name when I was around 16 for when I was posting writing and art online, and the name just sort of stuck. I am a musician, writer and visual artist - I like to spread across multiple disciplines so I can horribly fail in as many mediums as possible.

Your music is often categorised under the broad label of "folk", but how would you describe it to a first time listener?

I like being categorized as folk - for me in conjures up images of just regular people telling stories about their life - which is what I am and what I do. I have been told there is a lot of darkness to my work, so that would probably be worth mentioning. There have been lots of titles banded around like "Gothic Folk" and "Freak Folk", I would be happy with any of those actually.

Where did the idea to use a self-portrait for the album art come from, and why did the final option get chosen?

I originally chose a painting I did of Kami Thompson (The Rails) for the cover, but the label I was with at the time turned it down. I often draw myself as I have free access to my own face whenever I need someone to drawn, so I have a whole stack of self portraits. I chose the one I did because I thought the figure looked lonely and sort of naive, and that sums up the mood of the album. The image was also rejected by the label, but then I left the label so I got to use it for the cover.

With regards to the album itself, how did you approach it in terms of beginning the construction of such a large piece of work?

I was completely naive and hopeless when I began, and I was so terrified of it all - as a result, I think I made just about every mistake possible. I just threw myself into the whole industry and whole-heatedly trusted everyone I came into contact with. If I ever make a second record, I will put together a very small team of people I like and trust.

How did you decide with collaborators you wanted for each track, and how difficult was it arranging the guest parts in each case?

I wanted to get people on the record who I love and admire, so that even if the album was never released, at least it would be an interesting listen for me. I just chose some of my favorite musicians and storytellers. Everyone on the record made up their own collaborative part, which is what I wanted - its nice to have proper collaboration, with their interpretation on it.

Including the collaborative elements, how did the composition of the record unfold, and what were the high and low points?

I’m a very slow writer - I wish that meant I was precise and perfect, but I’m not, I'm just slow, imprecise and imperfect. I start with writing lyrics about my life, just what happened that day, or something I am trying to work out, and then I put it to acoustic guitar in my kitchen. I start building on it with the producer, and then the guest vocalist usually comes last - I just ask them to sing on it, and we try and few things out. It's hard to then take it to a label or whatever, because they weren't in the studio when you were working on it, and they weren't in my kitchen when I was writing it, so it feels like they're not a part of it and shouldn't get to edit it or pass comment on it. But obviously things don't work like that.

The album itself comes across as deeply personal, was it difficult to impart this level of emotion into the music?

It wasn’t difficult for a long time when I was actually writing it - it was sort of helpful to write it all out - but sometimes when I perform songs I feel a bit exposed and silly. I’ve never been very good at being a grown up human, and I feel like I should just shut up my moaning sometimes and get on with things.

Which artists and other factors were most influential during the album writing and recording process?

I love Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom, Diane Cluck - they are big influences on my work. Aside from that, I watch a lot of films - I love Cam Archer - everything he does is so nostalgic and achy. More than anything, just the general day to day inspires the work, conversations, inconvenient relationships, bad twists.

Following the album release you are releasing a live EP, can you tell us more about that?

It was a live EP me and my friends Libby Luscombe and Hannah Congrave recorded. We recorded it over two nights last summer in a wood we used to hang out in when we were teenagers. It's just recorded on a dictaphone in the middle of the night. I think I actually prefer it to my album - I would like to record a whole album that way.

Finally, what is your favourite film and why?

My favorite film is Wild Tigers I Have Known by Cam Archer. It's beautifully shot, and full of the awkwardness of growing up. I love all that awkwardness, the not knowing how the world and relationships work, so I found the whole film completely fascinating.

Are you enlightened? If you're looking for enlightenment more in the form of audio clips, then you might like to know that both Jinnwoo's debut album Strangers Bring Me No Light and "accompanying" live EP Ozzy Wood are out now via GFM Records - and the former is available from iTunes here. Additionally, there are a number of live dates planned before the end of the year which you can keep abreast of on Jinnwoo's official Facebook page. But for right now, here's a stream of that Ozzy Wood EP for you to enjoy:

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