Despite growing up in Norway playing music, Monica Birkenes (Mr. Little Jeans) moved to London for drama before coming back to music and moving to Los Angeles. Her move has paid off with several albums including Pocketknife and Fevers, as she hones her craft more and more. We caught up with Birkenes to discuss covers, making music for films and the future of Mr. Little Jeans.
Northern Transmissions: I was also interested to hear what led you to cover Paul McCartney’s “Waterfalls” recently, and what led to some of the more dramatic changes you made to it?
Monica Birkenes (Mr. Little Jeans): I actually had recorded it a few years ago, although we only recently put it out. I just loved that song, so it was something I wanted to do just for me. I wanted to make it different because otherwise what’s the point.
NT: Considering you also gained a lot of attention through your previous Arcade Fire cover, what about these covers do you think appeals to modern audiences?
MB: I think when you take somebody’s song whose already had attention, it’s automatically a platform for people to gravitate towards. It was a whole other take on it, which I think people like. I’ve heard some people prefer it to the original because people who prefer my style might just prefer it based on that.
NT: What about working with Tim Anderson prompted you to move out to L.A.?
MB: Just finding a producer, and someone you like writing and working with, is as hard as finding partner or even a friend. You need to connect in so many ways for it to have longevities. I just had a feeling with Tim and I felt like I’d tried all the options I’d had in London. London was also in a different vibe back then, and I felt with my more electronic sound I had a better bet in L.A. The first song we wrote was “Rescue Song” which is quite different from the rest of the material, but I just felt good about it.
NT: How has your creative partnership evolved with Tim over the years?
MB: We’ve known each other now for nine years so we have a family feeling, it’s very close. Neither of us is afraid to say anything, and we like to hang out which means we may end up just talking. It’s just really good for me to know someone that well, because I’ve done those sessions where you meet new people every day and it’s exhausting. When you just want to focus on the music you end up putting your energy in the wrong place. You can try harder when you meet new people, which is good, but this way works really well for me.
NT: On this note, what’s come of your second LP that you started two years ago, and how does it differ from Fevers?
MB: There’s harder beats now, it’s a little more hip-hop and it’s also something I absolutely love. Starting the second album, I’m enjoying writing lyrics more, which I used to think was just facilitating the melody. I’m actually enjoying it much more now, and I’m really taking my time which is nice.
NT: Was there anything that initiated this shift towards lyrics?
MB: Not really. I think the more I’ve been doing it, I’ve gotten used to that idea. Nobody told me how to write lyrics so I just had to make it up, and now that I’m used to it, I know how I like to express myself.
NT: How did your opportunity come up to record music for Iron Man 3 and how did that differ from how you usually make music?
MB: That came through Tim, he knew someone working on the soundtrack and who was looking for songs, so he asked me, it was an inside job. I love writing to somebody else’s story, it takes away from me, but I do that most of the time so it’s a nice change. I love what we did for that movie in its own way.
NT: Considering how musical your upbringing was, what led you to study drama in London, and then what led you back to music to start Mr. Little Jeans?
MB: I didn’t get into a music school in Norway, but I’d won this singing competition at 14, and travelled to London to be on MTV. After that I was completely in love with London, so I moved for London. My mom found this drama school there, and I’d been interested in studying drama. I tried studying musical theatre, which I hated, but drama school was really fun. I hadn’t started writing yet at that point and I hadn’t found the people at that point to make it happen.
Words by Owen Maxwell