Transcript of cover feature interview with Manchester vocalist and bass music pioneer Jenna G published in Chimp what’s on magazine, December 2011, written by Seamus Quinn.
Jenna G gets all lit up
Singer, jobbing songwriter, actress, national radio DJ. At the age of 31, Manchester's Jenna Gibbons, aka Jenna G, has already had a career most wannabees would die for. And that's without taking into account the fact that that she's regarded by many as Britain's undisputed queen of drum and bass.
Growing up in Chorlton (where she now resides) and Fallowfield and mostly cared for by her father, she admits to being a vocal and outgoing child but if she had any ambition, if anything it was to be an FBI agent.
"I didn’t do the archetypal hairbrush thing," she says. "My dad’s a musician. He was in a band and my mum was in a band, so, growing up, a lot of the people that were in and out of my house were musicians and were people that played music and some famous people and some not.
“It never seemed like such a big deal to be on stage with my microphone because from a very young age I’ve been in that kind of world. Obviously, it was a dream once I’d realised that was what I wanted to do but, back then, it was just, like, ‘Oh, that’s what everyone seems to do’."
Her mother pushed her towards the city's music scene to avoid her getting into trouble during a turbulent transition between schools. Her new alma mater didn't have as much emphasis on singing and young Jenna was already a gospel soloist. She worked on pirate radio, started hanging out with local rap and production crews and cut her first tune when she was 15.
Between then and now her work rate has been formidable. In fact, it is difficult to work out precisely how many records she's actually made. "Definitely over 20 but not more than 50," is her vague reckoning, including a critically acclaimed solo album "For Lost Friends" (Bingo Beats, 2006); co-writing and vocal credits on most of house outfit The Shapeshifters' "Sound Advice" LP (Positiva, 2006); and "The Un-calculated Some" with Un-cut (WEA, 2003), the group that brought her real attention with a more "liquid", funkier, soul vision of Dn'B at a time of prevailing darkness within the genre.
The roster of artists and producers she's worked with since is impressive. Chase and Status, Shy FX, Netsky, bass scene godfather Dave Jones' Phuturistix/Zed Bias/Maddslinky axis, Goldie and many more. Plus, she found the time to appear in a couple of films, a Shameless Christmas TV special and spent four years as the voice of Saturday mornings at Radio 1Xtra. So, is she famous? Do people hassle her in the street?
"No, no, I think it’s all in context," she demurs. "It’s usually in the most embarrassing places. Like you go for a bikini wax and you’ve got your leg up and someone goes 'Do you sing?” and you’re kind of like [laughs] 'Err, yeah, I do'. Other than that I get noticed in drum 'n' bass clubs and in music clubs but I don’t really get recognised that much walking down the street."
Even though she's an in-demand and obviously enthusiastic product of the DnB scene she says that she has sometimes struggled with being pigeonholed by the genre. Many a request to basically reprise the distinctive vocal stylings of her own 2006 minor classic "In Love" has had to be turned down in the interest of quality control.
In reality, there has always been a fairly wide range to her oeuvre. Last year, for instance, she was still rocking out on tracks like "Hurt Less" with the genre-mashing Qemists. More recently, she revived Caron Wheeler's original role on Zed Bias' funky cover version of Soul II Soul classic "Fairplay". Back in February she cut the dubstep/breaks hybrid "Flood of Emotion" with D1.
The latter tune, still getting a good deal of play on urban radio, exemplifies her appeal; a seemingly simple song that sounds just so utterly heartfelt. Could it be possible that such a switched on, sussed out individual could really fit the unlucky-in-love soulstress stereotype?
"I’ve been out with a lot of bastards, basically," she states, almost matter-of-factly. "And I don’t really mind them because they always make me write such really great songs afterwards. I think that Flood of Emotions was just, you know; when someone’s done you wrong and you’re still really in love with them but you know that they’re an absolute cunt and but even knowing that doesn’t change the way you feel inside... It’s like asking for the world to just give you an epic twist, to just get rid of it, you need a flood of emotions to drown the feeling that you've got."
She admits to an obsession with the subject of love, the lack of it, the want of it or the giving of it. She says: "I know it sounds hippyish but more people need to believe in love. So many people are scared nowadays; scared not to be themselves, scared to not be seen with the right trainers or scared to not know about the newest track and the fear that’s resonating is just completely totally negative There needs to be a lot more love resonating in the world."
Right now, what's resonating for Jenna G is a potential banger of a new single, "Neon", a collaboration with zeitgeisty dayglow dubstepper Doctor P of Circus Records and "Sweetshop" fame.
The single has been slowly bubbling under since Spring. Fans that have been downloading ripped versions from plays on Mista Jam's 1Xtra show will be able to get their hands on the real thing this month after it was picked up for a full tilt at the pop charts by Warner Brothers. It's a solid tune, reminiscent of the similarly vertiginous highs and lows of Circus labelmate Flux Pavilion (with whom, it turns out, she also has plans to work with). It could go massive.
Even with her industry experience, she says she has no idea whether "Neon" will be a big hit or not. Either way, it would seem that Jenna G will make any move towards more mainstream success on her own terms as much as is possible. A hot single with Doctor P will hopefully smooth the way for a planned second solo LP with a string of ultra-cool collaborators already lined up for production duties.
In the meantime, Ms G seems content with her role as an underground icon. A witty, prolific Twitterer with a large following, its a position she uses as much to champion other people's music as her own. She's a staunch supporter of the Manchester scene, citing artists like rapper Strategy, Moss Side MC Trigga, dubstep terrorist Chimpo and the potential offered by Unity Radio.
She says: "I think what’s really interesting right now is that people are just making good music not because they think it’s going to get on Radio 1, it’s because they know they’re going to smash a club with it. That’s what makes the difference. There’s more avenues now for the kids to perform and for the music to be heard up here, away from the London scene. And I think that’s the most important thing, having a really healthy Manchester city scene means that other people are going to come and want to check it."