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Women in Music Talk Songs and Success (Nine-Part Series)

Whether they are strumming guitar chords, wielding violin strings or exploring the human condition through oral story-telling, Central Indiana nurtures a fertile field of women in jazz, blues, country, folk and down and dirty rock. Nuvo spoke to nine local female musicians in 2007 who have found individual and alternative routes to success about what matters to them most and how they’ve managed to make music a full-time profession.

Jane Jensen

“The music I am doing today is all acoustic based … it’s pretty organic.”

Grunge-era distorted guitars and Shirley Manson-esque vocals erupt from Indianapolis native Jane Jensen — a gritty singer-songwriter unlike the ballad chokers heavy on store shelves these days. She’s vintage ’90s, when alt-rock reigned, and female musicians began breaking molds. Her songs move. They have attitude. But the lovable Jensen’s sound seduces as much as it charms.

“My first musical obsession was Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones,” Jensen says. “I’m still obsessed.”

After moving to Chicago in the early 1990s, Jensen attended the Columbia College for music and theater, where dark industrial act Ministry had a studio. She recorded her first CD at Chicago Trax and ended up babysitting Al Jourgensen’s daughter. From an alt-rock edge, Jensen began introducing industrial elements, like programmable instruments into her music, though the songwriter could still hammer out licks on her guitar. “When I moved to New York and started recording Comic Book Whore, all of the Chicago influences really came out in my music,” she says. “The music I am doing today is all acoustic based … it’s pretty organic.”

A self-proclaimed “nerd,” Jensen’s Chicago days also found her reading graphic classics. “Pretty soon I was a total fanboy for Neil Gaiman and Jamie Hewlett,” she says. “I still have stacks in my closet that I will always keep, but I’m not a ‘user’ anymore. I loved Tank Girl, Death and Delirium — they were my favorite characters.”

A fearless “Tank Girl” in her own right, Jensen has tackled the music world head-on. She’s played CBGB with Green Day and Red Rocks with Bad Religion. A few more achievements of note: Jensen’s Burner CD previously won the best alternative album award from Just Plain Folks, a national organization based in Indianapolis, and she signed for a stint with Interscope before becoming 100 percent independent. “When I was with Interscope, I was signed by a woman, Anna Statman,” Jensen says. “Still, [the music scene] is mostly populated by men, and it can feel like a boys club.”

But Jensen’s in her own “club” — songwriters with stories to tell and the chops to back them up. “Of the newer popular female artists, I really like KT Tunstall and Amy Winehouse,” Jensen says. “I don’t respect label/producer-driven pop music written by a writing team for a female vocalist… I think Joan Jett will still be kicking ass long after Britney Spears has a lobotomy.”

The straightforward Jensen recently returned to live in Indianapolis when she finished recording her third solo CD, Rockabye, at Pop Machine Recording Studios with Eric Klee and Marc Johnson.

Excerpt by Leslie Benson
Reprinted from Nuvo Newsweekly, 7-18-07, Indianapolis, Ind.