Jen Salisbury is my friend. She is a warm, caring person, filled with empathy and a kind of contagious energy. She is also a singer with a very special affinity to vintage jazz, an inherent sense of swing and a very characteristic vibrato. She has been demonstrating all these qualities singing standards with her trio for a few years now, but it was when she presented herself as a songwriter – with Unspoken Rule – that she got to really blossom. Now she has a sophomore album ready, Call of the Wild – again in collaboration with James Mustafa – which further establishes her songwriting qualities and commitment to creating a songbook all of her own. If the first album was an anatomy of a love story, a theme that anyone can relate to, this one is really personal. It is an introspection, a collection of contemplative essays in vintage-jazz-form on growing up, on trying to find yourself and pursue your dreams, whilst – or despite of – facing the challenges and obligations of adulthood. A theme, that is, that anyone can relate to, once again.
How did Call of the Wild come to be?
Call of the Wild is a series of songs that I wrote when I was feeling as if every minute of my day was spent on activities that I had to do, rather than on things I creatively wanted to do.
I wrote the title track whilst driving in the car on the way to my day job for another nine-hour shift. I had a feeling come over me, which was like a creative stirring or desire or thought: “there is something else you could be doing with your time right now.” But of course, I was trapped in the car on the way to my day job, so I didn’t have time to peruse creative activities. I started thinking about all the times in my life when I have had that feeling. It has always been there with me, but for the majority of my life I have been too afraid to answer the call. Too shy, not having enough confidence to say yes to trying something new and scary. Or just flat out ignoring it for unknown reasons. For many many years I worked long hours and studied and did not participate in any of the creative activities I often heard the call to begin. This song is about the call that never leaves you, a constant gentle reminder of better ways to spend your time.
Many of the songs from this album were written in the car on the way to my day job; one was written while I was folding the washing, another while I was cleaning the house. The melodies came to me when I was stuck in domestics or the inescapable necessities of daily life.
What kind of narrative did you want to create with it?
I’m sure many people can relate to these feelings of domestic obligation, or working in jobs simply to bring in a paycheck. I also believe that many people feel the call to do something creative with their time and ignore it due to unnecessary fears and excuses getting in the way. It may even be a new business idea, attending a class or starting a sport; whatever it is, I hope this album inspires people to start something new and take those first steps.
What was the first song of the album?
The first song that was written in the theme was ‘Love Dreams’, which I wrote on the keyboard that I have in my bedroom. I was in the bedroom making the bed and there was a big pile of washing on the floor and I had that feeling come over me that I would like to have some creative time and I remember wondering: “am I ever going to escape this, am I ever going to find happiness, am I ever going to be able to engage in creative time?” At that time, happiness and job fulfilment was simply an etheric concept.
A couple of the songs in the album are not in theme, they are just there for fun. One of the songs, ‘I’m in love’, I wrote when I was 13 years old. I was in love with a year 8 boy, but I was too shy to talk to him. So instead of talking to him, I went home and sat in the backyard and wrote him a song. Singing is so much easier than talking.
There is a sample in that song from the film Romance on the High Seas with Doris Day. The song is called ‘I’m in Love’ and I blended the tag line with original lyrics and melody.
In an album of original songs, what is the specific significance of the ones you choose to cover? What do you want to say with ‘Lover Man’, for instance?
‘Lover Man’ fits in with the theme of wishing and wanting something different to what you have got. It is a dream that is out there and only in the etheric space, a wishing to be someone else, to be with someone else, to be doing something else, to be somewhere else.
How is Call of the Wild different or similar to Unspoken Rule?
I think the first album was all a new experience, so I was quite scared. I remember rocking up to the first rehearsal for Unspoken Rule and I don’t think I smiled at all, because I was feeling so worried and intense. I remember James [Mustafa, the album’s arranger] coming up to me and saying: “so, do you like the charts, Jen?” I said “yes, of course, they are amazing, sounding fantastic.” I wondered why he asked me, considering it is totally obvious that he is a genius and his work is fantastic, then I realised that I had been so intense I hadn’t shown any appreciation on my face, it was all internal. He probably thought I hated the charts. This time around, I have been much less intense about everything, feeling a bit more confident because it’s the second time around.
How does this album represent where you are as an artist at the moment?
All of the tunes on this album are an expression of my love for vintage sound and I think this is the culmination of everything I am musically up until this point. For the next album, I am going to change it up; I’m going to go for a quartet sound and try to explore those parameters. I do have the idea for my next album, which I need to talk to James about because it is going to be very different to what I have done so far. That will need to wait till next year though, because this year I have my new Christmas EP coming out with some delicious old school, vintage style original Christmas tunes and covers.
How would you describe your creative partnership with James Mustafa?
I think that James is such a creatively balanced individual. His talents are like a circle. He understands the emotional aspects of songwriting and telling a story, but he is also incredibly gifted with arranging. I give him the melody and lyrics and he charts them and transports them to the songs they were meant to be. In that regard, it is a very easy partnership, because he gets what I am trying to convey with a song.
You’re launching the album on Thursday; how different will the live performance be compared to the recording?
Live performance is always better than an album. While singing a song live, you get to act, put so much more character in your voice and connect with the audience. This is going to be a really fun album launch and everyone is going to have a great time.
Which tune best describes your current state of mind?
Hmmm, unfortunately I didn’t write a song about wishing I could go back to bed!