Jeff Klein

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Interview by Adam Foster

Interview with Jeff Klein at the Borderline – June 3 2003

Backstage at the Borderline, London, I follow Jeff Klein into what passes for the dressing room. The first sight that greets our eyes as we open the door is the word CUNTLIPS on the graffiti-daubed wall. I mention it, and Klein claims that it is his nickname. It is not.

He is in the UK to promote his second album, EVERYBODY LOVES A WINNER. This time, he is headlining the tour, with Matthew Ryan, producer of Klein’s album and a notable singer-songwriter in his own right, in support. Last time I saw him at this venue, early in 2003, his was the solo warm up for Jesse Malin’s storming set. This, I put it to him, will be a very different night.

Then it was just you and a guitar.

It was a tough tour. It was completely solo. There is no-one else to blame – it’s just you and the songs. Still, we ended up selling a lot [of CDs] on that tour. The differences were amazing: we had two nights here and people were really quiet during my set – in an attentive way. But in Dublin, it was a whole different thing. The crowd were so drunk they were off their faces really. It was great.

That must have been daunting?

Not really. I’ve been playing in clubs since I was fifteen. I’ve opened for all kinds of people – I opened for Shane McGowan, for instance.

Really? When?

November, two years ago (November 2000). All I can say is, you never want to meet your heroes. It wasn’t all his fault; it was a whole lot of stuff. We played from 10 to 10.45, when he was due on. But his plane didn’t land til 11.45. After us, there was a two-hour break, just silence, and he came on around one in the morning. He was drunk, the crowd was drunk, it was a fuck up.

It says on the flyer for this gig that you are a ‘native’ of Austin, Texas. I thought you were New York-born.

Does it say that? No – I come from New York, a town about half an hour North of New York. I went to Austin when I was eighteen. I’d just finished so much in New York – I’d slept with everyone I could. I had a couple of friends in Texas, and I just thought – it was all pretty random really. I thought I’d go for two weeks, and I just sort of stuck there. Unlike most of my friends. I mean, my long-term girlfriend moved down with me, then moved back. So did my other friends. I was the only one left.

Were you getting away from family? I understand your brothers were real achievers?

They were huge baseball players. Always top honours, Ivy League colleges. But I wasn’t really looking to get out.

A middle class family?

A working class family. But I was always doing different things. I mean, I was awkward, uncomfortable. Not like my brothers. I just got into writing songs. It didn’t really set me apart, we were all listening, playing music. But it wasn’t always easy. My mother got Alzheimer’s very young – that’s the song Holding the World -and there was all sorts of stuff happening. You get to feel that the world is against you. But, you know, there’s a lot of good shit that comes from the family. My brother, Eric, three years older than me, had a great taste in music. He came back from college with stuff by the Replacements, Waterboys, The Clash, New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders; I’d been at home listening to the Motley Crue and Poison. He’s just a fan of really good songwriters. He’ll drive 150 miles to see someone he loves.

Will he drive that far for you?

Oh – I think so. I mean, Eric, out of anyone, gets it. I mean, I’ve shared a stage with so many people he’s listened to – I’ve opened for all of them. He thinks I’m doing pretty good.

And are you writing at the moment?

I’m just promoting this album at the moment, not really in the mode of writing for another. I’ve already written enough songs for a couple of records. But this [CD] isn’t even out in the US ‘til September, so I’ll come out of this tour, maybe write a bit, then be back promoting this over there. And I don’t want to rush into – I kind of see each record as a stepping-stone. This one’s a lot braver than the last. The next one even more, who knows?

Part of the attraction of this album is the use of…

Different textures

Precisely. Is that the kind of bravery you mean?

I wasn’t scared to try new things – I am a singer/songwriter, but not the goofy folk singer some people think. I was listening to Pavement, not Neilsen. I just played what I heard in my head. And Matthew Ryan really helped me reproduce that.

In the review on PHASE9, it says that if you can avoid the temptation of Springsteen mediocrity, you could be great.

I think I’ve gone in a different direction. People tend to start out doing their own things, and move towards Springsteen mediocrity. Sucking Satan’s pecker, I call it. Perhaps it was true on the first record – I played for all the majors, then realised that is not who I am, where I wanted to be. I’m not trying to sell a million records. Each time you get a little braver. It’s the great thing about One Little Indian [his current label]. There’s no bullshit with them.

So what’s next?

After the US release, I will get into the next record. I want to make it October, November, set a good pace. I’d like to follow the same pattern – release it here first, tour it here, then move back to the States.

And will you be using the same creative partnerships – Matthew Ryan, Patty Griffin?

I don’t know. Maybe not – it’s important to make every record different. Who knows?