Sing - Jennifer Licko

Jun 30, 2016

Jennifer Licko and band

INTRO – A new CD by ENC native Jennifer Licko took a long, circuitous and electronic path toward final production. George Olsen has more.

“It was a really nice collaboration of an Irish producer in Minnesota, an English producer in Florida and a Brazilian producer here in Brazil and I think it made for an interesting outcome.”   

… made even more multi-cultural by the fact the performer is a Swansboro native and East Carolina University graduate performing primarily in Scots Gaelic. Jennifer Licko discussing the virtual miles put in producing her latest CD “Sing.” Jennifer has lived a rather peripatetic life since graduating from ECU in 1998… time in Scotland, time here in eastern North Carolina, time in Brazil, time in Minnesota, time back in Brazil as of this date and time. The production of the new CD “Sing” also has that peripatetic motif. The English producer facetimed into a studio in Brazil to produce her vocal tracks with the Brazilian producer wherupon the Irish producer in Minnesota lays down backing track shared for Jennifer’s approval via e-mail. It’s a very modern method of producing a CD predominantly made up of traditional music.

“Most of the songs that are on here I’ve known for quite a while. You collect songs, especially as a folk musician, you begin collecting songs and you just keep them until the right moment comes along. I’ve never recorded 60% of my album in Gaelic before. Normally I have maybe 30%. So I’ve enjoyed being able to pull out more of my Gaelic songs.”

But while the bulk of “Sing” is traditional Scots Gaelic music, it’s not QUITE traditional Scots Gaelic music. Working with her triumvirate of producers, Jennifer sought to tweak the sound to bring it a flavor from her native state.

“Patsy O’Brien, he’s the guitar player I’ve been working with for several years, and he has a way of understanding traditional music and respecting the tradition of it but also knowing that you can change it and make your own arrangements. He really respects and gets my perspective, being from NC and growing up with folk music from NC, yet also having a part of Scottish music in my life. He was really receptive to the idea of mixing in some country and bluegrass and Appalachian sounds, in a subtle way. We certainly didn’t want it to be in-your-face bluegrass because that’s not what it is. We just wanted to show that connection.”

That approach perhaps getting its best example in the 8th track on “Sing” whose pronunciation I’m not clear on … .Jennifer might be multilingual, I’m not.

“He Na Milibhig, the interesting thing about that track is I sang it to him acapella, and he said just record it acapella. I don’t want you to record to me playing it, I don’t want you to listen to the backing track that I create around it. I want to hear your interpretation of the song and let me create the music around that. That’s what we did and I was really surprised with what he sent back to me. Of course I’d planted the seeds… I’d like a slide guitar and some fiddle and I’d like it to sound kind of sitting on a front porch of an old home in the mountains kind of vibe, and when he sent it back I was so pleasantly surprised, and it’s one of my favorite tracks as well.”

The multi-lingual aspect of Jennifer’s existence creates some interesting dynamics come performance time. Her native tongue is English and in her current residence she concentrates on Portuguese. But Scots Gaelic for her seems to be more truly a musical language than a spoken one, a language that allows her to focus more on how her vocal instrument serves the song.

“When I sing, especially in Scots Gaelic, it seems to be easier for me than singing in English. I think it’s because I’m not thinking about the language, I’m thinking about the tune. Most Scots Gaelic songs, especially the ones I have an interest in, are walking songs, which are work songs and dance tunes, and so the most important part of those songs are the musical elements, not the lyrical elements. So I think that’s what drives me with those songs, therefore I’m not thinking about the lyrics so much, I’m thinking about the sounds of them.”

Jennifer says her emphasis in language nowadays is primarily her Portuguese with the Scots Gaelic somewhat on the back burner. But while she’s concentrating on perfecting what is now more accurately her native tongue, there’s been an unexpected burst of personal creativity in regards to the music of her original native tongue that heretofore was previously unknown which brought some original music to the new CD. 

“Writing for me has been a slow process. It’s not something I’ve ever enjoyed doing. But when I moved to Brazil this past time which was about a year-and-a-half ago I was in the midst of all of these song ideas, I just started writing, I couldn’t stop. I’ve written probably about 100 songs in a year-and-a-half and I still can’t seem to get it all out. I don’t know why, I don’t know what has happened in my life that has sparked this need to write, but now I need to write. That’s been exciting for me.”

Performing in Brazil has also given her a boost in more ways than creativity. You don’t have an approaching-20-years-as-a-performing-musician career without having confidence in what you do. But bringing Scots Gaelic music into an area not known for its Scots Gaelic scene gives Jennifer the freedom to put her own stamp on a traditional style whereas she might potentially be more inhibited in regions more familiar with the tradition. And some of that “own stamp” is apparent in the new CD.

“I think being in Brazil and the fact that I’m here performing music that most people are not familiar with in this area, it’s so different from Brazilian music, yet Brazilians are so open to hear different sounds and they love the mixture of different sounds and ideas, all their music shows they are receptive to any style, and they love mixing those styles, so for me to come in with something they’re not really used to and perform these songs kind of gives me an extra boost and it makes me feel more confident in presenting something how I think it should best be presented because I know there’s not someone listening to me thinking “well, a traditional singer wouldn’t really do that.” I don’t think I’m doing anything disrespectful to the music. I think I’m just more confident which comes across better.”

Swansboro native, ECU grad Jennifer Licko’s new CD is entitled “Sing.” She performs a Celtic Summer Night concert with her band this Tuesday July 5 at the Cullman Performance Hall at Tryon Palace in New Bern. I’m George Olsen.