Jennifer DeFrayne is a very talented pianist that specializes in instrumental music. She has just released a wonderful new CD entitled "Sisu". After one listen you will find yourself in a relaxed state of emotional tranquility. You will definitely want to revisit the music on a regular basis. Jennifer describes that "The Finnish word "Sisu" translates to English as; determination, inner strength, grit, equanimity, perseverance and more." She took these uplifting words to make the song titles and then composed music to them. This is her first new material since her ZMR award winning - Best New Artist - debut album "By a Wire". Some of the people who contributed to this album include: Jeff Haynes on percussion (performed with Pat Metheny, Pete Seeger), Premik Russell Tubbs on sax and EWI (Sting, Santana, Jeff Beck), Michael Manring on fretless bass (Montreux, Michael Hedges), Jill Haley on english horn & oboe (Will Ackerman, Fiona Joy), Sara Milonovich on violin & vocals (Daisycutter, Pete Seeger), Jeff Pearce on ambient guitar (Stars End, Paul Avgerinos), and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn (Laura Sullivan, Will Ackerman) and Corin Nelsen - producer/engineer. I recently asked Jennifer a few questions about the new CD and her career.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your new CD release "Sisu". It's a nicely written and a beautiful piece of music art. I understand the title is a Finnish word. Did the definition of the word have an effect on each song during the writing process?
J.D. - Thank you very much Rob! Yes, the title is a Finnish word, and yes the definition had an effect on each song! I knew I wanted to name the album Sisu, and I wanted each song to embrace the spirit of sisu. Sisu is a uniquely Finnish word that translates to English as; determination, inner strength, grit, equanimity, perseverance… After I knew I wanted the album to be titled Sisu, I then wrote down the song titles. After I had all of the song names, I then began writing the music for each song. It was a different but interesting process writing music this way. I had to really let myself feel what “Perseverance”, or “Roots”, and the other names/words felt like… and then began the improvisation/writing process. Most of the songs where done in one or two takes and a few took a more in-depth process, but all evolved from the meditation about the spirit of sisu!!
R.V.B. - Do feel your writing is changing and maturing since your first album or just a natural continuation of ideas and thoughts?
J.D. - I feel that in some ways my writing has changed and or matured since my recordings on my first album. Although, my first album By a Wire had many songs that had been written many years earlier, but, I thought it was important to include on the album because By a Wire was in a lot of ways a story of the previous 20 years of my life… With Sisu, all the music was new or fresh to me, and this enabled my creativity to go in different directions, and in many ways, the songs are much different on this album, at least for me, mostly because they aren’t 20 something years old… But, it is still in my style, so you could also say it is a natural continuation.
R.V.B. - Can you tell me about the process of recording the album and who helped out on it?
J.D. - I recorded this album with my fiancé Corin Nelsen (Grammy Award Winning Producer/Engineer) primarily in our home studio. We did travel to record some of the accompanying musicians once the piano tracks where done, and then some of the other accompanying musicians recorded from where they were and sent the files digitally. It was my first time Co-Producing, and that was a very fun and interesting process to be a part of, and I’m so happy to have learned a lot. The list of accompanying musicians include; Jeff Haynes on percussion, Sara Milonovich on violin and vocals, Jill Haley on English horn and Oboe, Michael Manring on bass guitar and Ebow, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, Premik Russell Tubbs on EWI and Sax, and Jeff Pearce on ambient guitar. The graphic design for the album was done by Corin, and myself, which was also very fun!
R.V.B. - Was there any event that lead you to want to play the piano as a young girl? Did you come from a musical family?
J.D. - I wouldn’t say there was one event that lead me to play the piano. I grew up with a baby grand in our home, and began playing on it at a young age. I do remember having a lot of fun making up little songs for fun, and over time that song writing progressed into more complex songs… I didn’t come from a musical family either, although I believe my mother did buy the piano so she could learn to play, but didn’t study for long, as I’m sure I was busy occupying the piano enough for one house hold!
J.D. - No, I did not go the standard route of classical training, although at times wish I had, and then other times I realize that the ability to sometimes improvise a song out in one take is a special gift, and believe it was all meant to be the way it is. My skills on the piano definitely started as trial and error. I remember at a young age playing all of the keys, then combinations of them, and eventually finding the ones that sounded good together more and more, and so on….I did not have any piano music influences in my life until I was introduced to the music of George Winston when I was 17, after many years of writing music. I was very happy to realize at that time that the music I was writing was not as ‘weird’ as I thought it was… and that there was a whole world of music I hadn’t even begun to explore yet, which then had me exploring more Windham Hill artists, to Kitaro, to Mannheim Steamroller, to Yanni and more…! Looking back now, I would have to say they all had an influence on my music in one way or another.
R.V.B. - Did you have a coming out recital anywhere? can you tell me about some of your early performances?
J.D. - My only performance(s), small at that, weren’t really about me performing. In high school, I had a few opportunities to play at a small art gallery in my hometown, while people walked around for art show openings. My first true concert is only just now after the release of my second album Sisu. I will be performing with Jeff Haynes – percussion and Sara Milonovich – violin and vocals for a benefit concert near the town I live in. All of the proceeds from the concert will go to a local art therapy and counseling center/business to help raise funds for PTSD, and I’m very happy to be a part of this wonderful event for a great cause.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy your college years? Where did you go and how did your playing skills and music knowledge advance during this time?
J.D. - Well, I went to college a few times. After high school I went to Ferris State University in Michigan, and began my pursuits in a career in Music Management. My goal at that time was to eventually learn enough about music engineering and business to one day have my own recording studio. I enjoyed my classes – well the music ones, very much, and in those classes my music teachers encouraged me to continue to pursue music, which helped give me a little more confidence in writing more music. Although those were not easy years for me, as my father had recently passed away 3 weeks before my high school graduation, and then traveling 10 hours from my home to Ferris State just after high school was not the wisest decision as I look back on it now. I wasn’t ready to take on the challenges of school at that time, as I was still grieving the loss of my father. So, I took a few years off, and a few years off, turned into many and before I knew it I was 27, married and starting a family. I did take some additional business courses through my local community college, but I was ultimately a full time mom with two children for 12 years. Once my children where a bit older I wanted to go to school to help others heal as it had helped me after many health issues in the previous years, and in 2012 I went to school for Massage Therapy, Reiki and Cranio Sacral Therapy, and have been working in the healing therapies field since I graduated. This education changed my life in ways I don’t have enough time here to mention, all I can say is that it was one of the best things I’ve done for myself…
R.V.B. - Were you aware or the pop music scene and did it have any influence on your music?
J.D. - I was very aware of the pop music scene, that, and country music. Those were pretty much the extent of my musical options and influences growing up. I do believe they had influence on my music. I think the pop much more than country. To this day I have a wide range of music that I listen to, which often surprises some people, whom often think that because I write instrumental piano music, the music I like is somewhat confined to that or genres close to it…which couldn’t be further from the truth. I do get a lot of inspiration and enjoyment from instrumental music, always have, but I also really enjoy pop, rock, and more… I believe this has helped me think outside the box when I’m improvising or writing music… It’s all just music anyway, I’m not sure why we put them in such strict categories?!
R.V.B. - You have had to overcome some emotional and physical events in your life. Did these issues eventually make you a better person and songwriter?
J.D. - I do believe they have made me a better songwriter. Because I write from emotion, as all artists do, when there are strong emotions or events that happen, the music can be very therapeutic to me, and often times is when I write the most, but as I’m getting older, I realize I can be perfectly content and still conquer up emotions to write some powerful pieces… I can say that the events in my life have definitely made me a better person. I have always been very understanding of other people’s struggles, and can say I am even more so now. We all have weaknesses and strengths, and we all have the ability to help each other in our own ways each day… I enjoy helping others heal through healing bodywork as well as with my music, and I am very thankful to be able to share those things on a daily basis.
R.V.B. - What are some of your favorite live performances up to this point of your career?
J.D. - I don’t have enough to have a favorite yet, although the few I have had are all special because they were either my first time playing in front of people, or a large group of people, or with other musicians. I look forward to performing more in the future, and believe this will help me become a better musician in the long run.
R.V.B. - Your work is being recognized in the industry with ZMR nominations, numerous awards and people taking notice in general. How does this make you feel?
J.D. - Wow yes, well, that feels very surreal in many ways. I had dreamed of recording my music professionally for most of my life, and finally got to do so in 2013, and when my first album came out in 2014 I was 40 years old, so, it sometimes still feels like I’m dreaming. I am very honored, humbled, and blessed that my music is getting this type of recognition, and considering how it all came to be, I also feel it was meant to be for me to share what I write, and hope to continue to do so for many years to come!
R.V.B. - What are your plans to support the album?
J.D. - I feel the best way for me to support this album, my first and my next, is to continue to share it with people via social media, videos, and being thankful to the broadcasters that play my music. Performing concerts will be my focus for the short term, which I am excited about, and hope that it will give people a deeper feeling and understanding into my music!
R.V.B. - Thank you for considering answering these questions.
J.D. - You are most welcome! Thank you very much for inquiring about me and my music! Warmest regards, Jennifer
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any part or form without permission from this site.
For more information on Jennifer DeFrayne visit her website www.jenniferdefrayne.com
Special thanks to Beth Ann Hilton
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