Every so often, I stumble upon an artist who just blows me away. Such is the case with Dutch singer-songwriter Jane Willow, who relocated to Dublin some seven years ago. She reached out to me a few weeks back – and wow. Just wow. One listen to her first single “On My Mind,” which was released in November of 2017, floored me. She counts Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen as influences, and they’re all evident, but I also hear strains of Van Morrison and Sandy Denny.
Her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” which she posted to her YouTube channel late last year as part of an effort to fund her debut E.P., is likewise hypnotic. (If all goes according to plan, that E.P. should see the light of day this November. Visit her website for more information.) Of “I’m on Fire”: Check out the moment, at a little past two minutes in, when her voice trails off. It’s riveting.
Today sees the release of her sophomore single, “Onward Still.” It’s about pursuing one’s dreams and destiny, aka self-made fate, and is deceptively profound: “The future had no shape/before you made it take its form…” Like “On My Mind,” it’s mesmerizing. Check it out:
Me being me, after listening to both of those tracks, “I’m on Fire” and other clips, I couldn’t help but to ask Jane a few questions…
Yes my dad plays the guitar and my mom sings in a choir. My grandfather wrote poems in English, while my uncle would turn these poems into songs. My music taste in my childhood left much to be desired, though. It wasn’t until I was 17 and discovered the Beatles and the American YouTube musician Terra Naomi that my music taste started changing – her songwriting was so genuine and her voice was so amazing. I recall I wanted to be like her at the time. But it wasn’t until I was 21 that I discovered Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, all of whom really shaped my sound.
How old were you when you began singing?
I’m told I started singing before I could talk at age 2. As a child I also used to present fake radio shows on my Sony cassette recorder. (Thank God I stopped doing that.)
When I was 18 I applied for rock school as a singer but was told I couldn’t sing and should pursue songwriting. Then, at age 19, I got into rock school as a songwriter and got some lovely grades for my songwriting. Truth be told, I think my English lyrics were appalling and my singing was hit and miss.
But I think all that changed once I realized I could express real emotion in my music, and that it could transport me to a place where I felt safe and understood. It took another few years, but I think I’ve now “fallen into” a voice and songwriting style that sounds like me. It still doesn’t mean I’m a great singer or songwriter, it just means I do what I feel I should be doing. I think people somehow gravitate to people that are real and honest in their music. I have to say I have been very moved by the response to my music now.
You took up songwriting and playing the guitar at age 17. What inspired you to do so? (Some singers never think of doing either.)
The YouTube musician Terra Naomi and the Beatles inspired me to write songs and play the guitar. Back then, I heard my dad play this version of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” on the guitar. I loved the way he played it and wanted to learn it on the guitar, too. I think I learned this book full of Beatles songs in a few months time. But long before I even knew how to play the guitar, I would write songs. I enjoyed it.
What led you to move to Ireland to pursue a music career?
To be honest, I think I needed a change. I was in rock school and I was told I was a great songwriter but not allowed to continue to the next year. I was heartbroken. Then I found out about Dublin, that people busk on the streets there, that people play music in Whelan’s until six in the morning. I thought I’d give music another go, but instead of sitting in music college all day, I’d actually play gigs as much as I could. It was by far the roughest year in my life, dealing with depression, while having no friends, no money and no real plan other than to play music. But I’m so glad I moved to Ireland. I think fear is the catharsis of courage and strength. You just have walk through it.
You cite Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen as influences. What draws you to their music?
Their music feels real to me. Sometimes they hide behind some lyrical and melodic intellect, but they always reveal enough about themselves to keep me connected. When you listen to their music it feels like as if you know them personally. That’s a rare quality in songwriting.
What is the first album you purchased?
Hilary Duff. This is the part of my life I was hoping not to discuss – ha!
What is the last album you bought?
I don’t buy albums anymore. I prefer to go to gigs and support the artists in that way.
What album(s) would you call your North Star and why? (Something that you never tire of, and turn to in both good and bad times.)
Anything Nick Drake. His music always managed to uplift my spirit. I so wish I’d known him.
Do you prefer digital/streaming, CDs or vinyl?
I stream. But recently I got really into listening to the radio. There’s a few late night radio shows I’m hooked on.
Do you get a chance to go to concerts? What are a few of the more memorable ones you’ve been to?
I’ve never seen Leonard Cohen, but I did get to see Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. They were lovely. Most memorable was recently when I saw Bedouine. Just her, her guitar and her incredible songs. Stunning.