Jann Klose

When it comes to diverse musical influences, singer-songwriter Jann Klose has you covered. The German-born, US-based musician spent time on three different continents growing up, granting him an outside perspective on popular music. A self-taught keyboardist and guitarist, Klose has released two EPs and three full-length albums as of 2012, with a fourth on the way. The path of his musical career is peppered with notable, unique accomplishments - a 2005 musical based on his work, live performances with venerated musicians like Les Paul and an appearance in the 2012 Jeff Buckley biopic, Greetings from Tim Buckley.

Klose's music is emotive and artfully arranged, the soundtrack of an aspiring musician's ups and downs. Heartbreak, longing, and an idealistic sense of always reaching for something more bubble up across his albums, painting a portrait of a talented, driven musician. With his restless creativity and a number of inspiring collaborations, the singer has high hopes for his forthcoming album, projected for an early 2013 release.
Luke Dailey (Songfacts): You were born in Germany, you lived in a couple of places in Africa, and then I think you went back to Germany before ending up in the United States. Do you think that's had a significant impact on your sound and songwriting?

Jann: Well, I think it's made me just open minded in general. So I tend to be very childlike when it comes to trying stuff. I like using instruments that I may not have used before, or that I discover somewhere, and that are from different parts of the world. It's affected my interest in using eclectic types of instruments.

I mean, the music I was listening to was mainly American music. But it was the surroundings, being in Africa, seeing instruments and people that used them and played them very well, that I think sparked that fascination for me.

Songfacts: All the different cultures really would give you a more diverse sound, I'd imagine. So you say you listened to a lot of American music in general, too. Was there a particular artist who really got you into songwriting or made you want to be a musician?

Jann: You know, it wasn't anyone in particular. When I first discovered Prince, I wanted to be a performer. He really excited me as far as being on stage and playing and singing. But I listen to a lot of classic rock and Motown and whatever really was popular, which was all across the board. So from English classic rock, American classic rock, to Motown, and then later on I got into jazz; I got into fusion - pretty extensively got into fusion - which I think has sparked my friendship with a lot of these progressive rock and classic rock folks that I perform and collaborate with.

Songfacts: I imagine you'd also be a big Paul Simon fan, particularly Graceland.

Jann: Oh, I am.
Graceland is the seventh studio album, released in 1987, by singer-songwriter Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel fame. The album was strongly influenced by South African music and was critically hailed as an impressive new creative direction for Simon. It ended up being Simon's best-selling album in over a decade, while drawing attention to South African musicians and securing multiple positions on year-end, best-of lists. It also netted Simon a pair of Grammys: Album of the Year and Record of the Year for the title track.

Songfacts: Because you sound like him, definitely. It struck me listening to your songs.

Jann: Yeah. Thank you, that's a nice compliment. I love Paul. He probably is my number one favorite songwriter. There are lots, but I keep coming back to him. There's something about him. But it changes. It's not always one particular thing. Like right now I'm really into James Mercer from the Shins. I just really love how he writes. Or Clare from Clare and the Reasons. I love that group. I just saw them a couple of days ago here in Brooklyn. But I just love how she writes. I think she co-writes with her husband. I met both of them afterwards and they're nice people. So it changes.

Songfacts: That's very cool. I just listened to two of your newest songs, "Falling Tears" and "Still." They both seem to come from a similar place, like thematically they're both a little bit about being heartbroken and figuring out what to do about it. Would you care to talk about how you came up with these songs, whether you write from personal experience, or is it more along the lines just wanting to try your hand at those sorts of songs?

Jann: They are from personal experience. I was actually sitting and talking to a friend of mine who's a music business guy. He's been around forever. He used to work with some of the bigwigs, including Michael Jackson. He's a good friend of mine, and I call him occasionally and bounce stuff off of him. And he was like, "I really like that song, 'Still' and 'Falling Tears.'" And I was like, "Yeah, this sucks. I have to fall in love and break up every time to write a song like that." (Laughs) And it's like, yeah, that's what you do. You fall in love, break up, fall in love, break up, write a song, fall in love, break up, write a song.

But you can't keep doing that forever. Eventually, you have to kind of stop and look around you and find other shit to write about. Songwriting's always been something for me to sort of work through stuff and try to understand better what I'm going through. And it's been a great reflector that way for me. That's the main reason I write, I think. But that, too, has changed a little bit over the years.

Songfacts: Yeah. I think the creative experience in general's a great way to get through stuff, at least figure it out and just look at it separately from yourself. It makes me think of another song I really enjoy, it was "Question of the Heart." The song is very personal. It's from Reverie. It's stripped down, you and the piano, and then the cello entered the mix, and I was kind of blown away by how beautiful that moment was. I just thought it was a really powerful song. What was writing that song like? Where did that one come from?

Jann: Again, it was the same kind of situation. I had met somebody and we were going somewhere, and then it just kind of crashed and burned. And I remember where I was. I was in Baltimore, Maryland when I had that melody just pop up into my head. And then the things just took shape from there.

And the melody that the cello plays, my current bass player, Chris Marolf, wrote and arranged. So I was like, "Hey, do you want to do this?" And he said, "Yeah." So he came out with that.

Songfacts: It turned out really nice. You said that one came from a melody. Is that usually how you write your songs? Do you have the melody first and then build around there, or is it sometimes the lyrics first?

Jann: Yeah. Usually a melody.

Songfacts: And then you find that feeling you want to convey. And Reverie in general I noticed there's a lot of personal lyrics, a lot of romantic lyrics. But the last song, "The Beginning," was different. I thought it was really great, but a little less straightforward, like kind of maybe more poetic style. Anything you want to say about that one?

Jann: Yeah. I wrote that when I was still living in Germany. It was a poem at first. It was just a lyric. There was no melody. And then a few years later - while I was in school in Cleveland, Ohio, where I lived before I moved here 10 years ago - I was just kind of experimenting with the poem and just kind of ran a few chords over it and just started singing the lyrics. And just whatever came out, and that's how it ended up.

And then it became sort of this experimental thing for us to do at shows. We would just kind of play it, and it would be different every time. It would never be the same thing. It was the type of thing where we could open up and just experiment and be really free rather than play a song and play an arrangement. We'd never know how it would end up. And eventually I played it with different band members that I've had over the years. And the arrangement always stayed the same, the arc always stayed the same. I think that was mainly because once we figured out where the arc was, I would sing it that way or perform it that way. And the band would more or less follow.

But it always gave one of the musicians some space to really open up in solo. And in this case that was Lars Potteiger, who's the keyboardist. That's piano, you know, at the end. It's a live take that we did. We did like five or six of them, and that was one of them that we kept for the record.

Songfacts: I really like the musical side of it, the way it built up and felt pretty enormous for a couple of minutes. I thought that was a really great way to end the album.

Jann: Thanks.

Songfacts: Off your Sacrifice EP, two songs, "The Sacrifice" and "Waiting for the Wave," I noticed they're both upbeat, kind of cheerful, but the lyrics are maybe a little more downtrodden and not so happy about stuff. Is that something you do on purpose, try and create this contrast between the lyrics and the sound of the song, or is that just something that happened to come out that time on those songs?

Jann: No. It's not purposeful. It just kind of comes out that way. "Waiting for the Wave" is about 9/11, more or less. And "Sacrifice" is about coming out of something, like a new beginning, and leaving something behind. But I don't really think about it that way. The way it layers and the way it comes out at the end is just the way I feel it, and I want to do it.

Songfacts: It seems like you have a natural touch for that sort of stuff.

Jann: Well, thanks. It's interesting how you're perceiving it. I haven't really talked about those songs a whole lot with people. Those two in particular.

Songfacts: I enjoyed them a lot. Another thing I noticed is that Reverie was crowd- funded, and that made me think of Kickstarter, which has been getting a lot of attention recently. Amanda Palmer recently got this million-dollar album crowd-funded that's gotten tons of support and coverage. So, in that sense, you're kind of ahead of the time. What do you think about this moving forward for musicians – new models where maybe the fans will fund their album and you get to remove the middle man, the label?

Jann: Well, I don't know if it's the future, but it is the present. I'll tell you that. Everyone's doing it. I did it with Reverie, we did it before there was Kickstarter. We got letters and emails to people directly. And with the new one that's coming out first part of next year - which is almost done - I'm so excited. It took a long time to make, but it was the same thing. We used just PayPal and my website. I would probably use a site like Kickstarter next time.

Songfacts: Yeah. In a way, you were very ahead of your time.

Jann: Yeah. I guess. It always feels good to do that, to say that, doesn't it? But what I think about music, as far as a business is concerned, it's been so difficult for so many people to get heard. And I'm including myself in that. I used to just feel horrible about that. Like why can't I, why won't, you know - why, why, why, why. And I learned to embrace that. Because I've never really known the music business to be anything else.

When I started in the business, it was on a steep decline. At first, when I was living in Cleveland when I was in college between '96 and 2000, I was signed to a small label. But then, the company got bought out, and everything just fell apart. So I went a different route. I started doing shows and doing Broadway, and I got work as a singer immediately. And so I thought, okay, maybe this is my path.

But then, I kept coming back to songwriting and wanting to be a performer and make records. And I've always dreamed about doing that. And then things started to happen on an indie level for me. So I figured, okay, well, maybe this is just the way it's going to be. And that's been true ever since. I've struggled immensely with trying to get people in high positions to say, "Here's a million dollars, make the record you want, and we'll promote the shit out of it for you." But that has, to this day, not happened. And that has not happened for many people that I think are more talented than I am.

So I don't feel bad about it anymore. I've seen people that have gotten deals with big indie labels, friends of mine, and they're playing the same clubs I'm playing. We're all struggling. We're all trying to get heard and trying to get that TV and that film placement. And it's just an overrun market and there's no money because nobody wants to pay for music anymore. So the paradigm has shifted, it's turned on its head. And this is the way it is.

As for what it ends up being, I think it's going to calibrate itself because of Spotify and things like that, subscription services. But most of the money is going to be in live shows and in placements and synch licenses. At least for now. Until there's enough money again to foster talent. And that's not going be until people start to get tired of American Idol, which I think they are.

It's really, really tough out there, but I don't regret for a single moment that I've chosen this path. Because you never know what can happen. You never know.
Jeff Buckley is a deceased American singer/songwriter, son of Tim Buckley, also a musician. The film, directed by Daniel Algrant and starring Penn Badgley, is a rough biography of Jeff, particularly following the complex relationship the musician had with his father's legacy. Although much of the narrative is "fictionalized and conjectured" for the sake of making an emotionally honest film, it culminates in a famed concert wherein Jeff Buckley performed a set of his father's songs. It premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and was well-received by most critics.

Songfacts: I really like that answer. It's very insightful. It's obvious you've got a ton of passion as an artist, which I think always shows through in the music, too. Speaking of movie placements, you're in the upcoming movie biopic Greetings from Tim Buckley. Do you think that's going to maybe get you some more publicity, a little bit more exposure from that?

Jann: Yeah. Sure. It's interesting, Variety reviewed the film. It wasn't a particularly good review. But they put my name in there, so that's kind of cool, together with Penn Badgley, who plays Jeff. The film did well at the Toronto Film Festival, but is it going to get a distributor? We'll see. I don't know. It's up in the air.

That was a really cool thing to do because I love Jeff's music, I love Tim's music maybe even more. I got to sing for my part. I haven't seen the final product, so I don't know how much I'm in there. I know I'm in it, I know I got credit, because Gary Lucas - my friend, Gary, who used to write with Jeff and who I'm writing with now - he said he saw my credit. He went to the festival, and so I know I'm in it. I just don't know how much. I don't know how much the film's going to take off, what kind of distribution the film's going to get. It's like tons of question marks right now.

But I have to say that I loved doing it. It's great to be a part of something like that. It's totally different than what I'm doing, which is great. It's nice to step out of being in this sort of insular bubble of making records and get to do other things. That was really great. And it's totally out of my control, which I'm not used to. (Laughs) I hope the film gets a distributor and people get to see it in theaters. We'll see. It's a good movie, I'll tell you that. I enjoyed it.

Songfacts: Looking back over your whole career, would you say your songwriting process has changed? Do you maybe take a different approach now than you would have when you were younger?

Jann: Oh, yeah. Definitely. That changes all the time. The thing that I've done that I'm doing now that I haven't done - that I didn't used to do - is I'm co-writing a lot more. I'm co-writing with Gary, I'm co-writing with a friend of mine who's an up-and-coming singer and songwriter. And I'm co-writing with other people. I'm collaborating a lot more than I used to, and that's opened me up to a lot of new possibilities. And that's been really good for me to do that.

Songfacts: Is there a favorite collaboration you've done? A favorite song that's coming out or has come out?

Jann: I love the stuff I'm writing with Gary. There's a song that's on YouTube. It's a performance we did in New York. It's called "Secret Wings." Gary and I wrote that. And we play it together. There's a YouTube clip of it, if you just search "Secret Wings," you'll find it. It'll come right up. And it's pretty new. I mean, we just wrote it. And I love that tune. That's really fun.

Songfacts: I'll definitely check it out. All right, well, thanks for everything. It really has been a pleasure.

Jann: Same here, man. Definitely.

October 26, 2012. Get more at jannklose.com.
More Songwriter Interviews


Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

The Fratellis

The FratellisSongwriter Interviews

Jon Fratelli talks about the band's third album, and the five-year break leading up to it.

Rick Springfield

Rick SpringfieldSongwriter Interviews

Rick has a surprising dark side, a strong feminine side and, in a certain TV show, a naked backside. But he still hasn't found Jessie's Girl.

Rupert Hine

Rupert HineSongwriter Interviews

Producer Rupert Hine talks about crafting hits for Tina Turner, Howard Jones and The Fixx.

The Truth Is Out There: A History of Alien Songs

The Truth Is Out There: A History of Alien SongsSong Writing

The trail runs from flying saucer songs in the '50s, through Bowie, blink-182 and Katy Perry.

Supertramp founder Roger Hodgson

Supertramp founder Roger HodgsonSongwriter Interviews

Roger tells the stories behind some of his biggest hits, including "Give a Little Bit," "Take the Long Way Home" and "The Logical Song."

John Waite

John WaiteSongwriter Interviews

"Missing You" was a spontaneous outpouring of emotion triggered by a phone call. John tells that story and explains what MTV meant to his career.