Jenn Vix embraces vintage electronic sounds with her new “6” EP

Your music has varied quite a bit from release to release. Could you discuss the evolution of your sound?

Jenn Vix: Okay, first of all, I would say that when I started, I was more into the dream pop kind of sound. But I like all genres of music, sans a couple, so I experimented for a little while with different sounds. I went from dream pop to straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, and then I got into more electronic stuff. I went back into rock ‘n’ roll again with John Ashton and then to a place where I was combining both. The reason I call myself electronic rock is that I have elements of both electronic music and rock. I would say 98% of the time there are guitars in my music. Sometimes, I use electronic tones; sometimes, I don’t. I like to mix it up. But there’s always a little bit of both, and even on my most rock-orientated album, there are still keyboards. On this first record that I did, most people assumed there was all keyboard action going on, but actually, most of it was my guitar through a Yamaha FX-500. So I would mimic the sound of keyboards with my guitar. But now I don’t do that anymore really.

Do you feel you have a general approach to songwriting and composition? When writing “6,” were you specifically thinking about focusing on electronic sounds?

Jenn Vix: It comes from a feeling. Sometimes, I get the lyrics first; sometimes, I get the music stuck in my head. Then I flesh it out in my mind, “Well, do I want to use keyboards on this, or do I want to start with a guitar?” I guess it depends on my mood. I was in the mood to do an electronic record this time. The place where the lyrics were coming from had an electronic feel to me in my mind. I did put [some] guitar on the EP, but it wasn’t the main focus. The songs just sounded better to me this way.

What are the most essential tools used in creating your music?

Jenn Vix: Here’s the irony of it: I work with a digital audio workstation, but I started recording on 24-track reel-to-reel tape. I’m also a recording engineer, and I didn’t learn how to use a digital audio workstation until about 1997. A recording engineer I was working with taught me how to use a DAW, and then I also took digital audio workstation lessons from someone at Motown. I think that is hilarious considering Motown had really been all about tape.

My keyboard sounds are not new sounds. I’m using plugins, but the sounds that I’m using are old analog sounds from the ’70s and the ’80s primarily. I like those sounds because a lot of the bands that I listen to, who inspire me, use those sounds. Such as Wire; that band is a favorite of mine. And The Human League—way back in the day, even before the women joined the band, even when they were called The Future. That sort of thing really inspires me. Oh, and Cabaret Voltaire also. That’s a big one.

Another thing about me I should tell you is that when I record, I don’t record a pass and then copy and paste it; I play through the entire song live. I like to keep that human vibe in my music, even though it’s electronic. If something doesn’t sound right, I’ll stop recording, and I’ll punch in, and I’ll keep playing.

Had you previously used the original hardware versions of those synths?

Jenn Vix: Most are things I discovered as plugins, though back in the past I used to use a Roland Juno-106. Long before I was a solo artist, I was in bands, starting when I was a teenager around 1984. I’ve had a Juno-106 and a Korg; I believe it was an M1, and I played that. Now I’m still using that part, but I’m using it through a DAW.

With the Juno-106, one of the things I particularly liked about it back in the day was that it had chorus on board. I loved that. It’s a little different now; I just play the sounds and then I alter them a little bit with effects through my DAW. I use Cubase exclusively. I’m a fan Cubase, I love it so much. A lot of people I know use Macs, but I use Cubase through a PC that I built myself. It was more cost-effective. That’s what I do. I can definitely tweak the sounds a lot more than I could back then, especially when I was recording on tape. I used to have to do crazy things like flip the tape, and I did all that.

Then there’s the Fairlight CMI – a bunch of people had used it. Kate Bush used it; Peter Gabriel used it. At the time, I never played one because they were too expensive. But I’ve used that through a plugin.

Having played in bands, what made you decide to focus on a solo career?

Jenn Vix: I was in a band in New York City. To be blunt, the people around me were too high. They weren’t paying attention. They were stoned out of their mind; they were off their tits, as they say. I got fed up with it. I said, “Well, I’m here to make music.” It’s okay if you want to get a little baked, that’s fine, I’m not a control freak. I didn’t mind people being baked and having a good time, but when it got to point where they were so high they couldn’t play their instruments, I got fed up. I thought it was a waste of time.

I don’t mean to sound overly conservative here, but I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I went off on my own. I said basically, “F you, and good luck. I hope things work out for you, but I’m going on my own to get this done because I’m determined to make the kind of music that I want to make.” That requires me being in a room with people who aren’t so high that they have their instruments so de-tuned that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. That was a big motivator. Also, I was in a situation with a guitarist who wanted to be more space rock, and I wanted to go to the future.

They were sort of stuck in a rut and really high, and wanting to make space rock. I will say this – when I was at Danceteria, and I was playing with people there, that was an opportunity for me to play with people who are of a like mind. I did a one-off gig with Nicole Willis, and Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys was on bass, that was a great show.

Oh and another thing about me I should mention is that I’m very into funk and soul music. That’s why there’s a funky element in my sound. I wouldn’t say I got into straight-up arguments with people about it, but people would fight me on it. They didn’t want to be funky. They wanted to play straight up rock ‘n’ roll all the time, and I like a little groove in my music.

So, I just went my separate way, and then in the ’90s, I did try to form another band, but my drummer’s wife was having a baby, and then he said, “Well, I don’t believe you’re going to make it.” The irony of this is that I had record labels interested in me at the time. I was almost signed to a label, and I turned down another signing. My debut album was reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine, and the David Letterman Show called my house. But my band still didn’t believe in me. I’m just going to be blunt here: I think the guys in the band didn’t like being told what to do by a woman. I wasn’t even really telling them what to do, I was just making suggestions and trying to work with them.

I guess they thought I was working at them and so that’s where the sexism element comes in to play. So I said, “Forget it, I’m just gonna go do it all myself, and maybe I’ll find some people who believe in me,” or who won’t say, “Oh you’re a girl, you can’t do that,” or, “I don’t want to be told what to do by a woman.” I tried again to get into another band, but it just didn’t work. Another irony is that I couldn’t get local people to work with me, but legends played with me. Now, don’t you find that kind of ironic and funny?

Could you talk about some of the musicians you have collaborated with as a solo artist?

Jenn Vix: On this EP, I worked with Dave Barbarossa, the drummer from Bow Wow Wow. He played on the track “Show Me the Sun,” which is about what happened to me a few years back. The previous EP had John Ashton from the Psychedelic Furs playing guitar on it. Before that, I worked with Danny Chavis of The Veldt, and Andy Anderson of The Cure. Andy Anderson unfortunately recently passed away, which was heartbreaking for me. He played on “I Don’t Trust You.”

Are the collaborators usually people you have known, or do you seek out people for specific needs?

Jenn Vix: I’ve known Dave since 1981 when I was just a kid. My grandfather used to work in an arena in Providence, Rhode Island, and even though I lived in New York City at the time, I used to come and visit him. So, I met Dave Barbarossa when I had an all-access backstage pass to a Police gig. Bow Wow Wow was opening for The Police and I ended up making fast friends with him, and I was also friends with the late Matthew Ashman, who I miss very much. I think about him all the time, and Dave and I always talk online about Matthew. I’ve also played with Marco Pirroni, who I will say is one of my best friends. I trust him with my life, I really do. Some of them [the collaborators] I’d known in real life, some of them I did not. Reeves Gabrel, who’s now in The Cure, played with David Bowie. He found me on Facebook, and we became friends, and we talked a lot on the phone, and then we ended up recording together. On this one, it’s just Dave. To say just Dave is an understatement. Dave is a drum monster and is also a really nice guy.

What is the motivation behind putting out EPs rather than full albums?

Jenn Vix: I can put out more music in less time and keep it going. I’d love to put out a full album, but I’ve sadly noticed that in the streaming world, when you’re an independent artist, albums don’t get as much attention as EPs. In my position and in these times, it’s better for me to put out EPs and singles. But again, I find that kind of sad. And I will say that I lost a tremendous amount of income from streaming. When people purchase music at iTunes, I was able to pay all my bills with the money I earned through music, and now I can’t do that.

I hope that changes soon. There were some people in the music industry who, you know, I’m not all that fond of, but I have to say, they were correct about this. People like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, who believe it or not I like quite a bit. Taylor Swift can put out an album, and it will get a lot of attention because she’s Taylor Swift. Again, indie musicians end up putting out EPs so we can put more stuff out. And I’m going to continue to do that until I get to a point where I can make full albums and they get the attention.

Do you currently perform live?

Jenn Vix: Yes I do. I perform solo and I also perform with a band called Positive Negative Man from Boston, Massachusetts. I’m right now in a band with a bunch of guys whom I like a lot. I go and play with them, and then I go and do my own thing. They also back me up live, so if I have a gig, they’ll back me up. I have another bass player who plays with me as well. I don’t really write music with them. They play my music, but I also sing their music with them, which is really fun. I enjoy it an awful lot. They’re a huge part of my life right now. I have also been a manager; I own a management company called Vortex Music Management LLC. I manage myself, I manage them, and I manage Detroit Rebellion. So, I do a lot of things. I also shoot videos and edit videos. I do a lot of stuff on the side.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

Jenn Vix: I think the most important thing for musicians is never to give up. I’m 52 years old, and I’m still going. I almost died of a misdiagnosed illness; I almost dropped dead. A few years ago, there was a point, I must tell you, where I was so fucked up that I couldn’t even listen to music for months. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and I went and got some help for it. You know, after I almost died, I went through that.. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, you’re never going to make anything of yourself,” and “Oh, your music sounds too 1980s.” It’s funny because that’s what’s popular in the alternative world now, so I’m in a good place right now. They would shout in my face, “Oh, you’re never gonna become anything,” and then “Women don’t make it in music; you need men behind you,” and yadda yadda yadda. If I could say anything to anybody, it would just be, “Don’t give up”.

On my left arm, I have the words, “Never give up.” After I almost died, I had that tattooed on my left arm. Every day when I wake up, I see that, and it reminds me never to give up. I want to tell everyone else, “Believe in yourself, never give up if they tell you [that] you can’t do it.” They told me I would never make anything of myself. Local people said, “Oh, you’ll never make anything of yourself,” and then I played with legends. So, if I can do it, anyone can do it.

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