The prospect of love brought Jen Korte to Denver. Heartache kept her here.
Everything I write about is something I can't have or something that I did have or didn't get," says Jen Korte, explaining the significance of her band's name, the Loss. "It's cool. I'm fine with the fact that I write sad songs. I'm fine with the fact that I write love songs. I'm not a political writer; I'm not a political person. If I could be out there writing really fucking fun dance rock, I would. If I could be writing Explosions in the Sky melodic instrumentals, I would."
While it may seem odd to hear Korte name-check a band like Explosions in the Sky, that group's instrumental rock served as an early inspiration for the now-27-year-old singer-songwriter. Korte started playing guitar when she was eighteen, when a metal-head named Jordan (who wore Slayer T-shirts and "smelled like cigarettes and rock and roll all the time") gave her an old classical guitar with three strings and a chord book. At first she was playing loud rock, but after seeing the Austin-based Explosion in small dive bars, she began trying to write more intricate guitar parts. Eventually, the intricacy gave way to intimacy, in the form of more contemplative songs with confessional lyrics along the lines of Ani DiFranco and Mazzy Star, who also served as early influences. Four years ago, Korte followed a girlfriend out to Denver, and when things didn't work out between the two of them, she stayed behind and dealt with the breakup by drinking and writing songs.
"I was really lonely for a really long time," she confesses. "I was getting to that point where I was like, "Fuck — why can't people just be?' They're just so scared and guarded and afraid. I didn't have any other way to do it but sing it out, because I was sad at home, drunk. I was writing these songs when I was crying. That sounds so cheesy, but I was upset. It's a way you can find to console yourself — I'm consoling myself. I can't call whoever I need to call. It's five in the morning and I can't sleep. What am I supposed to do right now? Some people drink it out of themselves. Some people smoke it out of themselves. Some people get angry and sit there in fear with it and bottle it up. But that's the shit I wanna listen to. That's what I listen to."
That dark period inspired eight of the dozen songs that make up Korte's gorgeous, self-titled full-length, which, as she puts is, has "a little bit of makeout music, a little bit of crying music and a little bit of rock." Bassist Jim Ruberto recorded and co-produced the album with Korte at Blue Tower Studio, where he works as an engineer. The album, which took her and the band about a year to make, kicks off with drummer Dan Luehring's snappy alt-country timekeeping on "It's a Little Hard, Dear."
"The whole thing is really about homophobia," Korte says about the song. "Where can we go? Where can we hide? It's also pertaining to my life and what am I going to do with my life. And so it's just a breakdown of communication of, 'I don't know what I'm doing; I don't know where we're going' — the homophobia part of dating somebody who may not be totally comfortable. It's really a shout-out to 'Where can we go?' And it being like a shoot-out, like, 'Lets just go out and ride it.' That's my attitude. Not fight or flight, but just, 'What's the point? It's not that big of a deal.'"
"I'm such a 'fuck it' person," she goes on. "Not like, 'Fuck it, it doesn't matter,' but I don't care. Most of the time I'm like, 'You feel the same way. You're just sitting in your head about it.' It's funny, like my girlfriend I'm with now, she's like, 'Oh, dude, the first week you told me you loved me and were crying on the couch.' And I was like, 'Whatever, I did not.' And she's like, 'No, you totally did.' At the same time, I was like, 'I probably did.' I was probably like, 'I love you' — not that I throw that around a lot. I don't know why I'm like that. I really don't."
While Korte might not be afraid to expose her feelings through her album's songs, which started off as poems or letters, at times there's a charcoal-tinged fragility in her vocal delivery. When she pairs with Jessica DeNicola, who's been in the Loss the longest, the two vocalists make some truly divine music together, especially on "Fleeting" and "Shoreline," in which Korte sings, "I've been drinking too much of you lately."
"I just didn't know how to deal with myself for a little bit," she elaborates. "I think everybody goes through that in their twenties. We're all like, 'I don't wanna deal with myself.' And you start looking around, and everybody has theirs, and everybody's doing that. It's just drinking and calling this girl in the middle of the night, and you're like, 'I'm so sorry,' and she's like, 'Quit calling me.' I've been drinking too much of you lately. Can I just keep calling you drunk?
"I never felt like I had a problem with alcohol," Korte continues. "It was just a period where I was drinking a lot of whiskey and drunk-dialing people. Lonely and scared, and also being in Denver and being like, 'Where am I?' I just picked up and moved. I don't know where I'm at. My family's like, 'Come home.'"
So far, Korte has resisted the urge to return home to Texas. Turns out she's quite at home here these days. Energized by meeting like-minded songwriters like Jack Redell and Rachael Pollard, whom she met at the Moveable Feast Festival in 2007, Korte has immersed herself in the scene. Prior to that, she had been performing at open-mike nights at places like Mead Street Station and the Mercury Cafe, just trying to meet people and build up her confidence. Back then, she had no idea Denver had a such a vibrant scene. "I'd been here for two years, and I didn't know any of it," she says of the scene. "I just worked really hard to play shows with people I really liked and become friends with them. Now I'm at the point in my life where I'm trying to keep what I have — not in the sense that I'm losing it, but in respecting and loving and being careful with what you do have."
Since moving to the Mile High City, Korte's also noticeably come into her own as an artist. A fan of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Otis Redding, Harry Belafonte (Swing Dat Hammer is one of her favorite albums) and the blues of Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Bessie Smith, she's taken all of her various influences and melded them into an alluring, distinctive sound all her own.
"Sometimes in my head when I'm writing, I feel like I can hear a guy's voice, like it's a guy singing the song," reveals Korte. "I don't think it has anything to do with being gay. It has a lot to do with me listening to old blues. It doesn't come out that way, but for me, I love it. That's what I identify with a lot."
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