Monica Birkenes, known as Mr Little Jeans, came into musicianship in a way that many of us fantasize about: She ran into Beyoncé's entourage, expressed her interest in making music, was taken gracefully into the studio, where she laid down some poignant tracks and began her career as a musician. Her latest EP, Fevers, was released in late September, and now Birkenese is making her way around the country with her latest tour. She spoke to Westword from the road somewhere in Nebraska to talk about touring, her upcoming full-length album and her creative process post-Beyoncé.
Westword: How is your tour going so far?
Monica Birkenes: Tour is going great. I feel a lot better than I thought I would. I feel pretty fresh today.
Is touring usually difficult for you?
There’s just a lot of late nights, then up early. There’s no sort of breaks, really, so it’s very taxing on the body. It’s a lot of fun meeting people, seeing people. That’s usually the fun part of it. It’s sort of the rest of it that’s a little bit rough.
I’ve read that you prefer the studio aspect of your work because of those taxing aspects of touring, right?
[The studio] is just more of a controlled environment. Like, anything can go wrong when you’re on stage. And sometimes it does, but, honestly, it doesn’t really matter anymore. I’ve learned to just let that go. But it is very comfortable for me in the studio. I know what to expect, and I know what’s gonna happen. Yeah, it’s just like home.
You’ve been putting out singles and EPs over the past two years since your first full-length album, Pocketknife, was released. Why such short pieces?
I think that’s just what happened. There was just a lot of regrouping going on and trying to figure out what I was gonna do [after Pocketknife], and I think I wasn’t’ ready to start an album, so I did an EP in the meantime. It wasn’t really so thought-out, in a way. But I just started the second album, so that’s happening now. I’m like three songs into the new album, so it’s kind of happening at the same time as Fevers.
Has Fevers done much evolving since Pocketknife?
I feel like [Fevers] is more of a continuation of Pocketknife in a way. I think I took a little bit of a turn with [the track] “Fool 4 You” — maybe that’s a little more commercial in a way. But it feels like a continuation of Pocketknife.
And how about your upcoming second album? Will that evolve away from the continuation?
The second album is gonna be slightly different. I’m only three songs in, so I’m hesitant to say how exactly it’s different, but my intention is for it to be a little sparser, like the soundscape of things. I think that Pocketknife was pretty lush and decked out with a lot of noise, a lot of sound all over, so I want to strip it down a little. Hopefully [it will be] a little harder — I always want the sounds to be hard-hitting. And the lyrics are a little more open. I might be expressing myself in a more direct way [with fewer] riddles. But we’ll see what it ends up being in the end.
I've heard you say that starting out making music with Beyoncé's entourage sort of dictated your creative process. Has the way you write and record changed since then, or is it similar?
It’s still the same, and it’s still my own. I like to get a basic track going in the studio with my producer. Stripped-down is better because it’s easier for me to come up with stuff; if there are a lot of chord changes, it’s hard to follow that. So I like just a simple track and to improvise over that and see if anything comes of it. Then I try to piece together a melody if something does comes of it. If not, I take it home and maybe work out more of a melody structure. Then once the melody is there, I write the lyrics. I like to take my time with the lyrics if I can — to take them home and sit with them for a little bit.
You’re originally from Norway, but you’ve lived in L.A. for a while. Is your work affected by either area?
It’s probably more affected by L.A. and America, to be honest. Growing up, the music I was listening to was always American, all the singer-songwriters, like Suzanne Vega. So I think that’s what I’ve gravitated toward and where I ended up. But, obviously I am Norwegian, so that’s going to affect me as a person, I don’t know how, but I’m sure it’s in the music somehow.
Mr Little Jeans performs Thursday, November 17, at 9 p.m. at Larimer Lounge, 303-291-1007.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.