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Jen Olive Goes Ape House

02/08/2010
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Jen Olive is the latest in that select group of handpicked artists signed to Andy Partridge's Ape House record label. Jen Olive, described by Andy as ''this astounding allegro algorithm from Albuquerque", has conjured up an album that's as singular in style as in its manner of recording, a collaboration between Jen and Andy from across the world. The result, Jen Olive's debut album, Warm Robot, is scheduled for release on March 29th.

Born in California but "raised everywhere", Jen Olive's mother was a lounge jazz singer, her father a trombone player. "We probably moved about 35 times before I was 16", she explains. Having eventually settled in L.A., she then moved to Albuquerque a few years ago to meet her dad's "crazy jazz" family (her uncle is the lead saxophone player for the Count Basie Orchestra).

Moving to Albuquerque had a profound effect on her. "It's a weird and foreign landscape compared to L.A. or New York", she says. "It's pretty Wild West, but at the same time it's the kind of place where you'd expect aliens to land. The joke is that we had a perfectly nice third world country till they started putting streetlights in. The depth and character of the place is in the old indigenous families, and you can't help but be influenced by the culture. It's very different, there's not a lot of conventional Americana here."

Warm Robot is Jen Olive's first "official" album, despite some low-key, self-released recordings in the past under different names. She prefers what she calls "an attachment to anonymity", though she accepts she's now running with the name Jen Olive. If Warm Robot enjoys the success it deserves, she'll be calling herself Jen Olive for quite a long while.

Jen first hooked up with Andy Partridge back in 2007, sending him an exploratory e-mail after a friend suggested he might be open to ideas. She didn't know a lot about Andy, despite having bought Skylarking and Oranges & Lemons back in the day. For months she and Andy were in regular contact, until Andy suggested she should make a record for Ape.

"After hearing the initial songs", continues Jen, "Andy asked if he could arrange and mix them, as they were a little too raw and unfinished-sounding." Aside from "Boulevard" (which opens the album), all the songs were written and recorded in real time, from spring until winter of 2008. Jen wrote and recorded them at home, sent them to Andy and, while he was enhancing them, she'd write and record some more until they had enough for an album - a process she describes as "from shack to shed".

Jen and Andy discovered a perfect musical synchronicity purely by chance (though they didn't actually meet until last December, by which time the album was finished). When she sent each new song to Andy, Jen sketched out the album's intriguing percussion parts using rocks, wine bottles, her kid's blocks - anything she had to hand. Andy reimagined her basic percussive techniques and then added other effects (such as a choir at the end of "Set It On Fire"), as well as some spooky keyboards here and there. "He filled in the blank spaces. It was all recorded in a very organic and natural way. Who would have thought I'd need to hook up with someone 7,000 miles across the world to make something that made sense? It's ludicrous that I haven't been able to do this with anyone local but Andy has his penchants and I have mine. We found we had compatible levels of weirdness."

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