Riseup Live Presents: Jenny Yim
“Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out who you are—you’re not completely yourself,” confesses singer-songwriter Jenny Yim. “But when I’m on stage, I feel the closest thing to the real me. Everything else falls away.”
She’s wanted to be a singer since age 2, when she’d watch her local-musician father perform at weddings. Just two years later, Yim was testing her vocal mettle through an obsession with opera, learning arias from a voice coach. At age 10, her parents put a guitar in her hands, which prompted her to start composing songs. (Fittingly, she named one of her first ones “Free.”). Becoming a musician has always been more fate than a pipe dream for the Oahu, Hawaii, native.
All of the above highlights that Yim is a bit of a natural, yet her rare brilliance actually lies in the empathy that underlies these ambitions. At an age when she should be the most self absorbed, Yim can be found contemplating the human experience around her. “Although some of my songs were written for other people, my personal pain is found throughout most my music. Life’s lessons I’ve learned,” she says. “I write them to make people feel better, to give them a voice, to let them know they are not alone in their experience, and that I can understand their pain too.” If there’s a theme to her debut collections of music, she says, “It’s just about recovering, living your best life.”
Jenny will be releasing music a bit unconventionally. Instead of releasing a debut EP, she will be releasing singles into 5 themed collections. These collections will continually grow as she releases more songs. The themes are So Sad (which will be home to her first release, “Fighter”, on Dec 5th), So Sweet, So Mean, So Close, & So Simple (So Simple will be intimate/ acoustic versions of her songs). “Crozier,” the ruminative track from the collection So Sweet, is a reminder to stop and smell the roses. Its title references a happy place from Jenny’s childhood. (“Take some time off your hands…learn to breathe again,” she sings with nightingale lightness.) “I wrote that song about my mom,” she says, “because she overworks herself a lot, gets stressed out, and never thinks about herself. Everything she does is for other people.” After first hearing the track, “my mom listened to it on repeat and was crying the whole time.” This is the cathartic effect Yim’s music has on her listeners.
Her compassion runs so deep that she was compelled to write another track—the earthy, soulful “Cut the String,” about freeing oneself from an unhealthy romance. Growing up on a steady diet of The Beatles and classic Hawaiian music, she is skilled at toeing the line between tear-jerking and life-affirming. “Take It Easy,” for instance, takes on the epidemic of self-medicating she’s witnessed firsthand. “That song is saying that no matter how bad it gets, you will get through it.”
Part of that clarity comes from her ability to detach, to see the forest for the trees. “I’m definitely a free spirit… a hippie. Nature just re-energizes me,” says Yim, who’s notorious for losing her slippers—such is her instinct to connect her bare feet to the earth. When the muse hits, Yim usually crafts her melodies and lyrics alone in the stillness of night, when she can think more meaningfully. “Writing can be kind of exhausting sometimes. It’s an outlet, but it isn’t a meditative sort of thing for me.” she says. “It comes to me if I am quiet, but I put a lot of my soul into it.” To that end, in the last 7 years, Yim estimates she’s written as many as 170 songs.
Jenny’s first official foray into the industry came when she was asked to perform at weddings and private events. After she found a manager, she upgraded to more prominent venues such as The Republik and the Blue Note, where she has opened for Eric Hutchinson, Lovelytheband, Flora Cash, Joshua Radin, and Summer Salt.
The artists, she found, were resoundingly supportive. “Flora Cash told me to just keep being myself. ‘If you’re a woman in this industry, you have to be strong and stick to what’s true for you,’” Yim recalls them saying. “And Joshua Radin was like, ‘Be yourself and tell your stories. In the end, you only want an audience and a following who follows you for you.’ You talk to these big musicians, and they’re just like, ‘Have fun with it—don’t worry about the other stuff.’” Yim says, “These brief moments of being mentored only reaffirmed that it was ok for me to keep writing the kind of music that comes naturally to me and it gave me the self-confidence to be true to my music and not try to emulate another artist.”
This authenticity convinced Ryan Hadlock (Lumineers, Vance Joy, Brandie Carlile, etc) to produce 6 songs, artist/ producer SYML has also jumped on board to produce 2 songs, and Johnny Helm has produced 1 song, all of which will be featured in her collections. Still in high school, Yim relocated to a hamlet near Seattle for three weeks. She was in her element: Bear Creek Studio is a converted barn nestled in nature (10 acres of woods, to be specific). “That experience was probably the best three weeks of my life,” she says. “It was crazy to see my songs go from a version I recorded in my bedroom and bathroom to these crazy-amazing pieces,” she says.
Songs such as the sweeping, domestic-violence confronting “Fighter” and the gently harmonic “Lifeline,” about the give-and-take of romance, were transformed with strings. Still, she notes, “We tried to keep it raw and not overproduce it so the messages of the songs were not overshadowed.”
Ultimately, Yim’s validation has come from her audiences. “All my friends come to my shows, but seeing people in the crowd that I have never met connecting with my music—that’s really cool. After I started opening up for other musicians, I noticed that people were singing along,” Yim recalls. “That meant so much to me.”
“It has always been my dream to reach as many people as I can through my music, but regardless of where this path takes me, and how big the audience and venues might become, having a true connection with my fans will always be the most important thing.” she says. For her, it’s the shared state of existence that most inspires her, the idea that we are in this together. “I hope that my career grows to a point where I have enough of a voice to make an impact on people’s lives, to effect changes where I can, but never forget that the support of my fans is what got me there.”
About producers Jenny has worked with:
Ryan Hadlock – Ryan Hadlock is a producer, best known for his production work on platinum-selling album The Lumineers by The Lumineers, as well as his work with Vance Joy, Brandi Carlile, and many other phenomenal records.
SYML – SYML is a musician and producer, best known for his hit songs, Where’s My Love, Girl, and his beautifully haunting rendition of Mr. Sandman.
Johnny Helm – Johnny Helm is one of my favorite local musicians 🙂