Indie Soul Music Review: Meshae Studios recently took a journey into the mind, spirit and soul of London-based singer-songwriter Jinja Brew to better understand her latest single Thrice, her musical influences, what she hopes to accomplish as an artist and her humble beginnings in New York City
Just over three years ago Jinja Brew was a recent grad working as a barista to make ends meet in Washington DC. One day she came across this quote after reading a book entitled “Just Kids” by Patti Smith:
“New York is the thing that seduced me.
New York is the thing that formed me.
New York is the thing that deformed me.
New York is the thing that perverted me.
New York is the thing that converted me.
And New York’s the thing I love too.”
As cliche as it may sound, these words gave her the courage to pursue her dreams. “I was just out of film school, living in Washington, DC, working at a cafè and applying to jobs, but nothing seemed to come through. I saved up about $600 and got on the Megabus to New York with a large suitcase.”
Her latest single Thrice brings back the classic throwback sound of jazz, blues and folk. You can check out the song here. The song was inspired by three horizontal lines tattooed on her friend’s middle finger. Each line signifies a time her friend had her heart broken, to remind herself that she’s been there before, and she will get through it. “Vulnerability is a persons greatest strength. When you feel you’ve hit rock bottom and you start to shed off all of the crutches, frills, masks and distractions, and truly embrace your core emotions there is really nothing else to fear.”
Meshae Studios: What is it about New York City that you miss the most?
Jinja Brew: Man, do I miss the NYC subway. There were so many late nights when I would take my headphones, journal, a pen, a camera and ride the train for a few hours from one end of line to the other. It really comforted me to be all alone, but all alone, together, if that makes any sense. I found it really creatively inspiring to just listen, watch, and feel all the heavy eyelids all around me. The subway is full of different energies, and I almost felt this immediate obligation to create or capture each moment through visual media or music.
Meshae Studios: Jinja Brew is an interesting name. What does it mean?
Jinja Brew: Jinja means “I am human” in Japanese (人じゃ); I spell “brew” as a weird bilingual homonym, the way it would sound if you pronounced it in Japanese – “blues” (ブルーズ). So in my strange Japanenglish, it means “ I-am-human’s blues.” It also alludes to temple (神社) and of course my all time favorite root, ginger.
Meshae Studios: For our readers who have never heard your music, explain your sound in five words.
Jinja Brew: A musician’s favorite question! I always have a hard time answering this one. Duke Ellington said that the highest compliment you can give to an artist is to be “beyond category”– so I hope to be that one day. But for now, how’s, hmm… “folk / blues-tinged soul?”
Meshae Studios: What artist has had the greatest effect on you?
Jinja Brew: It would probably be Miss Nina Simone. She was revolutionary in her music and uncompromisingly talked about the personal as political. She was the most patriotic musician in a sense. When I say patriotic, I mean she fearlessly fought for America like no one else did. You know that from the bottom of her heart, she needed to use music to express the inhumane condition of black Americans. She did not take her gift, or the power of music, lightly. She said the things people were thinking but never had the audacity or courage to say. She didn’t give a shit about mainstream success if it meant she would have to sensor the truth that needed told. She also shed perspective on the narrative of being a woman – a women’s strength, her self-worth, and her complete surrender. Her content never felt puppeteered even when she did a cover; she always added her own experience into it.
Meshae Studios: What are your favorite live music venues in New York City?
Jinja Brew: I love the Shrine in Harlem, but my favorite has to be the Music Inn in the west village – it will always have a special place in my heart.
Meshae Studios: What makes your art different?
Jinja Brew: I try to look inside of myself and my own experiences as an Asian-American female; as a kid who grew up with a single mom, as someone who’s worked a bunch of odd jobs, etc. As soon as you stop trying to emulate an artist or a technique, you’re working with something special there. You! I’m always thinking about what a fourth-grade-version of me would have loved to see as a role model.
Meshae Studios: Do you desire mainstream success? What is your definition of success?
Jinja Brew: I think it was Bob Dylan who said, “What’s Money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do.” I agree with that, but we also live in a capitalist society and I’ve grown up working class. I have family members who have worked so hard to build and support one another, who have pulled our family out of past inhibitions and roadblocks. I’d like to make art in between waking up and going to sleep, AND not feel like it’s a selfish thing to do.
Connect with Jinja Brew.