California singer-songwriter still connected to Utah
When folk singer-songwriter Jen Hajj moved to Carlsbad, Calif., in October, it was a loss for Utah.
Hajj, 43, had lived in Utah for nearly 30 years, attending Westminster College and the University of Utah.
She also had a long history with the local acoustic music scene, as a performer, a house concert host and a DJ; for more than three years, she was the host of KRCL's Sunday Bluegrass Express.
Her third album, "Love Is Everywhere," was released on May 17 and despite having a ZIP code that starts with 9 has already picked up the award for Favorite Folk Artist or Band from the Intermountain Acoustic Music Association.
Hajj is still deeply connected to the Utah scene and celebrated her new record with a show at the Black Box at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City.
Describe your approach to music.
My main instrument has always been my voice. â¦ I started writing my own music in the folk style about seven years ago, and it has taken my instrumental ability a while to catch up with my writing. I think it is getting better, and the things I am writing right now are more intricate than anything I have ever played. I should probably say a few things about the kind of music I do. I call it folk, mostly because it is a little homespun. The definition of folk varies widely out there in the world. The classical training has had a huge impact on me and my writing, and some of my songs might be classified as "art songs" just as easily as they would be called folk musings. I write about how I feel, places that make me feel at home and ideas that are "true" for me or that I wish were true. Some people classify this as "New Folk." I've described it as the stuff you would listen to while sipping a hot cup of tea and petting a cat.
What brought you to Utah 30 years ago?
I didn't choose Utah to begin with. I was in high school when we moved, and I felt somewhat like I was being torn from the womb. I guess the real question is why I stayed in Utah, once I became self-sufficient enough to go anywhere I wanted. I just got caught up in it. I grew up, got a job, bought a house, carved out a comfortable niche. Now that I live in California, I really appreciate what I had in Utah. Not that California is bad. It is pretty nice. But there's the whole business of starting over meeting people, making new friends, finding work, making connections. It isn't easy. I miss playing for people I know.
What do you hope to achieve with "Love Is Everywhere"?
What I want to do, more than anything, is give people something that helps them reflect on what is important to them. I want listeners to laugh and cry with me. Love is beautiful, painful and sometimes stupid, and we can't live without it.
Do you have any notable past performances?
I played a concert in 2012 with Randall Williams at the Leonardo. That was epic. I have played some house concerts that were really special. I just played a gig at a nudist resort. Wowie, that was fun. I don't think I've ever played for more loving, open-minded people.
Does being in Utah help or hinder a music career and aspirations?
In the folk scene, it is all about relationships. Relationships begin in your own community. But at some point, that community has to get bigger. It is hard to grow a bigger community with Utah as a home base, because it isn't easily connected with anything else. What's the closest metropolitan area to Salt Lake City? Vegas? Boise? Denver? Utah is geographically isolated. With proper planning, one could go from San Diego to Seattle and have gigs every night, and not have to drive more than four hours per day to get to them. That's connected. It is more difficult to do that from Utah, especially on a budget.
What did you learn from being a DJ?
I learned that there is a lot of music out there, and that the DJ-artist relationship should be nurtured, and most artists don't understand this. They think that all they have to do is send the CD and it will be played. That's not true. As a DJ, I received a lot of CDs and requests to download music from services like Airplay Direct. It became overwhelming. It got to the point where I would only play artists who were on a label or who came from a trusted agent. Of the indie artists I would play, I was far more interested in playing artists I had seen live or met in person. Occasionally, artists reached out to me in a personal way. If I liked someone, I shared their music. If it was impersonal, I'd get to it when I got to it. If it was a bulk e-mail unsubscribe and delete. I'm sure that other DJs feel that way, too, so I'm going to be pretty careful as I send my new CD out to them.