Buzznet Interviews Jena Malone About Her New Free-Style Folk Band, The Shoe

We got a chance to chat with indie ingenue and Sucker Punch star Jena Malone about another passion of hers: her music. The 26-year old actress established herself early on as a dramatic force to be reckoned with, demonstrating nuanced performances in films like Donnie Darko and Saved. But for the past few years, Jena has also been focusing her energies on her other passion: music. In 2008 she put out some tracks with her band Jena and Her Bloodstains: dark, beautiful, feedback-filled jams. More recently, she teamed up with musican Lem Jay Ignacio for a decidely less brooding sound. Together they make capricious, free-style folk music under the moniker The Shoe, and their first EP At Lem Jay’s Garage is now available Itunes. We spoke to Jena about her new band:

Also, be sure to get your free download of the song “Raccoon” and ENTER OUR CONTEST to win a screenprint by artist Yarrow Earth Hock, hand-screened by Jena herself.

Buzznet: We know you’ve been putting out music for a couple of years now, first as Jena and Her Bloodstains and now with The Shoe. It’s a bit of a change, as your music with the Bloodstains is sort of dark…

Jena Malone: Yeah I loved the album! It’s some of my most favorite music that I have ever created. I’m really excited to start getting back into that when I have more time because it requires a lot. Almost three months off and just being able to go deep and explore and create the entire landscape yourself. Those albums I sort of edited and produced and wrote all myself, and then brought in musicians. I didn’t really let them know what I was thinking and just let them record for a little bit and then I got to go and edit them. I’ve sort of been dreaming of finding musicians to collaborate with in the sense of being able to play live performances. That’s what I had done with the Bloodstains but I just didn’t find that a full band is what my music really needed. I really love freestyle and changing it up every night, and unless everyone is really on board with that it’s kind of a hard thing to practice. For me, that’s the most titillating thing about music, that you can just go anywhere and everywhere and it just doesn’t even matter as long as you are being true. The thing with free style is that you can’t help but be true because you’re pulling it from you.

BN: Have you always been a singer?

JM: I loved singing when I was younger but I definitely didn’t have a voice that people liked to listen to. I remember singing on the school bus and people being like “Don’t sing! You have a bad voice!” But I started singing a lot more when I was 21. Just free styling little bits and singing in like jibberish languages. I think the voice is kind of like a muscle. Like if you just spoke one word a year it would constantly come out awkward and squeaky. But if you start speaking full-fledged sentences and paragraphs and were talking all the time, then it becomes a muscle. It becomes something that you know very well. I think what’s really cool is being able to record all of my own music and write my own music is that I can write as I’m recording. I can really feel where my voice has been and where I can push it and where it can go and where I’ve never seen it go.

That’s the most exciting thing and freeing thing. As an actor I can only play female parts that are kind of age appropriate, unless I’m doing something totally crazy. But with music I can be a 4 year old boy with my voice or a 50 year old man or a 16 year old girl. Or I could be a leaf! It’s really beautiful. You can step into any embodiment with a voice. I think that’s why I will always like music, almost sometimes more than acting, because it has no limitations.

BN: Your new project The Shoe is incredible. It’s definitely a departure from Jena and Her Bloodstains. It’s definitely more old school folk meets Moldy Peaches. What made you change direction musically?

JM: I think that the change in direction just came from the fact that instead of me playing music alone in my bedroom, I was playing music with a classical pianist. Lem Jay sort of backs me and brings me out. We’re both really positive people. He’s one of my best friends. We’re not like dark and broody when we’re together. With some friends, it’s kind of fun to be like that. But we can have a really good time and we just laugh and cry and are really silly and carefree and very childish in the way we interact with each other. I think the change of direction in music is just because of the two different people and their energy and the energy that we create together. Where as if me and Marilyn Manson started making music together it would be totally different! You would hope that it would be.

BN: How did you initially hook up with Lem Jay?

JM: I actually met him at a Christmas party. He was playing some Christmas songs and I got asked to play one. I had got up to sing “Winter Wonderland” in like a jibberish form of Portuguese and he followed me like crazy! I was like speeding it up and slowing it down and turning it into some like jazz sci-fi. He was more than happy to go there with me. Afterwards we looked at each other and were like “Uh we should make music together.” That’s kind of how it started!

BN: What made you guys form your own label to put out the record instead of going a more traditional way?

JM: Well with music, I was never interested in anyone telling me what to do. So it’s always made the most sense to do everything myself. Maybe further down the line it will be exciting to have someone else do some of the jobs I’ve been doing. I just think if you’re running a restaurant you should pretty much know how every job works and you should probably try every job out. Like if I am going to hire a dishwasher, I want to be a dishwasher first. I want to know what the temperature of water needs to be, what the dish rack needs to be like, the best kind of soap. I want to make sure it’s all good and set so if I bring someone on, not only will they be stoked that I know and respect what their job entails but also I’ll be excited to see what they do with it because I can understand the parameters of the job. I think for me right now I just want to do as much as I can until it gets too crazy and I can’t.

BN: What inspired you music-wise growing up?

JM: Growing up, I listened to Top 40. My family was not into music at all. My mom was super into Reba McIntyre, cabaret songs and old jazz standards, and Bette Midler. So I kind of grew up listening to that and also like Fiddler on the Roof, Le Mis, and Into The Woods. And whatever was on the radio, so like TLC, Janet Jackson, and Madonna. When I was 14 and moved out, I started picking music and figuring stuff out. I think Neil Young, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey and Nina Simone were people that I found that really stuck in my brain and have always stayed with me.

BN: Are there any current bands that you are into?

JM: I like the Weather Underground and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I like a lot of stuff. I’m really into Nicki Minaj right now, which is kind of hilarious. And Lil’ Wayne. I feel I’m discovering hip-hop again in a whole new way!

BN: Can we expect to see you guys touring soon?

JM: Yeah! Hopefully at the end of April we will do a little bit more of a tour, when the weather’s nice because it’s nice to play outside. It’s harder to play improv inside too. We’ve got a full length album that we’ve finished and we’ve been waiting for Sucker Punch and all this press stuff to finalize so we can work on the album artwork and cover and marketing and distribution plan. But I’m pretty excited about that. It’s an 11, maybe 12, track album that’s all single takes, to give it a really free style element. So there are no overdubs. But there are some edits. So it’s a little bit like a mixed tape too because we go through a lot of different genres. I’m thinking about calling that the B-Sides Recovery Album but not sure yet!

Watch the music video for “Raccoon” by The Shoe: