Jelly Cleaver: 10 Question Interview

Jelly Cleaver has a truly awesome album just out, and excitingly she’s coming to play the launch of our new acoustic night on 10 July at the Old Queen’s Head – so we asked her 10 questions in the run up!

1. What can we expect from you on 10 July?  

I might dig into my back catalogue and do one or two tunes from my album ‘Cure for an Existential Crisis’. I normally don’t plan my set though and leave it up to how the audience reacts, so it’s pretty much down to whoever comes to the gig! 

2. If you could collaborate with someone – any musician/performer, living or dead – who would it be?  

I always say I’d love to work with James Blake. I love his production and his voice, and I think together we could make the saddest song known to man.  

3. What are your favourite songs in your set to perform?  

I always like performing ‘Windrush’, a song I wrote in response to the Windrush protests. I produced the track and it has samples from some of the speeches outside Windrush square last year. The women doing the speech started singing ‘We Shall Overcome’, which was really touching for me because it was the song of the African-American civil rights movement in the 1960s. It’s sad that things haven’t progressed much and people of colour are still having to fight for their basic human rights, but hopefully our movement can learn a lot from the past. Plus in the song I have a long break to do a guitar solo which I always enjoy.  

4. Which was your favourite gig you’ve a) played and b) watched?  

A) Definitely my album launch at Windmill Brixton a few weeks ago. Even though I had glandular fever, I had the best night. I got to perform with an extended band of a full horn section and backing singer which really brought my tunes to life, and all my mates were there. We did the whole gig exactly as it is on the album which was pretty great to pull off. And because it was a few days before my birthday we all went back to mine after the gig for chocolate cake.  

B) Oh, it’s definitely hard choosing that. I like to go to as many gigs as I can and I love it when I’m just able to loose myself in the moment and have a proper boogie. When it gets to that point they’re all my favourite gig!  

5. Recommend a record that you think our readers might not have heard of.

Well, one of my all-time favourite albums is Jeff Buckley, Live at Sine. It’s an incredible live album of him at a tiny café in New York. It’s just voice and guitar. That album definitely had a massive effect on me growing up. I listened to it so much I can even recite the stage banter he does between songs. If you don’t know it do yourself a favour and put it on when you’re all alone.

6. What’s your best piece of advice for young musicians?  

Oh lord, that’s a lot of pressure. I guess I’d just say try to enjoy the whole music making experience as much as possible, even the shit bits like admin. Try and keep some time for self-care. Try and really work on your craft so you’re confident on stage. Have faith in what you have to say with your music. It’s better to be authentic than to sound like everyone else. Trust your creative instincts. If you’re lucky enough to, find yourself a scene that acts like an extended family. Get together with your musical mates and help each other out. Music should be about community.

7. Your top 3 most beloved albums ever – go. 

That’s so hard! I’d have to start with the great Joni Mitchell, ‘Court and Spark’. Then maybe I’d have to go with James Blake, ‘The Colour in Everything’. And maybe to finish off Hiatus Kaiyote, ‘Choose Your Weapon’. I’m sure I’m missing out someone but if I think about it any more I’ll come out with a short-list of about 30.

8. What are your musical goals?  

To inspire change. I guess my activist message is a big driving force behind my music. It often feels like we’re under an onslaught of shit, from climate change to Brexit, and that we might as well all give up, but I’ve seen enough small victories from people who fought for positive change and won. I want people to know they can change the world, they can change their communities, they can change their attitude, they can change things for the better. If my music convinces anyone of that then I’m very happy. Plus if I get to rock out and do a cool guitar solo even better. 

9. What’s the most important thing we need to know about your music right now?  

I think maybe that it would be not to expect a genre from me. My first album would probably be classed as folk, my latest album as jazz fusion. But I’ve recorded a whole unreleased EP of experimental electronic music. I’ve written a few songs that might be called ‘indie”, and I’m currently working on a beat tape which is coming out old-school hip-hop. I love listening to all different types of music and I think that’s reflected in what comes out of me. When I’m performing live I tend to just adapt my set for who’s in the room, what kind of vibe they’d like me to create, going off their energy or the setting. I guess I’d like people to keep an open mind when they’re listening to me, you might eventually get something you like! 

10. Give your top 5 contemporary bands/musicians.

I’ve got to give some shout outs to my mates. Check out Mermaid Chunky, two mad gals making incredible art tunes using plastic toys and saxophones. They’re shows are a complete spectacle, I’ve put them on a few times at nights I organise.

Also check out Stanlaey, they’re my mate Bethany Stenning’s band based out in Bristol but she’s such a creative force of nature, and if she’s playing a London show you should catch it. Her most recent album is a total audio-visual masterpiece, have a look at her videos on youtube.

And another Bristol-based band who gig in London quite a bit are Waldo’s Gift, the only way I can describe their music is face-melting. It’s all improvised and it’s such a journey watching them make music.

Another mate’s band is called Nihilism, they have such an energetic and immersive approach to jazz.

To top it off I might be cheeky and say my band [Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Frontline], just because all the other girls in my band are incredible creative energies and lead their own bands too – Roella Oloro, Katie Moberly, Loucin Moskofian, Beth Hopkins who leads Queen Colobus and Tash Keary who also plays with Shunaji and a few other very cool people. And all these bands are incredible people as well as being incredible musicians so please go and support them! 

Catch Jelly Cleaver live at LOUD WOMEN Unplugged on 10 July at the Old Queen’s Head, Essex Road, N1

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