“I love the fact that songs don’t really have to make sense.”
Name: Jodie Kean
Place of birth: Guildford, UK
Do: Singer, songwriter, vocal coach. Founder of Singing Ibiza songwriting retreats.
You come from a family of musicians. Do you think music and performing is in the blood?
It’s a nice thought that parents and grandparents pass down their creativity. I think growing up in a family where music is all around also helps the creative engine to warm up at a young age. My parents worked in theatre and it was quite normal for me to come home from school to find the living room full of singers and actors rehearsing for a new show or tour. I was often brought along to the shows and concerts and would literally be sleeping behind the set decorations – I don´t think parents would get away with that any more!
I also remember sitting with my Mum at the piano before bedtime. I guess I was about 5. Instead of a bedtime story, I would get a bedtime song or two. My favourite was What I Did For Love, from A Chorus Line. I’d try to sing the first line: Kiss today goodbye, the sweetness and the sorrow, but after a few words I’d be in tears and the rest of the song was a tuneless sob. At the end though I would beg my Mum to play it one more time and the whole melancholy show would start all over again. The sadder the song or the melody, the happier I was! To this day I still can´t make it to the 2nd verse of that song without crying. Although I’ve taken a step back from the stage a few times over the years, I have always returned to performing. So I guess it really is in my blood.
What do you think songwriting articulates that doesn’t appear in other forms of writing?
I see songs as short stories, as poems to a beat. Songwriters are storytellers but with a melody in mind. The music is an extra layer that compliments the lyrics. I love the fact that songs don’t really have to make sense. That’s creative freedom. A song is more about feeling. It either grabs me or it doesn’t.
You moved from the UK to the Netherlands when you were 7 and you’ve worked in Belgium too. Now you’re in Ibiza. What does “Home” mean to you?
Home isn’t a place for me. Between England, Scotland, the Netherlands and Spain I think I’ve moved around 40 times. That’s almost once a year through my life…Yikes! I am a bit of a gypsy. I can get restless if I’m in the same place or job for too long. I can call the place I live Home quite quickly and easily. Home is where I am with friends. Where I have a chat with the local shop owner. Where I wave to my neighbours. Where my cat is snoring on the couch. For now Ibiza is definitely my home.
Tell us about your songwriting process
I am constantly songwriting, it has become part of my daily routine. Sometimes it can be just a hook or a verse. Sometimes I go back to lyrics I wrote a year ago to find they fit with a new idea I’ve been playing around with. Missing pieces of the puzzle end up becoming a new song. I always quickly record new ideas on my phone so I don´t forget them; inspiration pops up at the weirdest moments. I have been crouched down on a plane trying to record an idea without the other passengers noticing, or walking around the supermarket sort of whispering a melody into my phone. I try to make myself sit down one day a week to focus and work on an unfinished song. Finishing a song is my challenge. I didn’t always write with the intention of using everything, but that has recently changed. I’m now working hard on the songs I want to release this year. Ibiza is an inspiring place, just walking through the peaceful campo or soaking up a stunning sunset helps open up the mind like a meditation. Songwriting prompts I share with fellow musicians are also a great motivation. My dream holiday now would be a studio lock up for a few weeks! I would love to go to my own songwriting retreat actually (Laughs).
Tell me about your song Mad World. Can a lonely world ever be beautiful?
Mad World was 10 years ago already. So much has happened in the meantime. Mad World was written for me by a production duo in The Netherlands who were co-writing with me on the album. Mad World was the first single that made the charts. I had such a blast shooting the video in Portugal and later performing it on live TV and the national radio stations with my band. It was a proper adventure! I remember the first time I heard the song in the studio, I said “What the hell is this about?” (Laughs) I always sang Mad World with the idea that you have to find beauty in your own world. As crazy or lonely as it gets sometimes, I try to keep seeing the best of my own little bubble.
Do you have an alter ego that comes out when you perform?
I have several! Depending on the kind of gig and where I’m performing I ask which one wants to come out to play with me (Laughs) I have performed in so many different projects, from front lady to background singer, from a vocalist on house music tracks to a jazz singer in a big band. I even DJ’d a long long time ago! Every gig is different and requires a different touch and look. That’s what makes it so much fun for me. I remember one of the groups I sang in was a Disco Philharmonic. Sporting pink afro-wigs, sequin flared trousers and 70’s platform heels. My Disco alter ego is definitely one of my favourites (Laughs).
What’s the secret everyone thinks they know the answer to, but no one is really in on?
I feel this way so often. Like I’m on the outside looking in through the keyhole, wondering if everyone on the inside knows what’s going on or if they are all in there just looking through a different keyhole wondering exactly the same thing.
Tell us a crazy Ibiza story
I stumbled into the making of a porn movie once (Laughs). I was driving to a villa for a private gig and the client had sent the location to my phone. I drove up to this huge gate and rang the bell. No one opened the gate, so I tried calling the client. Of course, at that moment, I had no mobile reception, a common problem in Ibiza. So I kept ringing the bell at the gate. Finally it opened and I saw 2 huge bodyguard-types walking towards me with really angry faces. They started quizzing me in an aggressive manner, asking who I was and what I was doing there. I could see several people in the background showing a lot of skin and being…well let’s just say they were quite intimate with each other (Laughs). I almost peed myself! Trying to explain this was the location I was sent to perform at whilst at the same time stumbling back into my car thinking “Even if this is the right address I’m getting the hell out of here!” When I finally got hold of the client I found out I was miles away from their actual location (Laughs).
What I enjoy most is recognizing someone’s own sound and style, and working with them to bring out the best and keep developing as far as they want to go.
Tell us about your passion for developing new talent and how this has manifested in your songwriting retreats.
I have always enjoyed discovering vocal talent. Even back at school I would be telling kids in my class “Hey, you’ve got a great voice!” I worked at a music school for a few years on a project subsidized by the council. We organized workshops for the secondary schools in the town I was living in. We’re talking in excess of 10,000 students over the years. They were huge days full of workshops in dance, photography, music, film and theatre. It was really hard work but so fulfilling. Seeing the groups of teenagers walking into the room with the typical I-can´t-sing-I’m-not-joining-in attitude and then an hour later having the whole group singing a beautiful 3-part harmony was so cool. It gave them a confidence boost even if they didn’t have any ambition to continue singing. That’s where I decided that coaching had to be part of what I do moving forward. What I enjoy most is recognizing someone’s own sound and style, and working with them to bring out the best and keep developing as far as they want to go. With Singing Ibiza I get to combine my two passions; music and hospitality. There really is nothing I enjoy more than offering the space, time and the tools to a group of talented musicians and songwriters, watching them learn from the professionals and from each other. It’s not just about learning how to create to the music, but also how to record songs at home and how to release and sell the music too. All this whilst enjoying the bubble of Ibiza with great food and a glass of Cava in a beautiful finca. It ticks all the boxes and great things happen!
Tell us something few people know about you.
I am a proper Libra and it can take me 20 minutes just to decide which loaf of bread I should choose. It’s really frustrating. If you ever see me talking to myself in the supermarket, which is very likely to happen, then you know what I’m on about.
Do you consider yourself lucky?
I consider myself to be very lucky. I live in a place where it’s safe to walk outside on my own. Where I can take a shower any given moment of the day (I say a little thank you every time I turn on the tap.) I can walk.I can see. I have a roof above my head. My mother is healthy. I’m not hungry. My cat only ignores me 176 days a year. I have amazing friends I can call family. The list goes on. Do I consider myself lucky to be working in Ibiza as a musician all year round? Yes, extremely lucky. I have also worked very hard and will continue doing so but yeah a big cloud of luck has blown my way and a lot of support from amazing islanders has definitely helped.
You taught yourself guitar a few years back and I read that you like to challenge yourself with one big thing every year.
I do! It’s become a thing over the last couple of years (Laughs). I love giving myself a challenge. I don’t need to become perfect at what I pursue, but learning something new every year is fun, keeps me on my toes and keeps me motivated. My new musical challenge is to build a home studio, so I can focus more on production. Quite a challenge but I’m diving in headfirst. I don’t know how to do things any other way.