NYC-based singer/songwriter Jeni Magana is a woman with a colourful musical history. Over the years, she has written advertising jingles, fronted a ‘90s cover band, and recorded with the Dropkick Murphys, among countless other projects. Until recently, however, she had never released any songs of her own, but that all changed when Golden Tongue – Magana’s debut EP – came out on the 28th of October 2016 and revealed her to be a talented, nuanced creator in her own right.

Golden Tongue shows us someone who has spent years singing from other people’s hymn sheets finding her own voice, and it’s the voice of a confident artist who is capable of expressing both great frustration and great tenderness in a very compelling way. One minute, she sounds introverted and retiring; the next, she’s lashing out angrily at those who would talk over her.

A few days after the release of Golden Tongue, I sat down for a transatlantic chat with Jeni Magana via Twitter. Here’s how it went…

Hi Jeni – how’s life?

Life is cold and I’m not pleased about that. We haven’t turned the heat on in the apartment yet because of stubbornness, even though we really should have last week. But other than that, it’s great.

Glad to hear it. How’s the launch of your new EP been going?

So far, so good. I was so excited to get it out of my hands that I sort of forgot about the part where people listen to it, but a lot of people have been listening and reporting back to me and it’s really satisfying.

Has it been a long time coming?

Yes, definitely. Three of the four songs were actually written a couple of years ago, and I played them very differently then. Inches Apart was the only song that I wrote and then recorded within a few months. But I think it took me a long time to figure out how to communicate what I wanted, so it makes sense that the process would be so long.

So what was the catalyst for recording and releasing the EP now?

Haha, well, it was my birthday. Every year on my birthday I have a mini meltdown and think, ‘what am I doing with my life?!’ Some are less dramatic than others…a couple years ago, I cried because I made coffee wrong, and I was like, ‘I’m in my twenties and I can’t even make a cup of coffee…’

But it’s good that you’ve turned the latest mini meltdown into something productive!

Silver lining! Yeah, I think motivation comes from weird places sometimes.

The first track on this EP (Get It Right) has the chorus, “Get it right, get it right, if you’re gonna, gonna waste my time” – what’s the ‘right’ way to waste your time?

Hmmm. Well, I guess if the outcome is worth it, then it’s all right to make someone wait for something. But I get really frustrated with indecisiveness, especially over major life decisions. I feel like, so often, the person already knows what he/she wants to do, and going back and forth is just wasting everyone’s time.

Was that song written with a particular person in mind?

Sort of. Most of the time, when I write something, it’s inspired by a specific event or person, but by the time the song is finished I’ve ended up including things I’ve read or other times I’ve gone through a similar experience.

So what things have you read that went into the creative process for this EP?

Oh, man…

Sorry, big question!

It’s a great question, but I’m not sure I have any specific examples ready. I think the way I work is that ideas or quotes will work their way into my mind and just sort of wait there until I need them. So it wasn’t like one specific book or article inspired the process. There’s a part in Get It Right where I sing, “copy from the texts of old, change the words into your own”, and that was sort of a reference to all love stories following the same mould and how a lot of people want their lives to end up like a romantic comedy or something.

Let’s talk about your musical history – you did all sorts of different work prior to this EP…

Yeah. A pretty random assortment of things, I guess.

How old were you when you first picked up a musical instrument?

I was probably 8 or 9? My family ran a fruit stand out in the country every summer, and it was so hot and boring, so I somehow convinced my mom to take me to this church down the road and get piano lessons from the pastor’s wife. We paid her in fruit.


I know, so random. I broke my left wrist that summer, too, and so I just learned right-handed piano for a while.

How many different instruments can you play now?

It probably depends on how you define ‘can play’…but I would say I’m comfortable telling people that I play 4 instruments, which are bass, piano, clarinet, and guitar. I played flute on the EP but that doesn’t mean I can actually play the flute very well.

There were other musicians involved in the recording of the Golden Tongue EP, but given that you’re able to play a variety of different things yourself, were you ever tempted to record the whole thing on your own?

Yeah, totally. I kind of feel like that’s basically what I did. I mean, I’m absolutely the worst drummer you’ve ever heard, so it was an obvious choice to have Jon Smith play drums, since he was already there recording and co-producing. I played bass on The World Doesn’t Know, but I wanted to see what someone else could come up with for the other songs. Although there was a moment when Shay Spence was trying to figure out a part, and I wanted to be like, ‘just play this!’ I’m so glad I didn’t, though.

I also knew that I wanted baritone sax on Get It Right, but I’ve never even touched one, so that was another obvious choice – to get my friend JJ Byars involved. But otherwise, I just wanted to try to work the ideas out myself. Jon had someone come in and play a synth part on one of the songs, but it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t really know this guy, and I don’t understand synths very well, and it didn’t end up making it onto the recordings because it didn’t feel as organic as the other players coming in.

Was the synth guy offended?

Haha, I’ve never actually checked! But no, I don’t think so…he’s a friend of Jon’s and they were just experimenting. I think he knew just as well as I did that it wasn’t a perfect sound for the EP.

You’ve played in cover bands and done session work for other people – as someone who writes her own songs, did you ever feel frustrated with having to play other people’s ideas and follow their orders?

Yeah, I think that’s why I started playing solo in the first place. I love playing with other people and getting outside of the style of music I play. But when it came to arrangement decisions I would have pretty passionate opinions, and sometimes the lead singer wouldn’t agree. And that totally makes sense – it’s not ‘my’ music, per se – but I really wanted to have an outlet where I was able to do all of the stuff I wanted to do.

Absolutely. A lot of people seem to assume that the best music is made by groups – that individual artists are prone to becoming self-important auteurs and failing to recognise their own bad ideas – but actually most of my favourite acts are either individuals or groups that are very much led by one person.

Oh yeah, I agree 100%. I think it’s super-valuable to get other people’s input, but a lot of projects fail when they have too many ideas and compromises going into it. That’s not just in music, either; I think any project that has a lot of people involved should have a beginning stage where people give lots of ideas and opinions, then as it gets closer to the end of the project, it should just be one person or a few people in charge

But I digress. I think the thing that I’m most pleased with on this EP is the feeling that I didn’t make compromises for other people this time around.

There’s a part on Golden Tongue (the track itself) where you sing, “you coloured my words with your golden tongue / and shifted and blurred what is in my heart”. That seems to me like an expression of frustration at people who twist your words and distort what you’re trying to get across…is that right, or am I way off-base?

Totally. And it’s not even always purposeful; communication can be really difficult. It’s also frustration at myself, I guess, because I can be pretty passive and let someone else talk me into something because they know more…or at least seem to be more informed. I’m getting better about that, though.

Is that something you’ve experienced a lot in your music career?

I think it’s a symptom of my lack of confidence as a solo artist. At the beginning of this path, I’d often let people convince me that I wasn’t good enough at something to do it, or that I needed help in the form of X, Y and Z to be able to release something. It’s not really as big of a problem when you are backing somebody up, because the hard part is mostly out of your hands.

Well, you sound very confident on the few songs you’ve released so far.

Thanks! I’m working on it!

Is there a full-length album in the works?

I was just talking about that, actually! There’s nothing happening right now because I want to give the EP my full attention and work on live shows and such, but I also have a lot of ideas for when the time comes around for a full-length.

Still, because I can be so passive (and communication is often tricky), I am planning on taking a bit of solo time doing ‘pre-pre-production’ and just sort of figuring out what my goals are with it.

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