Monica Birkenes, aka Mr Little Jeans, created an internet sensation with her dreamy rendition of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” After climbing the ranks on social media, she’s released the album Pocketknife which can be heard across KCRW to the soundtrack of Gossip Girl. The electro-pop songstress takes a break from her busy tour to talk with us before returning home to perform at the El Rey on November 22nd.
Growing up in Norway, did you have a mentor that encouraged you to get into music?
I wish! Nobody I knew did what I wanted to do. So, I had to figure it out on my own. My Mom did everything in her power to do whatever she could to help when I was younger. I was able to try out what it meant to be a musician and performer— without it I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. The hard part started when I made my hobby a full time occupation. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Can you name the first arena-sized concert you attended?
Hmmmm…. I think it might have been Celine Dion?? I blame my mom for that!
Before you got your break, you ambitiously self promoted your work on MySpace. How do you think the music industry has shifted since the late aughts?
The biggest shift is the listener’s attention span and possibly the (financial) value of music—it’s a fraction of what it used to be. I also think it’s made things slightly easier for people to just play in their bedrooms and eventually be discovered, which is a great thing. This also diversifies people’s music taste.
Even the music legend Shirley Manson confessed to sometimes feeling insecure about performing, but ultimately believes that she has to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Do you have a mantra or a ritual that you perform before getting on stage to cut the nerves?
I drink a lot of tea, take a shot, and walk around humming. Luckily, when I do a lot of shows it gets less nerve wrecking.
It’s reported that Lana del Rey’s direction to her producer was abstract—speaking in colors to establish the album’s sound. How did you translate your vision to Tim Anderson, the producer on Pocketknife?
Well, it might’ve been slightly more concrete than that, but I think every track is very much in the moment.
Whatever I’m feeling, it might be something energetic or something sinister or whatever it is during the day. There’s a lot of tiny bits of inspiration that get mixed in there, like the way the bass sounds in this song or the way that keyboard sounds in that song. Then we try a whole bunch of stuff, and mostly end up somewhere a little different from where we started.
From music to filmmaking, everyone has access to technology that allows them to work more independently, making the bedroom the new studio. How does this affect your process?
It doesn’t really! I really like to work with people. Writing in solitude drives me insane and I would never ever finish anything. I just need one other person to bounce off of and I’m good. Whether that’s a studio or someone’s bedroom, it’s all good. The only thing I like to do all by my lonesome are lyrics. I don’t really care for too much input there.
If you had an alternative path, what would you be doing?
I’d love to run a dogs rehabilitation swimming pool, possibly work as a nutritionist, or get a degree in psychology. I’d also like to try exploring the graphic design route or even clothing design. I don’t know, there’s so much to do and so little time!
What’s your favorite venue to see up and coming bands play in LA?
I like the Troubadour—it’s nice and intimate.
Let’s pretend you are Mariah Carey and there are no limits. What would your backstage request list include?
Yessss! I would have a masseuse there for one, a hair and makeup person, a vocal coach, food from Cafe Gratitude, cupcakes from Babycakes, and plenty of hot water for my throat coat tea. Oh that would be heaven!
Catch Mr Little Jeans at the El Rey Theatre on Sunday, November 22nd.