07 - dave jenkins jr
With music in his blood and drum sticks in his hands at the age of six, Dave Jenkins Jr was bound to be in music. After years of being in the background of some of Australia’s most famous musical performances, he’s finally stepping front and centre. Talking about the changing scope of the music industry, fate and “people hearing with their eyes”, Jenkins takes us inside his fascinating mind and how he navigates the daunting process of releasing deeply private, personal creative projects into the ever-critical public sphere - and how they can f*ck up your relationships...
Lilli - I remember last year when we saw you play for the first time, so we saw you play before we got to interview you, and we saw so many bands during the week, but I remember seeing you guys, and I don’t know that much about live music, but I remember thinking that you look like you sound and you sound like you look.
Dave - It’s funny, one thing my Dad used to say, because he’s a musician as well, and he taught me how to play most instruments, when I was in my high school bands and we were learning, he used to say to me “people hear with their eyes” and that always stuck with me. Even small things like yawning on stage, and when you’re a kid, you don’t know any of that, you just think ‘I’m tired’ and you yawn, but people think you’re not having a good time. But that’s one thing that my Dad taught me that sticks with me to this day, I still think about those things. You can’t just rock up in a tracksuit, if that’s your thing then that’s fine, but how people see you is going to influence how you sound to them. So I think that’s a really important part of putting on a show.
L - Has music always been in your blood?
D - Yes. Ever since I was six or seven, I think I started learning the drums. Because my Dad, his main instrument is drums. So we always had drums around, but guitars too.
L - I’m an aunt, and drums feel like the kind of present I would get my niece to troll my brother...
D - Haha yeh. It’s a funny thing, most parents don’t encourage any sort of noise! But we always had a room set up with a drum kit that was soundproof, so my Dad encouraged me to pick up the sticks. And I also had a best friend who was learning at the same time, so we started a little band and we were together all through high school and we pushed each other. Where I grew up wasn’t the nicest area, not a lot happens there or comes out of it, a lot of teen pregnancy, guys smoking bongs, you can see where they’re headed. So we always had our core group of people who were obsessed with music and that was the thing that got us through and got us out. And I moved to Sydney pretty quickly after high school.
L - Did you always want to be a musician or did you have deviations along the way?
D - I never deviated. Not one deviation. I was a Greens Keeper for a while..
L - A Greens Keeper?! Like a landscape gardener? You’ve got a green thumb as well!
D - Yeh, it’s funny I don’t do it much anymore because I live in the city, but every now and the I’ll get some hedge shears out and be in the yard and loving it. And actually my first job out of high school I worked in an adult store for like two years, which was pretty twisted haha I had no idea what I was getting into! I was just a kid in a band trying to make some money on the side and I thought, oh well, it’s a job!
L - Haha, selling handcuffs on the side!
D - I used to meet all sorts of characters! But I’d mostly be sitting off to the side watching Friends box sets or Seinfeld. People would come in and think I was up to something, like ‘What are you watching?’. Just Friends haha.
L - I know you were a drummer for a few different bands, what was the pivotal moment that made you want to stand up the front?
D - It’s an interesting question, because I feel like I’ve always done this, I’ve always written my own music ever since I was about seventeen. I could play guitar and I’d be writing these songs off to the side of what ever I was doing with drums with a band, or a solo artist. I’d make these little songs, but I never really thought they had legs, they were a bit too weird, or too underproduced, or the lyrics were too literal. So I amassed this collection over the last ten years of weird little songs that I didn’t think anyone would like. It wasn’t until 2017 that I started showing a few friends those recordings, and my friend Ben Corbett, who plays in my band now, he was the one who pushed me to show other people and people in the industry and labels. Where as I never thought they were good enough.
L - We’re always our own harshest critic.
D - Exactly, that’s imposter syndrome. So almost begrudgingly, I was showing labels my music. I sent it to Ally Cole at Island Records, it was just a SoundCloud playlist of about ten demos, and within about five minutes, she had written back saying ‘I really love this, I’ll listen to the whole thing and hit you back after that.’ And she did. It kind of snowballed after that - a week later they offered me a deal.
L - Nice. The “Overnight Success” haha.
D - Ha. Exactly. Not the success yet, but something.
L - Stay tuned! How did it feel when you started to get some momentum? Like from showing people your work for the first time to having, I don’t want to say gratification, because that makes it seem you only do it because you want people to like it…
D - There is a level of validation that you seek..but I think the ultimate compliment is when someone who doesn’t know you listens to your music and engages with it. And that’s what I found happened when I released that first song, I had people from all around the world contacting me. A really good example was a father from Norway who sent me a message saying that he was on paternity leave with his daughters, dancing around the house. Something I recorded in my bedroom and didn’t think anyone would listen to, suddenly had that international appeal. It’s not just your friends saying ‘This is really good!’.
L - Your Mum saying ‘I’ll buy your record!’
D - Haha exactly! So that’s one of the biggest validations, the biggest complements you can get as an artist, I think. I can’t see that ever getting old. I want more of that.
L - So is that your idea of success?
D - Good question. There’s a few boxes you can tick with success. I think everybody wants different things, to me it’s less about financial success, although that would be nice. Having people believe in what you do and wanting you to do more of it. I think that’s success for me. And feeling comfortable, I think that’s something a lot of people strive for, to not feel anxious. To be able to sleep!
L - I was just having this conversation with a friend of mine a few days ago, I wish the things in life that were really boundary pushing and rewarding… The stuff that feels really good once it’s finished, wasn’t so horrifically nerve wracking in the lead up to it!
D - Exactly. Well, they say the sweet is never as sweet without the sour haha.
L - True…
D - You have to crawl through the shit to get to the other side. But it’s not always that way, sometimes for me the creative process is the most enriching part. Definitely when it comes to writing music..you can get so much out of being creative and at the end of the day feel fulfilled because you’ve created something that didn’t exist two days ago…
L - The alchemy of it…
D - Exactly. And then once it’s done, you can hopefully send it off into the world.
L - How do you know when a song is finished?
D - You don't! For me now, I think I’ve realised that there’s somewhat of a formula to my writing. However, It doesn’t just rest on my shoulders anymore in terms of that final say. I’ve got a manager, a label..there’s a few people involved. I guess when I stop getting notes from people then it’s finished. But things can get a little overcooked as well…
L - Overthinking it…
D - Yes. And I think you just need to confidently back yourself sometimes.
L - Do you ever listen to old songs that you’ve written and want to change them, or do you just let them sit in what they were at the time?
D - Yes I definitely do that. There’s actually a song, probably the first song I had written on guitar, I had a recording of that for ages and recently reworked it into a Not A Boys Name song. Just because something is old, doesn’t mean it’s bad. I think for songwriters a lot of the time, lots of songs just fall by the wayside because people think ‘I wrote that three years ago and I’m completely separated from that now, therefore it’s not a good song.’
L - But you can breathe new life into things sometimes.
D - Definitely. So I ended up doing that with a lot of older songs. Again, I don’t know if I’ll release them, but they sit in that archive of songs now for my album. Sometimes artists can lack that hindsight to appreciate their older work, so I like to be conscious of that.
L - So how many songs would you say you write per song you’ve released?
D - Well, I’ve only released two songs right now, but all up I’d say there’s maybe thirty. Thirty songs ready to go, and two released. Stay tuned.
L - Is that the danger of sitting on work… is there a time limit? Like if you wait too long on releasing an album, is there a risk that some of the first things won’t be relevant anymore?
D - Yes, I think there definitely is. You see it a lot with musical trends. People seem to be in the same place a lot of the time with the sounds they’re using and lyrics they’re writing. I’ve seen it happen to a few friends of mine, they’ll write a song and produce it in a way that is really groundbreaking. You think ‘Wow I’ve never heard anything like that.'‘ and before they have a chance to release it, someone else releases something like that, completely seperate from what they’re doing. It’s just one of those universal conundrums when people seem to be in the same headspace. By the time their songs come out, it’s no longer as relevant to the audience and people have already heard that kind of thing, so it sounds like part of a greater systemic shift in terms of genre. I constantly worry about that, if I don’t release this great thing I’ve made, someone else might. And once you’ve written something, once you have something that’s yours, you kind of look for it in other places as well…
L - Like conscious bias…
D - I have a song called “The love or the lack of it” which is unreleased, but I really want to release it, it’s finished and ready to go, and then the other day I was listening to a Friendly Fires song called ‘Lack of Love’ and I was just like ‘Oh god they’re doing the same thing’, but it wasn’t, thankfully, but it’s that paranoia, of not being the first to release your art.
L - I remember a mentor of mine saying whenever you’re in a creative business, it’s always just a hobby unless you’re also savvy to the business side of things. How do you, I mean, you have a manager now, but how do you handle the business side of things?
D - I’ve benefited from working with a lot of artists, and seeing how their teams operate, and how they conduct themselves in certain business situations. Having that experience of seeing other people going through it before me, shaped the way that I do things. Even down to how you treat your peers and talk to people that you’re working with. Making sure that everyone is valued and you’re confident in your core team and they’re confident in you is so important. It’s about not slipping into those negative habits and those bad behavioural loops you can drift into without realising. Sometimes you can get caught up in the moment and living in the now, that you can lack the vision to see the consequences of how you treat people, which never ends well.
L - So how do you handle criticism?
D - Fairly well… I don’t know, I try to keep an open mind, but it’s hard to take it constructively when it’s something so close to you. I have songs that I’ve written that are brutally literal in terms of lyrical content and I really connect with them..then I’ll send it to the label and they pick up on a certain phrase thats a bit on the nose or they suggest changes… and those moments really test you.
L - That’s a nice way to put it haha.
D - You have to take a step outside yourself and drop your ego. So I feel like I sit somewhere on the fence in terms of how well I take criticism! I internalise, and then I take it onboard.
L - So what would you tell your 18-year old self?
D - Oh man… I’d probably just instil a little more confidence in him. In terms of writing and making my own creative mark. Because at that time in my life, I was surrounded by a lot of people who I thought were better at music than I was. I hid that creative side of myself for so long. I felt like no-one really wanted to hear what I had to say. I think that would be the main thing, starting a little earlier and getting to the spot I’m at now, but a little quicker. Having said that, maybe it wouldn’t be the same without all the experiences along the way.
L - It’s funny isn’t it, looking back, you can connect all the dots, and it all sort of makes sense but you just want it to happen quicker. What are your favourite lyrics you’ve ever written?
D - I wrote a song recently called “Raise the Alarm” and there’s some lyrics in that song that really surprised me. It was based on that feeling of living in unsustainable situation and falling into complacency without realising. It was really cathartic for me, it was the first time I’ve ever shared that with another person. So there’s some lyrics in that song, I’m trying to think. It was kind of based from the idea of feeling of being in a burning house and being ok with it. Have you seen that meme with the dog sitting in the burning house with a cup of coffee?
L - Oh my god yes haha. The stillness in the chaos.
D - Yep… I feel like that song is probably the most personal and poetic, because I sat down and considered the overall narrative. Rather than the usual stream of consciousness way of writing that I’m used to.
L - So when you write a love song, do you have to be in love? If it’s about heartbreak, do you have to have a broken heart?
D - Well, I haven’t written one yet! It’s a funny one, love songs. I don’t really write songs when I feel good about anything. It’s kind of the opposite.
L - Is there a bit of a danger of deliberately putting yourself in a bad place to create? I have a friend who is a painter, and she’s like, when I need to paint something I need to lock myself away and not see anyone and get in a really weird headspace. It’s sort of this process of making yourself a bit nuts haha.
D - Completely, I feel like that. Some of the best songs I’ve written have been moments when I’ve been really isolated and kind of forcing myself to dig a little deeper internally and not projecting that ‘Best Version’ of myself onto anything. I feel like that on longhaul flights, you’re just there by yourself in a little bubble and you can let yourself just be taken by it. That’s when the dark shit comes out in a cathartic way. Sometimes I can be a little too literal. I end up writing songs about specific people and situations then I have to hide those songs from those people.
L - So do the people you’ve written songs about know? Have they heard them?
D - Yeah, well, I write a lot about my partner, well, now ex-partner, as of recently. A lot of songs I’ve written for this project are about navigating that break up. My last single ‘Cut it off’ was all about that, so now it’s all out into the world and it’s impossible to hide or take back. My partner at the time was very aware of it. But she realised it’s part of the process, a way I can get it out rather than internalising it and feeling terrible about it. It’s like therapy for people who don’t have a therapist.
L - How interesting. I was going to ask you about relationships, but if it’s too fresh maybe I won’t!
D - No it’s ok. Ask away.
L - Do you feel like what you do impacts your relationships - for example, if you were an accountant, it’s not the same thing as a musician potentially writing about your intimate moments.
D - It definitely does. It can have a really negative impact, even just on living any normal sort of life. That’s something I’ve struggled with over the last few years. Especially the last year for me, since Not A Boys Name has taken off and come into itself, it’s been week to week, day to day, things pop up and you just have to take it as it comes. That makes it hard to maintain some kind of normality in a relationship, it takes a toll on your partner, when they’re trying to hold it all together and you have to pick up and fly somewhere sometimes quite quickly. I don’t see a way out of it right now, short of working less, or being in a relationship with someone who also lives an unpredictable life - however I imagine that would bring its own set of problems as well. No dating advice from me!
L - I’l certainly not one to give any either haha.
D - It’s tricky. But you do what you do because you love that, and …
L - You make sacrifices in a way …
D - You have to. When there’s a time in your life that you can really go for it and push it as far as you can, for maybe a greater reward in the future, you have to make it work at all costs. Those ebbs and flows of relationships. Friendship wise, my closest friends are the people I work with, which has just happened, organically.
L - I feel like it’s the same for me. They’re just the like minded people.
D - Sure, people we can relate to and connect with. Which is sad sometimes as other friendships just fall by the wayside. You grow apart and it almost falls into the too hard basket for both of you. But for me right now, it’s the people that I write with, the people that are in my band, other musicians or creatives who are doing that similar unpredictable work.
L - So are you religious? Do you believe in God?
D - No.
L - Short answer, no. Haha.
D - It’s never been a part of my life. I have friends who are heavily religious and do the same thing that I do. They’re writers and creatives, and it benefits their lives because they have something else to put their faith into. They have another place to put those negative emotions and I can see the benefit in that. I guess from a community stand point as well, every Sunday you get together with a group of people who believe what you believe.
L - So what do you put your faith in?
D - Haha. Nothing! Ah, it’s hard…
L - In the guitar?
D - Yeah, I guess so! I have hobbies..there’s things that I like doing, and things that are a form of escapism for me that take up that space. I love film, and I’ve been obsessed with watching film since I was a little kid. I love movies and cinema, that for me is the ultimate escapism, you can just put something on and put yourself into that world…
L - Every Sunday morning haha.
D - Yeah every Sunday morning. It’s church via film! That’s always been super helpful to me and was formative for me as a teenager. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, that whole series I loved as a teenager. The first film is so romantic, just these two kids in their 20’s living the perfect night and romance, then in the next film it’s like they’re in their 30’s and have kids and it’s them coming to grips with all of that…
L - The after the happily ever after…
D - Yeah exactly. I love that progression. For me as a teen, it was the second one that I saw first, and there was something so bittersweet and touching in a real way that connected with me. There’s also a film Vanilla Sky by Cameron Crowe. It’s a remake of a Spanish film called Abre los ojos, which is this real twisted film, it’s more sci-fi than romance..Cameron Crowe took it and Americanised it. There was just something about that film when I was about 17 that just blew my mind and really connected with me. I go back and reconnect to those films and what I was feeling at that time. It instills in me a bit of optimism.
L - It’s interesting that you mention that being taken back, because I went last week with my Dad to see a Bob Dylan tribute concert. We’ve been to see him in concert before, but this was like a remake with all these different artists were playing his songs and there was this one guy who came out, and it was a little known song, but he said ‘Oh I remember when this song came out and I was living in a tiny apartment in South Yarra with my girlfriend at the time who is now my wife…that’s why I love this song.’ It’s like song connects millions and millions of otherwise completely seperate people with a memory of a time in their lives.
D - That’s it. Thats totally it. That harkens back to the idea of connecting with people and why a song connects and why a song does what it does. As a song writer, if you can evoke those feelings in people and take something you’ve made and relate it back to their own lives, they can relate to that, they live with that forever from that point. You go to see a Bob Dylan concert and there’s people there in their 60’s and 70’s…
L - I was probably the youngest person there… haha.
D - Exactly, but they remember being the age they were when they heard those songs. they get taken back there, it’s transportational. There are so many mediums like that for so many reasons. That’s film for me, and music of course. Even smells, the smell of a deodorant you wore as a teenager takes you back to who you were dating at the time, Lynx Africa or something.
L - Haha, yes. My Nan used to eat mandarins all the time when we were kids, and still when I smell them it reminds me of her.
D - Yeah, that citrus smell. That’s wild, I feel like if you could harness that as a creative, in some sort of installation…
L - So what’s the last feeling you remember before you go out on stage?
D - I always forget everything. We did these shows with Daniel Johns at the Opera House, four years ago now.. We rehearsed for almost six weeks straight, it’s probably one of the biggest gigs I’ve done in terms of expectations. There was so much work that went into it, every day. Right before the first show I basically forgot everything. I didn’t even remember what song came first. I find it happens to this day, with the Not A Boys Name shows, because there is an element of choreography.. when do I put this guitar pedal on? When do I play that riff?
L - Like muscle memory almost…
D - Yeah exactly. It’s almost like I go through everything in hyper time right before I go on. It’s very exhilarating… but I can see why people take to alcohol and substances as a means for dulling those feelings.
L - So you always do your shows completely sober?
D - Not exactly. I know I have a limit, and it’s very minimal. Usually just a glass of champagne. I relate it to something celebratory!
L - Do you believe in fate?
D - Yeah, I do, which is an interesting concept because I don’t believe in faith.
L - Haha very different things!
D - Yeah. When I think about it, something that I refer to a lot is ‘the universe’ and when things go wrong, I’m the first one to blame the universe haha. I don’t really know what that means, I haven’t really placed any greater meaning on it other than, there’s times when things just click into place, and you can’t really trace it back to any specific reason or action. I feel there’s been a lot of moments in my life where that has happened. In songwriting there are people that you work with and people that you don’t. Sometimes I’ll get in a room with someone and there’s just nothing, just not feeling the vibes. But other times, you can connect with people so strongly and there’s no real reason why.
L - In the same way you have romantic chemistry with people in relationships, I feel like you have creative chemistry with people.
D - Yeah, totally. I met this duo in the US last year called “Ohmme”. They are amazing musicians, and We just got talking immediately. I watched their set and they blew me away. Everytime I go to Chicago now, I link up with them. Last time they played their new album for me in their home studio, and that really triggers me to write that first song for Not A Boys Name. That’s one of those connections that you can’t explain. What was different about them opposed to the fifteen other support artists before them on that tour? It ended up being a pivotal moment for Not A Boys Name, because I wanted to pull my head out of the sand and commit to my own creative project. Fate. Whatever fate is!
L - So if you could have coffee with three people, who would they be?
D - Oh, that’s a tricky one… All your questions are tricky!
L - Sorry!
D - No, they’re good questions.
L - I was going to send them to you before…
D - No, it’s nice to be surprised… One person I’d love to sit down with, who’s still around.. wait is this a dead or alive question?
L - No, not prescriptive. Anyone, no restrictions.
D - I’d sit down with Todd Rundgren, who’s still here. He’s this amazing entrepreneurial, songwriter/producer that’s been around since the seventies. He’s this whiz-kid who started writing music for other people, and then he had a few hits and that kind of lead to him doing whatever he wanted to do. He really pushed the limits in terms of, I guess, solo recording, so he plays every instrument on his recordings, and the way that he recorded it all was in such a haphazard manner. He was just trying to capture those moments of inspiration, so nothing is actually recorded or played perfectly because he’s just going for the moments of inspiration. And I feel like I do a very similar thing. Towards the end of the eighties he got really into video, and was pushing the limits of video effects, he was one of the first guys to direct his own music videos. You watch it now, and it’s amazingly kitch. Then in the 90’s, he was the first guy to release an album on CD-Rom. You’d put it into your computer and there was this visual element, you’d create the song by clicking on different instruments. Of course now, it’s super daggy, but at the time it paved the way for garage band and so much music now. He was also one of the leaders in the streaming music movement. He was really pushing that before Apple came along and hijacked the market. I think he has such an interesting brain and has lived such an interesting life, he’s like 72 now. Some of his records are go-tos for me, on a flight, or when I feel like what I’m doing is a little too eccentric I’ll listen to his music and think ‘oh no I can get away with this.’ Haha. So that’s number one, number two would probably be a film director, Richard Linklater I guess. I’d love to pick apart his creative process and the way he puts things together. It seems very ‘stream of consciousness’ in the way they’re put together, but there must be some sort of structure there. Number three… that’s tricky. Maybe a deceased family member..
L - I would have coffee with my mum at my age. It doesn’t have to be real haha.
D - Yeah, right, I love that. I would love to have coffee with my Dad, because he and I are very similar in terms of where we started out, but then we’ve taken a seperate path in the sense that he kind of gave up music to have a family at a younger age than I am now. And because of that, there’s a little bit of a rift between us, we don’t really talk about music and we’ve kind of lost that connection, I think for a little while he was living vicariously through me and helping me with the early stages of my career, but once I got to a certain point, he couldn’t really help in that way anymore and that’s where we really lost that connection and it’s never really been what it was again, which is a little sad. Maybe that’s it. I’m going to steal your answer.
L - No that’s fine. I stole it from someone else so no shade haha. First album you ever bought? Honestly, and I wish it was cooler, but my first was Britney Spears.
D - I was given a few albums, my first was Michael Jackson, Dangerous when I was seven. The first album I bought with my own money was the Beatles Revolver. I played it to death. I still have that CD but it’s so scratched it wouldn’t play, just for sentimental reasons.
L - That’s pretty cool. This is why you’re a musician and I’m not haha.
D - Haha, but that’s not to say that I didn’t go through any bad music phases, like I was pretty deeply into metal as a teenager.
L - That teenage angst…
D - I loved Slayer, Pantera and Metallica, and I can still see the merit in that, but I definitely wouldn’t listen to it for the same reasons as when I was fifteen.
L - So from that, I wanted to ask about the music industry, like in those days, we used to have to wait 6 months after a song was released on the radio, spend $30 to buy the whole album to get this one song that you wanted how different is the industry now? It’s a whole another game.
D - It really is. I feel like it’s still in a transitional phase. People haven’t figured out the right way to release music or to even format music, because it’s changing all the time. I know a lot of pop records are coming out and they’re putting fifteen songs on there just for the sake of streaming numbers. You’re not limited by the length of the format anymore. Back in the day with LP’s, people had a limit of ten songs, otherwise it’d have to be a double record, and then that cost so much more to produce. CD’s were seventy minutes, so you’d find a lot of bands would record a twelve song album, and then there might be a secret track, just because there' was space left. Now that’s changed, you wouldn’t do that anymore, people hear dead space and they’d just skip and put something else on. It’s going to end up somewhere different and no-one really knows where that is. As an artist, it’s a little bit sad because you have this romantic idea of what an album is, and for me, I still want to follow the format of the past because I have such a strong connection to it.
L - We were in the car the other day and Bohemian Rhapsody came on, and we were both saying ‘No-one writes songs like this anymore!’ It’s like 5 songs in one, it’s like a journey.
D - Well, if they do, you don’t hear them. It is a journey. I’d love to write something like that. When I was first writing for Not A Boys Name, there was a few songs like that, that don’t fit the structural norm.
L - As a consumer of music, please release that! I’m so sick of hearing Rihanna haha.
D - Ok, I promise they’re will be atleast one. It’s not so easy to write those kinds of songs! Haha.
L - So what’s the end goal?
D - The end goal? To get a record out. That’s always been the dream and that’s the only thing I wanted to do at the start. The issue is that it can get convoluted along the way. You don’t really want to release something unless there’s someone m to listen to it. So you need to amass a fan base, and that takes time. For me, for most creatives, it’s about finishing something so you can move on. I’d love to tour more as well, my live show is starting to evolve and I’m started to see the same faces popping up at the shows. That connection is so important to me and I can’t wait to build up the NOT A BOYS NAME family even more.
L - I’m looking forward to seeing what happens! Thanks so much for having coffee with me.
D - Pleasure! Thanks for coming!