L.A.-based Norwegian singer Monica Birkenes, otherwise known as Mr Little Jeans, has only put out a handful of songs, but she’s already created quite a stir among online music fans with her intelligent brand of pop. Despite her increasing popularity, Mr Little Jeans isn’t the type of artist who tweets all day, or is constantly snapped by paparazzi, so we took the time to sit down with her and get to know her a little better.
When did you first start singing?
I’ve always been singing. My mum was always into music and playing old records and stuff and I started singing when I was a kid. I sung in a choir, where I got my first solo part as a five year old.
When did you begin to consider music as a career option?
I think it was always the only thing I felt that I could do. I didn’t really feel like I was good at doing anything else. I didn’t know anyone who could help me, or how to go about it, so it took me a long time to find the right people.
And when would you say that you got your first break in the industry?
I had managers and I’d been in different bands in London, but all of that stuff was kind of what other people wanted [me] to do and it never felt like mine – I never felt ownership – it just wasn’t me. When I met Drew, my manager, he could see what I wanted to do and that was the first time that I started doing stuff that I really enjoyed. So I think that was the turning point.
You’ve lived in Norway, England and now America. How would you compare the music scenes of Oslo, London and L.A.?
I really appreciate Norwegian radio. I think they’re very open to different genres. You switch on the radio and you’ll hear Lykke Li, then the newest Rihanna record. It’s a huge mix. Whereas here [in L.A.], you’d never get that unless it’s KCRW, in which case you’ll only hear certain things. I can only guess that it’s a bit like that with the music scene – there’re a lot of different things that they listen to and explore. A lot of the music in London seems to be quite soulful – Amy Winehouse and stuff like that – but I feel so out of touch with the music scene in London to be honest. Right now for music I think L.A. is great. I mean, people are moving from New York – all over the place – to be here. I am really happy here.
So you feel that when you’re in L.A., you’re at the epicenter of the music you like?
Does having this music around inspire you?
Definitely, and it’s also a new environment to me. You have the palm trees and the sun, and that in itself is inspiring. One of my favourite producers is here, John Hill, he moved from New York. I think there’s a lot of good stuff going on.
Do you feel the music you make changes when you move from place to place?
I think the people I work with change the music. Because of the Internet, no matter where you live, everything is available to you. The music that’s made over here or the music that’s made over there is available to everyone. I’ve always been quite drawn to American music, so I feel like that’s where I come from anyway. But when I work with producers from here, I think it produces something different than if I was to work with producers in London or Scandinavia. So I think it does make a difference.
You have gained a lot of fans from the covers you’ve done, such as Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” What made you choose these particular songs?
“Single Ladies” was very spur of the moment: “Let’s just do this!” It was quickly done – very basic. I love “Single Ladies,” I think it’s a great song and I love to dance to it. I also love [“The Suburbs”] and wanted to do my own take on it, and Tim the producer helped me a lot doing that.
Other artists have remixed your own tracks: “Rescue Song” and “Runaway.” As someone who has gained recognition for great covers, how do you feel now that the shoe is on the other foot? Do you like the end results?
Definitely. It doesn’t make me feel that different, but it’s a good way to introduce those songs in another wrapping. It’s always cool to have someone else do their own take on your song.
You’ve been quoted as saying you stole the name Mr. Little Jeans from the janitor in Wes Anderson’s movie Rushmore. Would you say you often draw inspiration from sources other than music e.g. films, books, art etc.?
I did steal it! Nobody’s said anything about it so I hope it’s okay. For my music, I would have to say it’s the music right there in the moment: a beat a producer makes, or something we’re listening to. Lyric-wise I guess it can come from films, but I think mostly it’s more from real-life; things that I’ve heard, things that I’ve come across.
So, more from your own experiences?
Exactly. It’s more my own experiences, but I try to make it slightly fictional because I don’t always want it to get recognized for what it is.
Do you tend to write alone, or do you work heavily with your producers?
With the melody, most of the time I work with the producer. I like to get inspired by whatever they are inspired by: if they have a great chord progression or something like that. I do the melody and the lyrics. I had piano lessons for several years, but I was never very good. I can play chords, but I feel like other people can do it better than me.
Who have you worked with so far?
I spend a lot of time working with Tim Anderson. He was in his own band called Ima Robot and Dead Man’s Bones, both of which I’m a big fan of. He’s the one that produced “The Suburbs”. I’ve loved working with him. John Hill was top of my list for a long time and I was finally able to work with him. I love all the Santigold stuff [he produced] and a couple of remixes that he’s done. I feel like those two are where I’d like to continue going.
Is there anyone that you’d particularly like to work with in the future?
I’d like to try to work with Dave Sitek and with Grimes – I think she’s cool and really like her music. Also Björn from Peter, Björn & John… and Kanye – I’d like to work with him – that’d be different. As far as what I like, it’s pretty diverse so there’s definitely room for experimenting.
Can we expect an album in the near future?
Oh yes you can! It should be ready by the end of August or the beginning of September.
Is it similar musically to what you’ve already put out?
It’s going to be a bit of mix, but hopefully there’ll be a thread throughout it. It kind of goes from dark to light; light to dark. Whichever way you want to put it.
Finally, what’s your WILD wish?
I would love to get three more WILD wishes! That’s what you do isn’t it? You ask for three more. No, I would like pizza and ice cream to be really healthy so I could eat that every day. Is that weird? Maybe I should wish for world peace? I don’t know!
Photographer : Jacqueline Di Milia
Stylist : Teena Kang
Hair stylist : Candice M. Birns
@ The Rex Agency for Oribe Hair Care
Make Up artist : Dina Gregg for NARS Cosmetics