About Jen Majura
Sometime in 2015, I got an instagram notification that a guitarist named Jen Majura was following Make Weird Music. I looked at her profile and saw she was kind of a big deal guitarist for a major rock act, Evanescence. It’s always a little surreal when professional musicians find my content without any prodding from me. She kept liking my posts and actually paid attention to what I was doing with MWM, so I finally asked, “Are you actually Jen Majura or a marketing person that runs her accounts?”
She said she was the real Jen Majura and mentioned she’d found MWM via the Steve Vai and Mattias Eklundh interviews. We started chatting and became friends. We met in person at NAMM in 2016 and had a great time together. We stayed in touch ever since and she ended up coming to Phoenix in October 2017 for an Evanescence show. We thought it’d be a great opportunity to do an interview for her upcoming solo album, InZENity.
So here we are! I hope you enjoy this video interview. It was a lot of fun.
(NOTE: hitting the “play” button requires a hefty download of the entire audio file!).
Or, download an mp3 .
AG: Let’s get you blabbering.
Jen Majura: [Sings] Let’s get you blabbering. Whoo!
AG: That’s how you start an interview right there. Jen Majura is the guitarist for Evanescence and a very, very great person.
JM: Aww. Thank you so much for having me, Anthony. [Crying.] Thank you.
AG: This is how you start an interview.
JM: This is beautiful. I feel so appreciated. Thank you.
AG: So, Jen, you have a new album. A new solo album. Your second.
JM: Yes sir. My second solo album, InZENity, will be released on the 24th of November this year.
AG: The same date as Panzerballett’s Christmas album, the death [jazz] Christmas album.
JM: And we have three people on my album the same three people are on the Panzerballett album.
AG: Are you sharing who’s on your album yet?
JM: Well, yeah, it’s public. Everybody knows it.
AG: I thought you had some surprise guests.
JM: No no no no. It’s over. The surprises are over. [Laughs.] Christmas is over. But, Christmas is coming with Panzerballett.
AG: That’s right. And you! Driving the tank.
JM: I am blessed with, first of all, good friends. And I’m blessed with good friends that are outstanding talented musicians as well. So, I don’t see it as some sort of “Oh, I want to get some name-dropping on my album. I need some big names to…” I don’t see it that way. It’s more like: all those guitar players that I asked to join my album with a guest appearance, a guest solo, are friends. And I feel humbled and grateful that they all said “yes” to my request. It’s like this product, this CD, this piece of music being me and friends, I like that. It’s just beautiful. We have Alex Skolnick of Testament, he’s playing one solo. We have Jeff Waters of Annihilator and Mattias IA Eklundh of the Swedish band Freak Kitchen.
AG: Can you tell us what you did on Jen’s album, InZENity?
Mattias Eklundh: I think it was a guest solo. A weird guest solo, as usual. I’m really good at ruining stuff in a split second. I realize, “Ah, bloody hell.” I do this while some of my heavy metal friends want me to do a typical guest solo. They say, “You can do some typical stuff. Show us some sweeping, and swooping, and finish with a harmonic.” And then I play all the wrong notes because I want to create some tension. They say, “No no no, we want the right notes. White keys of the piano, man. Ivory keys. Don’t leave the church modes. Don’t go jazz or Indian style.” I don’t remember what I play. It’s done in very little time. I just improvise and then, “Ah, bloody hell. This was okay and then I’ll do a punch-in and that’s it.” I’m always done in five minutes, but I think it turned out okie dokie. So I’m looking forward to hearing it as well. She’s a good girl.
AG: It’s a killer solo.
ME: Oh it is? Okay.
AG: It’s amazing.
AG: Yeah, you did a great job.
ME: Okay. Thank you very much. I have no clue. I don’t remember the song. I don’t remember anything. [Laughs.] You do it and you move on. I am constantly running downhill.
JM: My dearest sweethearts. And Jan Zehrfeld of Panzerballett. So, Mattias, Jan, and me were going to be on my album as well as on the Panzerballett album.
AG: That is so cool. So tell us about the album. How many songs and…?
JM: It’s InZENity . It’s 12 songs? Or is it 11? Or 12?
AG: I think it’s 12. There’s 11 with the drummer and then the acoustic one.
JM: Exactly. There was so much going on within those 10 days being locked in the studio.
AG: It was just 10 days? Oh, that’s right, because you recorded all the demos and then went to the studio.
JM: Exactly. I did the whole thing. The drummer, he recorded the whole record plus one song, which I didn’t even plan to have him on. He literally recorded 11 songs within 27 hours, including night sleep, showering, eating, breaks, talking.
JM: 27 hours! I was blown away by his performance. It was just…
AG: Okay. What’s his name?
JM: Felix Lehrmann.
AG: Felix Lehrmann.
JM: He’s a German. Pretty-well-booked studio drummer.
AG: And he just came in and nailed it, huh?
JM: I asked him. I sent a text message one day. I was like, “Hey. Did you wanna?” Answer: “Yes, when?” I said, “From [mumble] to [mumble].” “Okay. Sign me up.” I’m like, “Okay, that was easy.”
AG: Wow, that’s cool.
JM: Yeah. I never worked with him before, but I was blown away by his performance. He came up with ideas that literally left the sound engineer laughing and crying at the same time. Lying on the floor because we couldn’t believe what he came up with.
AG: So, you didn’t have drum parts written for him?
JM: I did have demo drums. But, I’m terrible with programming drums. I’m not good at this, so I told him, “Please, play drums, not the Casio-kind of bullshit I did on that one.” So, he took a lot of what I did, just did it cool. He played it rad. What I made sounded shitty.
AG: Yeah, the drums are top-notch.
JM: It was really, really awesome. I decided this time to change my attitude a little bit because when I did my first solo record, I tried to find a way to combine the way I want to sound and the way people need me to sound so I can be sold with that CD. You know what I mean?
AG: Oh yeah.
JM: Putting that thing out there to have it air-playable and stuff. Of course, I learned that never works. So I decided for this one to really do what I want to do. No one can tell me how to write songs, what I can do and what I cannot do. So, of course, this album turned out to be really InZENity . The whole philosophy about the entire piece is–it’s why the album cover and the artwork, everything is in black and white. It’s about the–I heard the joke a gazillion times, “Why didn’t you call it ‘InJenity?’”
JM: I didn’t call it “Injenity” because: world, listen. It’s InZENity because you find your inner peace, your inner zen, as soon as you accept and acknowledge all those opposites inside of each of us, like black and white. You have mellow and happy, fast and slow, and all those different opposites together give you that inner calmness. That’s my InZENity that I found in this album because the opposites are not only in the black and white artwork, it’s in the songs that I picked to record, it’s in each song. I tried to be very dynamic. A lot of songs nowadays lose dynamic, so I really wanted to keep the verses so smooth and sweet and then go, like, “Oh my God. Here’s a big chorus that changed the entire song!” and then go back to the very sweet verse. So, it’s the whole philosophy in everywhere.
AG: Yeah, and I noticed listening to it last night, there are huge parts. The album just sounds huge, like in InZENity . Layered vocals and the drums are just, you know, beating your face in.
JM: I heard some good comments. Some friends of mine–Schmier is a singer of a German thrash metal band called Destruction. He said, “Damn Jen. This sounds like Extreme meets System of a Down.” I was like, “Well, that’s not too bad. I can live with that.” And then we had Alex Skolnick, who was like, when I sent him the track for recording, he was like, “Man, it’s like Faith No More on acid.” This is awesome! So, I paid attention to great dynamics and I like to sing. I like big vocal arrangements. I’m a big fan of King’s X and Extreme. I love great vocal arrangements, so when I decided to record, I was like, “Yeah, I wanna have that. I don’t want to have that major vocal line on top and then something cloudy beneath to support the main vocals.” I was like, “No. I want that all out there.” Just like back in the day, Queen or something. So, I’m really happy with how the vocals turned out.
AG: Yeah, the title track, as I told you before we were filming–I can’t get it out of my head. And now I just hear three or four layers of your vocals screaming “InZENity.”
JM: I feel sorry for you. God. [Sings.] Voices in your head.
AG: Yeah, well, you don’t run a site called Make Weird Music if you don’t have problems like that. But yeah, it’s like a very rich, dense, layered album.
JM: Thank you.
AG: And it’s much more authentic, as you said, than the first album.
JM: I learned when I started to show my music to colleagues, I learned the biggest compliment you could get–I didn’t know that, but I learned it–is when people go like, “Oh, this sounds like this or that band. This is like rock. This is like prog.” They always put you into that little corner and a lot of them ended up telling me, “This is just Jen.” And I learned that this makes me so proud. I mean, what can be a bigger compliment than somebody telling you, “Your album sounds exactly like you?!” I was so happy when I first heard that and kept going. People kept telling me, “It sounds like Jen.” Maybe I created a new style of music. Maybe there will be bands recording and they’re like, “This is the Jen stuff.” [Laughs.]
AG: Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. I’m going to record an album in the style of Jen.
JM: Awesome. Gotcha.
AG: What did you learn about yourself making the record?
JM: I learned that I can laugh so hard. I’ve never been laughing more while recording on this piece because we were so–usually, I’m very prepared. I’m German. I like to be prepared, so, “Oh, I’m going to the studio. I’m prepared. Here are my sheets. Here are my demos.” Now this time, on the other hand, I had no time to be prepared. I had my demo recordings and I had a week in Fort Worth with Evanescence recording. I came back, had the photo shoot the day after I was back to Germany, and then I went to the studio. So, I was really nervous because I felt insecure about, “Will that all happen now?” Because some of the songs were even considered to be on my first album. I haven’t been playing that since six years, a long time. I was a little bit afraid of being unprepared, but what I learned was things came out that were so spontaneous. Sometimes I inhaled for singing and he pushed the record button and I didn’t know what I was singing until I started singing and not even then, and it turned out to be beautiful. We came up with such beautiful melodies and ad-libs and stuff and that was really surprising. It made me feel good about myself as a creative musician.
AG: And what about as a guitarist? What did you learn about yourself?
JM: I write weird stuff. Compared to–
AG: That’s why we’re here, Jen.
JM: Compared to–I’m a big fan of bands where you–in the first place, of course, where you can hear the crazy work on the guitar, like Freak Kitchen and Panzerballett. Then on the other hand, I like bands that appear to be so smooth, easy-going and as soon as you try to play, you go, “What the heck is going on there?” as soon as you dig deeper into their music. So, what I learned about my music is I’m that kind of musician. So, I write, apparently, something and as soon as I dig deeper into it, it’s like, “What the heck was I thinking? Writing it like this?” So, we had some fun moments. [Laughs.] But all in all, I’m not trying to put difficult prog riffs out there. That should never be technique or a style should never be your approach or your inspiration for being creative and doing music. The inspiration should always be the song, the feeling, the moment. Whatever inspires you. It should be the creative process of getting to the song and the musical work, or the contribution by any instrument, should always be because the song demands it, not because you want to show off on your instrument.
AG: Tell us about your creative approach.
JM: My creative approach. Oh, it can be–there are so many different spots in life where you can feel inspired and creative. It can be a line in a movie, it can be a story that happened to a friend. So I usually really, when I’m working on songs, I mostly am inspired by a feeling. And I learned about myself: I can’t write music when I’m happy. I don’t know why. It’s like I’m not happy with the music that I write when I’m happy. What? Does that make any sense?
AG: Do you know Markus Reuter?
JM: Markus Reuter?
AG: He’s this touch guitarist in Berlin.
JM: What is a touch guitarist?
AG: It’s this instrument he designed. It’s like a Chapman Stick, but it’s a different take.
JM: With how many strings?
AG: It’s 8 or 10, but he intentionally find the stuff he doesn’t like and explore that because he..
JM: You have done a video. I’ve seen it. Okay, yeah, of course I’ve seen it! I’m your biggest fan!
AG: I can’t believe this. That’s so cool.
JM: I remember. Yeah, I remember.
AG: So he said if we like what we hear, then we’re familiar with it.
JM: That’s true.
AG: So do you have–you think about taking an album of all the stuff you don’t like.
JM: Oh good Lord. Oh God. Oh God. No, but–
AG: Have Markus produce it for you.
JM: I have that approach from time to time when I do my short “Jen Majura plays videos.” That is just for fun. It started out for fun and it still is. So when I find the time, I do that “Jen Majura” stuff and I always try to pick something that is challenging. And it’s just a minute of a song and I did a Panzerballett, tons of Freak Kitchen songs.
AG: I’ve seen a lot of your Freak Kitchen songs. And Steve Vai. You’ve done some stuff from him.
JM: Steve Vai was horrible. And “Oblivion” from The Winery Dogs was horrible, too. From “Oblivion,” I think there’s even a making-of where I’m like, “THIS IS UNPLAYABLE.” I spent, literally, 10 days–no pause, no break, no eating, no peeing. Ten. It was like…
AG: Richie [Kotzen] is a beast. He’s a beast on the guitar.
JM: Yeah, I know. And he’s a singer as well. Like, [sighs]. When somebody gave talent away, Richie was definitely screaming twice, like “Vocals here!” “I’ll take one!” “Guitar?” “Double! To go!”
AG: Yeah, well you’re not slouch on either.
JM: Yeah, I think I’m happy and I was glad that I can work on my vocals for my album because with Evanescence, I’m doing a lot of background vocals, which are–the background vocalist is there to support the main voice. So, of course, I can’t sing the way I would sing. That would just like–Amy [Lee] would turn around and go, “WHAT? What the heck is she doing?” So I really enjoyed the work, especially in InZENity. I mean, you’ve listened to it. It’s from classical [sings] to death growls and hip hop elements. It’s just so vibrant and vivid. The whole singing process on that album. I really enjoyed singing this time.
AG: Do you write on the guitar?
AG: That’s where you start.
JM: Yes. Guitar or–where I live in Germany, in every room I have a piece of paper and a pen, so whenever there is an idea, I can always write it down because, like I said, inspiration can come from everywhere. Once I watched a movie, Machete Kills. It’s like an action movie, it was just in the background. And then that actor comes up and the girl says, “Oh Machete, you’re just a walking shit magnet.” I was like, “Dude! Walking shit magnet! I can write a song about this called Walking Shit Magnet!” So, I need paper to be creative whenever I feel inspired. So, that is–What was the question again?
AG: Yes. [Laughs.] Do you do much recording on your own? Do you sit in front of a computer?
JM: Yes. I have everything at home, a microphone and computer, recording program, and I like to work and create alone, to be honest, because I like working with other people as well, but it always ends up being not what you first had in mind, which can be a beautiful thing. But if you’re stubborn as I am, it can be distracting, so on my record, I had two songs with a co-writer and all the rest was just written by me. So I like to close all doors and windows, don’t leave home, order in, stay there and work for hours and hours until you put layer over layer over layer for your songs and they grow and you see, “Okay, I’ll take away a little bit here and add a little bit more there” and then they become this beautiful dynamic thing that you created. And that’s just a beautiful process.
AG: Tell us the difference–
JM: I sound so wise. This is horrible. I sound like an 800-year-old person.
AG: No, you sound like a 600-year-old person.
JM: Okay, 600 sounds better.
AG: Tell us the difference between Jen Majura guitarist for Evanescence and Jen Majura solo artist.
JM: Does that fluffy thing distract you? Is it good? I love it. So, me in Evanescence, you know–it’s a gig you might get once in your life when you’re really lucky. It’s a great, great world I was allowed to dive into, but to be honest, as a guitar player, what I’m playing in Evanescence is not as challenging, like some stuff that I played before. But that is mainly because, like I said, I want to play guitar that supports the song. I’m not the the–because a lot people ask me, “Are you going to play the songs different now in your style?” I’m like, “Hell no. Somebody wrote that song. Show respect to that somebody who wrote that song.” Because the way that it’s been written is perfect the way it is. So why would I change it? So it’s not a sort of creative process in Evanescence right now for me when it comes to playing guitar. We’ll see about that in the future, but for right now, I’m literally having Troy show me what to play. And of course, I try to keep my sound and my style, but it’s not that I’m changing anything So it’s a whole different ball game when you get to play what’s just coming out of you. It’s like, “Okay, here’s me and a guitar. Let’s do something.” It’s a different approach than, “Okay, show me what to play.” So you can’t really compare it to each other.
AG: For someone that has never listened to your music, if they have an expectation of it sounding like Evanescence, what would you say?
JM: There are a lot of catchy chorus parts. It’s more up–it’s not speed metal, but upspeed tempo songs.
AG: Hard rock.
JM: Exactly. It’s hard rock style and Evanescence is a lot of very–they have a dark history, but the songs are beautiful and dark, but not as upspeed tempo like my music, maybe.
AG: How do you write upbeat songs while you’re feeling sad?
JM: Not sad. Pissed off.
AG: Oh, okay. Do they cheer you up?
JM: No, I’m the best to write when I’m really pissed off about something. So, I just get everything out and then it’s good.
AG: And you make sure you capture that idea.
JM: Well, most of the time. Sometimes, if it’s just a feeling, you don’t write the lyrics. If something happens that pisses you off, you don’t necessarily write about the situation. It’s a feeling that inspires and it inspires your tone as well because I play different when–let’s say I’m tired and jetlagged. I would never have the same tone and approach and playing like when I’m angry. Or sad. Sad comes pretty much to jetlag than tired, but it’s a different approach you play in. So, I don’t know necessarily. I would not write about the situation, why I’m–maybe sometimes. But sometimes I have the riff and then I go, like, “Hmm, I should write a song about Walking Shit Magnet,” for example. There is no feeling for “Walking Shit Magnet,” but it sounds awesome. I mean, Walking Shit Magnet is not on the record.
AG: Oh, it’s not. Yeah, it didn’t sound familiar, but–
JM: What did you think about Chuck Norris?
AG: I think that’s a fun song. It’s just fun. I listened to it when I was cleaning the studio and I had the audio on and I heard you sing, “Chuck.” I’m like, “Chuck? Is that what she’s saying?” And then you were like, “Chuck Norris!” I’m like, “What? Yeah, there’s literally a song about Chuck Norris.”
JM: I always try to–
AG: It’s fun. Your whole album is just fun.
JM: The world–exactly–the world is very serious these days. There are a lot of serious things going on and threatening things and I always try to make people smile with whatever I do. Either it’s an Instagram post or a little story or music or whatever I do, I always keep that little smirk.
AG: That’s actually what I love about what you publish. Your videos and your interviews, the four questions with your friends–
JM: Did I tell you the four questions?
AG: I’ve seen them, but I can’t recall them right now.
JM: You can’t… No no no no no, I’ve never put them out there.
AG: Oh no, yeah, you’re just holding–
JM: I text them to you?
AG: No you didn’t. You didn’t tell me them.
JM: I won’t tell them NOW. I’m not going to spoil all my secrets in here. My latest four-question interview partner was Guthrie.
AG: That’s right, Guthrie Govan.
JM: He was like, “Oh man, these questions are pretty heavy.”
Guthrie Govan: Wow, these are all questions that are really hard!
AG: Yeah, well, that’s what’s so fun about what you do. Your videos always have humor and a lightness and you’re clearly having fun, but there are times where you’re clearly playing as hard as you can.
JM: THIS IS UNPLAYABLE.
AG: That’s right! Yeah! From “This is unplayable” to you have clearly worked through and you’re shredding.
JM: I hate the term “shredding.” Did I tell you? You shred cheese. You don’t shred a guitar. Seriously. And the same thing is like “melting faces.” Why would people melt? Think about it. Melting faces?
AG: I like that term.
AG: Yeah. Mike Keneally has a sticker that says, “Mike Keneally ripped my head off.” [Laughs.] It’s just this stick figure with his head detached and Xs for eyes.
JM: Wait a minute, that is cool.
AG: That is cool.
JM: But if it said, “Mike Keneally melted my face,” it would be totally not cool.
AG: Huh. Mike, if you’re listening, don’t go that direction.
JM: Happy to be on an album with you, Mike.
AG: Yeah, that’s cool. Okay, let’s wrap up. Your album comes out November 24, 2017. Where can people get it?
JM: Everywhere. Go to the grocery store. Go to your neighbors’. Everywhere.
AG: It’s in the next issue of Vogue?
JM: It’s going to be everywhere.
AG: Cool! Thank you so much.
JM: You’re so welcome. Thanks for having me!
AG: I’m really excited to see this album come out. Cool! InZENity. November 24.
JM: Woop woop.
AG: Jen Majura.