And His Search For Roots and Meaning
Words by Erek Bell | Photos by Adam Jönsson and private.
Think what you will about Country music as a genre. Of course, I am not talking about the mainstream here, the Nashville of modernity, and its tendencies to produce and pump out some downright awful music and equally generic “stars”. No, I am talking about real country. The stuff that grips at your heartstrings; the tales and ballads of star crossed lovers, gunfighters, coalminers, average folk from humble backgrounds, all of those that have lost something inherent and essential to the human experience, those who have feelings and experiences that can only be expressed through song and steel guitars, and in doing so, are fighting to get it all back. To me the difference is night and day; good country music is like waking up to a pan of bacon popping and sizzling in its own fat, as the first cup of coffee goes down and the smoke from the morning cigarette hits the tender virgin lungs of the newly waken, it is nourishment and sin all at once, it is pure pleasure. Such Is the case when you listen to the country music stylings of Jens Einer Sorensen, or as I know him, J.Tex.
His music is a pure and unapologetic statement on the human condition, it is country music at its finest and in its most elemental state. With a music career spanning over three decades, J.Tex is truly a veteran of the genre. His latest album released on HepTown Records, Neon Signs & Little White Lies, is everything one could want from a country album, and so much more. Now this, this stuff is the real country that I was talking about before. Throughout the album, Jens is presenting us with dilemmas, childhood memories, the fallacies of our own nostalgia, and existence. His lyrics, style, and passion for music are little bits and pieces of history in the making, homages to the traditions that are the Country, Roots, and Americana musical genres. The songs presented on this album are like constant little reminders that we and the world around us are all works in progress, that with the passage of time, we grow and change, and that there is always room to wonder. Simply put, it’s to just go with the flow.
I went with the flow and sat down with Jens on one of the last glorious days of the Swedish summer, outside the renowned Scandinavian lifestyle boutique, Hepcat Store in Lund, Sweden, to get the scoop on the man behind the music and the journey that has shaped Neon Signs & Little White Lies.
Hepcat Chit Chat
So Jens, this album, what’s it all about what’s the story behind it?
Well, for a long time, I have wanted to make an album that actually sounds like where I come from, music wise. It’s something to do with me being born in the States but actually growing up in Denmark. That strange thing about knowing that you are from one place, born somewhere, but raised by your grandparents somewhere completely different, which left me asking the question, longing for, wondering, why am I not living with my mother? It was subconscious, but when I was growing up in Scandinavia and everyone else was listening to ABBA, well I was a big fan of Elvis Presley, so I knew there had to be something different about me.
J.Tex was born in Detroit in 1965, to his mother of 19 years who was working as an Au Pair in the United States. With the situation evolving, it was decided that Jens be taken in by his grandparents and raised in Denmark. There’s no hard feelings here, it wasn’t an overly tragic event as I gather from Jens, but more of a pragmatic solution. But it was in this in-between-state that Jens would ultimately end up discovering something that has shaped a big part of his musical stylings, Bluegrass.
– This guy, who was a friend to my mother, well he introduced me to that old time country folk and bluegrass music, and he even taught me how to play the guitar. I was 6 or 7 years old when he first took me out to these kinds of concerts in Denmark. He didn’t have kids, so by proxy I became kind of one of his. He was one of those cool adults who gave a lot to kids. He treated me like an adult, talked to me like one, and treated me to some amazing cassette tapes. He was the only guy in Denmark in the 1970’s who wore a cowboy hat.
He’s Got The Look
It can be argued that there are few things more stereotypically country and western then the iconic cowboy hat. It’s a statement that encapsulates a whole genre and time period in American history, it is Americana that you can wear. Now the image of a cowboy, or the West, it is a style all on its own, a style which J.Tex embraced from a young age, as he began to fall in love with the whole look and aesthetics of Wild West America, especially through the artwork of the 19th century painter Frederic Remington.
This friend, he brought me all these books from Fredric Remington. Belt buckles, hats, I was just fascinated by these items. Like being able to hold them and instantly knowing that this is where I came from. It all came together so nicely. Later on in life it got me thinking about one’s roots, where we come from and what it all means.
Through tangible items like paintings and these quintessential Americana clothing accessories, J.Tex became more and more invested in the mission of finding himself. Perhaps one of the most critical elements of embarking on this quest, was becoming a journeyman on the path of becoming a musician and a painter.
When I first started playing, well I would have to watch series on the TV about country or bluegrass music, and I would grab my tape recorder and record these sessions, and just play along to them because I didn’t have any cassettes really at the time. I would go on to go see local bluegrass gigs in Denmark, I was probably 16 around this time and I got an apprenticeship and moved out on my own to an apartment in downtown Copenhagen. I took up painting, and started working with leathers and fur as a trade because I didn’t know what to do, or how to support myself. Well we had some nice parties in that time, and after three years or so I decided that I needed a change. So I bought a plane ticket and headed for the US.
Tex Heads West
It was in Nashville that J.Tex ended up, crashing with some friends of friends who had a house there. They put him up for a few months, he bought a car, and explored the nature of the area like the Blue Ridge Mountains, and indulged himself in the rich history of the Civil War battlefields near Franklin Tennessee. Taking odd jobs and bouncing around between places to stay, he found himself amongst the company of normal average Americans in a share house type arrangement, really an ideal way to experience life as a young guy abroad, by genuinely taking in all the sights and sounds that a new place has to offer and be discovered.
Then one day I was approached by a guy named John Heiner. He came by, as a friend of the people from the house, and asked me a question. He had a prosthetic leg and travelled around the whole South as a painter for carnivals, creating the backdrops for rides and painting scenes, well he had seen me painting and sketching in my little book, and he asked me to join him as his apprentice kind of, to tag along and travel and work for him. I said yea! Ended up travelling and working for him for a year. In the beginning I didn’t know him at all, I was young, bright eyed, and maybe overly trusting in people, but by the end of that experience man we saw some stuff, had a lot of fun, I learned how to paint scenes and truly started to grow into myself, he taught me so much and as he used to say: “it doesn’t matter if it’s a small painting or big painting, it is always starting as an empty space”. I learned perspective through painting, that there takes a lot of work to create a sun rising behind the clouds. But don’t get me wrong, the life was rough. There wasn’t a lot of money but there was a lot of drugs and hardships for the carnival workers. And after about a year I decided to head back to Denmark.
There wasn’t a lot of money but there was a lot of drugs and hardships for the carnival workers. And after about a year I decided to head back to Denmark.
East Bound & Down
After gaining some life experience, some lessons learned, and becoming more in tune with his own melody, J.Tex took to the streets, busking with a friend. The streets have historically been one of the greatest stages for all forms of music, it is hard not to casually mention New Orleans here, but take that as an example—the streets are alive with musicians of all skills and backgrounds, who are out there without fear, unabashedly performing for the world. I can see that J.Tex had this same spirit, as he and his friend played the streets around Europe, travelling, making money, and a name for themselves. They eventually set their sights on Italy as a place to set up a sort of guerilla organic artistry in residence. But they needed the money to get there.
We got ourselves some commercial driver’s licenses, and headed down to the harbor in Copenhagen and found a container ship bound for the Faroe Islands, after hearing the promise that there would be work there. We found passage, and after three days of being sea sick, we landed on the island. After being searched by customs, stripped butt naked, we were finally free to go. We found the contacts house, and this big mother fucker opened the door, basically spit on us as we asked him for a job. So there we were, broke, totally fucked, but with our guitars. But he eventually came around and I got my shot at the job. 7AM I was to report for duty, 16 tons of stone were to be transported down this foggy mountain at the end of the world, in the world’s oldest and shittiest truck. I did the trip three times, but the 4th time I managed to totally destroy the chassis on the truck by being in the wrong gear with the weight of all that stone. The big guy was not impressed and so we were back to square one! But those guitars I mentioned came in handy, we managed to get a good series of gigs at the local pub, learning us some good tunes and a fine repertoire, honing our skills and scraping together some cash while we were at it, but it wasn’t enough to get us to Italy, in fact the government had to fly us out of there because we ended up flat out broke!
All Roads Lead to Rome
All Roads Lead to RomeWith their sights set on Italy, the duo, once back in Copenhagen, managed to muster together some reliable work and the funds to secure travel down south, to rent a 24 room villa mansion like estate near Montecatini in the countryside, and pursue the dream of busking in the streets which they did for four years.
We would play every day on the streets at different towns in and around the Florence area. The good thing was that Italians gave us money, they are real lovers of music. Or, as by being Catholic, this money could atone their sins, so either way, we were doing well. It helped us get our name out there and being head hunted for some major festivals and shows. We didn’t know anything about singing techniques or sound, we had to use the buildings and alleys to project our voice, to work with the natural acoustics. We learned a lot and really honed our skills, but you know how it goes, being young in that life and well, we just sort of drifted apart, and we parted ways, myself heading back to Copenhagen. Years later we would reconnect and play a reunion show in Hong Kong, life is kind of funny like that you know. You can have a lot of fun times when you’re young, as long as you just go with the flow.
We didn’t know anything about singing techniques or sound, we had to use the buildings and alleys to project our voice, to work with the natural acoustics.
Going with the flow, it could be summed up as the life philosophy of this cool, humble, and kind eyed guy J.Tex. Since the days of playing music on the streets of Italy, J.Tex has had the pleasure of working with some incredible musicians, and as the years have passed several core members show up on several of his albums, a group of musicians that would become known as the “Volunteers”.
I called them the volunteers as a nod to my days in Tennessee. My first car there was a little Volkswagen and I always remember seeing on the license plate, “The Volunteer State” which is the official motto of Tennessee.
Old Ways vs. New Days
With this core group, J.Tex and The Volunteers have put out several great albums. The spirit is there, the tone, the journey of a man growing into himself. These early recordings, they are like the experiences of the J.Tex first flying out to Tennessee, or working as a trucker in the Faroe Islands. They are full of storytelling, but are young and open to the world around them. But this new album, Neon Signs & Little White Lies, it is matured, refined, and has a sound which captures all of these tales and experiences, packaging them up into an audiophiles dream. .The sound of the album all has been expertly captured as live recordings at “The End Studios” in southern Sweden. Recording Engineer Tommy Tift is a wizard at orchestrating the right techniques and equipment in capturing the sound presented here, not to mention utilizing an analog mixing board which has had bands like ABBA produced from its mechanic genius. It all feels so intimate, so raw, like you are sitting in the room as these guys are pouring their hearts out over strings and pedal guitars.
This time I have been in full control of the process. I have been able to set the standard of playing that I want, while reflecting the honesty and skill of everyone involved on the album. These songs have been worked fast, slow, slower, faster again, everything comes and flows, its molded and matured and has become what it is now. It has become intuitive playing with these guys, we can anticipate each other and it evolves in a really organic way, I am so proud and happy with this album cause I feel this time around we have made a truly honest refection of ourselves, our music, and how it is meant to sound. This, I use it all as the fuel to be even better myself.
Day By Day
This album, well it is the culmination of J.Tex answering that first question I asked him. In this album he digs deep into the sun scorched soils of the Earth, perhaps in Tennessee, or the rusted sandy topsoil of Detroit, maybe it is the mountainous scrub of Italy, but no matter where it is in the world, in fact maybe it is all these places combined, J.Tex has managed to find his roots, to express them in a beautiful manner that touches the soul, our own longings for meaning and purpose, and begs us to do exactly the same; discover who we are—go with the flow. You can catch Neon Lights & Little White Lies streaming on all major platforms, or available on 180 gram vinyl at hepcat.se Keep your eyes and ears tuned, we have no doubt you’ll be hearing more about J.Tex as the word gets out, you heard it here first folks.