On her latest EP Echo Mountain, singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jenny Owen Youngs uses everyday storylines to dive into themes like powerlessness, self-compassion, and complicated relationships – big ideas rendered in small-scale details from childhood games to natural scenes. The songs give off a stripped-down, whimsical folk vibe, with languid guitar-strumming and mournful strings. Youngs wanted to make Echo Mountain a continuation of her 2019 EP Night Shift, but one more connected to the details of daily life than its predecessor, with a “body of vignettes that kind of melt into one another.”
“I was interested in, rather than a God’s-eye view, kind of a microscope,” she says. “I was excited to explore a sonic space that was a little more intimate.” Youngs pulled inspiration from pastoral scenes and childhood memories, her vocals sung slowly and clearly, painting vivid pictures of emotionally-laden events.
On her latest single “Dungeons and Dragons,” for instance, she juxtaposes the role-playing game she enjoyed as a kid against a far more foreboding reality: “Inside the game, you’re okay/longswords and spellcasting keeps all the bad away/and the monsters look how monsters do/not like neighborhood kids with their hands full of rocks for you/and not like the grown ups who should be protecting you.”
“When you have so little power as a kid to affect your surroundings or circumstances, it’s incredibly powerful to enter the world of a game like Dungeons and Dragons, where you can get wherever you want to be and whatever you want to do and the world can look any way the dungeon master wants it to,” she recalls.
“Sunfish” deals in a different way with escapism, recalling the New Jersey house where Youngs grew up and the woods, streams, and bears surrounding it, where she’d retreat when she needed time alone.
In “Little Bird,” she addresses her teenage self, who was struggling with being in the closet about her sexuality in high school, and offers herself the compassion she didn’t get at the time.
“I think at least for me, it’s very easy to look back on earlier iterations of myself and just kind of shake my head like, ugh, what an idiot! But I think the older I get, the more I’m able to kind of move past that and into a space where I can have compassion for myself,” she says. “I think it’s much easier to have compassion for other people than myself, but once I sort of let myself find some peace and stop stressing out so much about that part of myself, I think it became a lot easier to feel the compassion for somebody else.”
The EP takes a melancholy turn on “Long Long Gone,” a song grieving the end of a relationship with natural imagery, almost whispered vocal layers, and minimalistic instrumentals.
“Follow You,” a meditation on the inscrutable nature of relationships, has more of an indie pop aesthetic than the rest of the EP, with the catchy refrain: “Follow you all of my life/chances I can’t leave behind/I can believe what I want/but I can’t believe what it cost/how’d I get lost.”‘
Youngs’ friend John Mark Nelson remixed “Follow You,” giving it a fast-paced, fun, danceable feel by bringing up the tempo and using synths to add a dreamy vibe. “I sent him stanzas and just kind of said, ‘the reigns are yours, do as you will,’ and I think he has fantastic instincts and I love his sonic tendencies,” she says. “He brought in these elements that make me think of artists like Pale Saints and Kate Bush — there’s a certain kind of jangliness but also this sort of fretless, flighty feel he brought into the mix.”
Echo Mountain was released on March 10th, and in the absence of live touring, Youngs is playing the EP in a livestream performance at 8 p.m. ET on March 25th (tickets are for sale at NOONCHORUS).
Youngs, who is currently based in Southern Maine, released her first album Batten the Hatches in 2005, followed by 2009’s Transmitter Failure and 2012’s An Unwavering Band of Light. Over the course of her career, she has toured with Regina Spektor, Against Me!, and Motion City Soundtrack, co-written songs like Panic! At the Disco’s “High Hopes,” Pitbull’s “Bad Man,” and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Miss America,” and played in the band The Robot Explosion.
Currently, she’s in a new band called L.A. Exes with Sam Barbera, Rachel White, and Steph Barker, which she describes as “a quartet of queer women making kind of jangly Beatles-y surf pop.” L.A. Exes released their first single, “Temporary Goodbye,” in February.
The highlight of her career, though, was having one of her songs, the emotional, key-heavy “Wake Up,” played during the credits of BoJack Horseman‘s season four finale. “I was a huge fan of the show, and when they reached out to me, it was a tremendous honor,” she says. When she’s not making music, she hosts two podcasts centered on popular TV shows: Buffering the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars Investigations.
Though her interests and professional activities have been wide-ranging, her goal with her music is simple: “What I hope is that somebody listening to a song that I’ve made will hear something that is true for them in whatever way it can be true for them,” she says, “and for that to make their experience of listening to the song yield a slightly better vibe for them than three minutes ago when they started.”