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Jess Klein

Singer-Songwriter Q&A

Photo credit: Clark Paddock

How old were you when you started playing guitar?


What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?

It was a Yamaha classical that belonged to my dad. He didn’t really have the stick-to-it-iveness to keep at it, so I inherited it.

I traded it in to help pay for a Martin 000-16 when I was 21.

Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?

They didn’t. I do have a picture of an ancestor with a balalaika, in Russia, but I never met her.

What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?

My go to is a 1959 Guild M-20. It’s earthy and balanced and petite, which works for my frame.

My favorite acoustic is a Gibson J-200, but after playing it for 16 years, I started to get some arm issues, so it only comes out for special occasions.

My absolute favorite is an Antonio Tsai custom tele - it has gorgeous inlay on the frets and a great tone. It was a wedding gift from my producer, Mark Addison.

Photo credit: René Geilenkirchen

What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?

I use D’Addario 12’s. I don’t change them as often as I should.

Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?

Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?

I have a couple effect pedals I use on my bass when I play with Jonathan Byrd, but I don’t usually use pedals with my guitar.

Jess with Jonathan Byrd.

Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?

I like Hanson & Crawford in Durham, NC and South Austin Guitars in Austin, TX.

Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?

Lowe Vintage in Burlington, NC. They hooked me up with the Guild M-20. I came in there looking for a small-bodied acoustic and everything was either too big or too pricey.

Will Lowe called me the next day and told me they got in the Guild M-20 and he thought it was what I was looking for. He was right. The vibe in there is warm and welcoming and music-loving, and I felt like he took me seriously.

Will and Ed Lowe of Lowe Vintage Instrument Company.

At what age did you start writing songs?


What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?

Melodies usually come to me first, followed by a vague idea of what I’m trying to say. What does the melody feel like, and how do I express that in words? Usually I write in my head and then into voice text and by the time I get to organizing the lyrics, it could be paper or electronically. But I definitely prefer paper for free-writing and journaling.

Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?

Bob Dylan

Smokey Robinson

Lucinda Williams

Photo credit: Mike June

If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

Elvis Costello.

"Heavily influenced by early Springsteen and Elvis Costello." - Jess

What are your top three “desert island” albums?

Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Sam Cooke, Night Beat

Grateful Dead, Working Man’s Dead

Jess and her husband Mike June.

What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?

1st - Huey Lewis and the News, Jacobs Ladder Tour

Last - Dead and Company

The Beatles or the Stones?


Photo credit: Valerie Fremin

Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?

The Kendall Cafe, Boston. I think I made $50

What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

Performing at the Bremen Opera House, Bremen Germany. Unfortunately it has since burned down. But it was a gorgeous space, great acoustics, a great audience, and I got to be a guest DJ on Bremen Eins Radio earlier that day. Great day all around.

Jess at the Bremen Opera House.

What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).

Somewhere in Minnesota, I think I’ve blocked it out. It was just the wrong venue for a singer-songwriter, no one was listening and I was exhausted from traveling.

What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?

Reeves Theater, Elkin, NC - great sound and great staff and attentive audience.

Jess at The Reeves Theater.

Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, NC - great sound and they care about the artists.

Jess performing at Cat's Cradle. Photo credit: Willa Stein

Club Passim, Boston, MA - great sound, great audiences, super supportive of songwriters. And it was the first place to give me a ticketed show when I was starting out.

Jess at Club Passim. Photo credit: Rich Hanson

How do you work out your setlist?

I try to keep things moving and change up the tempos and keys. And always throw in something I haven’t played in a while, to keep myself fresh and engaged and challenged.

Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?

Believe in yourself, follow your gut, try anything once creatively, but choose the people involved in your business carefully. A lot of people prey on artists’ dreams and won’t really get you the results they promise. Make sure you can trust someone’s intentions before you give them control over your career. Also, play as much as you can when you’re starting out. It’s the only way to get better and figure out what does and doesn’t work for you in terms of collaborations and performance.

Photo credit: Mike June

Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?

Give yourself permission to write a shitty song. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Ask a friend for a word or phrase and make yourself write a song about it. Set a timer and free write for 10 minutes and don’t stop - keep your pen moving on the paper, you can go back and edit later. Write about the thing you least want to write or think about - there’s something in there that has some emotional power. You don’t have to share it with anyone, but it might open you up to something. The whole point is just to do something, build those muscles up. The only way to write is to write. And anytime you’re showing up and doing the “perspiration”, you’re prepping yourself to have the tools available when the inspiration comes.

If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?

Probably teaching something or working as a therapist.

Photo credit: Anastasia Maddox

Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.

My new single, “Never Gonna Break Me” came out May 19.

My new album “When We Rise” comes out September 15.


I’ll be on tour this summer and fall and my tour dates are here.

Photo credit: Mike June

Jess and her very talented husband, Mike June.


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