Mr Little Jeans had to have been the silliest, yet most eye-catching, name that I’ve seen in a while. Reading it out-loud still makes me giggle actually. But after finding it the name was after a character in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, it all made a little more sense. Monica Birkenes (pka Mr Little Jeans) is originally from Norway, has only released one album — titled Pocketknife — in 2014, and has lived in more countries than I’ve visited, yet she’s caused a flurry of attention around her music. From a notable cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” (below) to her original music that is haunting and memorable. I got a chance to talk to Birkenes about her upcoming play at our 6th Annual Phono del Sol Music and Food Festival.
The Bay Bridged: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Monica! We’re beyond excited for your performance at Phono del Sol this year. I’m sure you get asked this a ton, but what sparked the decision of naming your project “Mr Little Jeans”? Is Rushmore a favorite movie of yours?
Mr Little Jeans: It was definitely a random, spur of the moment kinda decision. I just needed a name to put on Myspace that wasn’t my own and I think I had just watched Rushmore and possibly Bottle Rocket (Kumar is in both) and liked his character. Too late to take back now!
TBB: How was the transition from studying drama to becoming a musician?
MLJ: I wasn’t necessarily much of a transition, I think they peacefully co-existed side by side all along, but music was always the driving force. I focused on acting for a brief second, but I never even did a single audition as an actor so music was always my no 1 love. My move to London and going to drama school was more about my fascination for London itself I think.
TBB: I’m sure growing up in Norway has had a huge impact on your expectations when moving to Los Angeles. What was the biggest misconception of the city, you think?
MLJ: I think the biggest misconception I had 10 years ago was that LA is extremely glamorous. I hadn’t done any research and I didn’t really know much about it so I expected skyscrapers, beach, and surgically enhanced people in designer wear. LA has that too of course, but I think is a lot of other things for the most part. (Like beautiful people eating ramen at a rundown strip mall rather)
My first session was in the middle of nowhere in North Hollywood, so debunked my glamor myth from the get-go. I probably wouldn’t have stayed if it was what I originally thought it would be.
TBB: And what was the main music you digested while living in Norway? Anything hyper-local that is notable or influential to you?
MLJ: If you want hyper-local I would say Jenny Hval, who was a year above me in high school (we were both part of a small group of music majors) and worked with the same producer. She absolutely blew me away with a song she wrote when we were around 17-18. She’s written, recorded an produced a bunch of albums at this point. I’m secretly hoping she’ll go back to pop one of these days, but whatever she does it’s always quality.
TBB: Any acts based in Los Angeles that have been catching your ear? (we’re a hyper local publication, so we always respect what up-and-coming local and/or independent artists do for cultivating a music scene!)
MLJ: Hmmm I feel like most of my favourite bands actually live here at this point (everyone moves to LA in the end it seems!?) but I’ve been meaning to listen to the new Night Jewel record. I’ve like her previous stuff so excited for this one. I played a show with dam funk last week who did most of it (who’s also born and raised angeleno.)
TBB: The last live performance you had in San Francisco was at Rickshaw Stop for Popscene, right? How was that experience? Anything stand out to you about San Francisco audiences or fans as opposed to fans in other places you’ve played?
MLJ: I’m not sure what it is about San Francisco but there’s a lot of love there. The first time I ever played there was at the Rickshaw Stop also, and it was a mind-blowing experience that I’ll remember forever. It was the first time I experienced an audience singing along to my songs and it brought me to tears I was so moved by the energy in the room. I would’ve preferred to have sat down and sobbed with happiness, but I pulled myself together somehow. So yes, San Francisco is very special to me and I always look forward to coming back.
TBB: You also did a DJ set at 1015 Folsom earlier this year. How are DJ sets for you? Do you have a repertoire of music you usually pull from or do you change it up often?
MLJ: I have a basic library that I always use, but I tend to always add a folder with new (or new old) songs that I’ve added specifically for that night. DJ Set’s are fun, but can also be weird. Especially is somebody’s right next to you filming you non-stop while you press play and look for songs.
TBB: You were discovered during the Myspace age (shout out to having a top 8, am I right?) but have done so much more beyond that. What is a piece of advice to give to emerging (or even unknown) artists on utilizing social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., to help get their music out there? Is it vastly different now than it was when Myspace was ruler of the social media world?
MLJ: Oh Myspace, how I loved you. My advice to anyone who wants advice about social media, is to ask anyone but me. It feels like it’s a skill in itself, and I def haven’t mastered that side of things. It also eats up a lot of time and takes away from real life in a way I don’t feel comfortable with. But yes, if you’re good at it, it can be an amazing tool for getting you and whatever you’re doing out there.
TBB: When you’re not writing, recording, or doing anything remotely related to your music career, what are you doing?
MLJ: Lately I’ve been eating a lot of delicious food, seeing a lot of my friends, dinner parties and hikes, and watching Broad City and Orange is the New Black in bed. A nice life really.
TBB: Last question, I promise: What can fans expect from your performance at this year’s Phono del Sol?
MLJ: The best show everrrrrrrrr!!
2016 Phono del Sol Music & Food Festival with Chairlift, Alvvays, Born Ruffians, Mr Little Jeans, Adam Vida (fka A-1), The Seshen, The She’s, Hot Flash Heat Wave, Dick Stusso
Potrero del Sol Park
July 9, 2016
12-7pm, $40, All Ages (Buy Tickets Here)