Behind The Voice: JarenFebruary 10th, 2009
She’s called ‘the new voice in dance music’. She has collaborated with Armin van Buuren, John O’Callaghan, husband Matt Cerf and fellow producer Shawn Mitiska. Not exactly the smallest names of today’s trance scene. Jaren Cerf discovered EDM only a few years ago, when she first teamed up with future husband Matt to record ‘Walk Away’. ‘Light the Skies’, ‘Me and You’ and many other big vocal tracks followed. Jaren conquered a steady position in the trance scene and in the hearts of numerous EDM lovers. But this girl hasn’t only been discovering dance, she also just released her first solo album, with a mixture of folk, soul and pop songs. As she discovers the best of both worlds, it’s time for us to take a look behind the voice of Jaren.
Armada: When did you first start singing?
Jaren: ‘In utero. Just kidding. My parents would tease me when I was very little because I’d sing about anything, so they’d give me topics to sing about like the neighbor’s dog, etc. My dad would teach my sister and I very silly little songs and we’d just sing away. We recorded our first album when I was six and my sister was four. We had pretty good pitch then, I’m surprised.’
Armada: When and how did you notice there was more than just a good ring to it?
Jaren: ‘Golly. That didn’t really happen until I moved to Los Angeles and went to a music school for a very short period of time. I was forced to perform a song in front of a class for a workshop. I was so scared I thought I might collapse behind my piano, but when I was finished with the song I looked up and everybody was grinning and clapping. Most of the time the students would rip each other’s performance apart. I was lucky that day. That was the first time I thought I might be an okay singer after all.’
Armada: You’ve been songwriting for other artists several years. When did you decide it was time to work on your own career?
Jaren: ‘I’ve always worked on my own career first. That sounds kind of self-absorbed, but what I mean is that I didn’t start writing for others until 2005 because I didn’t really know I could do that.
I’ve been writing tracks for other dance artists/producers for the past year or so. I absolutely love the challenge! It’s all I want to do anymore.’
Armada: When was your first live performance and was it hard to be on stage, or were you confident enough to do it without any blackouts or stuttering?
Jaren: ‘That’s a really good question. I’ve always been in front of people, even since I was very little. When I wasn’t singing, I was dancing (ballet for 14 years), so in that respect it was something I was kind of used to. However, I will say that most of my performances have been for 2,000 people or less. When Armin invited me to attend the Armin Only show in Utrecht, for 20,000 people, I was nervous, in the back of my mind. The real fear didn’t settle in until the day of the show. That’s because that morning, I woke up from a horrible nightmare! I dreamt that I was running late to the venue and didn’t have time to do hair or makeup, and was still wearing my pajamas (not normal ones’_Grandma Pajamas). The sound guy handed me a microphone and threw me out onto the stage and I forgot all the words to the songs. I froze.
What really happened: The night of the performance, I showed up to the venue and though I was nervous, I was doing pretty well. There were already thousands of people inside the venue and I had to walk through the crowd to the bathrooms in back to change into my outfit for the performance. The energy of the crowd was so calm and warm that my fear just disappeared. It was wonderful. I ended up having a really great night!’
Armada: You’ve just released a folk album called ‘Fixin’ it Upright’. Could you tell us a bit about it?
Jaren: ‘I’d love to! This is my baby. These are the first songs I ever wrote so they’re more folk/pop/soul/rock. They document a period of time for me between the ages of 17 – 22 when I was really anxious about life and finding my way. It started out as an outlet to vent my frustrations or to celebrate the good things I’d experienced. Eventually it led to me doing shows in Los Angeles and meeting the right people. Matt’s father lent me the money to record the album, and my producers really did a huge favor by producing it for a fraction of the normal cost. You know that saying ‘Sometimes the biggest risk in life is not taking one at all’? Well this has been my biggest risk. I hope it ends well.’
Armada: How did you end up in EDM?
Jaren: ‘Matt Cerf. The man of my dreams. I met him in 2005 and he asked if I’d sing on a track he had called ‘Walk Away’. Why not? It was the hardest song I’ve ever recorded because that’s where I had to discover my ‘dance’ voice. I had to tone down my country twang in order to sing it correctly and it took five re-recordings to get it right. I was so hurt upset that I couldn’t get it right the first time, but the challenge was something I liked, so I stuck with it. That’s what happens when you marry a producer. You’ll get sucked in eventually. ;-)’
Armada: What if you’d have to make a choice between EDM and non-EDM? Or would that be an impossible choice?
Jaren: ‘I don’t know. That’s really difficult. That’s like asking if I would rather implode or explode. ‘
Armada: What makes a vocal a good vocal in your eyes?
Jaren: ‘The character of the voice. I like a voice with a lot of depth and mystery to it. Some of the best vocalists in my opinion are ones that don’t necessarily have the best technical delivery. They have the ability to touch you in a way that makes you empathize and feel what they’re feeling, whether it’s joy or sorrow.’
Armada: What about lyrics, how do you manage to write such good lines time after time? Are always you trying to send people a certain message with a song?
Jaren: ‘Oh, thank you. I don’t know about that. It’s strange to say, but I don’t necessarily feel like I’m coming up with the words myself. I feel like I’m a channel, in a way. I hear a piece of music, generate a reference for what kind of sound might work, and the melodies and words seem to fall into place. Not all the time, but most of the time.
I do try to make sure the finished product is something that people could relate to. I don’t write too abstractly because I don’t think it works in terms of trying to create a hit. I think that if you want to reach the masses, one has to look at what the masses seem to gravitate towards. Most often it is a song that has simple, catchy melodies, memorable lyrics, and a good vibe all around. That is the template I try to create when channeling lyrics and melody.’
Armada: Got any vocal heroes yourself?
Jaren: ‘The lead singer of a band that used to be together called Coy. They’re Swedish. Her voice gives me the chills. And Brandi Carlile. I’m in love with her voice.’
Armada: You’ve wrote ‘Strangers We’ve Become’ for Arnej and Josie. How did you come up with the idea to let Josie do the vocals?
Jaren: ‘Well, to be honest, I didn’t want to become the Beyoncè of dance music. I think she’s a wonderful singer, but I hear her everywhere and it drives me crazy sometimes. I didn’t want that to happen in dance music, but I was and still am getting so many requests to sing on other producer’s material that I have her sing on the ones I would want to do myself.’
Armada: What was it like to work with Armin on a track?
Jaren: ‘It was really cool. It took some convincing on my part to get him to let me try writing, but I think it worked out very well. I am really proud of ‘Unforgivable’ and thankful to Armin for the opportunity. He’s a great guy!’
Armada: You’ve had quite a few dream-collabs so far, including ‘Unforgivable’ with Armin. Are you still dreaming of any special collabs?
Jaren: ‘Yes, actually. I love Eric Prydz. I would love to write something for him. I also want to write some house tracks for David Guetta someday. I won’t be singing, though. I’d just be writing.’
Armada: Any exciting stuff coming up in the near future?
Jaren: ‘Yes! The Cerf, Mitiska, Jaren album will be out this summer. We’re working on that right now. I have a gig in Malta on Valentine’s Day, and hopefully I will place some of my folk album tracks on a tv show or an indie movie of some sort this year. ‘
Armada: A few choices-
- Acoustic or Non-acoustic?
- Dry vocals or Filtered/reverbed vocals?
Jaren: ‘Dry for recording. Ever so slightly reverbed for performance.’
- Natural talent or Singing Lessons?
Jaren: ‘Mostly natural talent. I find it hard to work with a classically trained voice because, in my experience, the singer has to ‘forget’ everything they learned in order to allow the real essence of a dance voice to come through. It’s two different singing styles, really, unless you want a Broadway voice on a dance song. That could be interesting’_’
Check out Jaren’s exclusive live-session with Eller on the Armada Music Youtube Channel!
Armin van Buuren feat. Jaren
1. Unforgivable (Extended)
2. Unforgivable (First State Smooth Mix)
3. Unforgivable (First State Rough Mix)
4. Unforgivable (Stoneface & Terminal Vocal Mix)
5. Unforgivable (Stoneface & Terminal Dub)
For more info on Jaren, check out www.myspace.com/jarenlive