“I was born in the dark, what should I do? I wanna live in the sunshine.” One of the first lines on the second studio album of Jennifer Touch almost feels like a mantra for not only what’s about to follow but also her entire artistic entity. Midnight Proposals is a record that takes the listener further away from the gloomy dance floor of her 2020 debut album Behind The Wall and into something more abstract, twisted, and yeah, also quite existential. Regardless of the gloom inherent to her music the Berlin-based artist is actually a positive human being, drawn to the light. “But getting there always leads through the darker or mystical parts of life,” she tells me in an e-mail exchange. “I’m an artist trying to find loving words for the lonely and darker parts of life, for their beauty. Darkness, sadness, and pain are super powerful in a good way if you give them a stage and learn to walk with them as advisors, friends.”
“I don’t trust things or people that are super positive and bright. But I also don’t believe in total darkness and painting things black. A mix is healthy and real. Like a good spicy dish.”
For the German newcomer, it is important to not get stuck in your own pain but to work through it. That is what her music is about, like a cathartic outlet that is deeply rooted in her somber influences that range from PJ Harvey to Depeche Mode. Jennifer calls that special mixture “Post-Wave-Cold-Pop-Acid-Romance” and I think that’s a fitting way of putting it. However, she doesn’t necessarily consider her music dark but rather honest while dry yet emotional.
Stepping out of the box
While Behind The Wall was closer to a certain danceable post-punk vibe, the follow-up presents itself in a rawer and more organic form. “For the first time I allowed myself to integrate elements I always felt drawn to but never keen to handle, like an electric guitar and bass or analog percussion,” explains Jennifer who never had a traditional musical education. “For a long time, I tried to fit in anywhere else, do a proper job, etc. But as a child and teenager, I adored these artists, mostly women with a guitar and a voice, so simple and wild. It’s in me but I always thought I’m not one of them. Cause I haven’t had the support.“ Inspired by 80s synthpop and early underground techno, her first compositions were obviously built around electronic instruments, which were easier to approach for her. “I love the technical parts, I love mixing and recording, creating my own sonic universe. But this record and my experiences in the last 2 years brought me back to my roots, my indie girl dark wave cowboy soul. I think it was just time to reinvent the dark music to a combination of what inspired me as a child and teenager.” There is a whole new set of variations of her musical character seen here. Tracks like Summerchild and Sacred Type reach back to pop, and other songs like Gudrun explore a noisier side of her work. Jennifer Touch isn’t keen on being another gloomy neo-dark-wave starlet of the Berlin underground scene – but a full-blown musical artist with a clear vision and a lot to say.
“I got closer to finding my place in the music scene and I am claiming my own position more and more. I am finding my language and, through this, my safe space, professionally, artistically and as human being. But I’m also accepting the fact that I will always be on a journey, kind of a nomad. I’m restless. That doesn’t mean I don’t commit, on the contrary, you have to commit to people who have your back when you pack your things for the desert ride. And you have to hold others too. It’s never just about yourself of course.”
Unlike its predecessor (which took a few years to manifest), Midnight Proposals was written in a momentary explosion of energy and creativity, and completed in just four months. For Jennifer, it has been a very fulfilling experience comparable to an unconscious act of building structures based on feelings and inspiration, memories. “I think every artist can tell that there is a magic dark, something you can’t explain while you work on an art piece”, she elaborates. “But it’s a huge process to get there, let this happen, and not overthink the results. It takes time. This record came 90% out of a flow, something I let myself do more and more.” In many ways, her sophomore album is also a testament to confidence and empowerment. In the end, Jennifer Touch is ready to embrace her songwriting persona in all forms. “Now I’m ready to trust the process. I went through many rock bottoms and had to learn to let go and allow myself to let go. And I am okay still, good enough, and a worthy element of this weird society. It becomes interesting once you leave the boxes. And there are a lot, especially for women.”
A Tale of Wanderers
And while the musical references of Midnight Proposals are rooted in the 1980s and 90s, the themes of the album date way back. John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes Of Wrath was a main influence in the writing process of this album. If you (like me) haven’t read it, the novel describes the 1930s farmers’ migration via Route 66 from the center of the USA to California. Driven by the Great Depression, the protagonists were hoping to escape poverty but had to face more loss, abuse, hunger, and grief at their destination. Jennifer explains: “It is a social criticism and an allegory of our inner task as human beings to find our place and people where we can settle down, feel safe, and be happy ultimately.” She was reading the book while working on the record, and somehow it became the soundtrack to the story. “The way John Steinbeck describes the details of the family house, their simple things, and the conversations totally reminded me of my grandparents and their house in a settler’s area,” she continues her thoughts.“Also in the 1930s, their parents were given land as part of a new district for poor people from all over the country. My grandma still lives there and everything felt DIY and basic, but also cozy and safe as it never really changed. In the last few years, my family discussed who will continue to live there or whether we sell it. I realized that I need to find my own place, even though I love this house so much. It can be painful to start your journey not knowing what you will find. Like a wanderer on Route 66. The record came together as a discussion of this process, all our efforts to find our people and places in society. It’s a bittersweet illusion, like a story you’ve been told around a fire at night in the woods. The songs on the record are my soundtrack to this.”
According to Jennifer Touch, we are all ultimately hopeful people. “Basic safety is something that every human deserves. It’s complex and the record is too, but in its yearning vibe, it’s also powerful, simple, and easy. A bit funny too, questioning the eternal yearning and how we collect memorabilia on the way.” Just take a look at the colorful cover to realize that Jennifer is facing it with a healthy dose of humor as well. “I really want to create music. That’s just what I do and I work hard for it,” Jennifer says. It’s the creative aspect that drives her, although that can be challenging in the fast-paced reality of the 21st century. Figuring these things out is difficult but necessary. That is the sort of advice she likes to give other up-and-coming artists as well. “Protect your energy. You need it for your work and to get through the toxic parts of the business like rising high and falling down twice on the same day. Be grateful if you earn money with what you love (it’s a fucking privilege, look around you) and if you do, you have the responsibility to develop and rebuild pop culture. Get yourself a nice dress but also an opinion, find your musical family, and support your artist friends. We are in this together. Be kind to yourself and proud of your strength.“ Well, I got nothing to add here. There is light at the end of the tunnel but sometimes you have to walk through the darkness first to reach it. And if you need a companion soundtrack for that, I recommend you stick with Jennifer Touch.
Every Monday, the NBHAP staff brings an exciting new artist to your attention alongside a 30-track-strong Introducing Playlist on Spotify. Feel invited to follow the playlist and give these talents a spin.
This time, we curated the playlist together with Jennifer Touch. Along with tracks from her new album, this week’s update includes Curses, Warm Graves, Local Natives, and more. Tune in below.