With her newest album, “Avalanche,” Jenny Owen Youngs wrote songs about heavy themes, including heartbreak, grief and childhood trauma. But despite what friends and other journalists have told her about the subject matter, Youngs does not believe this is a sad record.
“I feel like this is my happy record,” Youngs said with a laugh. “I feel like this is the happiest record I’ve ever made by far. It feels great to me.”
She added that she doesn’t “find singing a sad song to be inherently sorrowful.”
“I like sad songs,” Youngs said. “And I think they feel kind of comfortable to me. It’s safe and comfortable in a particular way that has created an association in my mind that makes sad songs feel happier to me than they maybe do to other people.”
Audiences will get a glimpse at the Youngs’ happiness when she performs on Oct. 14 at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia.
“I’ll be playing a lot of the new record,” Youngs said. “That’ll be the focus. But we’ll be playing some deep cuts from the catalog. And my amazing friend [musician] John Mark Nelson is going to be opening the shows and he’s also going to be accompanying me. He’s just an absolute gift to the universe. So I think it’s going to be a really, really lovely special night.”
Stepping through that doorway
Youngs released her last full-length album “An Unwavering Band of Light” in 2012. However, she has not necessarily taken a break from releasing and producing music. Youngs has co-written other artists’ high-profile songs, including Pitbull’s “Bad Man” and Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes.” She even wrote episodic recap songs about every episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — in conjunction with co-hosting her rewatch podcast “Buffering the Vampire Slayer.”
However, with these musical endeavors, Youngs said numerous aspects guide her, whether it’s the other songwriters she’s working with or the episodes of “Buffy” she is recapping.
“While I’m activated creatively in those scenarios, I’m not necessarily leading with my artist’s brain, if that makes sense,” she said.
However, Youngs does not discount these experiences of working with other artists. As a matter of fact, she believes it has enhanced some of her songwriting, especially when it comes to painful experiences.
“I think another virtue of doing so much co-writing with other people is that you’re often meeting other writers for the first time and you’re like, ‘Hello. Where are you from? What have you been listening to lately? What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you recently? And can we mine it for lyrical content today?’ You sort of cultivate this practice of high-speed vulnerability, so that you can try to create something real and raw with someone you just met,” she said. “I feel like I’ve — in a way — been training for this for the last eight years. The process of becoming uncomfortable, and like sitting with the discomfort has definitely informed my writing process and helped it along its way.”
Additionally, Youngs recorded several EPs during her “break” from releasing music. With these releases, she experimented with different musical and production styles. However, she “didn’t feel quite ready to take that next step” toward releasing a full album.
“There’s so much that goes into releasing any music, but [for] a record in particular, I knew that the next time I wanted to step through that doorway, I wanted to be prepared with a specific focus,” she said. “[I wanted] to step behind what would hopefully feel like a fully realized cohesive body of work.”
A level of peace and joy
While pursuing these projects, Youngs has experienced numerous shifts in her personal life. This includes marriage, divorce, marriage again, raising a son and moving from New York to Los Angeles to Maine. She also noted she wasn’t even out the last time she released a full-length album.
“It’s weird to try to even think back to a time before,” said Youngs, who publicly came out in 2013.
“People are always talking about how the cells in your body are always regenerating, so that around every seven years, you have a totally new physical form. It’s been like completely regenerated,” Youngs said with a laugh. “In a very serious way, I feel like a completely different person, from the last time that I released a record and certainly a lot of the songs deal with the pain of disentanglement, the ecstatic joy of finding new love, [and] the indescribable relief when you get to a light at the end of a tunnel you’ve been traveling through for a very, very long time.”
When it comes to finding new love, Youngs is lovingly referring to her “beautiful wife,” Jess Abbott. Youngs credited the inspiration for the album’s titular song “Avalanche” to Abbott, whom she married in 2021. The couple now raise their nine-month-old son, Alderic, at their home in Maine.
“I was pretty newly married to Jess, and pretty newly settled in Maine in what I hope to be my permanent residence for all time,” Youngs said. “And I was feeling a level of peace and joy that I was not used to feeling. And it felt like I had been in the aforementioned tunnel for a very long time trying to get here — to that place, to that moment, to that sort of peace. And it was not easy to get there. There were dark, difficult moments. But when [songwriter] Madi [Diaz] and I got together to write [the song], I was just so full of happiness in a sense that like, things were good, and that I was very much where I really wanted to be. So I wanted to write a song of gratitude to my wife, Jess.”
When it came to titling the album, Youngs said “Avalanche” was the “only choice.”
“I was thinking a lot about how an avalanche can sort of absolutely decimate but how total destruction makes way for new life and new beauty — a new experience,” she said.
The greatest gift music has to offer
Outside of the tour, Youngs is keeping busy with other pursuits. This includes co-writing a book with Kristin Russo, her ex-wife — now friend — and “Buffering the Vampire Slayer” co-host, about the duo’s relationship and how it overlaps with both “Buffy” and “Buffering.”
“I really like how it’s coming out,” Youngs said. “Hopefully other people will too.”
Youngs and Russo also recently launched another podcast called “The eX-Files,” where similar to “Buffering,” they recap and discuss the television series, “The X-Files.” Youngs’ podcasting efforts will also soon extend to an upcoming narrative fiction podcast due out next year. However, she is currently withholding specific details.
“[This] project is science fiction,” she said with a smile. “And there is a musical component. And that is probably all I can say at the moment.”
While waiting for these new projects, Youngs’ fans can plug in their earbuds and listen to “Avalanche.” She hopes audiences will bop their heads and ultimately find comfort from the songs within.
“Could it be that the greatest gift music has to offer us as listeners is comfort?” Youngs reflected. “That could be it. This is the first time I’ve asked myself this question, but it feels right. And there are a lot of experiences contained in the album, for which I required a great deal of comfort. If somehow those experiences can be turned into something that could then give comfort to other people, I think that would be pretty cool.”
Jenny Owen Youngs will perform 9 p.m. Oct. 14 at Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 Frankford Ave. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit bit.ly/3rBA44C.