A Little Chat with Mr. Little Jeans

When performing synth-propelled brooding electro-pop on stage, singer/songwriter Monica Birkenese goes by Mr. Little Jeans. But, in the morning after a show, in a hotel room somewhere in Vancouver, waiting on a California-bound flight home, she prefers simply, Monica. Sonically, this Angeleno-via-Norway ranks among acts like Banks and St. Lucia, overlaying breathy, hissing hook-driven vocals upon sometimes sultry, other times menacing, but always accessible experimental beats.

The indie-pop internet buzzed for Mr. Little Jeans’s lo-fi rework of Arcade Fire’s single “The Suburbs.” And in 2014, digital tastemakers like Consequence of Sound and Popmatters buzzed about her breakout album “Pocketknife.” Now, with a freshly released LP titled “Fevers,” Mr. Little Jeans has taken to the road across North America, about to enter the West coast leg of her tour.

New University: Tell me a little about tour life. This isn’t your first time around the block, going across North America. Does it ever get easier?

Monica Birkenese: Oh man, tours never get any easier. They can be so physically taxing and I’m so happy to finally get going home. But it’s so nice to meet all the people who listen to my music, in person!

New University: Right. You came up online, mostly on SoundCloud and MySpace, part of that new generation of pop stars. Everyone had your name on their lips when you covered Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs,” and later when you covered “Single Ladies.” Have you managed to find your own niche or voice?

MB: Those were such a long time ago, I can barely remember which one came out first! Well, me and my producer Tim [Anderson] decided to do “Suburbs” while working on my first album “Pocketknife.” I just really liked the song, and we thought covering a guitar-y song with male vocals worked well. When it started getting a ton of hits my manager, Tim and I were just so stoked.
For “Fevers,” I imagined writing songs for a fictional character, so it was very personal. “Fevers” is a continuation of what I had done with “Pocketknife.”

New University: Who introduced you and Tim? And are there any dream collaborations on your bucket list?

MB: Well, we met years ago through my manager. I had just started breaking into the industry and writing songs on my own. I was still living in Norway at the time, flying back and forth for writing sessions every three or four weeks. Tim and I started writing and recording “Pocketknife,” and when my manager and I listened to some songs, we decided that he was worth going back for. I guess I really moved out to LA for Tim.
And dream collaborations … Oh! I’d love to work with that guy from Vampire Weekend. Not the lead singer, but the guy that produces them. I think his name is Rostam [Batmanglij]. And DJ Dahi.

New University: Are there any albums or pieces of art or novels that you go back to when you’re in a creative rut?

MB: No, not really. I’m more focused on my own life — the people in it, situations, whatever I’m feeling. My mood really decides where a song will go. But, you can’t really avoid looking outward, so maybe some of that slips in. My surroundings really affect my music.

New University: How do you get started writing a song?

MB: Usually I’ll tell Tim how I’m feeling that day, or what mood I want to go for. For “Fevers,” I wanted something more stripped down and gritty. Then, Tim messes around making beats and we take it from there. I’m just in front of the mic, just talking gibberish over the beat and trying to see if melodies come. Sometimes, we have a song after one session, but most of the time Tim needs a few days to work on it.

New University: You mentioned earlier that “Fevers” is in some ways a continuation “Pocketknife.” Where is it continuing toward?

MB: I don’t know where it’s headed. It’s just a new chapter, like how my second album will be the next step of “Fevers.”

New University: And when can we expect that to drop?

MB: Uh, sometime next year. I’m not promising any particular month, but definitely sometime next year.

Mr. Little Jeans with opening acts, Trace and IMUR
Where: The Observatory, Santa Ana
When: 11/30, 9:00 p.m.