Jax Braithwaite is a singer-songwriter with a quirky style and lyrical melodies, drawing inspiration from a range of artists. Having single-handedly written, recorded and produced her EP ‘November’ last year, Jax is a dynamic artist - a licensed busker on the London Underground network, singer for jazz band Jaxx and a theatrical practitioner with a number of London companies.
Our very own Mark Wincott happened upon her when he was wandering through a tube station and asked her if she'd like to take part in our 'Introducing' feature, naturally, she agreed (who wouldn't), they had a good chat about the best busking spots, her love for Gary Barlow and sharing her supper with 'Death' from the Discworld series, here's how they got on....
Please introduce yourself and your music in one sentence….
I’m Jax Braithwaite and I’m a singer-songwriter and busker on the London Underground.
What is the best advice you ever received and who was it from?
This probably sound like a weird one, but… ‘Turn the crap in your life into manure so that you can grow things’. That poetic turn of phrase came from my boyfriend, just before we got together (couldn’t resist after that).
What does music mean to you?
Music is something that’s really vital to me. Much like anyone, I’ve had a few tough times and it was listening to and writing music that got me through them. It can really change a person’s life.
First song you learnt to play on guitar and Ukulele?
The first song I properly learnt was Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah. To this day it’s one of the most intricate songs I know in terms of guitar work so I didn’t exactly give myself an easy start!
You’re a licensed busker and play London Underground, how long have you been doing this and how did you decide what stations to play at?
I’ve had the license since late 2010 but never felt secure enough to take it to full time until last summer, and ever since I’ve wondered why the heck it took me so long as it’s the best job I’ve ever had. Choosing stations to play has been a kind of trial and error experience - figuring out where I’ll get the most recognition whether financial or just people saying nice things or taking business cards. There are some stations I’ve ruled out because I won’t stand to make much money there, some where the acoustics make it difficult and some are too cold to play during winter months.
What is your normal set list for when you busk?
I play a combination of original songs and covers - about 50/50 normally. In terms of covers I like to do a few older songs like I’m A Believer and Star Man, 90’s covers and a few modern hits - recently I learnt Taylor Swift’s song Blank Space which has been fun to play. I prefer not to repeat songs in my set so it’s a list of about 25-30 songs normally!
In your opinion, what is the BEST album/record ever released and why?
I think I’m probably cheating a bit with this one, but The Beatles’ Love album is just amazing. I was raised on the Beatles and am still a huge fan and the way they linked songs together, interspersed bits and pieces of other songs and arranged the whole thing was pure genius. Sometimes if I’m listening to the regular songs I get confused as to where that bass bit/sax phrase/other song verse has gone and then I remember. Otherwise Ryan Adams and The Cardinals’ album Cold Roses is gorgeous.
Being an unsigned artist how hard is it to get noticed and how has social media aided your music?
I feel like I’m quite lucky as an unsigned artist as I still get to make a living from music whereas I’m aware that many artists don’t have that ability as busking licenses are so rare to get. Busking on the Underground isn’t necessarily the ideal spot to build a fan base - I’ve been chatting on and off with Southbank busker Charlotte Campbell who agrees that while the Underground provides great busking opportunities she finds that the Southbank is better for that so my aim is to get a Southbank license to accompany my Underground one. That said occasionally people will stop and ask for business cards, or tweet using a hashtag I sometimes put near my case (#jaxbusker), and after every busking slot I’ll search on Twitter using the station name I’ve been playing at, ‘busker’ and ‘busking’ as search terms just to see if anyone’s tweeted about me. A bit egotistical perhaps but a few times it’s paid off, and gained me a few opportunities for publicity. I also stay quite active on my Facebook page but I know that I need to use YouTube a bit more!
Do you own a record that you wouldn’t like to admit you have?
I’ll happily admit to pretty much my whole record collection but I think people would be surprised that I like Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz as I don’t think I’m quite her target audience. I randomly got to see her tour last year and it struck me that she’s a really hard worker, her voice is incredible and the songs are pretty catchy. People know Wrecking Ball because of the video but the song itself is actually really beautiful and is one of my most popular covers to busk. Also - when I was a kid I LOVED Gary Barlow’s album Open Road. It’s awful. Aw-ful.
First gig you ever went to and the last one you have been to?
I don’t know if this counts but I went to the Bootleg Beatles shows a few times when I was younger! The last one would have been Ryan Adams’ latest tour but my tickets got stolen from my bag when we were outside the venue which was soooooo rubbish. Even so I was at his previous tour which was October or something like that.
You ever sung under someones balcony?
Noooo but when me and my other half were getting to know each other I wrote a really cheesy (but cute) song about him and made him listen to it on headphones while I cringed in a corner and that pretty much felt the same I think..
What stories do you have while busking on the underground, also how does an aspiring musician become a legal busker?
Well probably my craziest experience busking was when a guy stopped by me when I was playing at Stratford. He was acting weird but gave me a beer to drink later (not that unusual), then he got a phone call so I started playing again, hoping he’d get the hint and go away. He didn’t and oddly started motioning as if he was about to unplug my guitar (don’t touch the guitar!!). That station is really open and the pitch is in the middle of a great big space and there’d been some British Transport Police keeping an eye out the whole time so I made some faces at one of them hoping they’d ward him off but they ended up getting into a pushing battle which resulted in this guy getting arrested. That took around an hour and although it was a big area it was still relatively near to me but I had to keep playing so that was super awkward. Normally there aren’t BTP at other stations so you just have to hope the weirdos go away quickly, but some of them tip pretty well so it’s a bit of a lottery! I’ve been really lucky as I’ve not as yet been robbed (touch wood) or attacked (touch a forest) and I’ve had some really generous patrons which is fantastic!
In terms of becoming a legal busker there are a number of schemes about. Unfortunately Covent Garden aren’t taking musicians onto their scheme but Southbank will recruit maybe a few times a year. Getting a license for the Underground seems to be like finding gold at the end of the rainbow as they only recruit once every few years - I was very lucky indeed to have looked on the TfL website for ‘busking’ when I did as applications happened to be open at the time. I’d definitely tell people to get a license if they can. Most schemes will hold auditions so be prepared to do your best!
Favourite lyric you have written and your favourite lyric written by someone else?
Tricky!! I have a couple of pretty snarky lyrics which I like but there’s one in my song Thank You which goes ‘I look at him now/And I see that he’s a rose/And you’re a stinging nettle/But we all experience those.’ I just like the idea of reducing someone who’s been an arse to something as common and unpleasant as a stinging nettle.
My favourite lyric by someone else at the moment is from Sharon Van Etten’s song ‘Give Out’: ‘You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city/Or why I’ll need to leave’ but that’s definitely a tough question!
Where did you record your EP ‘November’ and what made you choose that studio?
I actually recorded my EP at home! The whole idea behind the EP was to echo the sentiment of NaNoWriMo - I had planned to attempt writing a novel during November but when it came down to it I completely blanked. I left it a day or so then decided I’d try and make an EP instead, completely from scratch, and have it released by the end of November. All the songs were written and recorded in that month - I’ve accumulated a great collection of USB microphones and inputs over the years which meant that the sound quality is pretty alright and I’ve been playing around with the production side of things for a while so I figured why not! It’d be great to get in a studio at some point though.
Name three people (alive, dead or fictional) that you would like as dinner party guests?
I’ll take one of each! Alive it’d have to be Joss Whedon who is pretty much most life goals personified. Dead I’d pick Ella Fitzgerald, jazz super heroine. Fictional I’d pick Death from the Discworld series - definitely my favourite fictional character growing up. That’d be a snazzy combination.
There are many good bands and musicians out there, who would you ask the readers of musicmuso to look out for?
Three really talented ladies I know - Kirsten McClure who released a great EP fairly recently, Charlotte Campbell who I mentioned before and will be releasing a new album in summer, and from across the pond Debby Clinkenbeard who’s about to release an album called ‘Waiting on the Wind’. Also Earths from Edinburgh who are awesome.
What is your process when writing songs? What inspires you to create the guitar sound?
I tend to think up music and lyrics simultaneously - usually just a line - and then I’ll try and keep it in my head and add to it until I can get to a pen and paper or to my phone so that I have the rough melody down. Once I’m writing the lyrics they’ll normally flow out pretty easily, or I’ll just write a verse and a chorus and then come back to it later. Either the ideas come randomly or I’ll be thinking on a specific theme - for example, when I wrote the second song on November I was on the Eurostar back from a weekend with a friend in Paris and decided I wanted one of the songs to be in French so once I had a good phrase in my head I ran with it from there.
The guitar sound mainly comes from my inability to play other instruments to be honest! I do love the rawness of a singer and a guitar though. See Ryan Adams’ album Heartbreaker for more info!
If you could describe your music in the form of a fictional character, who would it be?
I’d say Ginny Weasley from the Harry Potter series. The darker stuff is along the lines of what I’d imagine she’d have been writing in Tom Riddle’s diary…
What are your plans for 2015?
I have about a zillion projects on the go at the moment so that’s a pretty loaded question! I’d love to get another EP or an album recorded and have a pretty big back catalogue of original songs to pick from as well as wanting to write some new ones. I’m also writing a RomZomComsical called ‘Brains’ which I’m hoping to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year though not having a venue confirmed yet may mean waiting ’til 2016. I sing with a jazz band called Jaxx and am on the production team for a show TwoBox Productions are performing in Soho in May, and I’m trying to gig solo a bit more as well. Watch this space!
As you well know, we like to make sure everyone who is 'Introduced' goes through the same process as everyone else so there was no getting away from the dreaded 'quickfire' question round....
Coffee or Tea?
Coke or Pepsi?
Diet coke. Or better - orange juice!
Mac or PC?
Breakfast Club or Top Gun?
Evil Dead ;)
Fry up or Sunday roast?
Lemmy (Motorhead) or Ozzy (Black Sabbath)?
CD or Vinyl?
Car or Motorbike?
Acoustic or electric?
Shower or Bath?
Tattoos or Piercings?
Robert de Niro or Al Pacino?
God or Google?
Google. I feel lucky.
We'd like to thank Jax for sparing her time to chat to us and we wish her every success with her busking exploits going forward, we're looking forward to her new EP or album and will no doubt bump into her again soon.
Jax is playing live on 12th May with her band 'Jaxx' at The Good Ship in Kilburn, why not pop down and say hello? I'm sure she would be glad to see you and even more stoked if you tell her that you saw a feature on her on the musicmuso website....
Interview by Mark Wincott