Jennifer Batten has a reputation virtually unparalleled in guitar circles. She is one of the most technically proficient and innovative players in rock, and possesses a staggering resume featuring stints with the legendary Jeff Beck as well as the ‘King of Pop’ himself, Michael Jackson.
Additionally, Jennifer has released three exceptionally creative solo albums and created a one-woman audio/visual tour de force for which she is currently touring.
Guitar Girl Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer about her background, influences, musical development, and career.
GGM: What has been the highlight of your musical career thus far?
Jennifer: I have had a lot of highlights! When I first got the gig with Michael Jackson I was on cloud nine for quite a while. And then to follow that with being able to tour with Jeff Beck was pretty much my entire bucket list. And the release of my three CDs was of course really big as well. Each of my CDs was years in the making so to finally call it done, it’s always a huge relief and joyous time.
GGM: What is the most important music/life-lesson you’ve learned (and from whom)?
Jennifer: That would probably be from having worked with Jeff Beck and observed him. When you spend so much time with someone being day in, day out on the road you really get a much better understanding of who they are as a creative being. I found that he is open to listening to anything and everything and can find a gem and great inspiration where I probably would have passed it by.
There was a song he was recording called Blackbird where he would interplay with real bird samples. He saw a spoon on the couch where he was sitting and picked it up and bounced on the strings and sure enough it sounded just like bird sounds. That to me is the epitome of a creative mind. So, I was very inspired by that.
GGM: Who has been your most important musical influence?
Jennifer: It definitely was Jeff Beck. I was also incredibly influenced by jazz guitarist Joe Diorio.
GGM: What was the most important album to you as a young guitar player?
Jennifer: In my teen years I discovered Jeff Beck’s Blow-by-Blow record and learned every solo on it.
GGM: Do you feel that your musical career has been affected (positively or negatively) by the fact you’re a woman?
Jennifer: I have definitely run into vast amounts of prejudice for my choice of electric guitar and the genres that I have played it in. But in the end, because there are so few women playing, people remember me and I stick out. At this point I cannot complain because I’ve played with the biggest pop star on Earth as well as one of the greatest guitar players, so that speaks for itself. To be recognized by those highly creative influences is a great source of pride.
GGM: How has your playing style changed over the course of your career?
Jennifer: Like most musicians, I think your playing matures as you get older. In general it gravitates away from technique and more into meaning. Music should be like a conversation and as a teen you typically babble on about nothing, but can talk and talk and talk. As your brain matures, hopefully your words are fewer but a lot more thoughtful.
GGM: Tell me about your new one-woman project.
Jennifer: I have been doing this for a few years now. I decided I wanted a very low maintenance way to play my own music without all the hassles and worries of hiring a band. I would see players come to town like Khaki King and Adrian Legg both played acoustic guitar. I don’t have enough acoustic guitar tunes to play and I don’t sing so I had to come up with another way of entertaining people. So the idea of playing a set with films came to me. I advertised and searched out for filmmakers for a year and a half and sent out probably fifty MP3s for people to work with. But in the end, only four people finished films and that is a long way from having enough for a show. So Ed Ochtabienski from Toronto, Ontario, who sent me the first finished film, taught me how to make films myself. From there I got very obsessed with it and at this point I have two separate 90 minute shows for films in sync with every song. One of the shows is mostly my own original music, and the other is on Michael Jackson songs that I have cut original films to and am in the process of adding samples and loops to a lot of the tracks.
GGM: What inspired you to include the visual media aspect?
Jennifer: I think that is a perception that I got from working with Michael Jackson. With him the music is only the foundation to the rest of the show. I think more than ever people expect more entertainment value and they get bored very easily. The film is a way to add a lot more to a solo show to keep people’s interest. I think it’s interesting too that people that have seen my show three or four times often think that I have changed the films, but I have not. That just tells me the show can stay fresh for a long time.
GGM: What gear are you using now?
Jennifer: If you go to my website and click on ‘Biography’ you can then click on ‘Gear’ from there. There are a lot of companies that I endorse. My newest favorite is Quilter amplifiers—it’s an amazing product in a small package.
GGM: What do you look for in a guitar sound?
Jennifer: It’s very difficult to put sound into words other than to say I need a sound that allows me to express the way I want to. It needs to bend and sustain and do what I expect it to do.
GGM: Who are you listening to these days?
Jennifer: I listen to a huge variety of music. Anything from electronica to world beat music. My latest electronica is a local Portland artist named Solovox. My favorite worldbeat band would be Afro Celt Sound System. I’m also getting into acoustic guitar; Preston Reed would be my favorite.
GGM: What advice would you give to young guitarists (especially female guitarists) looking to pursue a career in music?
Jennifer: I would say that number one, before anything else, is be sure that your motivation to be a musician is about the music as opposed to fame. Be a sponge and learn all you can as it’s important to keep an open mind to all genres of music. I think that if you have the intent of being a professional musician and completely absorb yourself in music, you will pull energy toward yourself to make that happen.
GGM: Any upcoming projects/tours you’d like to discuss?
Jennifer: I’m doing a West Coast tour for a couple weeks in July. I have a lot of things in the fire and I’m playing with a lot of different bands right now. I’m also waiting for confirmation for a fall tour that should be pretty extensive.
For more on Jennifer Batten, her gear, where to catch a live show, or to take some lessons, visit her site here.
Bonus: Join Jennifer at this year’s Women’s Music Summit by The Women’s International Music Network! The Summit is three days of workshops, networking, jam sessions and more and will be held July 26-28, 2013 at Musicians Institute in Hollywood where Jennifer attended. Jennifer will teach a workshop alongside other great artists like Grammy Award-winning songwriter Holly Knight, award winning pianist and TV/film composer Starr Parodi, renowned vocal coach/Los Angeles Women in Music President, Leanne Summers, and virtuoso Chilean drummer Val Sepulveda. Learn more at http://www.thewimn.com/events/womens-music-summit/