Reenie Perkovic and her wife Lea Kirstein makeup Citizen Jane, a Toronto-based folk pop duo that uses vocal harmonies and string textures to create emotionally charged music. Curve Magazine has called Citizen Jane, “diverse and multifaceted,” community radio station CJLY has deemed the duo as “dynamite” and Folk Radio UK has described their art as,”exquisitely performed.”
Reenie and Lea reached out to A Quarter Young and we’re over the moon excited to share the band’s story – one that touches on the uphill climbs that come with understanding and dismantling self-doubt, as well as the symbolism found in sound and song.
Read our full interview with Citizen Jane now:
- What has lead you to create your unique, never-heard-before, powerful medley of sound and lyrics?
We never think of deliberately trying to adapt our writing style so that we create something “innovative,” (different for the sake of being different). It almost never works if we set out to create something “fresh” or “new” or “powerful.” A former teacher Oliver Schroer used to put it this way: Everybody has two characters inside them – the “creator,” and the “editor,” which are like two different computer programs. If you run them at the same time, you might cause the whole system to crash. So instead, we almost always approach our songs from the aspect of communicating an emotion that comes from experience. Almost all of Reenie’s songs are autobiographical, from past or present, and we have always tried to compose and arrange using soundscapes from our imaginations that support the feelings that so clearly reside in the song sketches.
- Citizen Jane has gained international attention. What steps did you take to connect with such widespread audiences?
We were lucky enough to connect with one of the writers for Folk Radio UK at the delightful Campbell Bay Music Festival on Mayne Island, BC in the heat of last summer, and he was kind enough to follow up and write a full album review once our debut album In the Storm was released in the fall of 2017. We are so keen to get over to the UK and connect with our listeners over there! Hopefully within the next two years!
- How many hours went into the making and production of In the Storm? Were you recording and rehearsing at an in-home studio?
Many hours of love, sweat and tears went into this album. We lived on the sunshine coast of BC while Lea had a year-long music teaching contract out there. We were inspired to write most of the songs on the album here. You get a sense that some of the tracks really have roots in that particular place and time, such as “Hopkins Landing” (the moody grey inlet our living room window overlooked and the sense of gratitude to have a chance to catch our breath and compose) or “Chasing the Sun” (written for the eternal west coast rain, yes, but also for the teen students who were constantly struggling to reinvent themselves within their small, tight-knit community), as well as songs that generally reflect on the feeling of living in such [close quarters], coming to terms with the isolation and loneliness that technology and politics present, as well as hope, incredible kindness and love.
We recorded all these songs in our house by the sea, in a makeshift home studio with draped blanket-fort isolation booths, between midnight and 3:00 a.m. – the best witching hours to record!
- In the Storm is a reflection on the value of human connection and touches on themes of internal and external war, including self-doubt. Why was it so important for you to touch on these themes in your music?
Last year  was a great year of self-doubt, and overcoming it.
For Lea, it had a lot to do with her teaching job and constantly second guessing her capabilities to help each and every music student. Lea was at war with herself over what to do to help each student, what to do to help each group, whether she wanted to spend most of her energy creating, performing or teaching and whether she even deserved the chance to pursue performing and recording.
We all impose ridiculous restrictions on ourselves that prevent us from moving forward.
For Reenie, so much of last year revolved around feeling like she had lost the fearless, uninhibited approach to writing and performing music – something she had found so easily accessible in her teenage and early university years. Reenie used to be a punk with blue hair who jumped around the stage with abandon, kicking amps over.
And for whatever reason, maybe we had been poor in Toronto for too many years and had felt like we were stuck in survival mode, unable to take any risks, both of us felt so unsure of whether we could overcome this massive long-term build up of self doubt. So, part of this project was just proving to ourselves that we could. And it really was personally a very transformative experience and many people who saw us at the beginning and the end of the year remarked on that transformation. One adult student who was perhaps too kind described it as, “frayed…to incandescent.”
The external war question is a lot easier. Every artist around the world is writing about the shit going down south of the border right now and how it’s scaring the crap out of everybody, while also alienating quite a few friends and families. Some of our songs address listening to each other to learn, grow and understand, rather than to be right or to “win.”
- How do you think your international influences and experiences impact the art and music you create, today?
The track “Animals/Machines” is the first song Reenie explicitly wrote about leaving her hometown of Sarajevo, Bosnia, just before the outbreak of the Bosnian Civil War in the early ‘90s. She was five-years-old and her family flew to Canada on the last civilian flight before the borders closed. Although she was too young to remember anything explicitly, Reenie felt the trickle-down effect of all the stress and grief her parents experienced, having to leave home and put down roots in a new country where they didn’t speak the language. Thinking about all the other people currently experiencing similar situations today, she wrote the song with the [intention of], “We can do better.”
- Touching on so many vulnerable topics in your music, how do you stay motivated and inspired to continue to create?
Being in Toronto’s diverse arts scene is always so inspiring. Going out, seeing new artists and having a community of other creators to keep each other accountable is invaluable, and always inspires us to write as soon as we get home from a show. Reenie usually writes the framework of the songs autobiographically, from a past or present experience. It’s her way of digesting feelings and self-reflecting.
- All of your music is on Spotify. How does exposure through the streaming site impact your music’s reach?
We noticed that people are streaming our music all over the world, in [places] we never thought we’d reach. Our bucket list travel plans are basically to go to all the places where people are listening to our music. But, you know, at $0.002 a listen, we might get there by bike, haha. Keep streaming, friends!
- Though now based in Toronto, you weren’t always located in Canada’s largest city. Where did your stories begin?
We met in classical music school at the University of Victoria. Reenie was studying to be a composer (she had a couple of big pieces read by orchestras) and Lea was locked away in the music-ed department. Both of us would play music outside of school with passion projects, like Reenie’s seven-piece funk band or Lea’s flash-mob fiddle groups. We met and started dating in our undergrad degrees (Reenie asked Lea out first), and a few years later, we decided to move to the big smoke to pursue a different music scene. So we downsized, getting rid of almost everything we owned, and moved cross-country on the VIA Rail musicians’ program with six suitcases, three guitars, two fiddles, a cello and a drum kit in tow. We instantly fell in love with the city, where we would soon get married in the Toronto Music Garden down by the lake. Over time, Toronto has become our new home.
- What advice do you have for other singers, songwriters and musicians who are hoping to start a band and collaborate?
Write from the gut and don’t worry so much about the “should.” Learn how to be weird together. Try to separate your “creating” and “editing” processes. If you’re a young female-identifying or non-binary person, you deserve all the opportunities, mentorship and shots that your male counterparts do. Go out and reach for them!
- Citizen Jane is also passionate about building community and education. What type of work do you do to support these important areas?
We have been teaching songwriting and fiddling at an incredible multi-generational music camp in Ontario every summer called AlgomaTrad. It’s one of the most immersive, positive and life-affirming musical places we’ve ever encountered. We try to encourage all of our students and musical friends to go.
And, we’re so excited to be working with 125 string students in the Peel District School Board in May, facilitating some creative string workshops for budding new composers.
- Where can our readers go to learn more about Citizen Jane?
Honestly, into the music! Reenie pours her soul into the lyrics and you can learn a lot about her, and yourself, from trying to decipher her tangled metaphors. And if you could please let Lea know what they mean, that would be great (Lea has an embarrassingly difficult time hearing lyrics, which only occasionally gets her into trouble). But Citizen Jane is on, like, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and we have a website and stuff. And you can always send us a personal note – we’d love to hear from you!
Catch Reenie and Lea on Mar. 23, 2018 at South Branch Bistro in Kemptville, ON and at other stops on their spring tour across Ontario and the US. They are performing in Cobourg, Kitchener, Ottawa, Quinte West, Baltimore and New York. RSVP and get your tickets, now.
Thank you for sharing your story with A Quarter Young, Citizen Jane. We’re currently listening to “Where Your Heart Is” on repeat.