I first encountered Jen Korte about seven years ago, right after she moved to Colorado from Texas. Korte was freckle-faced and enthusiastic about her music. After a highly-successful debut album with her band The Loss, Korte is now working on new songs and finding new ways to grow.
Korte has been playing music for more than 10 years. The Loss’ style has been described as a folk rock band, but if you ask Korte, she’ll tell you she’s a singer-songwriter with influences that span genres, even country and hip-hop.
Korte has a continuous need to challenge herself as a musician and find opportunities to collaborate with kindred spirits, and has been working for more than three months to learn the entire self-titled debut album of the Violent Femmes, which came out 30 years ago¸ April 1983, just before Jen’s first birthday. Since Korte was a child, the Violent Femmes have been playing what she described as the soundtrack of her life. So Korte, along with bass player Paul McDaniel and drummer Neil Mitchell have formed the cover band The Dirty Femmes.
McDaniel and Korte formed the group after a conversation about the Violent Femmes’ significance for them through their young adult years. A few cocktails later, they concocted a plan to start the Dirty Femmes. All they needed was to find the right drummer. They put out a bat call to their musical peers, and within minutes, Mitchell asked to audition. From there the Dirty Femmes were born.
Jen Korte and the Loss will be performing some of their new songs from 8 p.m. – 10 p.m., Fri. April 6. The Dirty Femmes will perform at 9 p.m., Sat. April 7 at the High Dive.
With new songs emerging and Dirty Femmes playing, Korte and I sat down to talk about life, lesbians, music, the music business and the importance of being a person first.
So, I hear you’ve got a live taping coming up, tell me about that.
Denver Open Media is the public access channel here. We did this like five years ago. I was playing completely different music [then] from what I’m playing today with a different band. But, they’re wonderful people over there. Lynne Sprague, Ann Theis and Tony Shawcross basically started this series. They do this thing every First Friday … They bring in a live local band and they film them for free. And now they’re asking the bands to partner with a nonprofit.
I’m working with the Colorado Anti-Violence Program. It’s a community thing and not just a showcase for the band.
I love the whole idea of this!
I love this too! I think it’s awesome. I’m trying to get free booze and free food donated. But, it’s all ages. It’s great.
You sound excited about doing a live taping.
We’re inviting people to be part of the studio audience [and because it’s all ages] it is cool because I have family members that have small children. My niece is a singer, but 16 so she can finally come see me sing. And, my parents are coming up from Texas. It’s going to be great.
OK, why the Violent Femmes?
The first time I heard [the Violent Femmes] I was in 6th grade. My best friend Lindsey gave me the album to listen to from her dad’s collection. Then later, I remember playing, like B team basketball. It was awful. But we used to listen to a tape of it on the bus on the way. So, I’ve had an affinity for it my whole life.
What does success in the music business and as an individual mean for you?
Now that I’m turning 30 this year, I’m really putting things together. I’m really spending time now looking at what kind of person I want to be in the world, what kind of business relationships I want to hold. It’s integrity. It’s hard and vision doesn’t always mean monetary success. If I could afford a house and go on tour once a year, that’s successful to me.
I have a wonderful partner and she supports me. Sometimes I worry I don’t have something to say [as an artist] because I’m not suffering.
I get it, you’re not crying over your guitar. What does that do for your music? Does your sexuality play any role in how you approach your music?
I want to be a person first. Let me explain, my day job is working in human services. So, during the day, we spend all of our time working to make it people first. You know, you are a person before you are anything.
So, I don’t just want to be a lesbian with a guitar.
I am a lesbian. I’m proud to be a lesbian. I’m proud of my community. It is not the only thing I am. And it is not the first thing that I am.
Put the following words in order of importance: girl, musician, lesbian.
Musician, girl, lesbian. If I’m going to be honest with my music, it can’t only be about being a lesbian.
The music becomes universal. You don’t make your music universal. You let your music be universal.
When did you come out?
I’ve been out since I was 15. It’s never been a big deal for me. As I kid, I would sit around and write poetry and be dramatic, all of the time. But, my parents suffered some for me being out. There were a couple of families that definitely didn’t want me hanging around their kids.
When I was growing up, with my true friends it was “Oh that’s just Jen.” [Korte waves her hand in a dismissive way] I was always “just Jen.” My friends didn’t care how I dressed or who I dated. They weren’t weirded out. They expected me to be there for them and to be a good friend.
I think that’s why I [don’t identify as] “a lesbian, super-first” thing. [Korte makes a sign like she’s carrying a placard announcing her lesbian status].
Tell me about where you fit into the community as a lesbian and as a musician.
[In the music business world] you can be pigeon-holed as the lesbian, chick musician. I set it, as my goal, to keep my communities balanced. Not the straight community, but the LGBT community with the artist community and musicians.
The lesbian chick musician thing is just as complicated as it sounds. But, if I just come in and I know my stuff, I respect who I’m around. Then the music stands for itself. But I understand and believe in our struggle. But, we [the local lesbian musicians] all support one another. I don’t compete with Coles [Whalen] or Kim [O’Hara] or Melanie [Susuras] or whoever else. It’s like hey man I respect what you do, and this is why I like your art. We go to each others shows. It’s about finding kindred spirits.
I don’t want to be a hateful person. If I can come into a room and be myself, and then turn and say, “oh this is my girlfriend,” this is what I want, [then I can] live my life honestly.