As the first musician in a deeply conservative German family, Jann Klose quickly learned that his musical aspirations would not get support. «When I said I wanted to learn an instrument growing up, I was denied that. I had to go out and do it on my own.» Today Klose is a multiple Independent Music Awards winner, best known for his «Song to the Siren» cover and original gay anthem «Make It Better.» I chatted with Klose about his classic rock obsession, gaining the support of his family and Buckley collaborators, and his US tour.
You’ve covered Tim Buckley’s «Song to the Siren» and played with Renaissance, Pete Seger, and Les Paul. Where does your interest in classic rock come from?
It’s what the radio was still playing when I was growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, and I’ve always been drawn to that kind of music. There’s no rhyme or reason for it . It just really affected me, and I connect to it. Everything from the late ’60s and early ’70s rock — Led Zeppelin; The Beatles; Joni Mitchell; Crosby, Stills & Nash — the music just spoke to me. It wasn’t something I really had around me. I discovered it on my own, because I was just very curious about music.
The Beatles have history in Hamburg where you grew up. Did you ever run into it?
Yes, growing up in Hamburg and being in high school and starting a band and playing that red-light district and seeing that environment and being around it. When I formed my first band, we played classic rock like Eagles; The Allman Brothers Band; Led Zeppelin; and Crosby, Stills & Nash — all the stuff that we liked. Playing this club that’s not around anymore, we’d hear stories about Paul McCartney hanging out there. So for us it was like, «Oh, wow.» It was really cool for us.
How did you first become aware of Tim Buckley?
Because of Jeff. I discovered him in 1997 when I was in college in Cleveland, and someone turned me on to his «Grace» album, which had come out in ’94. That’s when I got more serious about playing. People used to say, «You remind me of Tim Buckley,» and I’d say, «Who’s that?» I didn’t pay too much attention to it until much, much later when I got involved with [Jeff Buckley collaborator] Gary Lucas, a writing partner and friend of mine, and doing the Buckley tributes. So it was really a late, late discovery for me. But when it happened, I just fell in love with him immediately and remembered that that’s why Jeff sounds like he does — ’cause he has these genes.
How did you get involved with the film «Greetings From Tim Buckley»?
Gary Lucas was involved with the film, and he recommended me to the director, ’cause they were looking for someone to cover Tim’s vocal parts. We started a duo called Lucas Klose and are currently recording together.
When you knew you were going to cover «Song to the Siren,» what was your plan of attack?
When I first heard Tim’s version, I immediately knew I wanted to do an a cappella version and what I wanted to do with the layering of the vocals, and that’s just how it popped into my head.
And you found Tim Buckley lyricist and poet Larry Beckett over LinkedIn?
My publicist made the connection. She said, «Why don’t you get in touch with this guy? He’s interested in meeting you.» I said, «Of course, that would be amazing.» He was also involved with the movie. So we connected by phone and just hit it off immediately. And we said we should get together and do a show and write a couple songs together, which we’ve done already. I just fell in love with him.
You both share a tech affinity as well. Larry Beckett is a programmer by day, and you design your own website and album covers and have your own T-shirt design company.
I’ve always been interested in technology and design. I was an art major in school initially, so I always knew art would be part of my life. Music wasn’t supported. I was raised very conservatively by my grandparents after my parents’ divorce, and they didn’t understand that. So when I said I wanted to learn an instrument growing up, I was denied that. I had to go out and do it on my own. There were no other musicians in my family, so I really had to break out of that.
What did it take to finally win their validation?
Seeing me onstage. I would stage things in a way that they would have to see and hear me. One time I staged a coup to impress my grandparents. A friend was looking for someone to come in to a Hamburg radio station to sing an Elton John song, ’cause Elton was in town at the time. So I came on air and sang a cappella, and they liked it. So I knew when it was going to air, and I made sure I was at my grandparents’ and said, «I want you to hear something on the radio.» It came on, they heard me sing, and that was a changing moment. My father, when he saw me onstage with «Jesus Christ Superstar,» he started getting it. It was really them experiencing what I did, for them to understand that this is my passion in life.
What do you use to produce album artwork?
I use Photoshop. I’m pretty good with that. I learned this working at Kinko’s during college in Cleveland. When work was over, I’d just get into the
Mac operating system and play with it. I taught myself how to do it — I wanted to know how it worked, because I enjoyed what it was able to do.
What website design software do you use?
Ever since I got an email account, I was hooked on the Internet. I was drawn to designing my first site. First I used Adobe GoLive, and then Dreamweaver, which I really didn’t enjoy very much. Now I just use WordPress.
You put out a T-shirt that reads: «If you don’t know love, then you don’t know life.» What does that mean to you?
I don’t think I ever understood living fully till I fell in love and really cared about someone so deeply that I almost forgot myself. I don’t think I was living before that, and I don’t think we really do till we love. I think love is what elevates you and makes life real. The other struggle is seeing what gay people went through and saying that they’re equal. It’s both a nod to that community as well as a way to say, «If you don’t love, you’re missing out on life.»
How much are you living these days?
I’m single. I’ve been in two long relationships in a total of 10 years, so I think you have to have experienced that. I can be perfectly happy on my own. I don’t need a relationship to feel complete, but I think that may change if I meet someone that makes me feel that. But the point is you have to experience it to know what you’re missing. I miss it sometimes, but I’m not unhappy when I’m not in a relationship.
Is it easy to maintain a relationship as a touring musician?
No, it isn’t. And this is the part of the reason I’m still single, because it’s difficult to meet and establish a relationship when you’re always traveling.
What are your top apps?
I use Cleartune to tune my guitar. It’s very accurate, and I love the visual interface. I’m on all the major social networks, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram. I use Skype and WhatsApp, ’cause my family’s in Germany. I am kind of into Wickr, which sends encrypted messages. It feels very James Bond. I use Voice Memos all the time to record song ideas and rehearsals. I have my own Jann Klose app out now. It’s just a music app where you can check where I’m playing and listen to music and download free stuff.
Lucas Klose’s music video, «Mary Magdalene,» brings attention to the ongoing effects of Superstorm Sandy: