When 26-year-old Jonathan Heynen relocated to Juneau from Whitehorse, Yukon in 2008 he never expected to discover his true calling.
“I had been going through a pretty hard time as a teenager in the Yukon and so I moved to Juneau to be with my family and kind of get a fresh start,” explained Heynen.
Immigration laws prevented the teenager from going to school or working, so he found solace in learning to play guitar and writing.
“For the first year, the only thing I really did was play music. I had gotten a guitar before moving and had taken a couple of lessons so I started on a new path with my fresh desire to learn music,” said Heynen. “But it wasn’t until I went to the Juneau Folk Festival for the first time and heard the music and saw people writing their own songs, that things really clicked – it awakened my creativity and made me think 'wow, I can make something and do something that is uniquely mine!’”
After three years of fine tuning his skills in Juneau, Heynen moved to Anchorage to study guitar at UAA under the tutelage of famed Bosnian guitarist Armin Abdihodzic. It was this move that paid unexpected dividends for Heynen.
“I honestly don't even remember how [Marie Nielson] and I first met. I think we had some mutual friends at UAA and we ended up just getting along really well. Musically, I really liked our chemistry and how we worked together,” said Heynen of linking up with violinist and singer Marie Nielson.
“Originally, I was working with a different singer but it wasn’t working out so I approached Marie about partnering on my first single ‘Paint Me In’. Her voice was just so amazing, like nothing I had ever heard before,” laughed Heynen.
“Aw, go on,” indulged Nielson. “But seriously, what I like about working with Jonathan is that I get to incorporate my violin into some of the tracks and I am hoping that is something I will get to do more often.”
At just 21 years old, Nielson is already a tenured violinist with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and has a remarkable 16 years of playing experience under her belt.
“My Mom homeschooled me and my four brothers and she wanted all of us to play piano so I started playing piano when I was four. Then when I was five one of my friends was trying to show off by playing violin for me and I thought, ‘I can do that!’ So, I started to play violin and found that I really liked it,” said Nielson.
Over the weekend, Heynen and Nielson took their mutual love of music to the next level and combined forces to record the duo’s first single ‘Paint Me In’ at Surreal Studios.
“I had thought a lot about what it would be like walking into a studio and recording for the first time. As an artist, I am so self-critical and I was worried that I may just be laughed out of the studio - you know, what if they said, 'come back when you can play the guitar,’” joked Heynen.
Heynen’s fears were quickly quelled when his song received a warm reception from Surreal Studios owner Kurt Riemann who remarked that the single was ‘a beautiful love song’.
As seems to be the case with Heynen, writing his timeless love song wasn’t exactly planned. In fact, it was initially inspired by a visit to a Montessori school.
“A friend of mine had asked me to perform at his Montessori school and I performed a mix of classical and originals. After that experience, I went home and thought I wanted to write a kid's song - I was inspired by these kids and how much they loved the music and their innocence. I was messing around with some chords and came up with the first line 'I wasn't thinking, a fool feeling fine'. Then at some point, it just shifted and I started thinking about how I would want to propose to the woman I love. I tried to think about what a whole relationship would look like - the ups and downs and the doubts and the fears and even though it seems like it ends when you die, it lives on through your children and the people you touched through your partnership,” explained Heynen who managed to write the song in just one day.
Months later, a fellow UAA musician discovered the song through a mutual friend and Heynen and Nielson had the unique opportunity to play the song live during a marriage proposal.
“That was a special moment because I got to see this song that I wrote being given a very real context. Here were these people who identified with it and were starting their life together,” said Heynen.
“Jonathan’s song really reminded me of my parents. They met and got married and had this wonderful life together but my Dad passed away from Cancer when I was 16. I just feel like the song has this great artistry to it that makes it so timeless and relatable,” added Nielson who lends her hauntingly beautiful vocals to the track.
After recording one track, the duo has no plans of stopping their forward movement. Later this month they will finish recording their EP before taking the Anchorage Folk Festival stage.
“The EP is going to be kind of a mix of folk with some indie-alt rock stuff. I get my influences from absolutely everywhere and I've written my songs over the span of 7 years so they are representative of a lot of different times in my life. It's definitely going to be a wide range of sounds because that really represents who I am - I've never just listened to one kind of music and I never will,” said Heynen.
You can check out Jonathan Heynen and Marie Nielson at the Anchorage Folk Festival on Thursday, January 25 at 9pm at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium. For more information, visit www.anchoragefolkfestival.org