By O’Hara Shipe
Want to be one of the first to hear Heynen’s new music? Check it out on the Anchorage Press Facebook page or website to see his freshly cut Basement Tape. Then head to Van’s Dive Bar (1027 E 5th Avenue) on Saturday at 8 p.m. for their Alaskan Rooted Indie Artists Showcase.
Three years ago, Jonathan Heynen made his debut performance as a singer-songwriter on KTVA’s Daybreak. After hearing his first single, ‘Paint Me In,’ KTVA anchor Megan Mazurek quizzically asked who wrote the song. With an awkward laugh, Heynen explained that it was an original. Still in disbelief, Mazurek insisted she had heard the song somewhere before — “maybe it was on the radio or on a TV show. I can’t remember but it’s so familiar.”
To Mazurek’s surprise, it was truly the first time she had heard the song. But she wasn’t wrong in feeling a sense of familiarity with Heynen’s music. Drawing comparisons to songs by indie superstars Amos Lee and Bon Iver, ‘Paint Me In’ is every bit the classic love song that one would expect to hear on their albums.
However, a familiar sound isn’t the only reason for Mazurek’s line of questioning. Truth be told, it is surprising that an unmarried twenty-something would have the life experience to so accurately portray the sometimes-ugly complexity of romantic relationships—especially after Heynen explains the genesis of the song.
“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.”
Although Heynen’s gift for introspective music comes naturally, the now 27-year-old is taking his music in a different, yet exciting, new direction.
“A lot of my stuff has been pretty melancholy and focused on deep topics and emotions. I enjoy writing about those things, but I think I was kind of finding myself like stuck and almost limited by that,” says Heynen.
After some prodding from his younger sister, the singer-songwriter decided to shift gears and venture into a sound that would allow him to show more diversity.
“My sister was kind of like you should just write something that’s fun and shows the goofier side of you,” Heynen recalls.
The result? A poppy love song entitled ‘I Hate You.’
Despite its ubiquitous title, it’s a delightfully irreverent tune sung with the spirit of the blues mixed with early Jason Mraz.
“I had the idea for the song, but it wasn’t until I was doing dishes one day that the melody and the chords just kind of came into my head. I went over the guitar and I played it and was like ‘Oh, this is cool!’ Honestly, I had no idea where it was going to go or what it was going to be about. But eventually it kind of boiled down to an awkward indie love song about dysfunctional relationship stuff,” laughs Heynen.
Now partnered with up-and-coming local musicians and fellow UAA graduates, Ed Washington and Holly Ritterbush, Heynen’s folky sound is about to get injected with a major dose of the blues, funk and jazz.
“I’m pretty excited to see how things develop and definitely plan to keep working with different groups around town. I’ve always listened to a lot of different types of music and I want my new stuff to reflect those diverse influences. It’s going to be fun to see where my sound goes from here.”