Meet Mr. Little Jeans, a.k.a. Monica Birkenes. She is small and Norwegian and she makes music that will leave you reeling. Her pop dances left of center, a curious thing of equal parts organic magic and buzzing electricity. She has worked hard to get to this place, traveled far to find it. On some unmarked pasture between St. Vincent's prettiest moments and Debby Harry's wilder inclinations, she stands fronting an army of bright ideas and sharp sounds, a shipbuilder's daughter with a voice that could part a sea.
Monica grew up in the middle of the woods in a seaside town called Grimstad. Her dad built catamarans and her mum was a secretary whose love for music was infectious. They didn't have much money, but put their daughter through years of piano and voice lessons which she'd attend wearing her mother's oversized outfits from another era. There were four black cats called Missy, and some neighbors who killed a man, but otherwise it was all Nancy Drew, dancing through the trees, and singing to mum's records.
Her first instrument has always been her voice. Monica sang in the church choir at 5, then around town wherever and whenever her mum saw fit: malls, old folks' homes, theaters, even on local television once or twice. At 10, she recorded a cassette of children's classics and shopped it around to gas stations mainly. By 15, she was singing in bars, clearly underage but backed by a band of boys in their 20s. She focused on music in high school, then relocated to London to study drama.
A year later, Monica was on her own in England, having left college to chase singing leads gleaned from the "wanted" page of The NME. Mostly she spent an endless string of years as a terrible waitress and, after an exploratory trip to Los Angeles, a couple more years sofa-surfing, country-hopping, and racking up credit card debt as she wrote with different producers—Peter Moren (Peter Bjorn & John), John Hill (Santigold)—and shaped her sound into that of the inimitable Mr. Little Jeans we now know.
Many people's introduction to Monica came with her haunting, beat-damaged cover of Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs," essentially doing to that song what James Blake did to Feist's "The Limit to Your Love." She'd similarly flipped Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" on 2010's Angel EP, but Mr. Little Jeans' has since come into her own. Her forthcoming full-length debut—recorded and produced by Tim Anderson (Ima Robot, Dead Man's Bones) in L.A., Monica's new home base—promises untold treasures that happily blur the lines between pop and art, light and dark.