Simply put, Mr Little Jeans has a lot of love for Santa Barbara.
Hailing all the way from Norway, Monica Birkenes, aka Mr Little Jeans, made her way to L.A. to pursue a career in music. She gained popularity with her eerily dreamy 2011 cover of The Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” and solidified that acclaim with her debut album Pocketknife, released in 2014. Creating synth pop that tells a story, there is something both undeniably haunting and heartwarming about her music.
After spending a lengthy three years recording the highly anticipated Pocketknife, Birkenes is now out experiencing the live performance side of things. For her, the contrast between being in the studio and being in front of a crowd is palpable. “It kind of feels like home. It feels very secure,” she says of recording music in the studio. “When it’s live, it’s like you get that one shot. For me, I’ve had to see live performance more as an experience. It’s more about being in the moment.”
As far as viewing each live show as an individual experience, Birkenes had something special to say about our very own Santa Barbara. At her debut show here back in September, when she packed the house at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, Birkenes delivered one of those performances that you simply don’t forget. Aside from her music’s vibrant and arresting effect on the audience, Birkenes’s stage presence and relationship with the crowd touched on something a little more transcendent. I remember seeing her that night and being struck by the unique sincerity of her interactions with the audience.
When I asked her about her experience in S.B., I could hear Birkenes smile over the phone. “That crowd made me feel very comfortable,” she said. “Half the battle is the crowd being open to you. So, that’s why I love Santa Barbara.” She chuckled and added: “I’m really looking forward to it. I’m going to bring my mom all the way from Norway. She’s never seen a show. So she was beside herself, and I was so happy it was Santa Barbara.”
This openness and willingness to share is part of what make Birkenes’s music — in particular her lyrics, with their messages of encouragement and empathy — carry that underlying component of raw human connection. But what gives Mr Little Jeans as a performer and composer her substance is this vulnerability combined with bold strength. The symbol of the pocketknife points to the idea of secret strength, a reminder for anyone who has ever doubted themselves to remember their own hidden power.
For Birkenes, it is a subversive tool that is small yet mighty. “You don’t always feel so cool. You don’t always feel so secure with things. It’s that sort of — quiet strong. I think ultimately I am, but you know, sometimes you forget,” she said.
This quiet strength is something that can be felt when listening to Birkenes’s music and witnessed during her live performance. When she hits the stage at Velvet Jones this Thursday, March 31, Santa Barbara will once again get to experience the transfixing, authentic spark that is Mr Little Jeans.
Mr Little Jeans plays Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Thursday, March 31, at 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit velvet-jones.com.