Ghost Town Jenny hits the big town

Kim Kylland created her first recording in a laundry room in Ireland.

Along with her voice and the strains of an acoustic guitar, the four-track tape recorder, made by Tascam, picked up the hum of clothes tumbling in a dryer nearby.

Kylland, 28, was born in Huntington Beach but moved when she was 16 and has bounced around since, singing on beaches in Japan, in churches in Norway, at art galleries in Iceland and at parties in Costa Mesa. The self-proclaimed gypsy ended up in the Bay Area three years ago — the longest she's spent in a single place in more than a decade.

"I left Orange County because, like every teenager in the world, I started to resent the place I was from because it was so familiar," she said. "I was excited to see the world. I'd been writing these songs and playing locally, but I wanted to bring my music to other places."

After romanticizing the nomadic lifestyle of a musician during her youth, Kylland found that her experiences matched her expectations. It not only sounded like fun but was, in fact, thrilling to be able to sleep on people's floors and live out of a backpack, she said.

"I was really happy doing what I was doing," she added. "In all my musical writings ... I always kind of come back to these themes of homesickness and wanting to put down roots. It's something I missed deep down, I guess — a place to call home and to be domestic. But the other side of me, the wandering side, was stronger, so I kept doing that."

Today, the singer-songwriter has come a long way from busking between dawn and dusk — weather conditions notwithstanding — and trying to live on the money dropped into her guitar case. She is now part of the quartet Ghost Town Jenny, which will play at North by Northeast, also known as NXNE, on June 18 in Toronto, Canada.

Having used the group's name even as a solo artist, Kylland is accustomed to fielding questions about it. It comes from a photograph that she found at a flea market in either Garden Grove or Fullerton, she said. The 1930s-style image depicted a woman perched sideways on a rocking horse bearing the words "Ghost-Town Jenny," instantly piquing the artist's interest.

"I am not sure that the music we make today is soul, necessarily, but you can definitely find elements of that within our songs," Kylland noted. "I feel like most people I talk to have as much difficulty describing our sound as I do, and I love that. I hope we always play music that people have a hard time placing in a specific genre."

According to co-founder Yvonne Matsell, NXNE, which started out small with a focus on local bands, has grown dramatically and now attracts well-known bands from around the world. Although conceived as a music festival, the event, which lasts from June 13 to 22, now includes comedy, film and art showcases. The sister festival to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, is currently in its 20th year.

Ghost Town Jenny, like all other participants, applied for a spot at NXNE through an online platform called Sonicbids, which connects bands, promoters and others in the music industry.

"Obviously, they sound great," said Matsell, a longtime club booker who was involved in the selection of the California band. "It's a very soulful, melancholic sound with great vocals. And I really like the songwriting. I love strings in a band, and their use of it is great."

Starting Friday, nearly 1,000 groups, performing everything from hip hop to blues and country, will take the stage at various clubs in Toronto. Matsell estimated that this year's turnout will be on par with that of 2013, when about 350,000 people attended.

When asked what she thinks entices visitors to pour into NXNE venues time and again, Matsell immediately replied, "The music."

"I truly think they wouldn't come back if the music was terrible," she said. "In general, you've got those who want to see big-name acts and others who devote themselves to running from club to club to catch what could be the next big thing. They have a great time here, and it's the beginning of the summer."

Ghost Town Jenny is slated to perform at midnight at the Cameron House, which Matsell noted has previously spotlighted noted singer-songwriters Ron Sexsmith and Justin Rutledge. Kylland, who met fellow bandmates Johan Svensson, Corey Christopher Mike and Dominic Mercurio through friends and past collaborations, bubbled with enthusiasm at being only days away from the group's first show in Canada.

"There have been a few times when we've been accepted to festivals via email, and every single time, I jump a little bit," she said with a laugh. "I probably scream and I definitely get tears in my eyes because I love this so much. I think that will never change.

"No matter how far we go in our journey as musicians, I'm going to feel terribly excited and thankful, and I'm likely going to have the same crazy emotional reaction every single time."

For more information about North by Northeast, visit

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