Filled with confidence and purpose, Aspen Jacobsen boldly shares a sense of personal empowerment.
The Americana-folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist confronts internal guilt and fear from toxic relationships on her latest defiant single, “Shouldn’t Give a Damn.”
“I struggle with people-pleasing, and at times, have given a tremendous amount of energy to others, leaving nothing for myself and getting nothing in return,” said Jacobsen, 17, a senior at Interlochen Arts Academy.
“What inspired me to tackle toxic relationships and the effects it has on someone was through my own personal experience. I felt powerless and used, yet guilty and afraid of putting an end to an unhealthy relationship to prioritize myself.”
She sings, “3 a.m. caffeine I don’t want to fall asleep/‘Cause your misted over eyes are haunting my dreams/Yes it helped me but hurt my guilty mind/Now you’re cleaning up my ashes and what’s left of your pride.”
“The first two lines … I wrote after a sleepless weekend. I had constant nightmares that left me scared to fall asleep because of feeling guilty. It was through writing this song that I had let go of the guilt and reminded myself that it’s OK to be ‘selfish’ sometimes and take care of yourself before others,” Jacobsen said.
“That is healthy, that is self-love. This song is me declaring to myself and the listener that you don’t have an obligation to give a damn for someone with whom you have a toxic relationship.”
She continues to sing, “You think you love me, but you fall in love too fast/Not here to please you, I’ve got dignity and class/And cry to your mama, she’ll just give you false hope/I said love’s not just mirrors and smoke.”
“I hope this track provides listeners with the same sense of dignity and closure that this song gave and still gives me. I want to send a message to all my listeners – it’s good to make yourself a priority and let go of relationships that give nothing in return,” Jacobsen said.
To capture “Shouldn’t Give a Damn’s” fiery, independent spirit, Jacobsen collaborated with producer-bassist Dominic Davis and chief engineer Rory Rositas at Nashville’s OmniSound Studios. They added Fred Eltringham (drums), Anthony da Costa (guitar) and Maya de Vitry (fiddle) to ignite a folk-fused sound.
“I’ve worked with Dominic in the past on my Love Each Other Right album, but that was a different ‘Aspen’ and a different phase of my life. These new singles feel rooted, deeper and mature. The more that I grow, the more my artistry does, too,” she said.
“Dominic has been such a great producer. We really connect with our visions for the songs. The instrumentation and production are very intentional, but have a ‘live’ feel to it. This is also because we all played together, in real time, in the studio while recording it. It breathes, swells and flows, which is the exact quality I want for my songs.”
Since releasing “Shouldn’t Give a Damn” in late January, Jacobsen plans to reimagine the track as a stripped-down version filled with an acoustic symphony of mandolin, fiddle, upright bass and guitar.
“I perform this song live with such different energy, and I wanted to capture that in this upcoming acoustic version. It provides a different creative perspective because it’s more sassy/snappy than what I just released,” said Jacobsen, who will finalize the new version and two other tracks this spring.
“Especially the way the acoustic guitar (which is the most prominent part of the song besides the vocals) is played. Instead of a fluid approach to instrumentation, the new version’s instrumentation is more striking and proud.”
Last fall, Jacobsen proudly shared another insightful single, “Damned Dynasty,” which chronicles her personal struggles with faith and religion. A divine ensemble of melancholic drums, disillusioned acoustic guitar and hopeful electric guitar echoes Jacobsen’s lingering questions about the role of a higher power.
She sings, “In the clouds watching from heaven/The ruler of a damned dynasty/While we wage wars based on your presence/Well, can’t you see the irony/How does it feel when you’re only praised/‘Cause no one wants to be the Devil’s slave/We’re all broken, how could we ever be saved?”
“I’ve always kind of struggled with the idea of faith, and I’m a very spiritual person, but not that religious. I was always open to different beliefs because they fascinate me, and they still fascinate me today.
“Some people can take the song the wrong way if they are defensive, but I also have very religious family friends who really resonate with the song. It shows their personal struggles with a God or a higher power, and the questions that they have.
“I think a lot of people have these questions to be honest, and I think I just put them down on paper. In the chorus, I made it intentional to just have questions … (and) not really have that many harsh statements because I want it to very thought-provoking. By the end, I want people to start thinking and coming to their own conclusions,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen started writing “Damned Dynasty” after having a phone conversation with a friend about their struggles with faith. She composed the track on her phone in between classes and finalized it on her laptop before recording it at Nashville’s OmniSound Studios.
“And at this point in my life, especially like going to school away from my parents and meeting people of different backgrounds and cultures, it’s just sparked a lot of questions in me. I’m a very curious person, and I want to understand other people, and so this is my way of doing that,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen recorded “Damned Dynasty” with Dominic Davis (production, bass), Rositas (engineering), Eltringham (drums) and da Costa (guitar) as well as de Vitry and Rachael Davis on background vocals.
“It was amazing being in this room that so many successful musicians have been in. I was with these session players that I hadn’t met before coming in, and so I was a little nervous about that. But Dominic really assured me, and I got in, and it all just clicked,” she said.
The Road to Interlochen
Jacobsen initially clicked with music while growing up in Commerce Township. She participated in competitive dance and musical theater and eventually joined the Detroit Opera House’s children’s choir.
“I’ve always been really interested in the arts and entertainment. I’ve always loved being in the spotlight, but not because of me, but because I just liked how I made people feel,” said Jacobsen, who’s inspired by Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco.
“Once I realized that musical theater and opera weren’t really my style and what I wanted to do, I started writing my own songs on a little ukulele that my parents bought for me for Christmas.”
By age nine, Jacobsen started busking at the Ann Arbor Art Fair and earned enough money to buy her first guitar, a Taylor GS Mini. Over time, her entrepreneurial efforts led to purchasing and learning different instruments with proceeds she earned from musical performances.
In addition to acoustic guitar, Jacobsen added electric guitar, bass, mandolin, piano, keyboard, fiddle and ukulele to her repertoire. She also joined jam circles at the Wheatland Music Festival and learned from her seasoned peers.
“It kind of just happened organically at these music festivals, and I was always picking up other people’s instruments and they’d say, ‘Play this.’ One of the instruments that I really want to learn right now is banjo, so I’m probably going to buy a banjo sometime soon,” Jacobsen said.
In 2018, Jacobsen released her debut EP, Aspen, which beautifully chronicles the growth of her early teen years. She worked with producer Rick Beardsley and his son Max Beardsley (drums, bass) on the EP’s six tracks.
“It just kind of flooded out of me mostly. It was just my emotions as a young girl in middle school, and I think I wrote some of the songs off a book I was reading at that time,” Jacobsen said.
“It was mostly just like a creative outlet and coping mechanism, but now I’ve grown more into it still being a coping mechanism … my main goal is to create this atmosphere and this feeling.”
A year later, Jacobsen released the introspective, eight-track EP, Love Each Other Right, and teamed up with Dominic Davis, whom she met at the Wheatland Music Festival.
“It was a time in my life where I was focused on relationships, mostly whether it was between myself, the world around me, nature, friends and family. All of the songs were inspired by just that,” she said.
Jacobsen’s ongoing inspiration, talent and dedication later resulted in a high school scholarship to attend Interlochen Arts Academy and become part of the singer-songwriter program.
She’s also received several songwriting accolades from the Independent Music Awards, the Blues & Roots Radio International Song Contest, the International Songwriting Competition and the YoungArts National Competition.
“At this point in my career, especially being so young, I crave understanding and collaboration with other young artists. I was ultimately awarded the YoungArts Silver Award, which includes a monetary award of $5,000 that I can put toward my music and musical education,” Jacobsen said.
In the meantime, Jacobsen is focused on finishing her senior year of high school, performing live shows and releasing two additional singles, “Dear Brother” and “Monday Mourning.” She’s also dropping a limited-edition, autographed CD, which will feature her new material.
“I have a lot of ideas in my head. One of the ideas that I think would be really cool is just to get more songs like this together and just put them in this empowering, politically charged album that you listen to and really think through. It just depends on what life holds for me in the future,” Jacobsen said.