The music of Los Angeles-based vocalist, songwriter and alternative producer Jens Kuross occupies a rare space in the world with his particular way of melding evocative lyrics and dreamy arrangements with introspective and sublime songwriting. Jens spent his teenage years thrashing his way through Rage Against The Machine and Beastie Boys covers in the dive bars of his native Idaho. By the time he’d reached his mid-twenties, however, he was a Berklee College of Music trained jazz drummer who’d studied under the likes of Victor Mendoza and Ralph Peterson. (And along the way becoming the only artist you’re ever likely to meet who can cite Tom Waits and Bill Evans, Brad Wilk and Art Blakey as equal influences without missing a beat).
After graduating from Berklee, Jens moved to Los Angeles with hopes of becoming a mainstay in the city’s jazz scene. Yet, within a few short months, the introverted Kuross found himself touring the world as the drummer for alternative artist RY X, club-smashing electronic duo Howling, and The Acid, a supergroup comprised of DJ/Producer Adam Freeland, Californian polymath Steve Nalepa, and RY X.
All the while, his keyboard skills – first developed as a tool for songwriting sessions – were evolving; and, simultaneously, a desire to share his own original compositions with the wider world. “My first ever attempt at improv/composition on the family piano was actually recorded by my dad on his Walkman cassette player when I was about 4,” explains Jens. “Of course, at that point in my life I wasn’t really thinking much about careers but man I enjoyed the hell out of myself. Fast forward through about twenty years of being a gigging drummer and a couple degrees in jazz performance and I came to realize that writing my own music might actually be a smarter idea than learning everyone else’s all the time.”
Then, a few things started to happen. Soon, the blogs started paying attention; for, somehow, the reclusive Kuross had found fans across the pond at The Line Of Best Fit, DIY, Clash, and the Irish Times.
And that’s when things just started getting serious.
Over the course of the next two years, Kuross received radio support from BBC Radio 1, BBC 6 Music, BBC Radio 2, Absolute Radio, and Radio X. He was invited to support GRAMMY-nominated electronic producer Bonobo, Polaris-nominated R&B artist Rhye, and Mercury-nominated alt-classical trio GoGo Penguin on their respective European tours. His songs, recorded in the garage of his Los Angeles home, were synced to Fox’s Lucifer, NBC’s Sharp Objects and most recently Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. He recorded a Mahogany session, signed with United Talent Agency, and his music amassed millions of streams.
To achieve this level of critical and commercial support without the backing of a major label undeniably constitutes a remarkable run of success. Yet, despite this, Jens Kuross still isn’t sure that he likes being in the spotlight.
“There’s something fundamentally ironic about the whole thing. There’s a part of me that really distrusts charismatic people – the people who manage to always be the centre of attention, commanding the tone of the conversation and the attention of the room. And yet, here I am, on stage in front of people...”
Is that needlessly contrarian? Is that overly pessimistic? The answer, it seems, is that it’s just Jens Kuross. A punk rock thrasher-turned Berklee-trained jazz drummer. A quiet-by-nature session musician who chose to go front and centre. And a staunch introvert who’s found himself committing to what is, by anyone’s standards, the most extroverted career one could possibly imagine.
He’s the unlikely frontman who’s taken the emotional weight of a lifetime, backed it with the kind of weighty croon that can simultaneously silence a room and cause a barman to pause mid-pour, and used it to deliver a debut album for the ages.
His long-awaited debut album, The Man Nobody Can Touch (out on September 25 via Dirty Guns), is a body of work that’s equal parts introspective and grandiose; a record that’s unexpectedly maximalist and yet innately melancholy; and yet an album that manages to avoid all the traps of self-indulgent mellow- drama and tired, Americana sentimentality.
“The album certainly reflects how I was feeling during the writing process, both personally and professionally and that feeling is reflected in the title,” explains Kuross. “But writing all those songs and then releasing them to the public is about the most beautiful way I can think of to process all that emotion and move on with my life.”
Jens is forging his career in his own terms. After all, why else would he be doing it? In the words of Kuross, “There are people who make art because they need attention or validation, and then there are people who make art because, if they don’t, they’ll just slowly die.”
“Wouldn’t it be romantic if I could honestly say I was entirely the latter?”