Ipswich singer-songwriter Asa’s fans raise notes so he can record them

He sold his entire life to fund his debut album and went Dragons’ Den to fund the follow-up. Ipswich singer-songwriter Asa Jennings talks to entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE about making sacrifices for his music and why he’ll never enter the X Factor.

Up every day at 5.15am, Asa’s out the door by 6am to catch the 6.45am train to Chelmsford where he works as a solicitor; walking back through the door at 6pm.

That’s when his real job begins.

“Every spare money I have at the end of the month goes on [my] music. I don’t buy any clothes, that’s why these jeans are ripped,” laughs the 31-year-old.

“I haven’t had a normal life the last two-three years. I come home and I’m constantly on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, e-mails; it’s like having a full-time job in music on top of my full-time job.

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“Instead of going out, having any friends, every single night I’m trying to get people to listen to my music who haven’t heard it before.”

Asa’s used to sacrifice.

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To fund first album My Own Worst Enemy he sold everything - his car, leather sofa, kitchen utensils, vacumn cleaner, spare bed - bar his guitar, some clothes and a PlayStation and swapped his dockside flat for friends and family’s sofas for a year.

Every penny went on setting up a website, printing flyers and hiring studio time and session musicians.

It paid off; gaining him fans in more than 30 countries and being named album of the week in one American state - he’s not sure which until he gets a royalty statement, laughs Asa who hasn’t even gone on holiday for the last six years.

“I don’t mind where it sells, all I want is for people to hear the music. If they don’t like it fair enough but I’m confident a lot of people are going to.”

A bold statement, but one backed up by users of website Slice the Pie who are paid to review music, influencing what gets played on radio as they search for tomorrow’s hits today.

Material from new album Lost and Found - reviewed on page eight - recently came in the top ten out of thousands of acts worldwide.

“That was before the album was finished. The feedback from the site is great; it’s telling me my material is strong enough to stand [alongside] other established acts at the moment. It’s just how on Earth do you get it out there, get people to listen to it when so many other people are trying to do the same.”

He recounts a story about Snow Patrol. Playing a pub in Dublin to seven or eight people; all of a sudden the radio picks up Run and it becomes a massive single. By the end of the month they’re playing the same songs to tens of thousands.

“They weren’t rubbish because they’d only had seven people at the first gig; nobody knew about them, nobody cared. They wrote that one song and got that one lucky break; if I’ve written that one song how is anybody going to hear it, that’s the thing.”

Has he ever considered the X Factor route?

“I love being able to sing but the problem I’ve always had with reality shows is first of all I’m probably more about song-writing than I am about singing, which I prefer as an art.

“X Factor is great entertainment, but when you look at it over the years most people have pretty much come along, had their five minutes and gone.

“The fear I’ve always had was if I was to go on to a show like that, make it to the latter stages and then leave... even if I’ve been writing stuff for years there’s very much a perception you’re a failed singer who’s trying his hand at song-writing rather than a respected songwriter.

“When you see them [contestants] cry ‘this is my one big opportunity, etc’ you think 99 per cent of the acts in the charts at the moment having any success haven’t come through TV shows or reality shows; they’ve just got there through hard work and talent.”

He’s got a point. But then making millions and becoming famous was never part of Asa’s plan.

He started writing songs aged about 16, playing the guitar - very badly at first he laughs - from 18. By 24-25 he was entering karaoke competitions at different pubs every weekend.

It was some five years ago the bug really bit. Asa was writing songs and had a bit of success in online competitions while at the same time finishing fourth in a UK vocal competition so decided to combine the two.

He was 28 when My Own Worst Enemy came out.

A regular on Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and Norwich’s live music circuit, gigging took a backseat this year so he could concentrate on the follow-up; Lost and Found.

Different to his acoustic driven debut, there’s a bit of a James Morrison vibe going on but with a rockier feel that puts me in mind of Snow Patrol at their best.

Great vocals, memorable melodies and catchy lyrics that you’ll find yourself humming along to after only a few listens; he deserves to be up there with the likes of fellow Suffolk success story Ed Sheeran.

In typical Asa fashion, the album came about in an unusual way - his Facebook followers’ faith in his music.

“The problem was obviously finance again; so without a record label I decided to offer an investment. Within 48 hours I had 19 people come forward to put between �50 and �500 forward, which I used to finance the recording in return for them sharing a percentage of the future profits.

“The risk is obviously if I go and sell 100 albums then they’ve lost whatever it is they’ve invested. If I go on to sell 1,000 or whatever they’ve got their money back. If I go on to sell 10,000 they’ve made ten times profit.

“It was [a case of] going out to those people and saying ‘I’m going to bring an album out. It’s going to be the songs I’ve got demos of on here and the YouTube videos you’ve seen. If anybody wants to support me I’m looking for this total’,” says Asa, who had to turn down half a dozen potential investors to retain a majority share in the venture.”

He’s taking the hard road to success; Asa likens it to being on a five-year journey where every day he takes another step while really wanting somebody to just pick him up halfway, play the album so it sells millions and get him to the finish line quicker.”

However, his resolve remains undented.

“It’s frustrating but every day you wake up and think ‘well, I just have to keep going, [reach] people on Twitter, Myspace, relentlessly promote it and at the end of the day you might sell five or ten albums but you know you’ve got to do that [to get the music out there].

“If I end up playing the O2 to 100,000 people or if I’m in a pub playing to me dad and a couple of mates...if I get to wherever I deserve to be I’m happy with that regardless of how successful or unsuccessful I am.

“But... if fame and money comes along I’m not going to argue with it,” he smiles.

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