Better known to fans as Jean Caffeine, Jean Leider wears many hats. She’s an art educator, a self-described “punk rock high school dropout,” a UT alumna and an avid performer.
In the run-up to this Friday’s release of her four-song EP Love. What Is It? Leider played a series of original folksy punk songs for patrons of the north campus Antone’s Record Shop. Framed by a wall adorned with vinyl covers behind her and rows upon rows of CDs in front, the scene was symbolic of the transformative roles both music and Austin have played in Leider’s life.
Leider grew up in San Francisco before moving to New York in the 1980. There she dove headfirst into the punk rock scene.
“I just wasn’t feeling it in high school,” Leider said. “I was very excited by these rock ‘n’ roll and punk rock goings on that I had to devote my full time to them.”
With a self-starter attitude, Leider learned to play the drums, adopted her “Caffeine” surname, performed with a series of bands and, eventually, picked up singer-songwriting. In 1989, she moved to Austin and the following year enrolled at UT to pursue visual art studies.
“I arrived with a splash,” Leider said. “And I loved it at UT.”
Leider was in her 30s when she began her studies on the Forty Acres, but she said that the age difference, sometimes 15 years between her and her classmates, was part of what made her time at the University so special.
“Because I’d chosen to be this anti-establishment sort of dropout-ish person, I was so ready to learn by the time I was there,” Leider said. “I liked being at school mostly with people who were younger than me and getting to be friends with them.”
Leider said a few decades after she first arrived, her relationship with the city has changed.
“I know it’s a construct that the boomer’s a complainer, but it’s a strange thing to feel pushed out of something that you once had ownership of,” Leider said.
She’s experiencing the ripples of an ageist society, but she’s determined to persist.
“It currently feels like some sort of contrarian pursuit,” Leider said. “In a way, I feel like I’m going back to punk rock because I’m doing something that feels ‘outsider’ again — to be older playing music in this culture.”
Eve Monsees, an Austin musician and one of the owners of Antone’s Record Shop, said Leider’s performance last weekend marked the third time she had performed there since arriving in Austin.
“She’s a creative,” Monsees said. “She’s someone who is able to take her stream of consciousness ideas and put them into song.”
Austinite Paul DeMar, who was at Antone’s Record Shop on Sunday, said that although he hadn’t seen Leider perform before, he was taken by the lyricism and the way her sound defies genre.
“I realized in seeing this that she probably covers a huge swathe of genres,” DeMar said. “That’s what impresses me about her. It’s intellectual, crafty, good writing.”
Leider said her music making is a push and pull between her affinity for perfectionism and her impulsivity.
“My process is to start with a blob and then perfect it,” Leider said. “It’s like stone carving. You’re chipping away at this big rock until it’s something beautiful.”