Friday, August 20, 2010

Interview with Jenna Bryson: "More than Chick Rock and Love Songs"

Female artists from Los Angeles seem to be a dime-a-dozen. Many of them seem to blend together and sound-a-like, but out of the mundane there is Pop/Adult Contemporary artist, Jenna Bryson.

Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Jenna moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career in acting, but she had her trusty guitar and keyboard. Within in a few short months, Jenna was already singing while she auditioned for acting jobs.

“I moved to LA several years ago to pursue acting originally, but I've always been a singer; the songwriting came as a way to pursue art on my own terms,” said Bryson. “I was drawn to songwriting, making music, because I didn't have to get permission from someone first in order to do it (as in with acting, first you need to get an audition, and then actually book the job).”

In Jenna Bryson’s new found career, Jenna has already been recognized in many small platforms like making the semi-finals in the Diskmaker’s Independent Music World Series, also selected to play on the John Lennon Tour Bus stage at NAMM, and receiving several other accolades along the way. More recently, Jenna’s song, “Me Minus You” finished in the top 10 against 700 other female artists for the Lilith Fair Singer-Songwriter competition at OurStage and her song, “You & I” was chosen to be placed in the in-park radio stations at every Six Flags Magic Mountain in Northern America.

Her latest project is her self-titled debut EP. The album is in its final stages of production, but I was able to sample several songs from her new EP including her hit single, “Me minus You”, a very catchy and uplifting song about getting back her dignity and self-respect after a bad breakup. This song stands apart of the rest of her EP, because of the upbeat tempo and higher energy feel in comparison to her “love song” theme.

One of Jenna’s more notable songs on the EP is, “Cut Me Loose”. It’s the basic song about trying to lose ones own dependency and begging him to “cut me loose”. It’s well written, the hooks are catchy, and just a well rounded song.

The same could be said for the song, “Clear”. This is the EP’s power ballot. It’s a touching and heartfelt song about the deep pain and emptiness felt during a break up with someone that had meant so much, but then it all comes “clear” why it ended. What is particularly enjoyable about the song is the emotional intensity that ties in with the delivery of the song. You are saddened by the initial story, but as the song builds to its climax, it becomes “clear” what the story is about.

Overall, I give this EP rating a 4 of 5 stars for production, music arrangement, performance, and hit potential. While this EP may not appeal to all audiences, I cannot ignore that this is a well written and performed production. It’s well balanced and does not sway more towards one direction or the other. It has its blend of Folk, Adult Contemporary, and perhaps even a shade of Americana and Country Pop.

While Jenna Bryson’s presence in the music industry is still shaded in the independent spotlight, her humble optimism and her infectious charm makes you want to root for her even more.

For a preview of Jenna Bryson’s self-titled EP, listen to a special 4-track preview on The Great Unknowns Presents, Ep 77

Okay, I have to ask. How long have you been performing? Two years? Three years?
I've been performing a long time, if you count school choir, dance team, community theatre, etc. But as far as performing my original music, I've been doing that for about 6 years now.
When was the first time you picked up a guitar?
About 7/8 years ago. My friend went and helped me pick one out at Guitar Center. Sadly, that first guitar was stolen last year... right from a storage shed... in my garage! Unbelievable. But maybe there's some little girl out there learning how to play with that guitar. If that's why it was stolen, that'd be OK with me.
You were a working class girl and all of a sudden you wanted to be a performer? How did it all come about?
I actually always knew I wanted to perform, since I was a kid in elementary school. Why? Consciously, I love performing; it's fun for me and feels great! Subconsciously, I think I have always felt a need to be accepted and liked. I should probably talk to a therapist about that.
I’ve heard you describe your own music as “chick rock” and “love songs”. Is that still true or is it more complex?
I suppose my music is "chick rock" because I'm a chick, but there are definitely plenty of dudes who like my music, too. I do write a lot about love, but I guess that's just because it's so relatable. I've pretty much stopped writing about my own personal feelings on love, though; now I write songs about ideas and stories that inspire and interest me. But yes, usually it's still on the topic of love or relationships.
Your voice is very close to Jewel and Alanis Morissette. Are they part of your influences? Who else in music do you look up to?
I've heard Jewel a few times before... Alanis once or twice... but yes, they have been influential in my writing/singing. "Jagged Little Pill" had a handful of songs that I loved, and who can resist Jewel's "You Were Meant for Me"?! As far as other music stars I admire, I would say Sarah McLachlan, Kelly Clarkson, Sixpence None the Richer, The Indigo Girls, Anna Nalick, and even guys like John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Gavin DeGraw, and Ryan Tedder of One Republic.
Is there a lot of truth behind your songs?
There used to be a lot of truth behind my songs. It was all truth, back in the beginning, but I've grown a lot as a songwriter over the past few years and I've branched out into writing about other people's truths... I guess that still counts as truth. I also write about ideas that interest me. A song I wrote called "The Death of Me" was simply inspired by the title, which I thought of because people so often say "That is the death of me!" I wondered what it would be like for a person to be the death, figuratively (and possibly literally, if the desire is strong enough) of another person, and if I could translate that idea musically. I wrote another song, "Dumb Things" for a different artist entirely; I admire Kellie Pickler and think she's hilarious, so that song was born with her in mind.
What was your motivation for your lyrics?
Lyrics come from the title, usually. If I know the title of the song, and I have a strong concept in mind, the lyrics flow from that. Other times, I do think of lyrics first and wonder where I could use them, in what song do they want to "live".
Was the music easier to create once you had an idea for the type of story you had for a song?
Yes, the music is usually easier to formulate around or along with (i.e. at the same time as) the lyrics. But even then, I may not be happy with the melody that's coming out. I finally (I think) finished a song I had been laboring over melodically for 2-3 weeks!
Tell me about your new album. What can people expect to hear from it?
I think the album is a little bit of something for everyone (except fans of thrash metal... they won't like anything on this album). The feedback I'm getting, as more and more of the songs are completed, is that it's very mainstream sounding pop-Americana. This album should fit somewhere in your collection of songs by Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles, and Taylor Swift.
Which is your most favorite song and why is it so special?
Hmm... I'm not sure I have a favorite song! I really like them all... but if there's one that I might call "special" it could be "Clear". It's very moving and builds like a storm on the sea, with good highs and lows and a gorgeous string arrangement.
So far, you’ve pre-released seven songs and one of them is a personal favorite, “Me Minus You”. Are you still working on more songs for your debut CD launch or is this your entire collection?
Yes! We have 4 more songs that are almost done, plus 1 or 2 more that we may add last minute. I keep writing more songs that my producer likes, so we keep adding more to the list. This will probably be a 20 song album by the time we're done with it (just kidding... I hope).
When do you anticipate your release date? Is there a CD release party that everyone is invited to?
I have zero idea as to a release date. I'd really like to set one, but without knowing when we will complete the last songs, it's difficult to say. There will most definitely be a CD release show & party that I will let everyone know about when the time comes.
(That kinda answers my next question, "Where"?
I don't know what venue, but it will be in Los Angeles somewhere.
You’ve been working on this album for over two years now. Are you relieved it’s almost done?
I wish I could say that it's "almost done" but I don't know... is it? It's the never-ending album, mostly because I'm funding this from money I make working my day job. It's worth it, though, because the quality of the production is exactly what I've always wanted for my songs and people are definitely taking notice.
Has this been one of the most challenging things you’ve even done?
Yes. But generally speaking, pursuing a career in music is the most challenging thing I've ever done.
What is it about making an album that is so difficult?
The difficulty stems mostly from how much it costs to make an album. I'm all for giving away some of my songs for free (how else will I get new people to hear my music?), but it would be great if more people would understand how much money is required to record a song and make it sound great. First, you have to get a great producer who knows great musicians, then you have to pay those musicians, and because they are great, they are expensive. The producer also usually gets paid or gets a cut of sales, licensing fees, label signing bonus, whatever deal you and the producer work out together. Second, you need to pay a mixer to make all the different components of the songs (guitars, drums, bass, piano, vocals, etc) sound good together. Third, you need to pay a mastering facility to make sure your song "pops" and sounds "crisp" (this is usually what you might call "radio ready"). Fourth, you need to release your album which entails designing album art, possibly paying a photographer, spending about $1,500 for your first 1,000 CDs, the list goes on. And we haven't even gotten to promoting the album yet, which could involve advertising costs, paying band members for live performances, paying a designer to make your website look professional, plus all the time an artist spends on Twitter, Facebook, etc. just getting the word out. I'm tired just thinking about all of that ;o)
Your music is so well mixed, so well edited, and the music is just as impressive. Who earned credit for and music and production for this album?
Thank you! Spared no expense. Really. Everyone who contributed to this album has worked with the best-of-the-best: Jenna Bryson (songwriter/vocals), Gary Tharp (producer), Craig Stull (guitars), Matt Laug (drums), Chris Chaney (bass), Jamie Muhoberac (piano/keys), Doug Lyman (peddle steel), Kavin Hoo (string arrangement/additional percussion), Bob Horn (mixing), and Gabriel Wallach (Lurssen Mastering). I hope I didn't forget anyone!
How did you happen to meet up with Gary and Craig Stull?
I stalked Gary Tharp on MySpace after I found out that Kina Grannis (who won this Doritos contest thingy) had worked with him on recording some of her songs, which I thought sounded great. I wrote to him and, luckily, he was responsive, checked out my demos, liked them, and after we met and decided we would be a good fit, got right to work. Craig Stull is a good friend of Gary's; I feel lucky to have both of them on my "team", if you will.
Did he really do the instrumentals for the television series, “King of the Hill”?
And yes, Craig Stull played that famous guitar riff on "King of the Hill" as well as tons of other music for the show. Sometimes, when we're in his studio for a guitar session, I ask him to play me some of that "hillbilly" music... he's fantastic.
Even though you don’t have a CD published, you are still out there performing. Will having an actual finish product for fans to put their hands on be one of the final pieces for you or is it just the beginning?
I think having the final album on CD will be a final piece in the recording phase. It will be the beginning of a new challenge: how many can I sell? ;o) Plus, there will be so many more new songs once the album is done that it will open up more and more avenues to get my music out there... so yes, it's still "just the beginning."
On September 30, you are going to be performing for me during the first “Great Unknowns Presents Indie Showcase” and I am VERY honored to have you in my line-up.
You’ve done so many shows in the past and you also have a long list of performances ahead of you, are you still excited to be performing for me?
Of course I am still excited to perform in your showcase! I feel very honored to have been asked to play; thank you for making me feel so well liked :o) I look forward to playing for you!

Come see Jenna Bryson perform LIVE at the first Great Unknowns Presents Indie Showcase on Sept 30 at The Talking Stick in Venice, CA. For more details, go here

Find more of Jenna Bryson:
Jenna Bryson on The Great Unknowns Presents, Ep 77

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