I met Nashville songwriter Jenn Franklin on tour some years ago, and caught up with her again this year when she played The Bitter End when we were both traveling through New York. A passionate, powerful and generous artist, Jenn talked to Bird in the Tree about being a musician in Nashville, her charity Hungry for Hope, upcoming tour plans, and her latest recording Girl Invisible.
Q: How has Nashville stretched you an artist? Can you talk about making the move to that hallowed city of music?
JF: Nashville is an interesting place. I made the move right after college graduation. At the time I thought I might want to write for commercial radio. Once I got to town and started co-writing, I found it to be an alien and mostly awkward experience. I realized quickly that I didn’t really enjoy that side of the industry. Publishers and industry people liked what I was doing, but they told me I should listen to more country music. For me, it felt a lot like shoving square pegs into round holes while being inside a tiny box—I think you have to be some kind of Houdini to pull it off!
But, in going through all of that, I learned that my passion is writing the most powerful music I can conjure up, without any rules or limitations. And there are artists in Nashville who are doing that, artists like Jim Reilley, who ended up producing my new album. I’ve made some amazing friends out here, many who are artists too, and I love having the support of that community! So while I can’t say that I learned it in a songwriter workshop or co-writing session, I feel that Nashville helped me to go deeper within my own creative self and to make music for all the right reasons.
JF: Yeah, my mom has a tape recording of me at nine months, humming along to Silent Night. And I remember being a toddler, playing with blocks while making up my own songs and thinking, “This is really cool!” or the toddler equivalent of that. I sang in the children’s church choir, which my mom led. I wrote my first “real” song at age 8, and I wrote the piano score out with the lyrics. In grade school, I started a singing/songwriting group with some girls in my class. We had a blast writing and recording several songs, and we were so confident in our talent, that we actually mailed a copy to a recording studio out in Hays, KS (we found them in the yellow pages). My parents knew nothing about it, so they were a little freaked out when they got the call a few weeks later. But that’s how I got connected with Sunset Recording Studios and started singing in bands with the musicians I met there. Those early songs are pretty amusing, but some of the melodies weren’t all that bad. I keep them locked in a vault, lest I be blackmailed!
JF: I’m a fairly prolific writer, but I think it’s because writing songs is one of my favorite ways to express emotion. So a lot of what I write comes from feeling something in a powerful way. I guess that’s why there is a lot of strife and sadness in the songs. Not that I’m a melancholy girl, but it’s just easier to deal with happy feelings. It’s the other stuff that needs some prompting. But there are definitely times when I’m not feeling particularly inspired, just that I NEED to write…and so I sit at the piano and the page and see if anything shows up. I believe great song ideas are in the universe all the time. It’s about being receptive enough to hear them—my best lines and melodies always come to me like that!
JF: I actually started this before I came to Nashville. Hungry for Hope is a testimonial & music performance on my recovery from an eating disorder. My problems started in early childhood and went over the edge in high school. I wrote songs all through that process, the earlier ones dealt with heavy topics of abuse, addiction and isolation. The later ones carry the hope of making it to the other side. Music absolutely saved my life! I have no doubt about that. Especially in high school, when I became a rape survivor, it gave me a voice for truths that were too horrible to speak anywhere else. Eventually, I learned how to share those truths out in the world, and the healing continues on a deeper level. With H4H, I’m able to see firsthand how my music reaches people on a very personal level, which is the greatest gift an artist can hope for.
JF: A lot more tour dates for one thing. I’ve been bitten by the travel bug and will be playing more house concerts, clubs, colleges, and festivals. I was hoping to be part of this year’s Lilith Fair, and was in the Top 10 of Nashville artists competing for a slot, but then the tour stop was canceled. So, I’ve talked to some other artists about doing a festival next year to showcase some of the best upcoming talent, and for a price people can afford to pay.
The second and final volumes of the album, Girl Invisible, will be coming out this fall and winter. I’ve also licensed music for some film/TV opportunities, including MTV again. So with any luck, there will be more song placements coming soon! As for the songs themselves, I’ve got a bunch of new ones to record, and I’m considering releasing them as singles. I feel these are some of my best, then again, my favorite song is always the one I wrote last. But I promise to stick with my noncommittal approach to fitting into tidy genre boxes, so basically, be prepared for anything!
For more information on Jenn Franklin‘s work, visit http://www.jennfranklin.com/