Jenn Bostic has been winning a growing army of UK fans since her single Jealous Of The Angels was championed by BBC Radio 2, back in 2012.
Having won the British Country Music Association International Touring Artist Of The Year, now she’s back with her new single Revival (taken from the upcoming album of the same name), produced by six-time Grammy Award winner Paul Salveson and recorded at House of Blues in Nashville.
I spoke to Jenn ahead of her show in London last month. Read on to find out more about her new record, how she approaches writing songs and the three people she’d invite to a dinner party…
Hi Jenn! How are you?
Good! I have a little bit of a confession to make – I’m at a train station. So I found a quiet little corner I think. With all this crazy snow it was not where I wanted to be at the right time, so I apologise if you hear some trains being announced! [laughs]
Yeah, the weather isn’t normally like this…
I’m from Minnesota so to me it’s beautiful and I don’t mind it, but I know that here it shuts down everything. Not the best thing to happen on the day of a show but y’know, what are you gonna do?
How is your UK tour going so far?
It’s going so well. I’m actually popping back and forth in and out of the country – I have to go home and see my family at some point as well. But it’s been amazing. All the shows have been sold out so far and I’m looking forward to the Hospital Club tonight in London which will be great, and then I’m coming back over in April for five more full band shows. So I really can’t wait for that. I’m using all UK musicians and they’re just excellent, so it’s very fun to have a whole little band over here.
What can people coming to see you on tour expect?
Yeah, it’s a very fun, high-energy show. I’ve got my ballads as well, I do some songs on the keyboards just myself, but we’ve got electric guitar, bass, drums and some backing vocals, and the music is very bluesy and soulful. I’m not sure if you’ve heard it yet but to get that sound across I really needed the full band out on the road and I am so excited like I said, because the players are just so talented and it’s gonna sound like the record, which is exciting. I do a lot of acoustic touring so this is a big deal for me as an artist.
Do you find that you get a different vibe from full band sets compared to acoustic shows?
Definitely. There is an energy that happens when you’ve got multiple people on stage all working together to create the sound, and that is always just a thrill as an artist to hear your songs come to life in that way. I write all my own songs so to hear my little baby ideas turn into these big, full-production songs is really fun. I do love that intimate solo performance as well, so I always incorporate a few of those into the show because I think there is something neat about taking a moment and really just talking about ‘here’s where this song comes from and this is how I wrote it – this is me, on my keyboard, playing it for you and sharing the details of why it was written’. So that is a special moment that I always incorporate because I think most people have seen me like that for the first time. That’s usually their first experience – a song just me on keyboard, because it’s usually much more accessible than being with a band all the time.
What’s the reaction from UK fans like compared to those in the US or other places you’ve played?
I’m incredibly grateful for the Radio 2 support I’ve had in the past and that has created this beautifully loyal fanbase. I love the connection with being able to talk to people after the shows – even this week I had a show out in Kent and it was sold out, and just to have people telling me their intimate stories of why a song touches their hearts and how they came to find my music and just have that one-on-one time with people is really incredible. I think that there’s more of a hunger, more of a desire for it from the UK fanbase than in the US, for that personal connection.
Do you have any favourite songs to play live? Or any that get a particularly strong crowd reaction?
Oh, it’s hard! So my new single Revival is so fun and big and with the background vocals it’s just like a very full, exciting sound. There’s a little bit of singalong sometimes as well. My song Hollywood also has a singalong – I think people like to get involved sometimes if you push them enough. But on the other end of the spectrum the very vulnerable, intimate song that I have on my new record called Faint Of Heart. It’s been really neat to see how people are reacting to that. It’s my vulnerable journey of being a songwriter for the last decade and challenges that I’ve had to face, and some of those mind monsters that I’ve had to overcome. So that one is probably my favourite to play.
You’ve mentioned your new single Revival – can you tell us more about that?
Yes, that song was recorded with a gospel choir which is exciting, and that one is about an awakening and bringing a dream back to life, whether people want to see it spiritually or see it as just a rebirth of positivity. I think it’s important to just approach every day believing that something good is about to happen. There’s a lot going on in the world right now, and I think to spread a positive message and just encourage people to hold on to hope is so important to me. So I love that I got a chance to get that message into the world through this song. My faith is really important to me and that’s where the song stemmed from, but I think everybody can find something in it apart from their background.
Is that gospel influence a typical sound for the new album?
It’s a mix. That’s the only track that has the full gospel choir. However I have three incredibly soulful background vocalists that sing all over the album, and it does give that very full vocal sound as well to a few of the tracks. So it’s got gospel, it’s got bluesy, soul, pop, a little bit of country. There’s a lot of different things in it, but it’s the music my heart has been longing to make. This was a long time coming. I grew up listening to Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, and that really raw soulful sound has always inspired me. This has been kind of the first time I haven’t had somebody in my ear giving industry advice and I just went in the studio and said ‘this is what I want to do, to make this music and have fun with it’.
Was that freedom part of why you chose to crowdfund the album?
It is. I’ve been an independent artist my entire career, so I’m self-funded which comes with its challenges which I sing about in Faint Of Heart. But I think it’s a really beautiful thing to get the fans involved too. It’s interesting, when I started getting the songs ready and started to think about budgeting for the record and everything I had a ton of emails and people on Facebook asking if I was going to be doing another Pledge Music campaign, because I had done one for my previous record Faithful. And while the financial part of it is necessary and is a huge part of the process and I’m so grateful for it, it’s so neat to have people be a part of it behind the scenes. I update people every single week, which is a lot and it’s an extra piece to the puzzle, but it’s so much fun and I think it’s been really beautiful to offer different items for people to pledge for.
For example, I have this really old piano – it’s a 1920s piano – at home. It’s a Cable-Nelson, and it just had reached the point where it could no longer stay in tune and all of that. So my husband and I took the piano apart and I autographed every single key on the piano, and people can pledge for a piano key from my piano which is really fun. Just really interesting, unique opportunities that people wouldn’t have otherwise. So that’s what I really like about that. And it just builds the excitement for the record until it’s out. We launched the campaign at the end of last year and the record comes out in May, so people are kind of anticipating it and it reminds me to be excited too as I put my head down and work really hard. It’s nice to have this team of fans around me saying that I’m spreading a little bit of information too each week. It’s exciting.
Do you have a favourite song on the new album? Were there any songs that were particularly easy or particularly hard to write?
Yes. As I said Faint Of Heart is probably my favourite on the album. That one was the most difficult and the easiest to write, which I know makes no sense. But I tell this story on stage – I sat at my piano and I sat there for eight hours one day by myself and convinced myself that every idea I was coming up with was not good. It was just one of those days where I was really struggling to artistically be free, and I locked the studio door and I said ‘you’re not leaving here until you write a song’. And then about 30 minutes later this song had just come out of me, and it was just my very real feelings of this journey I’ve chosen to be on. Like I said it’s my favourite track on the album and it is just me and a cello on the recording, which is kind of neat. It’s the only song that doesn’t have the full band on the recording. But that one was probably both the easiest and the most difficult! [laughs]
Is that typical of your approach to writing?
Each song is different. I do a lot of co-writing in Nashville, where I live. I wrote with a lot of my friends for this album, which was really fun. I write a guy named Burt Walker a lot of times and he’s an unbelievable guitarist, and it’s amazing how just sometimes a guitarist will just start playing a few riffs and all of a sudden words and melody start falling out. It doesn’t feel like work, it just feels like we’re friends having a fun get-together and a song falls out. So there are those days and then there are those days where you have to really stay focused and have a deadline, saying ‘I want to be in the studio by this day and I want to either finish writing the songs or write better songs than I already have ready for it’. So it depends on each song, for sure.
Do you write much on the road? Or are you someone who has writing and touring in separate boxes?
I would say separate boxes. It’s really difficult to write while you’re on the road, unless sometimes my heart needs to write. It’s almost like a therapy event, and so if I have a free evening sometimes on the road I will. But most of the time I’ll just get ideas on the road and I’ll write them on my phone – I’ve got a big long list of ideas in my memos on my phone. So I’ll usually do that. But to find the time when you’re running around from radio station to soundcheck to gigs to sleeping, there’s not a whole lot of time for writing when you’re on the road.
You won the BCMA International Touring Artist of the Year Award last year – were you expecting that?
Oh my goodness, I was shocked, and so honoured. I was honoured just to be nominated, and it was just such an incredible feeling. I went to the awards ceremony just kind of being positive, like ‘whatever happens I’m happy’. Of course I wanted to win but I went there feeling like ‘this is so wonderful to be a part of this experience’. I got to perform two songs at the event and it was, I will venture to say, one of my favourite performances of my entire life. It was unbelievable. I got a chance to play and they actually asked me if I would mind performing solo, because there was a house band, but they asked if I would do my set acoustically. I wasn’t thrilled about it because it’s always fun to play with a band, but I said, ‘yeah of course, that sounds fine’. They placed me right after intermission, so I had a little bit of a fear that ‘oh great, people are gonna be mingling back in, it’ll be loud and disruptive’.
But honestly, it was one of those magical music moments that does not happen all the time, but I started singing and the room just hushed – it was this beautiful moment. I sang a song off the new album called Love You, which is about my husband, and it’s a big bluesy country vocal. So there was a lot of encouragement during that song, which was really nice. And then after I sang Jealous Of The Angels and talked about the fact that the UK is the reason that song did what I did. I mean, the support here has been unbelievable for that. So I talked about that and I sang the song and I got a standing ovation, which totally blew me away. They wouldn’t sit down, which was just like the kindest thing. I’d never received something quite that overwhelming, the way that they kept clapping. I was taken aback, for sure.
So after that moment I thought ‘I don’t even need to win the award, this was enough to fuel me for a year’. This just filled my heart so much. And then about half an hour later to receive the award – I have no idea what I said in that acceptance speech because it was just such a surreal moment [laughs]. But it was definitely one of the highlights – probably the highlight of 2017 for me.
You’ve been in the music industry for almost 10 years – what made you decide to pursue music as a career?
Well I’d always been singing music since as early as I could talk. My family were always singing together and my song Jealous Of The Angels is about my late father who I lost when I was 10. And after I lost him songwriting became the therapy through that, and it was the one way I could kind of cope. I fell in love with it, totally threw myself into it, went off to music college to study music education. I come from a really small town in Minnesota in the States; it was encouraged to go chase your dreams but it was also like, ‘yeah, just in case have some sort of a backup’. But I loved teaching and even when I’m on the road I’ll go sing at schools or do songwriting workshops and things. So I studied music ed and then while I was in college I auditioned for a few big shows, just thinking ‘oh it’s good to audition’, and I got accepted to a lot of them. So pretty soon I had this confidence to perform and I moved to Nashville and the rest is history!
What do you think the secret to your longevity is?
I think for me seeing what happened with Jealous Of The Angels, it’s about being honest and authentic and vulnerable in your music, at least for me. If I can just tell it how it is and speak from my heart, the songs do the rest. That’s all I can do is kind of bring my heart to the table and create the best music possible and just pour myself into it, and make sure people are aware that it’s coming out. So that’s all you can really do and I’m really grateful that I get to do it for a living.
If you could invite any three people to a dinner party, who would they be?
Oh my goodness, that’s a great question! Well, because my dad passed when I was so young I would have to say my dad. I would love to sit down and have a conversation with him as an adult and just as a musician. He loved music and he wanted to play music after he retired and he never got that opportunity, so I would love to sit down with him and just talk music once – that would be incredible.
I would also love to sit down with Bonnie Raitt. She is my favourite singer. I am so just in love with her vocal – she’s so emotive and raw and vulnerable. So that would be someone I would love to pick her brain on music and her story and just hear it all first hand. Oh my goodness, this is such a great question – I’m trying to think of a third here! This is really exciting. I would say Susan Suneski as well – she’s kind of in that same reason as Bonnie Raitt. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her but she and her husband Derek Trucks are in a band called Suneski Trucks, and just unbelievable blues singer, soul singer. Those two are my two favourite singers by far, and I try to be like them a little bit – of course being myself as well. But I learn from them constantly.
What would be on your career bucket list?
My dream venue right now is Royal Albert Hall [laughs] so I would love to play there. And growing up in the States my heart has always been set on either winning a Grammy as an artist or just a song that I’ve had something to do with. So having a Grammy and playing at Royal Albert Hall would probably tick off all the boxes for me.
What’s next for you? Is it going to be mostly touring, promoting the album etc?
Yes, this is going to be a busy year of touring. I’ve got a bunch of shows in the States as well, I’m gonna be coming over for the tour that we’re talking about and then I’ll be over for a couple of festivals this year. And who knows, I may find my way over here for Christmas – we will see. But I’m really excited about just getting the music out there and playing it live, which is one of my favourite parts.
Jenn’s single Revival is out now and her album of the same name is released on 4th May.
See Jenn on her UK tour on the following dates:
19th April, 02 Academy Islington, London, England (Supporting Christian Kane)
20th-22nd April, One More Shot Festival, Birmingham, England
25th April, Chapel Sessions, Southampton
1st May, Bush Hall, London, England
2nd May, Gullivers, Manchester, UK