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Interview: Lauren Jenkins talks Long Road, Grand Ole Opry, No Saint and songwriting

We spoke to the rising star singer-songwriter during her recent tour of the UK.

Lauren Jenkins
Credit: Brooke Stevens

Lauren Jenkins has rapidly become one of the most popular new country stars among UK audiences.

Since she made her first appearance here at C2C: Country to Country back in March, she’s been over to play at The Long Road festival as well as her own headline tour. Meanwhile, her debut album, No Saint, has been winning critical acclaim for its varied sound and clever, well-crafted songwriting.

Ahead of her first ever London headline show last month, I spoke to Lauren about her experience with UK audiences, how she approaches her songwriting, playing The Long Road Festival, making her Grand Ole Opry debut and more.

It’s been six months since you made your UK debut at C2C. What were the standout moments from that for you?

March seems like that was two years ago [laughs]. I can’t believe it’s only been six months. But it was really incredible. I think since that was the first time I actually played over here, I didn’t really know what to expect and there was the nerves of ‘is anybody gonna listen?’ And everyone was really kind and came to multiple shows and I’ve been eager to come back ever since. Long Road Festival was also incredible and I saw so many familiar faces, and then even just now walking back into the venue, I saw people in line and was like, ‘I know you!’ It’s really incredible.

What have been your highlights since we last spoke to you?

Oh gosh! Opry debut, album coming out, opening for Willie Nelson. My short film came out and was in several film competitions and film festivals. And then I’m back, which I was thinking, ‘Can I maybe come back next year?’ And then it’s only six months later. So yeah, it’s a lot [laughs].

Has there been anything that’s surprised you about the UK audiences since you’ve been coming over here?

Yeah, I mean overall it’s definitely one of my audiences to play for because people queue super early, which is impressive. People don’t really do that in the States. They queue early and they listen to all of the music, and they’re really kind and really supportive even though I haven’t really earned that. They’ve just kind of given me the respect. In the States, most of the time you have to tour for a really long time to earn that respect and here every time I walk on stage I feel like we’re in it together, the audience and me. And it’s a really unique, special thing that has only happened over here.

How did you find playing at The Long Road Festival?

Yeah, it was fantastic. It was my first – I’m almost 100 per cent it was my first time on a main stage at a festival, which is… again, all of my highlights in terms of music starting here, which is kind of interesting. Being someone from Texas that’s not really what I would have expected. But I’m not mad about it [laughs]. It’s really fun.

Do you approach festivals differently compared to a headline show?

Yeah, I think it’s a different energy. Sometimes with the festivals I feel like I don’t get enough one-on-one time with everyone, but then again it’s kind of tough because there’s so much going on. Which is the beauty as an audience member – you can see so many different people. But from the artist standpoint, I’m super grateful to be included and be part of that, part of the experience. Sometimes playing theatres and club shows, it’s a little bit more relaxed. They’re just different. Neither one is better than the other.

Is there anywhere you’ve particularly enjoyed playing so far? Or anywhere you’d like to play at some point?

Everywhere! The tough thing about touring and having it be so fast-paced is you don’t have time to experience the city. You just get a taste for it. So like for instance, coming back to London, I’ve been able to walk around a lot more and experience more of the city than I did back in March. And fall in love with it even more. So really I just wanna play everywhere and keep coming back to places I’ve already been so I can see another side to it.

We will happily have you back in London whenever you want…

Perfect! How’s next week?! [laughs]

What have you learnt from touring and being on the road?

Oh, a lot. Well, touring you see most of cities from either trains or car windows or planes. You don’t get a whole lot of time to see most of the city. You don’t eat a whole lot, you don’t sleep a whole lot. And then you also just kind of fall in love with everywhere that you go. It’s interesting because in the States, I think prior to travelling over here and touring over here I thought that it was gonna be a really different experience, and I was worried that people might not be super warm or open. But it’s just the opposite, which is fascinating because touring in Germany, I don’t really speak German. I’ve tried to learn a few phrases but I don’t really speak German, and yet it’s so warm and welcoming. I love touring and playing on the road and just want to do it as much as I can.

What you’ve said about audiences being so receptive is really interesting. In the last few years country music has really taken off and now it feels like everyone is really willing to come out and see artists that tour here…

It’s amazing. There are people that have travelled eight hours to come to some of my shows on this tour, and there are people that have come to three or four shows out of seven or eight or whatever the number is. That’s pretty big. That doesn’t really happen in the States that much. Sometimes people don’t wanna drive out of town even a couple of hours to go see an artist, but over here people are willing to travel across countries, which is incredible.

I wanted to ask you about your writing process for No Saint. Were there any songs on the album that were particularly easy or particularly difficult to write?

Some wrote themselves fairly quickly. Like My Bar was maybe a 20 minute process. I got the idea for it after a real life situation happened and kind of had the chorus, and brought it into a write and we were done really quickly. And then a song like No Saint, which I wrote with Ingrid Andress, that was an eight month process of me writing it on my own and then finishing the song with her one night. We stayed up all night to finish the song. That one was a hard one to write, it was really a process. So yeah, some are 20 minutes and then some are months and hours and a long time.

Do you ever get writer’s block?

No. I mean, I think sometimes you hit an inspiration where I’m really on fire, but most of the time I’m always collecting either stories or titles or ideas or melodies. But there are times where it’s just, you complete song after song and you’re really on a streak, and that’s just kind of like catching lightning in a bottle. But I think for writers that wanna write, you just do it all the time.

You’ve mentioned your Opry debut – what was that like?

Yeah. It was super interesting because I did not expect it to be emotional. I was like, ‘oh great! I get to have my Opry debut the day that my album comes out, that’s cool’. And then it wasn’t until I was walking to the Opry stage that it all kind of sank in, and I think I realised, ‘oh no, YOU, Lauren Jenkins, are about to play the Opry, this isn’t somebody else’. And I was really emotional. It kind of took me by surprise. I’ve played the Opry every single month since March, and every time I get a little bit shaky and emotional, and I think because it’s just such a historic place. I’m always kind of baffled to be on that stage. It doesn’t really seem like something that I dreamed I’d be able to do.

Are there any plans to go back?

Yeah, I’d like to keep up the streak. I kind of like it.

What song do you wish you’d written?

That is a really hard one. Honestly, I have those moments of, ‘damn that was a really good hook’ or ‘oh why didn’t I think of that?!’ all the time. I think one of the last songs that I heard recently that really gutted me and I was like, ‘I wish I would have written that’ was Miranda Lambert’s Tin Man. I mean I’m sure there’s a million others because I always have that moment, but that song I remember hearing it for the first time thinking ‘how has this never been written?’ And it’s so beautifully written. It’ll stand up for forever. So that’s a good one. The list is long though! [laughs]

What do the next few months look like for you?

It’s been so crazy that I’ve kind of just tried to memorise my schedule for the next few days. So we land back in the States, play the Opry, the next night playing the Bluebird. Then I’m in the studio writing, then I’ve got some private gigs. And really the main focus is I’ve just been writing a lot, working on album two and getting some recordings together. And figuring out what this second record is gonna be and how I wanna go about it – if I wanna release a couple of songs. I’ve got songs that are ready to go that I wanna get out there. And then probably editing a lot of video content and behind the scenes footage from this first record and the stories, because I’ve got a lot of editing to do too. So writing, touring, pretty much the same thing as always.

You’ve mentioned the editing and your short film. Is that visual element something that’s important to you alongside the music.

Yeah. Because I’m just an art nerd. I love telling stories through visuals, through photography, through personal stories and songwriting. And I think when all those things get combined in an intentional way and it goes together, it really excites me. So I think forever, as long as I’ve got a visual story in mind then I would love to combine music and storytelling and photography and filmmaking.

Would you ever make a full visual album?

Yeah. I need the budget [laughs]. I need some money!

Can you give us any clues about the new music? Will it be similar to No Saint?

No, I think it’s definitely gonna be some threads will still be there, but a good portion of No Saint is a combination of years ago when I first came to Nashville and first started making music. And I’m a different woman than I was then. Thank God, I’ve grown up. So that side of it, I’m different so the music is gonna sound different. And then even some of the more recent songs like No Saint, life has happened and growth has happened. So I think some of the threads will be there and obviously being honest. I like using instruments and talented musicians. But I’m kind of excited to see where this next album goes. I’ve got some sense of it but we’re still on the road of discovery. Which is really fun because I was wrapped up in the first album for so long. It’s like back in the wilderness now, to see what happens.

Do you have any plans to come back to the UK soon?

Yes. We were just talking about it at dinner. I was like, ‘so, realistically, can I come back in like a month?!’ So yeah, fingers crossed. I’ve got a bunch of things I’ve been working on but I will absolutely come back here as often as I possibly can.

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