I was very fortunate to get the chance to interview Nashville’sJenny Tolman recently, during what was a crazy busy time for her… not only had she just released her fantastic sophomore album “Married In A Honky Tonk” ( listen here https://fanlink.to/miahtjt ) but was also preparing for her own wedding to Dave Brainard, who produced the album and co-wrote the majority of the tracks. Then an equally crazy busy time followed for me with C2C and the run up to the festival, so apologies Jenny for not having transcribed our fun chat ’til now !
But better late than never, here’s our Zoom conversation!
1.LH Thanks so much for finding the time to speak to me today, can you briefly describe where are you… let’s set the scene for those reading this, just like any good country song does!
JT Sure! I’m sat in my kitchen here in Nashville, Tennessee. It is a gloomy and rainy day but it’s kind of nice… I like the rain!
2. LH Congratulations on the release of an absolutely fantastic second album…..I’ve heard it said that the sophomore album is the toughest for an artist, especially when their debut was as well received as yours was. Did you feel any pressure in that regard?
JT I didn’t feel any pressure really. I was honestly excited because I felt that this grouping of songs was even stronger than the first and I felt really confident in that. And we’d spent so much time during quarantine trying to figure out whether we were going to continue to push ” here Goes The Neighborhood “ or if it was time to move on to something different. I think toward the end of 2020 I said “well this is not going to end anytime soon!” and I needed to do something fresh and new for people. So that was the driver for this album. And for getting back into live touring I wanted to make an album that would be really fun to get back on the road with.
3. LH I love that you included nods to the fictional town of Jennyville you created for “There Goes The Neighbourhood”, including the brief reprieve of its tracks at the start and of course the iconic Jeannie Seely reappearing as town mayor. Was that link always intended from the moment you began work on album 2, and going forwards will there be a continuity of some type on your next album?
JT It was definitely something I wanted to continue when I put out the first album, have little Easter eggs from it show up on the second one. And even continuing down the road I still want to have that element of Jennyville included in some way because what I love are characters, story telling and getting to role play which is really fun for me to perform on stage. That’s really where my heart is, in this crazy Jennyville world and getting to be that third person. So this album was actually a little bit more challenging for me to perform because there’s that side of the real life Jenny Tolman that I’m really not necessarily as comfortable performing, I’m use to singing other peoples’ stories so having a little bit of my own was something I had to get used to.
4.LH I assume everything involved with getting an album ready for release during a global pandemic… from writing, recording, photoshoots, videos and everything in between… posed some challenges for you and your co-writer/producer/soon to be husband Dave Brainard?
JT We really didn’t have that hard a time, honestly. I call Dave my “Swiss Army Dave” because he does so much for me! He’ll shoot video and content for me, obviously he produced the album and wrote with me, and by the time it was time to record it in the studio there was really no restrictions going on in Nashville so that worked out perfectly! We were all able to get together in the studio, and for a lot of the musicians it was there first time getting to go back there so it was special and fun to get to be a part of that!
5. LH Yes, like every artist and musician you must be so relieved that things are are gradually getting back to some type of normality again and that your release show in Nashville last week could go ahead. From the clips I’ve seen it was one big party from start to finish… I gather you even lost your voice for a while afterward… can you express your feelings about finally getting to play live again after these weird couple of years?
JT I was so excited… we had a five hour rehearsal the night before the show which looking back was a bad call but I just wanted everything to be so perfect! We were going over and over everything and I was already losing my voice from talking and singing so long so I can’t say the show was my best vocal performance I’ve ever given but we had a lot of fun! And then I played the Bluebird Cafe the following night which was awesome but when I got there I looked at the audience and said “I hope you guys are here for the songwriting ‘cos I’m not sure what these vocal chords are going to squeak out!!” .
6. LH And which song were you most looking forward to playing live and why?
JT ” Married In A Honky Tonk”, the title track, is definitely one of the most fun ones to perform, especially at the release show where I’d made t-shirt bouquets… I’d wrapped my new t-shirt around the handle of the bouquets and tossed them into the audience during that song at the appropriate point . That one definitely has a lot of fun showmanship moments! “Home To Roost” is another one I love as its right down my alley of characters and storytelling . But some of my favourites to perform honestly are “Sweetest Revenge” and ” Afraid ” song-wise, performing them is a much different pace for me so I’m still adjusting and learning how to deliver them to an audience, it’s so different from what I usually do. But I like the challenge!
7. LH So the album’s been out a few days now and is already getting some brilliant feedback, you must be so thrilled. Which tracks seems to be resonating the most with your fans so far?
JT One that’s interesting to me that is getting mentioned a lot is ” Working Woman’s Blues “. And ” Watering The Weeds”, and I really love that because it was kind of the one that kick started this new album, we knew it had to be on there and it inspired the rest of the album. But it’s interesting to hear how many different opinions there are as this album is full of so many different narratives and different sounding songs, so there’s something in it for everyone! But those ones keep coming up a lot along with the title track and “Sweetest Revenge ” .
8. LH You touched on this earlier, that while you and your amazing co-writers have continued to give us the highly amusing, character driven, observational writes we all loved on ” There Goes the Neighbourhood” it seems to me that there’s a lot more of YOU on the new album, more personal and insightful writes….would you say that’s a fair assessment?
JT Yes I would! I describe it as 50% Jennyville and 50% real life Jenny Tolman. There’s this new side I’m introducing to people on real life songs such as ” Afraid”,“Same Train As You” and “Sweetest Revenge” which are starting to show some of that maturing process. But even on songs like ” Married In A Honky Tonk” , which is very character driven, at the same time there’s a little bit of autobiography in there because I am about to get married in about a week and a half and a lot of the lines in there are inspired by people I’ve met and real life things that have happened.
9. LH So was showing that more personal and often vulnerable side of you initially quite scary?
JT Yeah, I think “Afraid” ( no pun intended!) was the scariest one, I solo wrote that too so even taking the emotions out it’s scary to put a song out you wrote yourself because if someone doesn’t like it there’s no co-writer to blame it on! But now I’m about to marry the person I wrote it about it gave it a sort of comfort blanket I guess ….when I put it out I knew that it ended well!
LH Are videos a part of the creative process you particularly enjoy….the one for ” I Know Some Cowboys “ was very clever and unusual I must say!
JT It’s a part that I enjoy but also a pretty big challenge to be able to make something creative…I was so grateful to my director Grant Clare on that one who conceptualised that whole idea. I had gone around to 7 or 8 different directors trying to find something unique and I was getting so many generic ideas ….but even I couldn’t think of what I wanted, so I was so happy with his vision!
LH And what about the title track, which I think really lends itself to a video ….is that something we can expect anytime soon?
JT Yes! We have actually shot one at the ” Million Dollar Cowboy Bar ” in Jackson, Wyoming ( where we shot the cover art) that we’ll be sharing very soon!
11 . LH As you have already mentioned, throughout the album there’s such a variety in the production and arrangements, with each track given such individual treatment ….when you write a song do you have an idea of what kind of vibe you want it to have?
JT It varies. Sometimes I know what I want and need. For the title track i went in knowing I wanted to write a Honky Tonk song, I’d fallen in love with them and had been told so many time that ” girls just can’t play Honky Tonks”!! But like I said before, I wanted an album that could stand up well live, and the Honky Tonks couldn’t say no to! But there something like ” Sweetest Revenge” , I had no idea what type of song we were going to write that day. Dave had I showed up in LA at our co-writer Jeff Silbar’s beach house …he’s co-writer on ” Wind Beneath My Wings” , a real ” Hall of Fame” songwriter, he and Dave have been friends for quite some time now so I just get to be included …so we turned up after a long day of travelling from Nashville and he answer the door with his guitar in his hand and say ” Ok, we’re writing, I’m ready to go!”. We thought we’d get to take a nap or something!! So 15 minutes later we were writing ” Sweetest Revenge” without having any pre-conceived notion, so it really does just depend on the day, what’s in the air, or if you have something you know you need to write.
11.LH I’m so happy that the album is available to pre-order on vinyl …..my favourite way to listen to an album is top to bottom with no skipping or shuffling tracks …..as an artist do you agonise a fair deal about the track order and look at an album as a complete body of work?
JT This one was a lot easier to track list than my first album. Dave is also very helpful in that he adds in all these really cool things like the intro and the Jeannie Seely moment. You know we have these pre-planned so we know the vibe we are going for . I always knew ” Borrowing Sugar” was going to be the first song because it’s so strong and punchy and also it’s different sounding to anything I’ve put out before, it’s probably the most mainstream-ish sounding. So I kind of wanted to shock people a little bit with that one! Then going straight into ” World’s A Small Town” after that I felt was a really cool moment, back to that character, story telling again. All the way to the end, to that simple track where the storyline is really what you’re paying attention to, not all the production going on around it, so I feel it really relaxes people at the end but also hopefully what you’re feeling is really emotionally attached to that moment and you want to keep listening and go back for more.
12. LH And now I guess your focus is 100% on your wedding to Dave at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where you’re also playing a further album release show on St Patrick’s Day which should be quite the riot…..The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar which you’ve mentioned already sounds like my type of place!! It’s an area really close to both your hearts I gather, can you explain why?
JT So we got engaged in Jackson, it was the first time we’d ever been there, playing a sold-out songwriter night at The Silver Dollar Showroom inside a hotel on the town square where the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is too. And we just had the greatest trip!! Obviously getting engaged there made it a magical place but then just the natural beauty of it, and the people… we joke now that we have more friend in Jackson Hole than we do in Nashville! We went back a few months later and took our engagement photos in the snow there in front of the mountains. We feel in love in the snow, got engaged in the snow, took our photos in the snow so now we’re getting married in the snow! And I’ve played more shows there since then, I got to play Million Dollar Music Fest with Runaway June and Midland this past May, and I’ve played three other shows there I think . We just really fell in love with it on that first trip! Honestly, the community is so special to us. One of the marines that was killed in Kabul, Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum was from there and we were asked to sing at his memorial, a song called ” Lonely in the Lonestar” which we wrote with Bill Whyte a few months before the Afghanistan conflict so that one was sent to us from above . We’ve had so many meaningful times in that town and with those people. It’s like our second home.
13. LH So, looking at your website I see your Stateside tour schedule for the rest of 2022 is getting pretty busy, but please tell me you will be looking at visiting us here in the UK before too long?
JT Yes, I really hope so! I’m going to bug my agent about getting me on C2C next year!!
LH Do it!!
LH Thanks again for chatting to me today, and can I close by wishing you and Dave all the best for your special day and for health and happiness in the years ahead on behalf of all the B&G team.
JT Thank you so much Lesley, I really appreciate it!