album reviews and artist impressionsJennings | Recovery | Femtastic | Storybook
interview and album review © Russell W Elliot 2009
artist photos © Jennings Music 2009 | debut album photos © Trey Mitchell 2001
album covers © No Sass Publishing 2001-2009 | all images used with permission
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows | Last updated: 24 May 2009
Mary Jennings is one of a rapidly growing collection of female vocalists and musical artists that we have connected with via MySpace. Her work is released under the moniker "Jennings" which can make it difficult to find with online search tools since some other popular recording artists share the same last name! With a crystalline voice and very accessible style, Jennings' four releases attracted us to her music.
Mary admired the work done in our publication and was as keen to contribute to an interview and article featuring her work as we were to listen to her music. She draws both critical and audience acclaim. With a steady development since her first release, Jennings says that her latest EP most accurately reflects her current artistic direction.
Jennings' self-titled album was released in 2001. The project was followed by Recovery in 2003. Both released by her own No Sass Publishing, they remain available today online. The two-CD Femtastic project was released in 2007. The second and unadvertised bonus CD is a smaller collection of stripped down versions of songs on the primary CD in the project. Her latest release is the Storybook EP, a five track collection of new material pressed in late 2008. Today, the artist splits her time between New York and Nashville. Her recordings are currently available both in physical and digital media.
What can you tell us about your development as a musical artist leading up to your newest EP?
My development as an artist had a lot to do with simply growing up. I was banging on a piano at a very young age and my mom used to tease me that she could find me based on where she heard the singing, so music has always been a part of me I think. As I have aged, so has my voice and my musical style. I listened to a lot of music, experienced a lot more and all of these things played a role in who I have become as a person and a musician.
When I first came out with my debut album, I was mourning the sudden and unexpected death of my mother. I was using it as therapy and a way to cope with what happened. Recovery, the second album, was my recovery of my mom's death. It was my way of picking my self up and getting through everything, so it also was therapeutic. Then I took some time to really write, play out, and develop my craft before I recorded anything else.
By the time Femtastic came out, I felt I had a full batch of songs that although still therapeutic, would appeal more to the public and I was ready to make a real career out of it. After having it out for a year and gaining comments, attending multiple open mics, working with songwriters and musicians, and continuing to improve my craft, I was ready to do my latest work, Storybook EP. I think every musician's goal is to improve over time and that is exactly what I have strived for. I have explored new types of music and working with new people all while not compromising my own artwork.
What was going on in your life around the time of your debut and follow-up album Recovery?
Well, Jennings and Recovery can best be described as my mourning and the recovery of my mother's death. Again, although I was starting on my career as a musician, these records were so much more therapeutic than anything else. I needed them to be able to express myself and to be able to work through all of the emotions I had during this time.
I would play shows at Furman University and occasionally in small venues in Nashville, but I was still so young and I didn't understand what it meant to do record promotion. I thought if I were good enough, I would just be "discovered." I realize now that there is a lot more that goes into it than that, but I think I needed to go through all of the steps I took to get where I am now.
Things moved on with Femtastic and the Stripped version of some of the songs. How would you say that you developed as an artist with the release of this astounding album?
Well, first thank you for the compliment. I would say that by taking some time to really let the dust settle, getting through with college, letting my songwriting grow, I was able to be more prepared for Femtastic.
Obviously with each recording an artist does, he/she will be more aware of what they can do better so I did that. I knew what I wanted with the songs, the production, everything.
After listening to so many different types of music throughout school and spending so many hours in the piano rooms, I really started to develop my sound.
So when it came to recording Femtastic there was no question of the direction that I wanted to go in.
What do you think have been the major turning points in your career?
I can say I have several major turning points in my career. Obviously the loss of my mom created the surge of writing, moving to Nashville after college allowed me to meet the producer of Femtastic, Jonathan Smith and many other brilliant musicians that inspired me along the way, but honestly moving to New York and connecting with my manager, Nick Martucci has had the biggest impact thus far I would say. It is an amazing feeling to have someone that believes in your craft as much as you do and is willing to support you and help you out when you are an independent artist.
He pushes me to be better in every aspect of my career, be it songwriting, marketing, live performances, piano playing, etc. It can be so unbelievably difficult to be an independent musician and to know that you have someone rooting for you beyond family and your closest friends can really remind you that maybe you have something. He has gotten me licensing opportunities, press, tour dates with Mike Doughty, showcases in several cities, songwriting sessions with award winning songwriters, but most importantly he has been patient and supportive when I have needed it.
Were there any particular female vocalists have influenced your development?
Oh absolutely!! Since I was in middle school I have listened to Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and Sarah McLachlan. They have all influenced my writing and vocal style immensely. But as I have gotten older, Bjork, Imogen Heap, Goldfrapp, Zero 7, and so many others have influenced me.
How would you say that your work evolved stylistically across the first three albums?
I would say that every new recording I do is more accurately what I expect out of my music. They get a little bit more edgy.
There is realness with a hint of an electronica edge. And I am always pushing my own abilities as a singer/songwriter.
How is your new Storybook EP being received domestically and internationally?
So far it has been received better than anything I have put out. Again, the responses I get keep getting better and better which is exactly what you want.
I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I am growing as a songwriter and becoming more confident with my craft.
What can you tell us about the writing, recording and production of the new project?
Well, I am constantly writing. And in the fall of 2008, we realized I had a batch of new songs that might be good to put on an EP. So I got together with Dan McGloughlin at Garden Street Studios in Hoboken New Jersey for about two weeks to put down some of these songs for a demo. We brought in drummer, Ian O'Neill and bass player, Pat McCarthy for the EP and between the four of us, I think came up with a really great sound! It was a lot of long days and nights spent in the studio but we all got a long great and seemed to mesh well together.
I would say that the primary difference between this EP and the previous stuff is that I had a lot more involvement in the recording process. I wasn't just there to record my piano and vocals. I was there from start to finish. I helped decide on other instrumental parts, I played all of the Rhodes pianos and synthesizers. I even went when it was getting mastered. I feel like I had so much control over this EP that it is truly what I would want it to sound like given the amount of time we had to record it.
Will you perform material from the EP and your back catalog in live venues to further support the launch of the album? What will some of your favorite venues be?
I will perform songs off of both Femtastic and Storybook EP. If you notice, some of the tracks on Femtastic are actually rerecords from Jennings and Recovery so I suppose you could say songs from all four albums are fair game. However, I mostly still with Femtastic and Storybook EP with the occasional new song that isn't recorded.
I have a lot of favorite venues! I play quite often in Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN, New York City, and Connecticut. I will play almost anywhere someone offers me a show as long as I can get there. In New York, I play Caffe Vivaldi a lot so I would say that it is one of my favorites.
What can you tell us about your live performances?
These days, I mostly do my live performances solo with just my keyboard, a loop pedal and a microphone. I would love to have a band with me eventually, but up to this point, it has been easier doing it by myself.
I think some of my most memorable performances came from opening for Mike Doughty on part of his tour in December of 2008. We played in amazing venues in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, NJ, and Maine. The crowds were so receptive and wonderful. Everything about it was so much fun.
Live performances give me such a rush. It is one of the best parts about being a musician. To me, it was what truly brings the music to life. To know that you only have a few moments to capture and audience and keep them engaged long enough to fall in love with you and your music is a difficult task, but one that I wouldn't trade for any other profession.
As far as my on-stage persona is concerned, I would like to think that people would say I am about the same on stage as I am off. I think that I am friendly and open both in person and on stage. I don't have a lot to hide and I want people to feel like they know me when I leave that stage.
It is interesting how the first two recordings appear to show someone more shy than those in recent days. What are your personal views regarding the relative importance of "image" to a female recording artist these days?
Well again, I think the difference in the image between my first two albums and my most recent work has to do with where I was mentally. Also, I didn't know anything about marketing at the time and now I do so I have a certain image and try to maintain it.
I think creating an "image" for any artist male or female is crucial to someone's career. People need to have something to remember you by. They need something that is very specifically "you." For me, I think it is the large green headphones. I have them in the majority of pictures I take and now people know me for them. They are in my logo, my photos, my cd covers etc.
It may sound terrible but when someone is first breaking out, you need to have people remember you in any way possible. For Madonna it was the conical bra, for Slash it was his crazy hair and top hat. For me, my pictures, and album covers, whether you are looking at the older albums or the new albums, are still me. But now I am trying to make sure that I maintain my "image" so that I don't confuse fans or listeners/viewers.
When comparing your personal website to alternatives these days, do you think that MySpace is becoming the all important location for musical artists nowadays?
I would say that no matter what, musicians need to have their own official website. It shows professionalism. Even if it is really basic and simple I still think it is important. I have one right now and I don't know how often it gets visited in comparison to my other social sites but I know that if someone wants it, it is there.
I think Myspace is definitely important, but it is only one of the many. There are hundreds of websites that musicians should put their profiles on to make sure they reach out to as many people as possible. From Facebook to Reverbnation to Youtube to Twitter, there are a million avenues to keep in touch with your fans. It is all a matter of maintenance.
How do you think the different release methods available to professionals appeal to music enthusiasts these days?
The EP and all of my other work is out on iTunes. I think that having your music on things like iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby is really important. It can reach a lot of fans all over the world that might not have heard my music other wise.
These days so many people aren't buying cds so I think it is important to appeal to the masses. I still print CDs that I take to shows and sell on CDBaby, but over all, if people aren't buying CDs, you need to figure out how they are getting their music and make sure that you are doing the same thing to appeal to them.
What does the future hold for you?
Right now I am just promoting the EP and constantly writing. I may put out another album soon, but there are no plans set in stone at this point.
I am just hoping that I can continue to play a lot of shows, gain more exposure, and share my music with as many people as possible.
Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers before concluding this interview?
I would like to say thank you to all the readers for supporting independent artists. We need it so much. Ultimately, we cannot go far without the support of fans and friends so I appreciate you all. And if you want to know any more about Jennings you can go on about any music site and find me but here are a few links to the most popular: Official Website, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Reverbnation.
Mary Jennings has demonstrated significant artistic growth over her recording career and has aligned current recordings with her vision. With albums available online in digital and in physical forms, sampling streams are also available at Jennings' MySpace. A great talent still early in her career, we stand ready for Jennings' next offering and encourage readers to seek a live performance.
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