That night, as the Rockies worked over the San Francisco Giants, Nashville singer/songwriter Jenn Bostic worked over the local music crowd, delivering a powerful array of piano pop tunes, country ballads, and soulful classics like “The Dock of the Bay” that would have made Otis Redding proud.
Born in Philadelphia, but raised in the small town of Waconia, Minnesota, Jenn Bostic has often been compared to popular piano songwriters like Sara Bareilles and Vanessa Carlton. But unlike those artists, Jenn’s roots stem from country music, a lifelong fan of Bonnie Raitt.
Says Bostic, “There’s just something unmistakable about her voice. Whatever she’s singing comes straight from the heart. And you can feel those words. It’s what I aspire to do with my songs. If I can make somebody feel something, I’ve done my job as a musician.”
That connection, between artist and audience, has been a key factor in Bostic’s evolution as a songwriter. After losing her father in a terrible automobile accident at the age of 10, she began channeling her emotions and creativity into music.
She attended the prestigious Berklee School of Music (Boston), got her early stage chops performing with country cover band Digger Dawg, and then moved to Nashville, where she recorded her first album in 2009 called Keep Looking for Love. But much to her chagrin, it was not well received.
“It was one of those defining moments,” recalls Bostic. “I was told I was too pop for country and too country for pop.”
Instead of caving in, Bostic emerged stronger than ever. Working overtime with producer Barrett Yeretsian (producer of Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts”), she assembled Jealous, a sizzling 12 track record with varying arrangements of musicality, honesty, and deeply personal lyrics. There’s the sassy, self assuredness of “Change,” the cautious optimism of “Wait for Me,” the snappy, gospel turn on “Lips on Mine,” and the beautifully uplifting ode to her father, captured so eloquently in “Jealous of the Angels.”
Winner of five Independent Country Music Association Awards, including Overall Winner, Best Female Country Artist, Best Musician, Best Songwriter and Country Music Song of the Year for “Jealous of the Angels,” Jenn Bostic has finally found her voice, perhaps no more evident than on the latest single, “Not Yet.” A steadfast ballad about the ability to persevere, the song debuted last month on VEVO with more than 200,000 views in the first 24 hours.
“I knew I was not going to give up on anything no matter what anybody said. And I remember thinking, you only get one shot at life. You can never give up.”
A music education major who loves teaching kids, loves participating in songwriting workshops, loves interacting with her fans, Jenn Bostic embodies all of the charm, the warmth, the energy, and the humble qualities of a Midwestern girl whose talents are vast and ever growing.
As her on stage persona suggests, she is simply “Jenn-tastic!”
Have you ever been to Denver before this tour?
I have. My brother Jeff lives in Fort Collins. And I’ve done some shows in that area as well as Loveland. We did Dazzle Jazz up in Denver at the end of May and this will actually be my second or third stop here. So, I’m really excited.
Were you able to break away and have a little fun while you’ve been here?
Yes. We do get to have some fun. We did a little bit of hiking in Horsetooth this year. And last year, over Christmas, we did a lot of snowboarding, which is cool. Now that I have two little nephews in Fort Collins, I’m sure I’ll be back quite a bit for more.
Describe the influence your father had on your music as a little girl up to today.
Music was always such a focus in our family life. After dinner, my dad was always strumming his guitar and we’d all be sitting around, humming and singing along. He was always encouraging us to pick up an instrument or jump in and sing with him.
So, when we lost him, the first time I sat down to play piano, I realized that music was the only way I could connect with him. It was the beginning of songwriting for me; more of a kind of therapy at the time. I didn’t know that I would fall in love with it the way I have. But I needed to get those feelings out and this is what he taught me to do. So, I decided I’m gonna run with it.
The first song I ever wrote, “Being Without You,” was about him. And I still connect with him on a daily basis. Sharing a song like “Jealous of the Angels,” which is in his honor, is really beautiful. It’s just so beautiful to see how people connect with it and are able to share their own stories of loss.
At what point did you discover your voice? Your own ‘style’ of music?
I don’t think that really happened until about three or four years ago. I came from a very small town in Minnesota and when I moved to Boston for college, I was surrounded by the best from everywhere. I was lost and loving it, trying to experience all kinds of music.
I did gospel choir, some blues ensembles, and fell into a country pop cover band called Digger Dawg. Every weekend, I got to sing for 4 or 5 hours. And as a 19-20 year old kid, it was such a cool thing. We went overseas and got to perform in Iraq and Kuwait for the troops and we got a bunch of opening spots for Gretchen Wilson and Sugarland. That was so much fun!
So when I moved to Nashville, I thought that country was going to be my main focus. It’s what I’d been doing for the last couple years. So, I put out a pop country record in 2009 called “Keep Looking for Love.” I shopped it around to some labels in town, but was told I was ‘too pop for country, too country for pop.’ That statement struck a chord with me. It really opened up my heart a little bit, i.e. what makes me happy, why did I start doing this, why is music important to me?
It really forced me to take a step back and reflect on all these experiences that I’d had. I was lost in this big sea of music and had to figure out what mattered most. What made my heart beat? From all of that came “Jealous,” the first real push of ‘this is me’ and ‘this is who I am.’
Moving to Nashville as an aspiring musician is not all unicorns and rainbows. What was your experience really like?
Of course, it’s frustrating to be able to see the vision of where you want to go and how high you want to climb, but you’re unsure of how to get there. Immediately, I started networking with people. But it’s so overwhelming because there’s so much talent in Nashville. I would go to shows and literally sit there in awe and then go home and wonder ‘why am I here?’ (Laughs).
But those difficult moments were encouraging because I found inspiration being around it all the time. Today, I’m on the road a lot and am not able to go to as many shows as I used to, but moving to Nashville really made me step up my game. It made me realize that if this is going to be my full time job, I need to be more serious. I need to be practicing way more than I am. I need to be writing way more than I am.
Who inspires you today?
Bonnie Raitt is still a huge inspiration for me today. She’s my absolute favorite. And I got to see her live at the Ryman Auditorium for the first time last year. There’s just something unmistakable about her voice. Whatever she’s singing comes straight from the heart. And you can feel those words.
I also love Sarah McLachlan. I got to see her at the Schermerhorn (Symphony Center) in Nashville last summer. And oh my goodness, she was unbelievable. She’s so flawless and effortless. And then of course, the poppy, cool, quirkiness of Sara Bareilles has definitely influenced me as well.
How have you grown as an artist over the years and how has your writing changed?
Going through new experiences, traveling around the world, meeting new people, and seeing how music has helped them – I realize that there is a deeper purpose for music. It’s not just about getting up and playing a show and entertaining people. People are going to get that CD and some people, anytime they’re in a particular mood, are going to go straight to that one song that’s going to make them feel the way they want to feel. I’m like that as well. Every time something happens in my life, I need to hear that one song. It just helps make you feel like you’re not alone.
So, as I’m writing songs, I always have to ask: Is this really going to matter? Of course, there are moments when I want to write that fun, snap-to-it, pop song that might not have a huge impact. You need those songs too. But I really want songs that are going to mean something to people.
As I learn and play and hear what works and what doesn’t, I feel like I’m constantly growing as a songwriter. So much so, I hope that five years from now, my songs are way better than they are now.
Do you cobble together lyrics on napkins or keep things in a journal?
I do have a journal. But my phone has really become my main recorder.
A 21st century songwriter?
(Laughs). Yes, I’m very tech savvy. They have voice recorders built into your phone nowadays and you can just hum a little melody idea or speak some lyrics. Siri might need to get into songwriting someday!
Each song is so different. It can start with a melody or a concept or a lyric or anything. I do a lot of co-writing with my producer, Barrett Yeretsian. It’s been a huge help for me to write with someone else and grow as a songwriter.
What was the inspiration and story behind “Not Yet?”
That one is so close to my heart. I feel like there are nights when I’m singing it or need to be singing it just for me.
I remember sitting on my producer’s couch. I was so frustrated. I was out in LA for the ASCAP expo and felt like I’d been knocking on every door and every door was being slammed or locked in my face. Nothing was moving. And I’m such a driven person. So, when the universe is saying no or putting the brakes on me, it’s so frustrating. I was so grateful for everything, but wondering why things weren’t happening. I was trying so hard.
And my producer said, let’s write this down. It’s so heavy on your heart.
It was one of those defining moments. I knew I was not going to give up on anything no matter what anybody said. And I remember thinking, you only get one shot at life. You can never give up.
The Grand Ole Opry. You’ve performed on stage on three separate occasions. What was your first experience like and how did it compare to your most recent?
Well, the first one was a blur. I got off stage and thought, “Did that just happen?” (Laughs). Each time I’ve done “Jealous of the Angels” and one other song. The first time, I covered a Bonnie Raitt song (“Love Me Like a Man”), which was so fun to be able to honor her on the stage where I first saw her. It was such a cool thing for me, personally. But each time feels like the first time.
There was a distinct moment when I was at the Opry years ago. I remember seeing Carrie Underwood perform and tears were streaming down my face. I was maybe 19 or 20. And I remember thinking I want to sing and perform on stage here so bad!
Now, to look back and reflect, I believe that dreams really can come true. As cheesy as it sounds, if you set your mind to something, you just push and if it’s supposed to happen, the door will open.
What do you hope audiences take away from your tour?
I really hope that no matter what song it is, that they can be encouraged or inspired or latch onto something that gives them some sort of experience, i.e. that song really hit me or that performance is something I’m going to remember. Just being encouraged to go out and do something they love.
Life is too short. To some degree, we all have to sacrifice to eat and work. But it’s also important to chase the things that you love too.
After the tour wraps up in August, what are your plans?
Hopefully, in the fall, I’d like to do another European tour. Then, I’m going to have another album out early next summer. Maybe May? I’ve been writing a whole lot while I’ve been in LA and I’m really excited about all of the new songs.
It’s funny. I’m so used to writing and playing my new stuff right away, to see which songs resonate with the audience, and then, going into the studio to record them. But this time, I’m going to hold back until I release the record. It’s going to be really fun and really hard. I don’t know if I can do it (laughs)! But my goal is to save it and keep it as a surprise. That way, I’ll be able to tour with the new material. It’s going to be hard to hold back, but so exciting!
Mark Sells is a nationally recognized film/entertainment journalist and Critic-at-Large for 100.3 FM The Sound (Los Angeles). In addition to his blog on 303, you can follow The Reel Deal on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest entertainment news, reviews, and interviews.
*Photos courtesy of Michael Ernst/Bostic Photography (2013) and Mark Sells (2013).
Snowstorm – Jenn Bostic, from the album Jealous (2013)
Missin’ a Man – Jenn Bostic, from the album Jealous (2013)
Change – Jenn Bostic, from the album Jealous (2013)