If there was ever a soundtrack to an over-saturated dream state, Jenna & the Janes is it.
Singer-songwriter folk group, Jenna & the Janes, takes a modern twist on a traditional art. The Brooklyn-based band is comprised of Jenna Smith, Kenny Florence, Michael Sanders, and John Stallings, all of whom hail from North Carolina and Louisiana. Their geography lends itself to their style, resulting in a southern charm folk-sound, sprinkled with more contemporary undertones. Jenna & The Janes is what happens when small town folk music gets a taste of the big city.
Jenna’s autobiographical lyrics are mystical and relatable, comprised of both poetry and prose. Her voice easily flows through the song, taking the shape of an instrumentation. Much of the band’s music is subliminally harmonic, lending a full sound without overpowering Jenna’s main vocals. The group’s lyrics deal with loss, moving on, and other powerful topics. There’s a great mix in the music – something that only comes together when grand experiences are transformed across genre lines. Though often somber in tone, Jenna & the Janes’ brief discography encompasses a wide range of feelings– and evokes even more.
Jenna & The Janes is an authentic band lending itself to the true meaning of folk and singer- songwriter. Each of their songs sounds full and polished, each aspect undergoing careful examination, each element intentionally crafted to give the final product a composed finish. No part of Jenna & the Janes’ discography seems like an afterthought. The group sounds acoustic and hearty without being minimalist. It’s almost as if their studio had been visited by Marie Kondo, devoid of all materials that are not essential to the cultivation of their sound.
The groups newest single, “Take It Home,” released on July 15th, 2020, has a distinct country- western feel to it. It fits nicely as the background music for a saloon in the wild west, emulating modern country-folk artists like Kacey Musgraves. There is something semi-psychedelic about the harmonies of this song—aided by the interjection of brief twangy guitar overtones. “Take It Home” deals with the uncertainty of love, life, and togetherness. With few words, the song manages to tell a full story, filling in the lyrical gaps with guitar that manages to further the narrative. “Take It Home” is filled with sweetness, nostalgia, eeriness, and a myriad of swirling auras, each one harder to distinguish than the next.
For a band that only recently began releasing music on a public platform, Jenna & the Janes have a surprisingly old soul sound. They manage to give back to a genre that seems to have been already fulfilled – something that many contemporary artists struggle to do. Though they are just getting started, I expect to see a lot more coverage of them in the coming years. As music continues to evolve, this group manages to change with the times while still staying true to their folk roots.
We at Music Mecca had the chance to catch up with frontwoman Jenna Smith to ask about the band’s music, future projects, inspirations, and much more.
So where did you grow up, and what got you into playing and writing music?
I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. I began singing in elementary school. My family has this story about how my music teacher in 3rd grade called my parents and said “Jenna can really sing!” – they had no idea. I was pretty shy when I was young, but I guess I felt free to let loose in music class. Whenever there was a chance to sing onstage as a kid in school, I was happy to be center stage. I did some theater back then, but I think I really developed my musical taste from my father. He would always play his favorite records at home – Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens, Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Linda Ronstadt. I remember long road trips to Virginia to visit family listening to rock and roll with the windows down. Towards the end of high school I taught myself some basic guitar and started writing my own songs. Soaking in these artists and albums definitely shaped my interests and later influenced how I wrote and played music.
When you’re not making music, how else do you like to spend your time?
I love being outside and wandering around in nature or in cities. Living in New York City, I loved walking out my door and just following the rhythm of the city, stopping to listen to street musicians or grab a bite to eat..taking the train to Rockaway Beach is my favorite. I’m kinda obsessed with the beach. When I’m in North Carolina, going for hikes in the forest. My parents worked for the airlines, so I’ve gotten pretty hooked on flying to far off places for an adventure. Not so much these days, but that’s okay because it’s a good time to connect with family, ourselves..slow down. I’m also a music therapist, so I enjoy my job too!
How did Jenna and the Janes come together?
In 2016 I returned to New York City after studying in Finland. Kenny Florence (lead guitarist, producer) was living in NYC, and we grew up together. I’ve known him since kindergarten! Not only is he one of my oldest friends, but he’s also the most talented guy I know. I secretly hoped he’d want to play music with me when I came back to the city. Sure enough, he was down! Kenny was getting his master’s degree in composition at the time at Mannes School of Music in Manhattan, and his best bud in school was Michael Sanders (bassist). Kenny brought Mike on and we instantly connected. Mike is also an unbelievably talented musician and composer, and just a darling human being who was really easy to play with. So we had a little band! Kenny and Mike have a band called King Jane, so that’s where the name came from…Jenna & the Janes. Kenny thought of that one. All we needed was a drummer, so I called up my friend from college, John Stallings (also an amazing photographer and videographer), and he was down to play. Boom, we had a band.
Can you walk me through your songwriting process?
I usually start with a feeling, something that has happened in my life that makes me feel some kinda way. That feeling in your chest and stomach that you just have to express somehow. Then I usually just pick up my guitar and start noodling around, but definitely focus on a melody and lyrics first which usually becomes the “hook”. After that, I try to build around the main theme of the song with some verses, maybe a bridge, that tell the story I need to tell. With the Janes, I bring them my song and they add all of the magic of subtle yet intricate instrumental parts, and unique beautiful harmonies. I got lucky with them, they take my little folk songs and bring them to a glorious next level.
Do you find that your music is inspired by profound experiences?
Absolutely. We have four singles out now, all part of an eight track record called Earth Dog Year. Most of the songs are about a grief process; the death of someone close to me. It doesn’t get much more profound than losing someone you love in life. A few are about the difficulty and uncertainty that comes with leaving a person or place and venturing off to start a new chapter of life; the unknown.
Your new single, “Take It Home” was released on July 15th. What was the influence and inspiration behind this track?
“Take It Home” is actually the only song on the record that I wrote several years ago, when I was deciding whether or not to leave New York City to study in Finland for two years. I was dating someone at the time, so I was struggling with the two options..staying in New York and continuing to play music, or going on an adventure in Finland and furthering my education. “Will I stay or will I go?”…observing the dilemma in myself between the two. This is not uncommon for me as I am very indecisive! I was also unsure about the relationship I was in, so it reflects upon that uncertainty as well. There are also a few secrets in the lyrics, but I can’t give it all away, ya know?
What do you hope fans will take away from “Take It Home”?
Life is uncertain. Especially now. There are things we can control – like choices we make, how we treat other people, how we treat ourselves – but mostly, we are constantly walking into the darkness, into the unknown. This fear of the unknown can be overwhelming, and it can also be beautiful. It can be both, and both are okay.
Tell me about your sound — what artists inspire you most?
We joke about all the genres we have to choose from to classify our sound…I’ve always used the term “lullaby pop” – although maybe it’s not a real genre? Who cares! We use dream folk, dream pop, psych pop, psych folk, country. “Take It Home” definitely has the most country vibes of all the songs on the upcoming record. Artists that inspire me…My friend Thrin’s band Winded, Joanna Newsom, Emmylou Harris, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Neko Case, Francoise Hardy, The Sundays, Big Thief..so many! My bandmates Kenny and Mike are super inspiring honestly.
What is your dream show? Venue, city, opening for a certain act, etc.
This is a tough one! I’ve always wanted to tour, and play in places like Prague, Barcelona and Iceland! In a dream world we would open for Joanna Newsom at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado or the Greek Theater in California. My brother, Shane, is a sick guitar player, so he’d have to be on the bill somehow. I’ll manifest that.
What elements of life do you hope to highlight and convey in your music?
While life can be an uncertain mess, while it can be really hard and sad, there is beauty in the pain, if we let ourselves feel it. From the darkness the light shines through. I tend to write sad songs, but I hope others find beauty in them.
What do you hope to have accomplished as a group in five years?
I would love to go on tour with these guys! Hopefully by then we make another record as well. They are just too good not to make music with.
Where is the first place/places you want to go when some semblance of normalcy finally arrives?
I’d like to take my mom, Barb, on a snorkeling trip again in the Caribbean. She loves to snorkel. Honestly, it would just be lovely to sit inside friends’ houses and cuddle with them.
Are you working on anything right now?
Yes! We have a single coming out on September 1st called “Northern Light”. I wrote that one as I was leaving Finland. Kenny and our amazing team are working on the production side of four more singles, which we’ll be releasing once a month, with the full record out in December; Earth Dog Year. It has been and will be a wild year. I hope people find joy in these songs and this record. I’m so proud of it!
Photo by Tanya Bindra