Muhlenberg County Country Singer-Songwriter Grayson Jenkins Talks Upcoming Album ‘Turning Tides’, Getting Back On The Road, & More

In his upcoming album, Turning Tides, country and Americana artist Grayson Jenkins gives listeners songs with vulnerable lyrics written over delightfully twangy guitars and powerful vocals.

Jenkins, a Kentucky native, is an up-and-coming songwriter set to blaze a trail through country music with his rich voice and heartfelt songs. Self-made and dedicated, Jenkins was set on becoming a country singer-songwriter while in his senior year at the University of Kentucky. From that moment on, he did anything he could to pursue music, and started by picking up a guitar and playing in local bars.

Jenkins embodies rich country and rock n’ roll sounds while maintaining a certain vulnerable edge to his lyrics and staying true to his ultimate goal: touching the hearts of his listeners. And he does just that in his upcoming album, Turning Tides, which is slated to drop August 27th. The album contains songs like “Sweet Yesterday” and “Dear Katie” which are both soft, sentimental, and contain personal elements that listeners can relate to.

The title track, “Turning Tides”, in particular pays tribute to the feeling of getting out of a slump, which coincides with the past year and the struggles that living through a pandemic has brought to the world. The album itself is a personal piece for Jenkins, and while he finished recording the album in the summer of 2020, he hesitated to release it right after it was finished. He holds the album close to his heart, and it is evident that he poured his heart into this vulnerable and magnificent collection of songs.

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It seems that Jenkins has picked the perfect time to release an album with a title track dedicated to the beauty of getting back in the swing of life. We had the chance to chat with Jenkins about his career, Turning Tides, and much more.

So what inspirations do you draw from the most within your music?

I try not to be too picky and stay on the lookout for song inspirations wherever I can. Some of my songs are inspired by my own experiences. In those cases, I try to focus on the strongest emotion I felt during that time and put it under a microscope. Other people and their stories inspire me, too. I’m always taking notes on interesting people and phrases that I come across. My writing ends up being a lot of blending my own experiences with stories and phrases that I’ve picked up. Hopefully, that makes for a relatable story.

How did you first discover your sound, and how would you describe it to someone wondering what Grayson Jenkins is all about? 

I’d relate me finding my sound to a blind mouse finding a piece of cheese. Haha. I never sat down and intentionally chased a certain style of music. My sound is a reflection of the bands and artists that I’ve listened to over the years – lots of country, bluegrass, rock, folk and some pop. First and foremost, I consider myself a singer-songwriter. I want to tell stories in my songs and make them conceptually within reach for the average listener. After that, it’s about adding whatever musical elements make the most sense for each song. I’d describe my sound as country music that leans from rock to folk depending on the track. 

So your new album, Turning Tides, is coming out later this summer. What did the creative process look like for this album?

The songs on the album were written over the course of a two-year period. In early 2019, I recruited a Kentucky music legend, Jesse Wells, to co-produce a new album with me. At that point, I sorted through and picked the best songs I thought I had at the time. I took a month off of gigging and workshopped those songs pretty hard – adding bridges, changing verses, tweaking melodies, etc. Shortly after, we got in the studio with a four-piece band and knocked out the songs in four days. The band was an all-star cast. Miles Miller (Sturgill Simpson) played drums, Kenny Miles (Wayne Graham) played bass and recorded the session, and Jesse (Tyler Childers) played electric guitar and fiddle. It was a whirlwind experience for me in those few days getting to work with pros like that. I’d play every song for them on acoustic and then we’d knock them out one-by-one. Sometimes it took two hours for a song, sometimes twenty minutes. I’ll never forget that session and watching those guys work out the songs. 

After that, it was a long process of adding in all the other elements we wanted on the album. I feel fortunate to have hand-picked the players for every part of the album. 

The album was mixed and mastered by early 2020, but then Covid came along and I put the release on hold. I’m glad I did because it gave me more time to sit with the songs and make small changes along the way. It’s been a labor of love, but I’m damn proud of the finished product. I hope I never spend this long on an album again, but I wouldn’t change any of the ups and downs I went through making this one. 

For those eager for the album’s release, how would you say the album fits into your discography? Is there anything listeners should expect from this project?

There are some consistent themes on this album when compared to my other projects. Songs about heartbreak and self-discovery are still on full display. Lyrically, I think the songs are a bit more mature and dig a little deeper. Sonically, it’s a bigger, heavier sound than my previous albums. We used more keys on this record and I think that really ties everything together. 

What was the biggest inspiration or influence behind the album?

My own self-discovery is a big influence on the album. My last album, Cityscapes & Countrysides, focused on a lot of the heartbreak I endured with the passing of my mother and ending of a long-term relationship. This album is about me picking up the pieces from those hard times and facing my own mental health head-on. 

What is your songwriting process like? Is it more rigid and structured, or more when inspiration strikes? 

It depends on the season for me. I find it really hard to have a structured approach to writing when the weather is warm. I still write during the warm months, but it’s a lot less frequent and more whenever inspiration strikes. My sweet spot seems to be late fall through early spring. I keep a good schedule in those cold months and am up writing almost every morning. 

When envisioning the perfect gig for you, what does it look like?

The perfect gig for me depends on the night, honestly. Sometimes, I really enjoy the listening rooms. Just me and my acoustic in a small room, telling stories and interacting with the crowd. That said, there’s not much better than a full music club with my full band on stage. It’s a lot less stressful for me to keep the attention of the audience and I get to be surrounded by people whose talent blows me away. 

I’ve been saying for two years that my dream gig would be opening up for Mike and the Moonpies, so I guess I’d better throw that in there too. I love that band and would be pumped to open up for them at the big honky tonks and dance halls. 

Might fans expect to see Grayson Jenkins hit the road this summer and fall in support of the record? If so where/when?

Absolutely. I’m so excited to get back on the road this year. We’re playing some big festivals that are exciting – Railbird Festival, Master Musicians Festival, and a few more. We’ll be hitting a lot of venues that we used to play before Covid and trying out some new places, too. Right now, we’ve got KY, OH, NC, WY, NE, IL, TX and more lined up. Plenty more to come and I can’t wait to get out there.

Photos by Patrick Brumback

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