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Molly Jenson Interview
Earlier this year, I interviewed California alternative pop singer/songwriter Molly Jenson, this year's recipient of a San Diego Music Award for best acoustic act, for the most part due to the success of her album Maybe Tomorrow. She learned her craft in a Christian music environment. The daughter of two Youth For Christ workers says that it was at the urging of her piano and singing teacher that she first sang a solo in church.
"When I was seventeen, I started singing (more often at church). In high school, I was in the choir. Other than that (taking some voice lessons for a couple of months), I learned to sing in the worship band at church. I also learned how to sing harmonies when I was in a band at a Christian College (Point Loma Nazarene College, in California)," said Jenson.
Jenson's music can often lament relationships that went awry, crushes that went unfulfilled or just personal struggles, yet the melodies are upbeat and in between her songs during live performances, the woman is an absolute hoot.
"I was nominated for Best Pop Album in 2006, which was surprising to me, because I don't really know what I am, but I didn't think that I would fit into the Pop category. That was the year that none of my friends won. It was kind of like misery enjoys company. We all felt bad. I didn't think that I would get nominated again this year, because my album came out in 2005. I got nominated for best acoustic act and I was in a category with all these amazing musicians and my friends. (In fact) I am going out tonight with two of the girls who were in my category. When I won, I ran up onto the stage, but I was so flustered that I forgot to mention the people who were in the category with me," said Jenson.
Then she shared something that tells you about the character of this talented young artist, "That night I went home, I couldn't sleep because they (the other nominees) are all friends of mine. I had (email addresses) for all of them but one, so I emailed them to tell them that I am a fan of their music, I respect so much what they do, and they deserved to be up on that stage with me. I told them that I meant to mention them on stage, but I was too flustered and forgot. I said, 'I'm sorry and I love you.' They emailed me back and said, 'Whatever you totally deserve it, and we are proud of you.' It was really cool."
Maybe Tomorrow has one of the more refreshing songs to come our way in a long time, "Thinking Of You," co-written with Greg Laswell. The song features a staccato piano rhythm. Jenson said that in part the tune was inspired by the music of Ben Folds. She wanted a bouncy poppy song, and that is what "Thinking of You," turned out to be.
"It ("Thinking of You") originated with a guy in Colorado. The first part of the song is about a waiter who brought me soup. I was in Colorado for a Christmas vacation and I went to the debutante ball. I fell in love with the waiter (you can hear the warm glow in her voice). That doesn't happen to me often. I was enamored by this waiter, (but) I didn't get his name or anything," said Jenson.
Continuing to talk about "Thinking of You," Jenson said, "A couple of months later I thought I would write a song about this guy (the waiter). I didn't know him or much about him, but I wanted to write a song about him. I was wondering if it was the right thing to do, but then I thought I will write a verse about him. The second verse is about a movie star that I had a crush on, and it just kind of came together like that."
The song, "Give It Time," was born out of a personal struggle and stressful time in Molly Jenson's life. "I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay for my CD, and I wanted to run away from it, but I couldn't, so I decided to write a song about not running away from problems. The first verse says, "Where are you off to in such a hurry girl / Is something chasing you?" That was me running away from an issue that I knew I needed to deal with, but I didn't want to, and it was too scary for me to deal with. The funny thing about that song is it took a long time to write it. It took a couple of months to really get it down. (Normally) I go into a studio, write a song and record it in the same day. This was one of the only songs that it took a long time to fall in love with and to figure out."
Other songs from the CD Maybe Tomorrow developed more spontaneously such as "Thank You My Friend," that was written in a couple of hours. Jenson went into the studio one day with just a notion that she wanted to write a song about the friends that have stood by her as she has built her career in music. She did not have any words and only a few chords. As she said she tuned her guitar to a "crazy tuning,' that she has never played in before, while working up the song. The result was another good tune that in the end was set to piano, rather than her trademark acoustic guitar.
Although there are a few deviations as already noted, the common thread that seems to run through Maybe Tomorrow is one of relationships. In some instances, the songs are about fantasy crushes like the one on the movie star, flights of fancy like the waiter, and in others, they are about actual relationships during happier days and during breakups. Unlike Jann Arden, who sang songs with similar themes, and became the queen of depression, gloom and doom, the upbeat tempo and lilt of Jenson's voice does not allow her music to descend into such depths, nor does her attitude which has not become jaded.
It is difficult to believe that an artist who is so comfortable performing in front of an audience admits to times of being nervous. "I have always been a showoff, and I remember when I was a kid, I always loved showing off to new people. I was always grabbing attention. When I do new things, I get really nervous. I tried out for American Idol this year and I was nervous. When I do karaoke or open mic I get really nervous. Things that I don't do on a regular basis (make me nervous). "
During her performances she weaves wit and great humor in between her songs. "I had a man once tell me, 'You are really manic during your shows. Your songs are so sad, and you are lighthearted between your songs.' I think that there is this comedian in me that comes out in between the sad songs. Even if I have a sucky night and play horribly (which she does not!), or the songs don't come across the way that I wish they would, if I can make the crowd laugh, then I am happy," she said.
The singer/songwriter, who confesses to being a showoff as a child, certainly does not come across that way today. She is, however, starting to show the world that she is a gifted performer and it is only a matter of time before she adds another award or two to the San Diego Music Award.
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs,
www.rivetingriffs.com . His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his
late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright
and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.