Singer / Songwriter
Jenny Wood is a mighty songstress. While exercising a wide range of musical styles across multiple projects, she's been writing and recording original music for her upcoming album and first time collaboration with Katy Guillen and The Girls.
Steadfast and charismatic.
Jenny's vantage is voice.
Please introduce yourself and give us a bit of your background.
My name is Jenny Wood. I'm a local musician, I sing and play electric guitar—kind of dark pop stuff. I went to Wichita State University for music theatre but only for about two and a half years. I really started getting into bands at that time. Back then it was the 2000’s and I got into Rock, listening to Glassjaw and At the Drive In, and I really wanted to be a powerful singer. For about a year and a half I was like "I'm going to move out to LA." I was 21 and I was thinking I'd go out there and try it. I moved out there by myself and sang with a couple bands and it was ok, but I think I was just too young. Pathos—that's the name of band I was in a while ago, we still talk and I play with them every so often. They said "let's go to Nashville," so I met them out in Nashville when I was about 24 and we started playing. In Nashville though you need to be more than just a singer. You need to play an instrument and write all your own songs. We played there for 4-5 years, and that's when I picked up guitar and started playing. It was out of necessity. Then I moved back to Wichita 5 years ago and applied what I had learned in Nashville.
Do you feel you needed life experience or age before you had something to say as a songwriter and performer?
After Nashville, the first year that I moved to Wichita I did a lot of touring by myself in my car, and that sucked. Everyday I knew it was rough and that it had to be. Being out in the middle of nowhere—things would happen, flat tires, things like that. Meeting people, trying to find the person I was, I wanted to see my limits. I had to start figuring everything out from the ground up. The way I sing and my stage presence—I can tell it's because of the things I've seen in the alone time and the "man vs self" kind of deal. In your 20's there is a certain kind of anxiety. 24 through 27 was very much like "what am I going to do with my life?" It was terrible. It was pure anguish. Just to iterate I'm very happy to be in my 30's and getting older.
Where does your "Do It Yourself" attitude come from?
Nashville was where it started coming in to play. Trying to book shows on my own, then realizing "Oh, I have to pretend to be somebody who speaks for me." Playing all these roles to get booked and dealing with so many different people. That being said, I still burn my own CD's, I still write on them with sharpie, I still need to get merch. I wish I could think of myself like the Travel Guide—they are so good with that kind of stuff, but I'm still learning. Clearly I'm a bad business woman in that aspect. I'm bad at keeping up with it all. The good news is the guys that did the amazing Vehicles album, Naughty Dog Records, are finishing up my new record. Once it's complete I know I can better tackle a fresh and current online presence, especially with the anti-bullying music video ahead and Naughty Dog doing web distribution.
"I wanted to see my limits. I had to start figuring everything out from the ground up."
You're very confident on stage, is that something that comes naturally?
It's definitely something I had to work on. I have some complex that is like "what do you think you're doing? You are so… wow, you think you're special?" I have that real bad. "You're just doing this for attention." My parents are wonderful, but that was definately an issue. They're very conservative and they wanted me to go to school where I could find a degree and financial stability. I think with performing my parents where very much like "Is there something in raising you that we didn't give you enough attention. Did we not love you enough? You play these bars where strangers clap for you—is that something you need to make yourself feel better?" Also, I was so terrible the first 4 years. My uncomfortableness was so obvious. People would comment after and say "You're a great singer, but you look really uncomfortable." I got told that a lot, people would say "What are you doing?" I remember hearing that and it reminded me of my parents saying the same thing. I started to fight that every time I play. Physically I know I that I close up and get tetanus-y about it, but that's because I'm fighting it—"No, I'm going to push this, I swear to god, people are feeling it, I swear this is making people connect." Over the years I've gotten better about this being the best thing I can do, so now I'm full on confident about it.
Has the confidence you've developed on-stage come back to your everyday life off-stage?
No, actually it's gotten stronger in the two extremes. I've been more timid in my daily life and more powerful in my stage life. I was thinking about that today actually. I used to work at a restaurant where I was really aggressive. If someone was doing something wrong or being unfair to somebody, I was trigger happy. I wasn't playing live then, and now that I'm playing I'm so quiet when I go to work. If somebody is condescending or thinks that I'm just some dumb waitress or something like that, I take all of it and I put it on the microphone.
I'm quiet especially with my co-workers because—this sounds terrible, but they treat me differently after they've seen me play. That's the thing, people don't trust anybody, so they don't trust me, but as soon as they've seen me play they hold on to my stare a little bit longer. They'll touch my shoulder… I'm like "You saw me play." It's hard to trust someone until you see them vulnerable.
"I was so terrible the first 4 years, my uncomfortableness was so obvious."
Jenny Wood performing at a house show in Delano with Caleb Drummond and Will Erickson.
In a recent MidWest Digest Podcast you briefly mention the urge to over eat and stay in bed. This is an issue many people find familiar, could you please share a bit more on this topic?
When I talk about the California thing, that's when I realized I had started to develop a food problem. Every time things would get hard or if I was lonely, I noticed it happening and growing. It started before I moved out to LA. I was really adamant that I was going to make it. I was going to be somebody. I'd over exercise and over control my food and things like that. I've been gifted and blessed with some great things, but a big thing that is bad with me is I'm very naive. I can't see when I need to change or when things are bad. I thought it was a food issue, but I realize now that I'm afraid to take more responsibility for power, for the things I can do. It's gotten better over the last 7 years by realizing my behaviors were just symptoms of being afraid of things I need to do.
The band GOODING puts on school assemblies to help educate kids about building a future for themselves and being smart with money. How has being around children changed your song writing process?
The GOODING thing has changed my life. One of the first school shows I remember coming home and thinking "Oh my god, now this is my life." I can't even describe the fulfillment from the kids and these little girls. What's interesting is that the first thing they tell me is something wrong with their family and what's stopping them. "Yeah, I wanna do this but…" that tells me how I can start making songs where they can hear them and repeat the choruses to themselves to take that doubt away? Hopefully make it go away all together; make it not an issue, "Lets just sing about it, and get it out." I spend time with one of my good girlfriends Micala and she has all these people over and the kids sing along with me now, these anti-bullying songs I've written, "Don't Let Them Get in Your Head" and "You're Not Alone." These songs where I'm trying to make the chorus very comprehendible to young people so they can sing along. So they can repeat it and it stays with them. Now all my songs are about that and I'm having people sing with me. Even at Kirby's, I make the crowd sing along. People will sing and then I get messages on Facebook the next day. "That song—I'm dealing with this thing at work..." People write me very confidently, it's so amazing that they take to those little choruses.
"I realize now that I'm afraid to take more responsibility for power, for the things I can do. It's gotten better over the last 7 years by realizing my behaviors were just symptoms of being afraid of things I need to do."
Jenny Wood performs Queen's "Under Pressure" with GOODING live at the Murdock Theater in Wichita, KS.
Growing up in Wichita but living in other cites, do you feel Wichita is where you need to be?
Yes, not only because my nieces and nephews, that's a big part of it, but Wichita makes me a better person. The people here, it's a no brainer, plus I get to make music. Wichita has made me a better person, but I also get to travel a lot. If I had to stay here the whole time I don't know if I'd be singing a different tune. Caleb my boyfriend is thinking about moving, so we're trying to battle that. I don't really feel like going anywhere, but he's never moved anywhere so I understand the need for that. Going somewhere new—if you already have a huge empire that you're willing to replant and are moving for better access, that's one thing, but if you're just going because "I wanna move…" and you've got your stuff in your car, and you play real well but that's about it... good luck. It will take you at least 5 years to even build a community. You have to have a big thing going on to go somewhere else with it. I've noticed that I'm more productive and have had more musical opportunities happen to me since I've been back here.
What is your opinion of the current Wichita music scene?
I sound spoiled or something because I really think that things are in a good place. You go to other places, and they're really struggling or they're stuck in 1994. You go to the venue and it's clearly not about the music. It's more about the drinking or whatever culture the barflies have. There are musicians in Wichita that are adamant about playing and keeping it fresh, not just getting in the comfort zone and getting an ego about it. We have a lot of really good bands here, and a plethora of musicians. You go to bigger cities and it's very cliquey. You have to know the right people and those bands playing the coolest spot aren't always good, they just know someone. It's different here, the good bands do get noticed and it's not because of who they know. Talent really prevails in Wichita.
"There are musicians in Wichita that are adamant about playing and keeping it fresh, not just getting in the comfort zone and getting an ego about it."
You're currently in three music projects, your solo work, Jenny Wood and The Watchers, and GOODING, does collaboration come easy in Wichita?
Yes and no, in Nashville it was easier because everybody was wanting to play, "Lets jam, lets jam, lets jam." It was hard to turn down. Everybody has families here, so it's a little more difficult. Michael Peltzer really got me started because I moved back and began going to these blues jams. I would get up on stage and sing but I didn't really know anybody. I had just moved back and Michael was the one that was like "You want to sing with a band?" that got me started. He's been very generous; he's like a brother to me.
Does each project give you different satisfaction?
With the Pathos guys, I play or write with them and it takes me back to a very safe place. Dark music is very comforting to me. If I play with The Watchers, that's me being sassy and fun and being comfortable with my body, being proud of myself. With my own stuff, that's nerve racking and sweating profusely because I wrote all the songs and I have to tell all the band mates what to do. There is so much responsibility, that's a disciplined act. The GOODING thing is the schools. I'm very quiet with the band. I play guitar and sing here and there and then get to meet these kids and travel the world. That's a huge thing too. Having all those facets keep me sane.
Is there opportunity for exposure in Wichita scene?
It's tough to say. Touring in general is down the shitter. On the road we see amazing bands all the time and they're playing to nobody. The club scene is really struggling in America. Somebody always tells me about that stupid story where "Jamie Fox saw Ed Sheeran playing in a coffee shop and blah blah..." That happens once in a zillion chances. LA is different, if you play the scene and really run the gambit it's a little bit more likely—but because of the internet you'll be ok if you have a strong online presence. There are bands that I look up to who are very productive and they're based in Springfield or somewhere. It's really about how much effort you put into it online, which I'm doing the opposite. I'm working my butt off but I'm not doing anything online, yet.
"It's really about how much effort you put into it online, which I'm doing the opposite. I'm working my butt off but I'm not doing anything online, yet."
What's missing in Wichita?
I think the city proper is supportive but there is a whole grip of people that live in the urban sprawl. "We want to come to your show, but we have to errr... go to Walmart." There are literally hundreds of thousands of people that take up so much of the city's population and they may never come inside to go to a show. How do we appeal to those people? How do we get them? I don't know, but we do have great venue options, we are stupidly lucky with the honest venue owners that we have. That's really it—how do we get more people into see the shows? That's something I think is a problem.
I just know that I'm really irritated with people talking about how Wichita sucks, because those are the people not doing anything to change it or make it better. I look at Reverie Coffee or how Lucky's is such a great place now and Barleycorn's is looking great and the sound is getting better. Maybe I'm an optimist.
What are you excited about?
I'm very excited to get the new album finished because my collaborators Katy Guillen & The Girls they are a big deal in Kansas City. Claire (bass, vocals) and I used to hang out as acquaintances in Nashville. When we both moved back to Kansas we started corresponding about shows and continued to build that relationship. I'd drive up to KC to play with them, they'd drive down here to play with me. I was pyscho about them before they really took off, and I pinned them down. They are so busy and they've been so kind and generous with me. With promotion, I don't know where to go. I want to do it right and I don't want to be a spaz about it—I desparately need it. Especially with this new album and the girls and the anti-bullying topic I'm covering with a few songs. I just really believe the song is a huge and believeable anti-bullying anthem. I know that it's going to be big, I just have to find the right people or means to help take it there. Everyone in Wichita has been so supportive and encouraging. I have everything right there, that's what I'm terrified about and that's what I'm excited about.
"I just know that I'm really irritated with people talking about how Wichita sucks, because those are the people not doing anything to change it or make it better."
To learn more about Jenny please visit her Facebook page.