Jennie Arnau - Wakarusa Music Festival

2008 Artist Lineup

Jennie Arnau

Jennie Arnau makes no apologies for her uniquely brazen brand of New York-nurtured grassroots rock. It’s a sly underground sound that’s born of urban grit and rowdy southern sensibilities and it perfectly suits this native South Carolina singer with the bluesy, bold and bittersweet voice. It’s not a voice that has gone unnoticed either – Chuck Eddy of the Village Voice wrote that Jennie is capable of “a husky uplift and rhythmic wallop rarely heard in the female-folkie field” while Singer magazine praised Arnau’s ability to “pierce your heart one moment, then turn right around and calm your spirit the next.” Marry Arnau’s powerful chops with the production savvy of Grammy-winner Trina Shoemaker (Sheryl Crow, Queens of the Stone Age, Emmylou Harris) and you’ve got what might be one of the most compelling indie record releases of the year, Mt. Pleasant. From the freewheeling, darkly hopeful journey of “Float On” to the scrappy ferocity of “Holidays,” Arnau smartly embraces both the supple artistry of alt-country and the rougher-hewn edge of rock ‘n’ roll. She’s not afraid of the ache in her vocals and her lyrics; in fact, Jennie says that it’s that very conflict of her multi-dimensional life, her loves and her losses over the last year that has fueled the “openness” and honesty of the album. “This is not the saddest of times for me,” confesses Arnau, “but I have gone through a lot over the last year, losing friends, my job, even my cat.” In fact, the title of the album refers to a place of beauty and solace for Arnau, an island off the coast of South Carolina. After releasing three prior albums on her own and enduring a couple of years of traumatic and watershed events, Arnau needed to take stock of her music and her career. “For a long time I was scared of the music industry and buried myself in other things,” she says, “but my downtown musician friends finally pushed me out of the nest. And here I am.” She was signed to the multi-genre South Carolina – based label Spectra Records in August of 2006. One of the most extraordinary tracks on Mt. Pleasant, “You’re Not Alone,” was inspired by Arnau’s close friend who was battling a losing fight with cancer. The track is hardly a melancholic ballad; instead, it rocks with anthemic, upbeat Dixie Chicks-meets-Rhett Miller determination. But what makes Mt. Pleasant different for Jennie is the addition of Shoemaker who believed strongly in the singer’s promise. Arnau was determined to find a producer who would understand her alchemy of grassroots Americana and bluesy rock and sent Shoemaker a demo. The busy producer got back to her quickly and the two collaborators, along with Arnau’s band – drummer Alan Lerner (Zen Tricksters), guitarist Adam Lerner, bassist Danny Reisbick, keyboardist Pete Levin (Southside Johnny) and guest cellist Martha Colby (Tracy Bonham, Vanessa Carleton) – recorded at New York’s Battery Studios. Trina mixed the album in addition to two tracks mixed by Stephen George (Mary J. Blige, Le Tigre, R. Kelly) in the late spring of 2006. Jennie wrote nearly all of the songs on her album, but co-wrote “Who Will Come With Me” with Karyn Kuhl, formerly of the psychedelic punk/metal band Sexpod. “It sounds strange,” says Arnau, “but when I went into the studio with Trina, I really didn’t know my voice. But she showed me that I knew my music better than anyone and that I had a clear vision. I learned a lot and she gave me the confidence I needed to make this album.” And Arnau approached tracks like “Float On” with that newfound confidence. “It’s the happiest song I’ve written,” she laughs. “It came together fast. I had a great time recording it. It feels like water to me.” The dirty, brusque wail of “Who Will Come With Me” – which Arnau says was inspired by a Robert F. Kennedy documentary – also leads the question, of who and what has influenced Arnau as a singer? Given her professed fondness for “interesting voices,” Arnau’s choices are eclectic, ricocheting from Jeff Buckley to Ani di Franco (“when she’s not growling”) to Aimee Mann and Johnny Cash. “Any voice that makes you melt,” Arnau explains. “A voice that’s distinctive, confessional … that you feel the lyric through the voice.” And what of her own lyrics? “I like to think of myself as a storyteller,” she muses. “I do like my songs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. And while I do write of sadness in my music, it’s all in perspective. I’m not self-indulgent.” Stories abound on Mt. Pleasant, from the rough, bayou fever dream of “Hang The Moon” to the coyly contradictory tale of “Margaret,” one of the strongest tracks on the album. But ultimately, it is the uniqueness of Arnau’s explosive voice that truly defines each of these songs, marking an indie debut as compelling as that of Patty Griffin or Ryan Adams. For a woman who grew up in the foothills of Appalachia, but who has thrived in New York’s downtown music scene since the late 90s, Arnau has long explored the curious dichotomy of her artistic temperament. “I am so proud of this album,” says Arnau. “It’s singer-songwriter based, but it has a real edge – it’s country – oriented with jazz chording and rock rhythms. I really think it reflects the new face of southern rock.”

Mulberry Mountain :: Ozark, Arkansas
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