Singer-Songwriter Whitney Ann Jenkins
Q: You’re an actress as well as a singer-songwriter. Which of these creative aspects do you feel most passionate about?
A: People ask me the question a lot, you know, if you could choose between music and acting, which one would you choose? Which one do you love doing more? And my answer is simply that I can’t choose. Sometimes it’s a battle having to decide which one to focus on. They go hand in hand for me, and at the same time are such different things. Just like acting in a film and acting on stage are so different from each other. And performing a live show and recording in a studio are so different. But what draws me to both of them so passionately is their ability to tell stories in a profound way and connect with people. As an actor, that is what you are essentially doing, taking a part in telling someone’s story. And as a singer/songwriter you are telling your own story—which is one of the things that I’ve found most challenging, and thrilling…presenting my own material to people, allowing myself to be completely vulnerable in sharing a corner of my soul, and just letting my guts hang out.
In our live performances, I have sort of a story-telling approach in the way that we present the songs, and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people saying how much they really appreciate the format. As a performer, I want to offer an audience something when they come to a show that they aren’t able to experience just by listening to the album, because I know if I’m in an audience, that’s what I’m looking for. People are so desperate for a true human experience, especially with the invasion of screens in every aspect of our lives, and they don’t even realize it. It’s exhilarating to know that I have the opportunity to connect in that way. So that’s what I’m most passionate about when it comes down to it, as a writer and performer: connecting to people in an honest way and having the chance to jolt them away from the masque of this technologically-infested world and perhaps make them think or feel something.
Q: Did you want to play music before acting? How did it all come about, your evolution as an artist?
A: Oh, wow. I was an existentially inquisitive child. I remember going into my backyard for hours and hours exploring and thinking about the world and my purpose in it from a really early age. And then, I think I was 7 or 8, I watched the movie My Girl, an incredibly depressing movie if you aren’t familiar with it, about a young girl raised in a funeral parlor by her single father who has a best friend that ends up dying. Anyway, the characters in the movie were close to my age and for some reason I really felt the need to understand the pain of it. I watched it repeatedly and memorized it word for word and would go out into my backyard and act it out and drag my little sister and best friend and make them do it with me. I connected with it and really wanted them to as well because I loved the way that it made me feel. I think they just thought that I was crazy. Looking back, that is the definitive moment of knowing I needed to be an actor, and in doing so how important it is for me to discover the truth of it all.
Music was really ingrained in me from an early age, too, though. There is a picture of me, as a baby, sitting in my dad’s guitar case. So maybe it really starts there. I started piano lessons when I was 5. I remember it being very regimented and not exactly fun. I learned the scales, and I memorized the pieces, and even played in some competitions. Once, I was playing at a competition, and I sat down to play and just completely blanked and couldn’t remember a thing that I had memorized, probably because the piece didn’t really mean much to me. So I just played whatever came to my head and in a way it felt refreshing. But, needless to say, I’m not really keen on playing the piano in front of people anymore. I discovered my love for singing when I was around 8, when I realized how good it felt to just belt it out, and then you couldn’t get me to shut up—at least around my family and closest friends. I performed a song in my 6th grade talent show and shocked everyone because I was really shy. That was the big start of music for me, when I started performing and really began to find my voice.
Naturally, my love for both music and acting led me down the path of musicals, in which I performed across the region in West Virginia where I grew up, while I was in high school, virtually non-stop. I even, at first, went on to major in Musical Theatre in college, but then changed my mind and just settled on Acting. I was never that in-your-face kind of personality or performer that is almost necessary for surviving in that kind of environment. So I obtained an acting degree from Columbia College Chicago and then headed west to Los Angeles. It wasn’t until then that I actually picked up a guitar and started writing songs. Mostly out of the desperation to do something authentically creative in a land that seemed very faux to me. I had always written poems. I’m surprised it took me so long to put the two things together. Maybe I just finally had a lot to say.
Q: Your album Down Stage Left is eclectic, juggling various styles. Was that a conscious decision or simply reflect your various tastes?
A: A little bit of both. The order of the songs on the album are arranged in a way that each smaller tale reflects and contributes to an overall story. I wanted the album to take the listener on a journey and in doing that I didn’t want all of the songs to sound the same or for it to become mundane.
I do have a love for multiple genres and wouldn’t say that I really have a favorite. So it’s really puzzling to try to classify and label myself when people ask what genre my music is. I’m not really into labels about anything, really. I don’t like confining things and putting them in a box. The world is so much more complex than that.
Q: What artists had the biggest influence on you as a musician?
A: My dad was in a rock band in high school and college. He was kind of coy about it, but he would break out the guitar every now and then, and I remember it being so exciting to me. My favorite was when he played “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan, and I would sing it with him. I was young but I could understand that the song was really about something and that stuck with me. So Dylan is a huge influence on me, and in a way that feels kind of cliche to say, but he’s such a brilliant craftsman and such a representation of what I’m all about that I can’t not mention him. There was a period that I was really into Chet Baker, I found him so haunting. Patsy Cline. The Beatles. There’s so many. I’m a bit of an old soul. Actually, I’m pretty easy in this way, if you sing me a song and tell me your story in a genuine way, I guarantee I will fall in love with you for those few minutes.
Q: “Naked Lady” received quite a bit of airplay. What is that song about?
A: I was living in Los Angeles as a struggling actor, riding the wave of my .05 seconds of fame being featured on the TV show Scrubs, and I was living very minimally. I had an air mattress and a few suitcases in my room and that was about it. People would come over and complain about how white my walls were and that I really needed to do something to make the place my own. Finally, one day I got so tired of hearing about it that I went on to an artwork poster website, and I clicked on some pictures that seemed interesting to me at the time, and had them sent to me. I put them up on the wall and they really did brighten the place up. But there was this one picture in particular, of a painting by Dante Rossetti that I found myself looking at way more than all of the others, and I then I realized, “Oh…because it looks really familiar.” Basically I’d been looking at a painting of my reflection.
Q: Her Platonic Guy Friends is quite a funny name for your backing band. How did you end up naming them that and where did you meet them?
A: Well, after picking up the guitar in Los Angeles, I wrote some songs and stumbled upon a music management group, who then sent me to a music producer that I began to work with. We really hit it off, and he wanted to date me, and at first I was OK with it, but then the music started to fade away and I said enough is enough. So to escape, I went to Italy by myself to do some soul searching. I stayed with a family and worked for them for a few months while playing my music in cafes. It sounds very romantic, and it was. But I was also anxious to get back to the grind. So I came to Pittsburgh to where my family had relocated while I figured out where I should go next, and there was an audition for a band called Persephone’s Dream that was looking for a new singer. I auditioned but felt that their progressive rock style wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Rowen Poole, the band’s leader had a recording studio so I mentioned, “But, I have these songs that I wrote if you’re interested.” So he had me go in to the studio, with just my guitar and I, and we recorded some pilot tracks. And he liked my songs enough to ask if he could produce my album. Of course, I agreed. He introduced me to Jim Puskar, our drummer, who just really found the breath of my songs. He’s an incredible and dedicated musician. Rowen hopped on the bass. And that was the start of the Platonic Guy Friends. We brought in cellist Robin Hasenpflug for a few of the songs. After recording Down Stage Left, I asked Nicholas Paul on board, and he is now our lead guitarist. I met him at a temp job, and it was one of those situations where you meet someone and you instantly click. We became inseparable and he’s such a talented and intelligent musician. He has an abundance of energy and passion – he’s really become kind of the heart of us. I’ll come up with an idea and he immediately understands what I am looking for and just runs with it.
In the naming of the group, one day I was having coffee with one of my guy friends, David Lynch, and we were talking about the band and what I should name it, and he blurted out Platonic Guy Friends, and I kind of loved it. Because it is such a true comment on me. Not saying that I lack friends in the female department, but I do have many guy friends. Also, when jamming with the band, it’s very much just like hanging out with the guys. There’s no underlying distractions or ulterior motives; we all just want to play music. Sometimes it’s a bit surreal to think that I have a band. It’s something that you dream of as a child and it’s now a very real thing. I continue to pinch myself.
Official Website: http://www.whitneyannjenkins.com/#!