Jenn Bostic’s new album, Faithful, signals the confidence she’s gained from becoming “big in the U.K.” You can hear how that outpouring of fan love has freed the Nashville-based singer-songwriter to trust more fully in her instincts as an artist, a perspective reflected in the disc’s anthemic title track, which takes up the idea of keeping faith with yourself.
This thread is woven throughout Faithful, in large part a meditation on inner-strength and how your response to what life throws at you defines your character. In Jenn’s case, that’s meant not throwing in the towel when her early work was rejected by so-called star-makers and not resting on her laurels when her song “Jealous of the Angels” connected with an audience unimagined by those same industry figures.
Distinguished by a lush electronic sonic bed, the Faithful cut “Counterfeit” references the insidious “negative voice in your head,” the nagging doubt “wrapped in beautiful clothing, slowly pulling you into its lie.” The delicate pop waltz “A Little Grace” finds us all guilty of being the exterior manifestation of that voice; says Jenn, “So much energy is wasted worrying about what other people are doing with their lives.” The protagonist of “Hurting Me, Hurting You” – a piano-driven, sting-enhanced ballad – must find the strength to walk away, singing, “It’s not my responsibility/ It’s hard enough to deal with me/ I wish you well and set you free.”
On the urgent, tumbling “Still Breathing,” Jenn sings, “Time and again I’m in over my head/ But there must be a reason I’m still breathin’.” It’s hard not to apply this particular expression of fidelity, of belief in one’s purpose, to Jenn’s 2013 whirlwind across the pond. In a matter of weeks, she went from being an unknown to logging more than a million hits (now approaching two million) for the “Jealous of the Angels” video to reaching #1 on U.K. singer-songwriter charts to being recognized on the street in London.
“Going to another country on your own, even one where they speak English, with a keyboard and not much else – that was a leap of faith for me,” confides Jenn, who grew up in the all-American small town of Waconia, Minnesota. “But it felt like what I was supposed to do, like that’s where I was called to go at that moment. When something like that happens and you find yourself challenged to do things you’ve never done before and which might seem scary, you rely on your core values to stay grounded.”
In hindsight, it seems Jenn’s purpose in the U.K. was to bring catharsis and comfort to a lot of people struggling with loss. She heard from many who said “Jealous of the Angels” helped them deal with the death of a loved one. The song was inspired by the passing of Jenn’s father. When she was 10, Jenn, her brother and her dad were involved in an auto accident on the way to school. Jenn’s father was killed in the crash. She spent many years processing her grief, often in song. But it wasn’t until “Angels” that she was satisfactorily able to convey her feelings about the defining event of her young life.
That life began in Philadelphia but unfolded in Waconia, where the family would regularly gather around the piano and sing. In addition to traditional American music – the 1930 standard “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was a favorite duet for Jenn and her father – the senior Bostic was fond of Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris.
Jenn remembers attending Garth Brooks and Faith Hill concerts with her family. Her brother, who occasionally plays bass in her band, was a big fan of country music, but Jenn says she was more into Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. “I wanted to be Sporty Spice,” she confesses. “I’d sing into my hairbrush, dreaming of being a pop star.” These musical currents would eventually converge in her work, with a rootsy feel taking the place of straight-up country.
Jenn’s dad sat in on accordion with a respected local roots ensemble called Traveled Ground. Says Jenn: “After I lost my dad, they took me under their wing; they became like a second family.” They also respected her vocal talent, which was becoming obvious through her participation in show choir and musical theater. When she was 16, the group asked her to sing backup on an album they were recording. She later joined them onstage and sang lead on some recordings, contributing a bluesy feel to the material.
After graduating from high school, Jenn attended Boston’s esteemed Berklee College of Music. It was a far cry from Waconia. “I was so intimidated by the campus,” Jenn confides, “walking to class down city streets.” She dealt with this fish-out-of-water syndrome by throwing herself into her music-education studies (a natural outgrowth of her high-school mentoring of middle-school singers; she still conducts student workshops).
Being in Boston did, however, give Jenn the opportunity to front a country-leaning cover band that played up and down the East Coast, as well as for U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. She regards her tenure with the group as a critical learning experience. “It taught me so much about performing, and I fell in love with country songwriting,” she confirms.
She calls her subsequent entry into “real life,” as an aspiring Nashville artist, a “trial by fire.” She played at the famed Bluebird Café and developed fruitful relationships with other songwriters but was mostly rejected by Music City’s power brokers. Undeterred, Jenn unveiled her debut album, Keep Lookin’ for Love, in 2009.
In 2012, with a few self-booked tours under her belt, she released Jealous, which featured “Jealous of the Angels.” On a shoestring budget, she shot a video for the song, then posted it on YouTube. The U.K.’s Mail Online later reported what happened next: “The song first came to prominence thanks to the veteran DJ Simon Bates, when he played it on his Smooth Radio show … The response was enormous, and soon it was part of the playlist on Radio 2, which led to BBC Breakfast flying Jenn in to play live.”
She recalls: “I found out about it on Twitter, when someone wrote to say they’d heard the song on Smooth Radio and was moved by it. I thought, ‘An online radio station found it on YouTube – that’s awesome.’ Then I found out that Smooth Radio is actually a broadcast station and a very important one in the U.K.” “Angels,” which was followed up the U.K. charts by the Jealous track “Not Yet,” went on to win five Independent Country Music Association Awards. In a moment of sweet vindication, Jenn was invited to perform it at the Grand Ol’ Opry.
Jenn went on to be the first international independent artist to have three singles—“Jealous of the Angels,” “Not Yet” and “Missin’ a Man”—playlisted at Radio 2, the most listened-to radio station in Europe. Famed BBC Radio 2 host Terry Wogan invited her to the station for a special St. Patrick’s Day appearance on his hugely popular Sunday show, Weekend Wogan.
She is quick to credit the contributions of cowriter/producer Barrett Yeretsian, best known for “Jar of Hearts,” his collaboration with Christina Perri, which created a sensation on “So You Think You Can Dance,” hit #1 at iTunes and has since sold six million copies. The writer/producer also lent a hand to Faithful. Jenn likewise speaks rapturously of Faithful collaborator Lauren Christy, Grammy nominee and co-creator of The Matrix writing/production team, which has sold more than 30 million records alongside artists like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Rihanna, to name a few.
“I think it goes without saying that ‘Jealous of the Angels’ will always hold a special place in my heart,” Jenn says. “But I’m now so excited about Faithful. We’ve kicked everything up a notch. I’m incredibly grateful that my fans have been writing to say, ‘When is the new record coming out?’ and I can’t wait to start playing these songs for them.”