Jenna Paulette: Ranching Roots, Releasing her First Album, and Creating Authentic Country Music
Updated: 5 days ago
Click here to view the full photo album of Jenna Paulette performing at Texas Live! in Arlington on March 10th, 2023.
Jenna Paulette has an impressive discography for an artist that is just now releasing her first studio album. My personal favorite songs of hers include: Pretty Ugly, Anywhere the Wind Blows, El Paso, and honestly the entire Modern Cowgirl: Volume 1 EP. I even love the duet she did with Triston Marez: Once in a Blue Moon. I knew I had to interview her to learn more about the artist behind the impressive art.
Fast forward to her and I standing in a cold indoor shipping bay of the Texas Live! music venue in Arlington. Jenna’s warm personality and professional courtesy transformed the room into a friendly, comfortable atmosphere.
In this interview with Texas Country Tour, Jenna Paulette shares the inspiration behind her first studio album, her professional goals as an artist, and how her upbringing has helped her deliver authentic stories during her performances.
Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
TCT: Can you tell us about yourself?
JP: I'm Jenna Paulette. I grew up in Lewisville, Texas. My family had a cow-calf operation on the Oklahoma-Texas state line in Thackerville, Oklahoma. People think that's further away than it is but it's actually just about a 45-minute commute. That ranch made me fall in love with country music because I was living it on a daily basis.
I listened to country music with my granddad in the truck when we'd be checking cattle. Musical groups like The Chicks were huge and I would be listening to those songs and living in wide open spaces. I was able to relate in such a real way to the songs.
I remember when my dad commented that he thought I had something special with my voice as we were leaving the ranch one day. I thought to myself, “Well if I've got something special, I wanna make people feel the way that those songs make me feel” and it was settled in my heart.
I knew I wanted to sing country music by properly representing the western way of life. As I grew into adulthood, it was my life's focus to embrace and project the way I lived my life into my own music.
TCT: What is the songwriting process like for yourself, since you have the true working cowgirl experience?
JP: Thank you!
I honestly get my biggest inspiration from two things: airplanes and being on horseback.
I say airplanes because my phone's off and nobody can talk to me. I'm literally up in the clouds thinking. I will sing an idea out into my phone while sitting next to people on an airplane.
A song called “Make the World a Small Town” on my record comes out on March 31st. I was on an airplane leaving having shot the music video for the title track called “The Girl I Was”. Lorie, who owns the Front Porch Cafe where my family would go eat after working cattle, had opened it up so we could shoot the music video. They're not open Saturdays and Sundays because it's a small town. She opened it up for me that day for us to film the video. That place brings special memories to me. Lorie even remembered exactly what my granddad used to order when I would go with him. It was just such a special thing to me.
I had this thought on an airplane, “ugh if I could make the world a small town, what would it be like? We'd all be on the same team. We'd all give each other the shirts off our backs. We'd all open our restaurants on a Saturday for somebody that's not family. We would do whatever's necessary to help somebody for no reason at all, without expecting to get anything in return.”
Almost all the lyrics to that song were written while I was on an airplane trip. I then finished writing the song that Monday or Tuesday in Nashville with one other person.
Additionally, I'll be horseback-gathering cattle and get inspiration from that. There's this song I just wrote a couple of weeks ago called “Wildflowers in Me” and most of the whole chorus was from me as I was singing horseback.
Whatever came from my heart would be recorded into my phone. Those are the two places where I can truly let my mind run wild and melodies come from me naturally. So it's usually me singing something into my phone that gets refined later in a songwriting room in Nashville.
Ross and I were at a two-step in west Texas with this couple that had been married 40 years. One of the guys that he worked for a lot came up to me and was just talking to me and he remarked, “Jen out here, it's hard to make a living, but it's easy to make a life!”
I'll hear people say stuff like that and I’d have to write that down to remember later. I'll bring that into a writing room because it's the perfect opposite, “Hard to make a living. Easy to make a life.” That's the stuff Nashville country music dreams of, right? People that say stuff like that and really mean it demonstrates where the best songs come from.
TCT: Your upcoming album The Girl I Was is set to debut on March 31st. What themes did you convey for the album?
JP: Honestly, I really didn't even think I had enough of like a cohesive theme until I wrote the title track. That song came because I was driving to get dinner for everybody on a writer's retreat. This picture of me popped into my head. I was a little girl, sitting on a fence on my Uncle Hick’s ranch and helping sell his cattle with my granddad. I remember looking back at that picture of me as a little girl every time I was at my grandmother's house and thinking, ”That’s who I am!”.
It was always my reference point for a moment when I realized I loved myself even though there was nothing special about it. I love that girl. She's dirty. She's got freckles on her face. She's got blonde streaks from the sun in her hair. I was drinking a hot orange Gatorade out of a can. There were cattle and dirt all around. I just felt like myself.
At that time of reflection, I had just gotten out of a terrible relationship. My former partner tried to take away everything that really does make me, me. I had this idea thinking about that picture of “I'm just getting back to the girl I was.” If I didn't write another song this weekend other than that one, it'll all be worth it.
It created this reference point for me. The work of art that I wanted to share with the world was, “This is who I am. This is where I come from. This is what people like me are all about.”
I didn't have to try to hide anything or put on any kind of an act. This is who I've been this whole time. I created a song that I felt comfortable constructing an entire work of art around.
TCT: Do you sing your own music in the car? If not, then who?
JP: Yes, I do! It’s normally for two reasons.
First, if I get a demo back that I love and I'm testing it out then I’ll sing it! I'm like, “do I love this multiple times or did I just love it once when I first heard it?" I criticize my own music. Each demo has to withstand that test for me.
Second, I usually sing along with recorded versions of myself in order to perfect my live performance. There are certain takes that the sound engineers choose in a studio. I want to be able to figure out exactly how I used my voice. It can be so technical and I want to properly perform it live. So I do that. If a song comes out and it's on Spotify or Apple Music, I'll buy it and listen.
So I'll definitely be listening to my record the day comes out. If I’m not listening to my own music, then I’ll have a playlist of both new and old artists. For example, “Let's Go to Vegas” by Faith Hill is on that playlist. It also has Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard, Cody Johnson, Billy Strings, Sierra Pharrell, and Tyler Childers. It's got a mix of very commercial country and then just country music that I love. That might be a little bit on the fringes, right? But it's more rootsy and less commercial. I think it all impacts the way that I choose my music and I think it's very reflective in this record.
While my intention is to be authentic, I still want to be commercial. I want to cut through some of the formulaic ways that Nashville approaches country music. To be clear, it’s not a bad thing but it's not necessarily me a hundred percent. I think what I listen to is reflective of that and influences me right as a songwriter as well.
TCT: As an artist, how do you measure success for yourself?
JP: I love this question so much because I think so many people expect me to say things like winning a Grammy, CMA awards, ACM awards, and having walls lined with gold records.
I think the gold records thing is a part of it for sure. I would love to get a Grammy. I would love to win awards and accolades. All that stuff is extra for me.
Seeing my music work, selling tickets, and having people relate to the art that I'm creating is a success for me. I want people to relate to my art in a way that is bigger than any trend. It’s bigger than a one-hit song or something like that. A moment in a career. Being successful over a long period of time and relating to people over and over again. I want them to know what they're gonna get from me: consistency. That is success to me.
I want to build a lifelong career, one where people can trust me to represent what I represent over and over again.
TCT: What person or people in your life have consistently supported you and your journey?
JP: Oh my gosh. This one might make me cry.
*Both interviewer and interviewee start to tear up*
My grandfathers are both of the reasons why I'm doing this.
One because I rode around in his truck and loved country music. He gave me the experience in my life. The other was because he played standup bass in Roy Orbison's band in west Texas and loved music so much. He always listened to music and even called me his star. My grandfather would have me sing at random Mexican food restaurants.
He’d ask, “Jenna, you got a song for us?” in a thick accent. I would just sing. It didn't matter where we were. If he asked, I would do it. He helped me create this ability to have confidence in front of people. When I first started going to Nashville, he would correct all my emails for me and help me establish professional relationships.
He's a really good businessman and so I feel like I got the best of both of them. I love cattle and I enjoy the marketing/business side of what I do as much as I do the art-creating part of it. My JP (the one that was more like the business side of things and played standup bass) was just such a great person. He helped so many people and people just loved him.
He lit up a room when he walked in. Both of my grand