We talk with Nashville up-and-comer Jenny Tolman about her brand-new video and her upcoming album, the artist behind them and the power of gratitude.
Rolling Stone Country got our attention when they described Jenny Tolman’s music as having “the sass of Nikki Lane mixed with the clever wordplay of Brandy Clark, all dressed up with brass and funky production.” That got us anticipating her debut album, due out this July, and hurrying to check out her first single off of it, “My Welcome Mat,” which came out a month ago. We’re proud and lucky to be debuting the video for the song and introducing you to this wonderful country talent, who is lovely both inside and out.
Cowboys & Indians: Before we get to your wonderful new song and the upcoming album, we’d love to know something about you. Where did you grow up, and what in your childhood led you to music?
Jenny Tolman: I was born and raised in Nashville. My dad moved to Nashville in the ’80s as a singer in a group called the Indian River Boys. They sang on Garth Brooks’ No Fences album on the track “Wolves.” So I was very lucky to grow up around the music business. I’ve sung since before I can remember.
My first memorable performance was being Chicken Little in Chicken Little in kindergarten, where I had my first ever solo. I started playing piano by ear when I was 3 and have played flute since 4th grade. In elementary/middle school, I began writing short stories and thought about being a children’s book author. But it all kind of came together when I turned 16 and got a guitar for my birthday. I realized that I could combine everything I loved about music and writing and call myself a singer/songwriter — a country music artist.
C&I: What’s the backstory on the song “My Welcome Mat”? How did it come to you? And what were the circumstances of the song coming together?
Tolman: “My Welcome Mat” is a song that was born after having one of those existential conversations that creatives tend to get into, where you just talk about everything under the sun that’s going on in the world, with my co-writers, John Goodwin and Dave Brainard. We decided to write something that celebrates all of the different kinds of people we get to have in our lives. I guess it’s my version of putting the way overused love word into song form.
As humans, it’s so easy to be judgmental of ourselves, and of others, but I’ve learned that when you release that need to judge, it attracts all of the colorful characters that make life actually interesting to live. I also like to call it my “What would Dolly do” song, because I look up to Dolly Parton so much because of her ability to never make one person feel alienated for being different from another. I always try and model my approach to “difficult” subjects after her.
Another part of this song that is fun for me as the singer is that it shows a glimpse of my favorite style of writing, which is to say things that make people laugh, right off the bat. I believe that once you make people laugh, they feel comfortable with you and more open to what you’re saying. Plus, I just like to shock people and make them think, Did she just say that?!
Get an exclusive first look at the music video for "My Welcome Mat," below.
C&I: What was the recording process like?
Tolman: The recording process for “My Welcome Mat” started out like any other song Dave Brainard (my producer) and I record: We always start with a simple demo with just guitar and my vocal. We actually hadn’t planned on it being on the album at all, until just about two months ago, when we decided that with everything going on in the world, it felt like the immediate message I needed to get out.
So, we hopped in the studio with Fred Eltringham on drums, Sweepy Walker on harmonica, and Ross Holmes on fiddle. It was also the first song that I got to have Amanda McCoy, my beloved live bass player, on a studio recording! We wanted to keep the feel of the song simple, pure, and country, because the song is so powerful lyrically that the vocals needed to be the main emphasis of the whole track. I am very lucky to work with such a talented producer like Dave, because he totally nails it every time.
C&I: Where does the song fit in the overall album due out in a couple of months?
Tolman: “My Welcome Mat” is such a perfect addition to my upcoming album, There Goes the Neighborhood, because it sets a baseline for what the messaging is within the album.
The album takes place in a fictional town that Dave and I like to create in called “Jennyville.” Jennyville is full of crazy, lovable characters running around. All of the songs tell a different narrative of someone in there. Jennyville came to be as Dave and I started working together, and we very quickly realized that a lot of what I was writing by myself, and what we were writing together, carried a common theme — perception. This perception to us was almost like a character study of the way different people experience different things. So we began to create these characters and fantasize this town that they all existed in, etc.
I think for me, Jennyville became a place that I could say things and explore things that I, maybe, normally wouldn’t. Somewhere that I could try and make sense of things that had happened to me or to people I loved, that I couldn’t wrap my head around at the time.
It ended up being a very happy album, for the most part, and I really take pride in that, because I think it takes a lot to not dwell in sadness, and be able to say “Hey look! You can be happy instead!” It’s my expression of being able to have a sense of humor and find joy in everyday life. Things aren’t always perfect, but I believe that if you are able to be grateful for the things you do have and learn to laugh, you can experience the world in a much more fulfilling way.
Jennyville became such a fun place to create in. We have “commercials” throughout the record that foreshadow different events that are going to happen, and lots of characters that you’ll be able to pick out in multiple songs. Plus, the production is unlike anything that I’ve ever heard before. Dave Brainard is such a musical genius, and it’s so satisfying to have colorful music scenes that match the scenes in the lyrics. I can’t wait for listeners to experience this album!
C&I: Who do you hang out with and play music with?
Tolman: Sunny Sweeney is a good friend of mine, and I recently (embarrassingly, ha) did my first drunk karaoke with her [somewhere] in Nebraska! She is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time, so getting to experience that with her was pretty special. Dave is one of my favorite people to play music with. He has such an inspiring energy about him and is constantly pushing me to become a better version of myself, which I love. My bass player, Amanda, is a total badass, as well, and a joy to play music with. We got to go on tour this past fall together with Adam Hood, and we had the best time. Many stories, and many cowboys, in Texas! We loved Texas.
C&I: What’s your playlist of 10 or so songs you couldn’t live without?
Tolman: It’s so hard to stop making this list! There’s so much good music, and I know I’m forgetting a ton, but here goes:
- “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place” from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack
- “The Winner” by Bobby Bare
- “Still Gonna Die” by the Old Dogs
- “Perm” by Bruno Mars
- “Oklahoma Sky” by Miranda Lambert
- “Livin’ on Love” by Alan Jackson
- “That Summer” by Garth Brooks
- “Travelin’ Soldier” by Dixie Chicks
- “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis
- “Hold My Hand” by Brandy Clark
- “Tomorrow Night in Baltimore” by Roger Miller
C&I: Where do you want to be a couple of years from now with your music?
Tolman: A couple of years from now, I would love to be traveling the world, getting to constantly be playing and performing for new audiences. One of my huge goals is to win Country Album of the Year at the Grammys, so I’m looking forward to working to try and check that box! I definitely will be recording new music and continuing to write and grow as an artist, and just as a woman in general.
C&I: Where can we find you playing live?
Tolman: I’m playing a lot in Nashville, but my first out-of-town date coming up is in Smyrna, Delaware, with Adam Wakefield on March 30.
C&I: We’re heading to Nashville for a few days. What should we make sure to see, hear, do, eat when we’re in town?
Tolman: If you’re coming to Nashville, you definitely have to pay a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, and catch a Time Jumpers show at 3rd & Lindsley if you can. One of my favorite restaurants in town is actually this really cool Indian fusion restaurant called Chauhan Ale & Masala House. I would also recommend taking a trip to my town I went to middle school in, Nolensville, Tennessee. It has beautiful scenic drives that I love to take while listening to some good country music.
C&I: You’ve definitely got your own cool look. Tell me about adapting your dad’s clothes. …
Tolman: Thank you! Since I love traditional country music, and my dad was a country singer in the ’80s, I thought it was only fitting that I tailor some of his old stage clothes to fit me! I love the pageantry that country singers used to have when they were performing. It’s almost like they were going to church, or somewhere sacred. Everyone would dress to the nines in rhinestones, fringe, and embroidered everything! I love getting to “put on” my character when I’m getting ready for a show. It truly does bring a whole new side out of me and gives me a confidence that wouldn’t be there without the clothes. Plus, it’s very special to have a piece of my dad with me on stage.
C&I: Got pets?
Tolman: I have a little miniature dachshund named Paislee. She loves to love on anyone who walks through the door, ha! Be warned — you will be attacked with kisses.
C&I: What makes you happy?
Tolman: What makes me happy is helping other people find their happiness through my music. I don’t take lightly that music is a way for listeners to escape from everyday reality, so I am constantly keeping myself aware that whatever I’m putting out is going to affect people in some way. I think I’ve realized that it’s OK to have a sense of humor while making sense of things that you don’t understand, and that brought me to true happiness quicker, so I want to share that discovery with the world through my songs.
C&I: Anything else you’d like people to know before we go?
Tolman: I’m a giant nerd and am super into gratitude and believe that the more you’re grateful for everything that you have, the more will be brought into your world to be grateful for.
I sometimes struggle with social media and finding the right type of engaging posts to interact with my audience, because I am not a “selfie” kind of girl. So a couple years ago, I started something called #jennysjoyjar, where every Sunday I post a picture with something that I'm grateful for and I encourage everybody to comment with something that they are grateful for. Then I write down everybody's gratitude statements and put them in a Mason jar, and once the jar is full, I post a video of me drawing out one of the slips of paper, and whoever’s it is gets to choose a cover song for me to do!
It’s been a really cool way to engage with my fans on a deeper level and get them thinking about what’s good in their lives while they are scrolling through their social media feeds. It’s really amazing to be going about my day and having my phone light up with people all over the world telling me what they are grateful for.
Photography: Courtesy Shore Fire Media. Find more on Jenny Tolman at jennytolman.com.