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INTERVIEW: Jenny Bruce

Hi Jenny, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Thank you! After over a decade of silence I’m releasing an EP.  I’m guess I’m pretty happy!  Love that you asked “have you been!” The present, perfect, progressive tense.   Lots of things have happened in the recent past, good and bad and in between.  Bottom line is, I am, was and will be fine.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself.  Wow. Sorry for the long, existential answer to a simple question…

Hope you are well!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Backlit Bottles”?

When my first-born was a month old, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Eight months later she died.  My whole life turned inside out in every way imaginable, starting with these two major life events.  Becoming a mother, losing a mother.

Music went poof.  Song ideas, poof.  Me, poof.  I had to take a job to support my family. There was no extra space for “me,” certainly not for music.  At all.  It was frightening, so much so, that a part of me shut down.  I focused on my children, providing for my family and that’s about it.   Not writing songs, I figured, was the least of my problems.  Until I realized that I was starting to feel numb.  Losing my mother was devastating to me.  She was my best friend.  The warmest, most caring person I have ever known.  Her death left a massive void in my life.

Those beautiful multi-hued backlit bottles you see in a bar felt like such an alluring distraction.  I thought if I could just pretend that songwriting wasn’t something I needed to do I would be ok.  Drinking “helped.”  Started taking anti-depressants.  That helped a little, but I still wasn’t right.

I have been (present, perfect, progressive tense) writing songs since I was a very little girl.  About five years old. Writing songs and poems to express and process my feelings and emotions.  I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by not writing.

The song, Backlit Bottles is about letting go of the fear of feeling.  Peeling off the layers.   Drinking is a pleasant, legal way of dulling your senses and not feeling.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

There is a funny story behind the song. I was sitting in a bar waiting for a friend who was going through a very difficult crisis.  I sat down at one end and when I looked up there was a guy staring at me.  REALLY staring.  Immediately, I patted down my curly mop of hair and wiped under my eyes, thinking maybe my mascara was running.  He kept staring.

For a moment I thought to myself, “maybe I’ve still got it!  Looking good, middle-aged mama!”

Then the guy next to him started staring at me.   REALLY staring.  I began to feel paranoid.  I couldn’t imagine what was going on.  Looking down at my drink.  Staring at the colored, backlit bottles.

I looked to my right and my left.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Then I turned around.

Giant plasma TV behind me playing a basketball game (sound off). They didn’t even see me! So much for being the hot-middle-aged-mama! I started laughing.  Out loud.  Something clicked in my brain.

The chorus for the song popped into my head.  It was as if a burden had been lifted.  I was able to let go of a decade of change, aging, loss, disappointment and struggle, and embrace that this is where I am, who I am, I am healthy, I have a wonderful family.  Yes, I am getting older.  Men aren’t staring at me.  I’m just me. Lucky me. Let go!

Does that make sense?  There is a freedom that comes with middle-age.  If you stop fighting age, it’s a wonderful feeling.  Embracing the progression of time.  Being grateful.

The single comes off your new album Firefly In A Jar – what’s the story behind the title?

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of catching fireflies in my grandmother’s front yard in the deep, green suburbs of Pittsburgh.  My sister and I spent summers there and it was an exotic and magical place for two New York City girls.  The fireflies would come out at dusk and, as is human nature, I wanted to catch them and keep their little glowing light with me forever.

My grandmother would take a can opener to make holes in the lid of a Mason Jar. Alas, the fireflies I captured would never make it through the night. Beauty is ephemeral and can’t be captured.  It is fleeting.  After a few unsuccessful attempts at harnessing that beauty, I got the message.

My mother was 61 when she died.  That’s a lifetime.  Not nearly enough of one for me or for my son who never knew her, but it’s a lifetime.  As much as I wanted to keep her here forever, with us, with me, I had to let her go.  You can’t put beauty, people, love in a jar.

The song, “Firefly In A Jar” is also about trying to find the confidence in myself to be a mother without my mother here to guide me.

How was the recording and writing process?

Writing was opportunistic.  My husband took my children with him to stay with his Mother in France two summers in a row while I stayed behind to work.  Those nights, when I was alone.  I wrote!

Matt Anthony is an incredible producer and works at lightning speed.  He gets things so fast.  I came in with a pretty solid idea of how I wanted the overall vibe of the record and he translated that into the recordings.  Once again, the process was opportunistic as I work full time as the Director of Communications for a school of 250 families.  With two children of my own, the only time I could work was during Spring Break, which last year, didn’t fall on the same days as my children’s Spring Break.  Unfortunately, there were significant, complicated events going on with work and that pulled me away, a bit, from my recording process.  I had to have laser focus and move things forward as efficiently as possible in the limited time that I had.  My emotions were so raw, the performance part was transparent and free-flowing.

What struggles influence the lyrics on this album?

Motherhood, loss, financial struggle, health problems.  You name it!  So many people I loved died in a very short period, my Mother being the difficult to withstand.  Motherhood brought with it immense joys and exhaustion.  My husband’s career as a children’s book illustrator evaporated, almost overnight.  At one point I was working three jobs to cover the bills.  My mother’s death overshadowing all of it.  I loved her so much.  She was flawed and fearless.  She was my best friend.  The most caring, loving person I have ever known.  Losing her was devastating.   Still kind of is.  I miss her every day, nearly 12 years later.

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, so coordinating his care and managing his finances has been added to the list.

I think these are the struggles of many people in their 40s.  Trying to juggle family, career, possibly aging parents, sanity.

How have your maternity days have influence your songwriting?

My older son Felix, now 11, came up with the first line of my chorus for “Complicated Hearts.” I asked him what he thought of when he imagined people falling in love.  He answered, “I think of people falling in fields of flowers.”  My once colicky little baby-boy is now going through puberty and contemplating love.

I wrote, “Our love was never fields of flowers” in response to his comment.  One day, when he’s been married for nearly 30 years, he will understand what that means.

My first pregnancy was a blissful time.  I was surrounded by love.  I blew up like the Goodyear blimp, but otherwise, everything, anything seemed possible. My Mother became ill so soon after my first son was born, songwriting wasn’t happening. The second time around I was working full-time, raising a toddler, my mother had died, and I felt very much on my own.  Caring for big pregnant me wasn’t a priority. I suffered post-partum depression.

My younger son, Theodore, refused to take a bottle.  Ever.  14 months of nursing!  We tried everything… My husband had to bring him to my work so that I could nurse him.  Insane! Like I could write a song during those years.  My younger boy also woke up at 3:00 am almost every night with nightmares, sometimes night-terrors, for about… five years.

Motherhood superseded songwriting.

I continued to do a small amount of collaborative songwriting.  Dance and pop songs.  None of it remotely personal.  So many people told me that having children would inspire so many songs.  That was not my experience. I was too busy being a parent to write about being one.

Please don’t get me wrong.  My boys are, as my Mom always said to me, my sun, moon and stars (way before Game of Thrones, people!).  They drive me crazy, move me, exhaust me and fill me with joy.  Being a mother, wanting my children to find passion in their own lives, ultimately inspired me to not give up the part of me that had always buoyed me through difficult times since my own childhood.

Now, my children know that “Mommy is a singer/songwriter.”  That makes me very happy.

Having worked and share the stage with so many iconic and great acts – what have you learned from those experiences?

They had a lot in common.  Those successful artists work very hard.  They are single-minded. Talented.  Driven.  When they took the stage, whether playing for 10 or 10,000, they gave 100%.  They took their craft, their careers seriously.

I also learned that there are choices we make in life and being successful means making sacrifices. When faced with other big life stuff, being a singer/songwriter didn’t seem so important.  I wanted a family.  Thankfully, I have my kids and the songwriter in me has been reborn.

Any plans to hit the road?

Perhaps one day in the near future!  Being there for my kids and my Dad is still my priority. I do, however, work in a preschool (Director of Communications) and have a lot of vacation time.  It’s a thought I have entertained.  I am learning to not project my present circumstances into the future.  Life is all about change.  It’s the only constant.  It always has been.  Present, Perfect, Progressive!

What else is happening next in Jenny Bruce’s world?

I write songs.  Anything is possible.

For more info, go to JennyBruce.com.

Listen here.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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