(originally published in Star News, with additional Q and A below)
By Brian Tucker
Singer-songwriter Jordyn Pepper moved to Nashville from Colorado for the music industry only to return to her home state to record her debut album. She and her family still joke about it, but the anecdote reflects the randomness they’ve experienced for much of the decade. After losing their two thousand acre family farm in a town of about three thousand people they then lived in an RV, working and travelling around the country.
“I told my parents when I was eighteen I was going to go to Nashville,” Pepper said. “We moved there in 2012 when I was almost eighteen and have been there ever since.”
Pepper, who makes her first appearance in Wilmington at Ted’s Fun on the River, may have settled in Nashville some but not her parents. They still live in the RV, purposely not putting any roots down.
“We all feel the same way. Nashville is a cool place, but we’re all from out west and miss the mountains, the snow, and at some point want to move back. That’s one thing they like about the RV, if we don’t like the place we can pick up and move.”
Travelling and exploring unfamiliar parts of the U.S. eventually shaped her album Mountain Rain. Before Nashville Pepper didn’t play guitar and wrote only one song that saw little mileage. She initially decided to jump in feet first and get to work, seeking gigs and making music.
“That’s how I feel. I know my parents and I have, ever since we lost the farm. We’ve lived that way – get out of the boat and see if you can walk on the water.”
Although Nashville is known for country music, there’s much more – Americana, indie rock, heavy metal, rap, and it suits her. Pepper’s songs have varied flavors – “You Could Be the One” is a gentle pop song, “In This Mountain Rain” is a mix of folk and gospel, the stomp of “Moonshine Money” could easily be bluesy hard rock, “1862” is a tender murder ballad, and “Lovers Leap” recalls 90s band Mary Me Jane. And yes, there’s some country, like the sassy “Back to My Roots” which emanated from a trip back home.
“My friends said, Jordyn you got a little citified. I’m thinking, is that good thing or a bad thing? Well, maybe I need to get my hands dirty. I took that idea and the whole Nashville thing – people come into town to take Nashville by storm. You see a lot of artists change their whole persona just to get the right people. I’m not that way. I’m a take-me-or-leave-me kind of deal. I got tired of that and the traffic, and my need to get back to roots of rural life – not as many people, and people trying to change their whole deal to make somebody happy.”
But the radio-ready song “Barefoot and Broke” is dearest to her heart. The title is relatable to people, but it was influenced by a day trip outside of Valdosta, Georgia in which the family really wanted to see the ocean.
“(In Colorado) its all trees and you can see for miles, that’s what we’re used to. My dad and I really wanted to see out. We didn’t do it the traditional way, getting a hotel for the weekend and going to restaurants. We packed a cooler and sat on the beach all day. That’s one of my fondest memories. I learned it’s the simple things that matter most. Being together as a family was way better than spending a bunch of money for the weekend.”
You reside in Nashville and this is your first trip to ILM?
Yes. I normally play in Fuquay Varina, at Aviator Brewing. So many people said I need to go to Wilmington, that my music would fit there. People from Wilmington said I should go there and play.
You’re from Colorado originally? When did you move to Nashville?
I moved when I was sixteen. We owned a 2000 acre farm in Colorado that we lost through financial issues. We traveled in an RV for a year, two years maybe, me and my family. My dad, with the stress level of the farm, he wanted to take off. He needed to re-energize, decompress from the farm. We found a work/camper job in Jamestown, Kentucky, a fish hatchery.
We did that for six months and then found odd jobs until he found a job that allowed us to travel. They hired work campers, and we traveled to Alabama and then down into Georgia. They were going to move us to Utah but I told them I was going to do the music thing. Instead of them moving to Utah they decided to try to find a job in Nashville, and if they could, then it was meant to be. We found this job for an airline and my dad got it.
Did that alleviate stress? Knowing you could pick up and leave at anytime?
That’s a huge thing for my parents; they still live in the RV in Nashville because they don’t want to put roots down there. We all feel the same way, Nashville is a cool place, but we’re all from out west and miss the mountains and the snow and at some point want to move back.
Since my dad was the farm owner, it’s hard to accept. I know sometimes he feels like he failed it and to me that’s not the case. It wasn’t meant to be. There’s just a new chapter in our life. It’s hard, there’s stuff I didn’t like about it, but I definitely liked the freeing feeling that you can go out whenever, like ride your dirt bike, because you had all that land. In some ways it was cool because I felt that if the farm did work out I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. Because I would have the farm to fall back on, would have just gone to college, and then probably gone back to the farm. I started driving tractor and semis when I was ten years old.
I was studying U.S. history at the time and we went across the country. Before going into Kentucky, we went up north into South Dakota and across to the Mississippi River and then down. I was studying all that and got to learn hands-on and visit different museums. It was interesting as we were travelling to see in the U.S. how people live, see how everybody lives and think, compared to Colorado.
How do you like Nashville?
I’ve been told 120 people per day moving to Nashville, its exploding. Since I’ve been there over six years I’ve seen it grow so much. I’ll go downtown and there’s a new high rise already built, and I think where did that come from?
A friend said to me, if you want to get into music, go to Nashville. It’s known for being country but there’s so much variety here. If you go across the river to East Nashville you’ll find so many varieties. My playlist is all over the board. I love checking out new bands, doesn’t matter what genre.
Looking back, can you recall when you heard yourself sing, and said that’s it. That’s my voice.
I always liked singing, I always enjoyed it. I know my mom, probably when I was six, I was singing Britney Spears at the time, she said something like, she’s a diamond in the rough. I probably started, really noticing and developing, when my mom was the worship leader for our church. But I was really shy, didn’t like attention on me at all. In school I was good at running, doing the mile run.
It was funny, when I was ahead and as soon as people started cheering for me I would stop because I didn’t like the attention. I really wanted to sing at church one day and my mom said, go for it. I was super scared, didn’t like talking to people, had my hair in my face, and tried to make it like no one was looking at me. I sang and that was the first time. I really like this, but still didn’t like the attention on me.
I got started doing that, but to be honest, I started seriously singing when I went to Nashville. I’m still a little bit nervous. The time I get nervous the most, I’ve played to a crowd of 3000 and been fine, but sometimes playing these bars you’re background music, doing your own thing. The most I get nervous is in a listening room, and then look up and see the audience staring at you.
It’s the weirdest feeling – you’re used to having half the people listen to you, people talking over you. When you go into those rooms where they’re actually there to see you and they’re intently listening, that when I get scared. I just want to go back into my shell but it’s also the most rewarding. I love those rooms, it makes you appreciate it and appreciate the people.
“In This Mountain Rain” could be another genre – folk, gospel, or contemporary music.
I’ve messed around in other genres and have been asked to join an alternative rock project. I’d definitely be down for that, back in junior high days that’s all I listened to. My main thing is an Americana sound, but I’m not opposed to other projects on the side. I don’t consider myself country. Most people when they hear country they think of Top 40 – Miranda Lambert. Most people consider me Americana because I have variety in my songs. “Barefoot and Broke” is more on the country side. “In this Mountain Rain” is more folk, bluegrass. “Back to My Roots” is a mix of alt-rock, blues, alt-country.
I haven’t listened to country music in so long. Growing up, the only radio station we had was Top 40 country and Spanish stations. I grew up on it, but the stuff I listen to, if it is country, its late 80s early 90s country. Most of my influences are Stevie Nicks, Brandi Carlisle, Patti Griffin, underground artists, popular in their own realm, more singer-songwriter stuff.
Was this album your first studio experience?
It wasn’t my first. My album was recorded in Colorado. It was a lot of fun, in the studio for about a month, and I got to collaborate and co-produce. It was a huge learning experience about what all went into it. My first recording experience was recording a single. I went in to do vocals, and didn’t get to see the whole process of adding and layering.
For the album, I was living in Nashville and wanted to be more a part of making my album. I turned down a producer because I’ve got my vision for it and it’s my songs. I went out to Colorado to do a few shows beforehand. I connected with a friend and he wanted me to meet someone with a studio there. I met with him and hit it off and he gave me a bunch of cd’s. I went back to Nashville and gave them a listen and really liked the sound he put on them. It was different and I contacted him. I went out for a month and recorded and got along so well.
“Barefoot and Broke” is a great song. Can you share how it came about?
That song is dear to me. We traveled in an RV and one of the places we landed was Valdosta, Georgia, an hour away from the beach. We’d been travelling for a while and wanted to go to the beach really bad. Our dogs had never been to the beach and we wanted to see what they would do when they tasted the ocean water and in the sand. My dad and I really wanted to see out. (In Colorado) its trees and trees and you can see for miles, that’s what we’re used to. We were like; we just want to see out. We wanted to go to the beach really bad but something on the vehicle broke down and we had some major expenses.
We didn’t know how long we’d be in Valdosta, a week, maybe a month. One day my mom had had enough of the stress and everything going on and said we’re going to beach, that’s it. She’s like, pack a cooler, make some sandwiches, put in whatever drink you want, and load up the dogs and we’re going. We went and spent the whole day sitting on the beach eating sandwiches. The dogs took a huge gulp of the water and spit it out. I’ve never seen a dog spit anything out and they spit the water out. They kept trying to drink it and were like, this is really bad. They finally just gave up.
We sat on the beach all day and when it got dark we drove home. That’s just one of my fondest memories. I learned that it’s the simple things that matter the most. Being together as a family was way better than spending a bunch of money for the weekend. That’s how the song came about; I wanted to write about that time.
Talk about navigating Nashville, whether getting gigs, networking, day jobs, or getting your music heard.
Nashville is weird, you can play, there’s really good places to play, you’ve just got to find them. There are niches. Its one of those places there’s so much competition it’s hard to get in places. Maybe the pace already has their set people they don’t want new people. The other thing is you don’t get paid, it’s rare that a venue actually pays you to play, there’s so much competition they don’t really need to. Networking is huge, that’s one thing that’s really good about living there you get to network with people and meet musicians. That’s key, making good friendship and relationships.
I hear in your songs a sunshine quality, but also defiance, free spirit, heartache, joy, and pride.
I think its one of those things, I’ve always thought of life, even when you have those hard times you got to keep going or you’ll just be depressed, and kind of stay in the same spot and won’t grow from it. I try to write songs from life experiences but always try to keep it upbeat because I feel like you need to be positive through life, even if there are a lot of struggles or negatives. To me everything will be okay.