Mary Jennings is a vocal powerhouse. Her sound is bold and full, largely thanks to her unique voice. Jennings can belt it out like Adele, but throw in light, airy elements like Sarah McLachlan or Regina Spektor. The singer and pianist produces a robust, emotional sound that clearly comes from a genuine place.
The Nashville native, who goes by her last name, was inspired to pursue music professionally after losing her mother suddenly at age 18. As someone who lost a parent around the same age, I found a real honesty and relatability to Jennings’ music. But even if you haven’t lost someone so close, you’ll find something to hold onto in Jennings’ songs. She’ll melt your heart, whether it’s with her enthusiastic, bubbly personality, or her poignant music.
Check out our interview with Jennings below.
Crushable: Tell me about how you got started in music.
Mary Jennings: I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and I got into music primarily because my mom was a big-time music lover and my dad was a musician. He’s a cardiologist as his day job, but he grew up playing music, so he’s a bassist, and plays piano, and is a great singer. And his parents, my grandmother is a pianist and my grandfather is a singer, and his father was also a singer. So it’s just generations and generations of a bunch of singers. It’s really cool, because growing up when I went to see my grandparents, or whether I was at my mom’s house, or my dad’s house, there was always a piano. So at a very young age I was able to just play around on it. It was like a toy to me. And they were very, very open to me playing whenever I wanted to. So that’s how I got started actually playing music. And did a lot of singing in the car with my grandparents. But my desire to really pursue music was heavily influenced by the fact that I lost my mom when I was 18, very, very suddenly. She had always very much so believed in me doing exactly what I wanted to do with my life. So it really proved to me that life can be short. So that’s what inspired me to really do it for my whole life. To really pursue it as a career.
Why do you go by your last name?
It’s actually a really funny story. I wish it was a much cooler story than it is. When I first put out the very first thing I ever did, which was back when I was 19, right after I lost my mom, I had recorded this album for myself, mostly as kind of a therapy thing. I recorded this album, and then I had a photographer that was taking all my pictures and was also doing the CD design. And when it came time for the CD design, he said, “Hey, what are you going to go by?” And I thought that was a ludicrous question, because I was like, “Mary Jennings!” And he was like, “Well, yeah, you could do that, but why don’t you make it cooler than that and make it just Jennings? Because then you could be a solo artist, or it could be a band name because it’s kind of plural.” And I decided to go with it. And that’s when I became Jennings. It definitely stuck. I like it.
Do you play other instruments besides the piano?
It’s always been the piano for me. I’ve tried guitar a little bit but it never really stuck. I consider my primary instrument to be my voice. I like to do a lot of looping and creating a fuller and thicker sound with that. But in terms of an outside instrument, piano is definitely the one for me.
What do like about the piano?
I like the fact that all the notes are right there in front of you. You don’t have to pose your hand in any sort of awkward and uncomfortable and unnatural way to make the note come out. You literally have all the notes right out in front of you and you just get to pick which one you want to play.
When we interviewed Jay Loftus, he said that he started off playing piano but switched to guitar because he thought it was easier to play the guitar and sing. What do you think about that?
It’s so interesting, because it depends on who you talk to. So many people will tell you that guitar is so much easier than piano. For me, my hands are incredibly small. So I haven’t found a guitar, other than maybe a children’s guitar, that has a small enough neck for me to actually be able to work with. I just have very little patience for guitar. It probably helped that I had pianos everywhere I was when I grew up. So it was just kind of a natural thing to gravitate to.
Is there a song on your current album that was particularly difficult for you to write?
That’s an amazing question, because actually, yes. The song would be “Move.” “Move” for me was one of those that I knew when my mom died that I was going to write that song. I knew I had it in me, but it took me nine years to actually get it out. That’s a long time. I had all these songs about how wonderful our relationship was, and what a beautiful person she was and all of that, but it was really difficult for me to stomach actually talking about what death can actually do to a person that’s still living. To see that person that has taken care of you and loved you for so long to just not be there anymore. And I felt like it was a really important thing that I needed to write mostly for myself, just to get it out for me. Even though it took me nine years to actually say what I wanted to say, the song wrote itself in about five minutes. Like when I sat down, what I started playing and what I initially said is what stuck. It took me a long time to even be able to play it in my own apartment without sobbing. My husband came home and heard me playing it, and he’s a musician, too, so we’re always playing music, but this is the first thing that really made him stop and say “What are you playing?” So I talked to him about it and he suggested that I take it to my band, and when I played it for my band what they initially played was perfect. It just became one of those things where even though I wrote it for therapeutic reasons for myself, it turned into that song that I think more people needed to hear than I expected. It’s one of the songs that, ever since I started playing it live, at least one person in the audience will come up to me and specifically say thank you for that song. Which to me shows that a lot of people have experienced it, unfortunately.
Who are some of your favorite artists to listen to?
I vary. The stuff that I was listening to when I was a kid still sticks. I listen to a lot of Celtic music. I listen to Sarah McLachlan, I listen to Tori Amos and Imogen Heap. I’ve recently really gotten into Gotye, I love what he does. Kimbra is another one I really like. I really like anything that I find to be unique, that somebody’s got a different spin on it. I’d be hard pressed to find something musically I really don’t like. It’d have to be basically just like screaming in my headphones for me to feel like I don’t really like it. The primary things are female powerhouse vocalists I really like. I also listen to a lot of my indie artist friends.
If you could collaborate with any other artist, who would it be?
That’s tough. I’ve always really wanted to sing with Sarah McLachlan, like do harmonies with her and stuff. So that might be one. I also think it would be fun to collaborate with a rock band like Nine Inch Nails. That would be amazing.
Who inspires you the most?
This is going to sound so cheesy, but it’s definitely my paternal grandparents. They’re like the coolest people in the world to me. They’re my best friends. They’re both 90, and these are people that have just pushed me to do music since I was a kid. And pushed in a gentle, loving way, not in a stage parents kind of way. They’re super supportive, and they’re talented musicians, so they’ve inspired me a lot.
Jennings is on tour now. For more information, check out her website.