“I’m tired of being who I’m not,” sings Jenny Somers on the opening track of Jenny & Tyler‘s latest album, There Will Be A Song. It’s a vulnerable confession that anchors this first song and sets a tone for a record that lifts the lid on myriad struggles.
The couple admits their own parents prefer songs that are “tied up with a bow,” but compositions that testify to their spiritual and emotional wrestling are the ones that draw in the listener. I recently spoke to the couple before some upcoming tour dates about their growth as songwriters and how being parents to young children alters their approach to making a music career.
Matt: I hear the kids, obviously, and I see you’ve got the tour starting soon. Are you excited about hitting the road with the new songs?
Jenny: When we used to release a record, we’d tour really heavily. Now we not only can’t do that, but we don’t even really want to do that. It requires us to be away from our girls. It used to be that we could bring them a lot, but with Jane in kindergarten, we can’t do that anymore. What’s great is that instead of being exhausted from a tour schedule, we get to enjoy it because we can’t go out all the time. We’re really enjoying these shows and playing new music.
Tyler: It’s like a date now when it’s just me and Jenny because we get to spend a lot of time together just the two of us. [Laughs] It’s sweet and a little break from reality. But the girls just came out with us last week. That did not feel like a break. It felt like—
Jenny: Surviving. [Laughs]
Matt: When you know it’s time to write and record a new album, do you head into the studio with everything you’ve written between this time and the last one? Or do you have more of a vision for what you want to create ahead of time?
Tyler: We actually made this record over the last year-and-a-half through Patreon, which is like an ongoing Kickstarter with folks who support us monthly. We put out three Patreon albums and asked our patrons to vote on the 10 songs that would make this new record out of those 30 songs. There wasn’t a vision for what we wanted the songs to be, but rather we were just writing in the moment how we felt.
But then the vision comes later. After asking our patrons about which songs should make the real album and then asking Ben Shive and Asher Peterson to also help us narrow down the list, we ended up seeing a recurring theme. When we went back to production, we ended up saying, “I think this is the way we should go sonically for the record.” So I think it’s a combination of the two things you mentioned.
Matt: Were you surprised at the songs people chose?
Jenny: We were. There were songs we expected people to choose because they were the strongest ones, and for the most part that happened. But there were others we were very drawn to that the patrons did not choose. There were others we thought would likely not make a record, and some of those, the patrons just loved. Or Ben ended up loving some of the songs we thought were just fine.
That was cool to see because sometimes you get so close to the songs you’ve written that it’s difficult to be objective, especially if you’re close to them in an emotional sense. They can get written inside these moments of extreme emotions so you love those songs and it’s hard to back off of them. But they might not be the ones that everyone is going to love or relate to. So I think having Ben and Asher speak into the track list was very valuable for us.
Matt: How different do you feel as songwriters these days compared to your earliest recordings?
Jenny: When we released some of our early records, we were right out of college. Some of those sound like someone in their early twenties made them; they’re a little self-indulgent. One of them, in particular, looks at the world and says, “Something is really wrong with this and I know I’m part of this problem, but I really don’t know what to do with that.” I think that’s a very twenties mentality. Now that we’ve had kids and we’re in our thirties, I think we can look at life and write songs that are about what we experience but we can also write for our audience a little better if that makes sense.
One of my favorite writers is Sara Groves, and something she does so well is she tells her own stories in words that so many women want to be able to speak but can’t find words for. I think that has become something that we want to do at this point, to write more for the audience than we used to.
Tyler: I think I’m still self-indulgent. [Laughs]
Jenny: [Laughs] We are to an extent for sure but there’s also a mindfulness for what people need to hear and what other people might be going through. I also think we’re just not as afraid of writing as much as we used to be—as afraid of expressing what we feel needs to be said without fearing what other people think about it. What do you think, Tyler?
Tyler: I don’t really feel like I’m on the same wavelength as Jenny with most of this. I think what she’s saying is true for her songs. Half of our songs are ones that she started and then half are songs that I started and then we bring them to each other to tweak them. l feel like the ones I started haven’t changed a whole lot. Do you really think so?
Jenny: Yeah, I do. As far as the songs about our relationship go, I don’t know if it’s easier to write now, but the depth of what we’re able to write now is so much greater. On this new record, Tyler wrote a song called “I’m Sorry” about the aftermath of a fight and the need to apologize. I don’t think that’s something we would have done early on. I would have been too nervous about it. The way that he wrote that might have turned out differently early on.
Matt: Is that what you meant by not being afraid?
Jenny: I think there used to be, for me, a longing to present our relationship as really positive all of the time. Our parents always want everything to be tied up with a bow with our music. When we write something they think is kind of just too depressing, they’ll be like, “We don’t like that song as much.” But that’s just real life. We’re not afraid to write about that now.
Matt: You said some people might want you to wrap things up with a bow, but I’m assuming you also hear the majority of your audience say how much they appreciate the vulnerability when it is real life, as you say.
Tyler: Those are the emails that we save and go back to when we’re feeling like we should quit.
Matt: What are your hopes for this new record above all else?
Jenny: Over the past couple years, it used to be that the hope was to sell a bunch of records so we could continue to make more as well as to spread the message. Now that’s really not what it is. The hope is to, for sure, reach people with the message and to really connect with them. It’s just as much about connecting with the individual as much as it is the broader audience. Some of our very best friends have started as fans or house show hosts, so I think the hope is to encourage and provide hope for people and do that while building new relationships.
We want to be content with wherever this takes us. If that means we have more people listen to it, that’s awesome, but if that means we stay exactly where we are and keep encouraging the same people, then that’s great too. We’re okay with that.
Matt Conner is a former pastor and church planter turned writer and editor. He’s the founder of Analogue Media and lives in Indianapolis.