Singer/songwriter Jen Ambrose shares a rich blend of Blues, Jazz, Rock, Soul and Americana music that characterizes her songwriting diversity. As a multi-instrumentalist, she studied flute, oboe and piano in her early years, then later learned percussion, guitar and mandolin.
A frequent performer throughout the Northwest, Jen Ambrose is seen in a diversity of settings ranging from regional wineries, Casinos and Concerts in the Parks to main stage performer at the Seattle Hempfest and opening for a number of well-known artists including hip-hop musician Michael Franti & Spearhead and reggae musicians Pablo Moses and The Norma Frazier Band. Jen Ambrose has opened for musical virtuosity Jackie Greene, songstress Dar Williams, Colin Hay (of 80’s band Men at Work) and for 60’s folk/rock legend Donovan.
Hi, Jen! Thanks for talking to us today. You recently released new music. Can you give us a little backstory? My first release, is an upbeat song called Under Your Spell from my Plenty Of Nothin’ To Do album. It’s a nostalgic tribute to my roots and the memories associated with a local bar in my hometown called Kingsbury’s that speaks to the struggle of trying to move on and make a new start in my life, only to be irresistibly drawn back to the grasp of an unforgettable person from an unforgettable place.
Like me, Kingsbury’s has long since gone, but sometimes I feel a strange nostalgia for that place, for the smell of stale beer and for the people who used to be there.
I wrote Under Your Spell after stepping away from music during a difficult year to be with my parents as they were dying. The uplifting tone of the song became of balm for me after so much personal loss. When I returned to Oregon, I started collaborating with my co-writer, Ken Orsow, who inspired many of the signature guitar licks throughout the song. This became one of the first songs we recorded for the new album.
Who are some of your musical influences?
As a teenager, I started listening to old Led Zeppelin albums. Robert Plant’s vocals was a major influence on my early singing. His unabashed and provocative vocal expression blew me away. Then I started listening to more classic rock - Hendrix, Stones, Janice Joplin - and realized these artists were influenced by much older and deeper roots of music. Peeling back those layers I learned about old Blues, Jazz and Country - the roots of American music.
There are three female vocalists who especially influence my music.
I’m enthralled with Billie Holliday. Her vocal intimacy and honesty are etherial to me. Her voice is so rich with the emotions and experiences of her life. I’m drawn into her story sung in her songs.
Ella Fitzgerald’s singing is so smooth, evocative and expressive. I’m in awe. Her vocal agility and nuance go right to my heart. She inspires my love of singing old Jazz and inspires some of the more melodic elements of my songwriting.
Big Mama Thornton - Queen of Blues and Rock and Roll. She is raw and honest! Her voice just grabs me on a visceral level and inspires my most un-abashed singing.
What do you hope fans take away from your music?
Music is a bridge that connects people. It can be a powerful tool in healing the emotional body. My hope is that my music speaks to fans’ own experiences and can bring them deeper into their feelings and inner truths and maybe even inspire them to their own creativity.
What piece of advice would you give to young artists who are just starting out?
First: Believe in yourself! Everything you need right inside of you. You deserve to do what you most love. You have a special and unique story to share with the world. We want to hear you!
Second: Let your passion for music feed your dedication to be amazing. Sometimes opportunities come easily - a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but most often it’s persistence and willingness to work hard that will carry you to new levels. Keep practicing and growing with your music. Learn new techniques and be solid with what you know - and make mistakes! We’re all human and learning from our mistakes is how we get better at what we do. Remember that music is a life long path of learning.
Third: Let yourself be vulnerable. It takes courage to express your deepest feelings and lay them bare to the world. Recognize and honor the courage and strength it takes to be vulnerable. By being honest and authentic in your expression, you create a sacred space for your listeners to connect with their own feelings. Healing can happen in this place.
Finally: Collaboration. No one is an island. We lean on and learn from each other all the time. Sometimes in this industry (and in the world in general) people become jealous and competitive. These feelings are natural when you are working so hard to create something special, but remember that success is a group effort. Creating community with your fellow musicians raises everyone up to a higher level. Each musician, every sound engineer, the venues, your family and friends are all a part of your journey and will have a role in your success as a musician.
If you weren’t a recording artist working in the music industry, what other career choice do you think you may have chosen?
My Mom had been a dialysis patient towards the end of her life. I spent a lot of time with here as she was going through that experience. If I wasn’t in the music industry, I might have chosen to pursue nursing, working with dialysis patients.
What are some of your hobbies outside of music?
Spending time in nature really rejuvenates me. I love taking long walks in the forests near my home. I enjoy planting vegetables and flowers and even clearing blackberry and poison oak. If I can be outside and physical, I’m happy!
I don’t have much time for it these days, but jewelry making is a hobby for me. I like making woven beaded pieces and then giving them away as gifts.
I’m also passionate local foodist! I guess this is a hobby that borders on an obsession. We have a wonderful year-round grower’s market nearby where I buy most of our food. I love eating food that’s grown near me.
Spending time with my husband, and my pups and kitty, is not really a hobby, but when things get especially busy with music, sitting for a good dinner together and binging on a few shows is a perfect way for me to spend an evening!
What inspires you to write music?
I’m a woman trying to live my the best life. My songs have themes of love and heartbreak, struggle and healing and finding connection in a world that can sometimes feel broken, angry, sad and disconnected.
Some songs come from direct experiences I’m going through or have had in the past. It’s like journaling but with rhyme and rhythm and a melody that take me deeper into the feelings that I’m trying to better understand. My husband and my family have been a strong source of inspiration for many songs.
Nature is also an inspiration for me. The language of nature is so evocative, elemental and sensual. I draw from this to create more visceral imagery in my lyrics to evoke the senses and tickle the imagination with emotion and memory.
What do you like most about your genre of music?
What I like most about the Blues genre is its emotional honesty and intensity. I grabs me right at my gut. I mean, listen to BB King’s - Thrill is Gone. Every word, every note on his guitar sings with passion.
When I play the Blues, it takes me right down to my feelings, down to the core of my soul. It soothes me like a mother embracing a crying child. It takes me down, it lifts me up and it liberates me to express my deepest, darkest feelings. It’s like a good medicine that eases my pain.
Blues has always been a siren song, a prayer coming out of the soul wrenching grief and pain of slavery. Through the generations it continues to evolve, but Blues always speakings to our most human emotion.
If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be and why?
A female Elephant. Elephants are matriarchal with the oldest female is the leader. They have strong family ties and lifelong friendships. In the wild they have a lifespan close to humans. They protect their young and grieve each other when they die. Elephants cry and remember. I think they are wise and loving and imagine what it would be like to walk in that skin and feel my emotions as an elephant. I think it would be glorious!
What else can fans expect from you this year?
This year I’ve released two singles from my new album: Under Your Spell and the title track - Plenty Of Nothin’ To Do.
In August, I look forward to releasing Love & Money. It has a Latin groove layered over blues rock.
In September, I release Rainy Day - a love song with a slight reggae feel.
October is the full album release of Plenty Of Nothin’ To Do!
In the coming months you’ll be seeing some upcoming official and lyric videos of my music as well as live footage with my band: Jen Ambrose & The Mystics and of my solo performances.
I’m currently on the East Coast with some shows and when I get back to the West Coast I’ll have a full Summer of performances ahead.
I’m also reaching out to some connections in the music sync world and hoping some of my music will be included in upcoming shows.
Thank you Music City Melodies for your time and interest in some of my music and my story. I appreciate you giving voice to artists and musicians. I really appreciate the work you do! Keep the Flame Alive!