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Jillian Jacqueline Talks Learning From Kenny Rogers & Why New EP 'Side A' is 'The Beginning of a Lot of Good Things'

Jillian Jacqueline, 2017
Mike Coppola/WireImage

Jillian Jacqueline attends the 2017 CMT Music Awards at the Music City Center on June 7, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn.

Country music newcomer Jillian Jacqueline just released her debut digital EP titled Side A on Sept. 22. The Pennsylvania native, who has racked up over 11 million streams of her latest single, “Reasons,” on Spotify alone, tells Billboard that her goal is to also have a tangible product to show her fans soon.

“We’re working on the hold-it-in-your-hands part of it,” she said, smiling. “I’ve always had a dream to put out vinyl, so that is definitely in the works,” she says, but admits that having a project out in the marketplace is a huge thrill. “It’s all been very incredible. Nothing happens overnight, and it’s been a long journey. These songs are very special to me, and I really feel that it's the beginning of a lot of good things. To be able to give people a body of work has been a huge breath of relief. As a writer, you write these songs, and you have to wait years sometimes for people to hear them. Two of these songs I have lived with for a year, and to a writer, that seems like ten years. I was ready to get them out and let people live with them.”

Jacqueline said that she and her label, Big Loud Records, took an unusual approach in spreading her music -- releasing one song at a time over the spring and summer months, from April to July. It was a decision she and her team thought was smart for the sake of gauging response as well as allowing listeners to get to know Jacqueline prior to the full album. "I don’t think it can ever hurt as an artist to share your story, if you’ve got an ear that is wanting to hear it.”

Fans seem to be gravitating toward her current single, "Reasons," which she says is very meaningful to her -- one that expresses her creative spirit. “That was the first song that I had wrote that felt like we had pushed the boundary -- both production-wise and even lyrically,” she says of the song, adding that “It just felt so right to me, and I don’t know if it will work for country, but I love it, and I’m gonna put it out, and I hope that people like it. I feel like it’s resonated in a really cool way, plus when you listen to it, you can sing along to it, and it sounds really fun, but it's super depressing if you listen to the lyrics, so as a songwriter, I feel like I achieved something cool.”

The stories that fans that have shared with her about the lyrics of the song have humbled her -- and they've also allowed her to connect with her fans on a deeper level.

“I’ve played it for different people across the country, and it’s been amazing to hear people’s stories. As a songwriter, that’s what you want -- to write something that is true to you but that relates to a lot of different people. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people have lived through that -- it’s hard to be the first one to admit defeat and pull the plug on a relationship and walk away,” she says, admitting that the feel of the song is a little out of step with the heartfelt words. “So, I tried to write it in a way that it would be something that people would want to sing along to. But when you listen to it, it’s very honest and sad. I don’t know about you, but I love sad songs. And, if they can sound fun, then I like them even better."

Another track that is gaining some attention for Jacqueline is the youthful “Bleachers,” which she feels is a great representation of where she is at musically. “That one is the wild card -- so out-of-the-box production-wise. We didn’t have any boundaries on that song. The band in the studio had so much fun bringing the song to life. It’s really the bass line that does all the work, and it’s over a D-chord, so when we play it live, we really need the whole band to pull it off because it doesn’t just work on a guitar. But, I love this song, It feels like my ode to Gwen Stefani or something. When we wrote it, I loved using high school as this microcosm for life. When you’re young, you try to put things in a box to understand them, which can lead you to comparisons and judgment. We have to lose that in our adult years, see people and accept them for who they are. I think it’s important for people to hear."

In addition to Stefani, the singer also credits Carole King and Natalie Merchant as influences, as well as many of the top female artists of '90s country, such as Reba McEntire and Faith Hill. But, it’s another musical icon that helped to give her a helping hand early on in her career -- Kenny Rogers.

“I did an audition for a Broadway show when I was 9 years old, and my mother drove me the two hours to New York. It was my last day of third grade, and I went in and had no idea what I was doing. I had no head shot. I couldn’t dance at all. They asked me to sing, and then they called me back a couple of times. At the last audition, Kenny was there, and we sang a duet together, and they called us as we were heading back, and told us I was the one they wanted. It ended up being three months on Broadway with him in a Christmas show called Christmas From The Heart, and then he took it on tour for five years after that. So, I played the same part and sang the same song for five years of my life,” she says, adding that working with the Country Music Hall of Famer was an educational experience. 

“I learned so much from him as both an artist and as a human being. He’s someone who really loves what he does, as anyone can see. He stays true to his craft. I really admire that. He’s very humble in what he does. He’s been very influential for me. I quote this one thing he says -- 'A great artist is someone who is who they think they are, who the audience thinks they are, and who they really are all in the same person.' That transparency really hit me, and that makes sense.”

Jacuqeline's Side A is available now.

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