Rising Country Artist Spotlight: Lauren Jenkins

Michael Church
Lauren Jenkins

For as long as she can remember, Lauren Jenkins has been a storyteller. While she didn’t grow up in a musical family, the singer-songwriter vividly recalls getting depressed around the age of eight with the thought of not being a storyteller. In the years that followed she began writing songs, playing guitar and acting.

“I really wanted to go and be involved in film making and music,” she tells Billboard, seated cross-legged on a leather couch at her record label Big Machine Label Group. “I started writing songs when I was eight or nine. I had a denim notebook that I would write songs in. There was a big one called ‘Born to Be’ that I wrote and [said], ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ It was a message to my parents.”  

She left home at 15 and her career began to pick up. “I started getting some opportunities in film and tv in front of the camera and behind the camera, and by that point I'd gotten a guitar and was playing wherever I could.”

Jenkins was proactive about her music career and would ask local coffee shops and airports throughout North Carolina if they’d allow her sing there as well as frequently attend open mic nights as a teenager. On her own, she’d record songs and make music videos with her friends. By the time she was 20, a producer she met while studying acting in New York asked if he could send her music to some labels. Big Machine liked what they heard, and she signed a deal at 21. Now 27, Jenkins is ready to share her story with her debut album, No Saint, out today (March 15).

One of the album’s standout tracks is “Running Out of Road,” where Jenkins sings “I’ve got a full tank of gas/ But my heart’s on empty.” A metaphor for her own career, Jenkins penned the song with Ingrid Andress, Jessie Jo Dillon and Tina Parol.

“I think it comes from the fact that I have lived a lot of places and I have traveled a lot of miles and there's times where no matter where you go, your past can still follow you,” she explains. “There's been times in this career or this path I've been going on, where you feel like you want to give up and you feel like you're hitting dead ends, and that there's literally no road left for me to go down.”

Instead of giving up in those times of struggle, Jenkins persevered. “Sometimes I have to go off into the wilderness and off-road and find another dirt path to go down,” she adds.

“Running Out of Road” is one of the songs that inspired a short film Jenkins created to be released with her debut album. A three-part music video series that includes “Running Out of Road” as well as the autobiographical title track and haunting “Maker’s Mark and You,” the singer’s film background comes to life in a storyline that takes place in New Mexico.

Jenkins says she looks up to acts like Bruce Springsteen as an example of how to be creative through different mediums and says he’s one act she’d love to pattern her own career after.

“Springsteen is one that’s really the top tier for me, especially now that he’s done Broadway. Him as a storyteller lyrically and musically, he’s a class act. Incorporating that in a different medium through the Broadway show is really interesting,” she says.

Jenkins’ passion for storytelling is showcased throughout the entirety of her album, even down to the project’s artwork. She personally took photos included; developing them and scanning them herself as well as decided to feature her handwritten lyrics.

“Every image is part of the story. This album, I’ve been able to tell a story through the songs and the music videos and the short film and even the artwork that’s in the vinyl and the CD,” she explains. “I think it makes it more intentional.”

While Jenkins introduced herself to the country world with debut single “Give Up the Ghost,” she continues to tell her story through each of her album’s 10 tracks. A co-writer on every song featured on No Saint, the singer-songwriter is more certain than ever that her career path as a storyteller was the right decision nearly two decades ago.

“I feel really fortunate that I still somehow found a way to do what I love. Even if it means playing in a coffee shop or a grocery store, I still get to do it, and that's all I wanted to do. I don't know what else I would do if not this,” she concedes.