It was in August 2014 that Billboard announced the signing of Lauren Jenkins to Big Machine Records. Conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that she would have at least one release in the marketplace. However, there is not much conventional about Jenkins.
“I think sometimes it works that way,” she tells Billboard. “Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you try to make it work that way and it doesn’t go so well. With me after signing, I think at first, I thought that’s kind of what was going to happen. Then I realized that I didn’t want that to happen because I needed time to figure out my voice, and how I wanted to portray myself as an artist.”
She also realized that she had been approaching her record deal all wrong. “I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be anybody else. I just wanted to tell my stories from my perspective in the way that I wanted to. I just want to be honest and make what I think is the best music or deliver the song in the best way. That’s what started happening.”
Now, Jenkins and Big Machine have rolled out her debut release “Give Up The Ghost.” To call it personal would be an understatement. The video is all Jenkins’ creative spirit.
“I decided one day that I didn’t want to ask for permission or for direction from anybody. I had this vision for this video. I had discovered this location back in 2010. I’ve always loved exploring, and breaking into abandoned places with friends, and taking photos on 35mm. So I had this location in my song. I called a friend of mine that I used to ride a school bus, middle school, Cole Smith. He’s a filmmaker. I was like, ‘Hey, I have this idea for this video. This is the story I want to tell. Will you break into this place with me?’ He said yes.”
Working on her own also meant making the video on her own dime.
“I broke out the credit card and we went to shoot the music video. It was fun because it was me just going after what I wanted to do, and what I loved, and combining all aspects of storytelling. I mean, we didn’t have electricity. We didn’t have hair and makeup. We didn’t have lighting. I mean it was very, no-frills kind of shoot. We ended up with this video that I loved.”
Jenkins says that the label was a little surprised when she turned in the finished product. ” After editing it and sending it to the label, I think they were really taken aback and surprised that I’ve just gone and done this. That’s sort of where everything started to build. I slowly got the label to see some of my vision and get them to trust me, which was a huge thing. I don’t think that happens all the time. I don’t think that artists necessarily always get the time to figure out what their vision is and to have the trust of the people around them to cultivate it. I feel really lucky that they let me do that.”
Jenkins co-wrote the song with rising tunesmith Emily Shackelton, who also had a hand in penning Carly Pearce’s chart-topper “Every Little Thing.” Of the creative process behind the song, she said, “We weren’t trying to write a hit. We were just trying to write an honest song. It was a quick write. She was fantastic in giving me the space to be honest, and tell her about my story, and sort of something that I was going through. We didn’t care if it ever did anything. I didn’t think anybody would ever hear it or see the video. That was okay because at the end of the day I was still really proud of the song that was wrote. I feel like that’s how music should be. Some of the best music should be not caring about the charts or who hears it but just really believing and loving what you walk away with.”
To promote “Give Up The Ghost,” Jenkins is taking an unorthodox approach. The release is not being serviced to radio – at least not yet.
“I told Scott (Borchetta) that I wanted to not go to radio with this. I kind of wanted to release this song and release this video and give people a chance to say, ‘Yeah, I’m into this,’ or ‘I’m on board’ or say, ‘No, that’s not for me.’ This song is sort of the introduction. Then my bigger vision was there being three more songs off the record that I wrote, that I’ve always seen in my head as one story, sort of with a beginning, middle, and end.”
Jenkins said her label gave her total creative control – even if it took a while for them to comprehend her vision.
“I convinced the label and asked for their permission to let me go out to New Mexico and Wyoming to shoot a three-part music video series. They trusted me. They just let me go. I got to make it again with my friend, Cole Smith. I got to cast a friend of mine that I went to acting school with. We went out to New Mexico, and came back with the three music videos. The label didn’t know this at the time but I also had a plan of trying to convince them to let me shoot a short film. They, when we came back with the videos, they’re like, ‘This is a story.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, it is.’ They’re like, ‘But we don’t understand everything.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, because you have to let me go back and make a short film.’ They’re like, ‘What do you mean a short film? ‘I was like, Well, Cole and I have started writing it. Here’s the treatments. Just let us go do it.'”
She credits Borchetta for letting her chase her creative spirit.
“When Scott signed me, it’s not like anybody knew who I was. I wasn’t on a singing competition. I didn’t have a YouTube viral video. I think he saw something in me back then. It’s pretty remarkable that he’s given me this amount of years and time to work on my craft and work on my vision. I’m not sure that another label would allow that to happen or another person. But he has for some reason. He’s trusted me with that. Then when I showed Jim Weatherson over at Big Machine the video for ‘Give Up The Ghost,’ then told him my vision, it’s like he immediately got it. I don’t think Big Machine even usually just writes a check for three-part music video series and says, ‘Alright, go make it.'”
All in all, Jenkins said the timing has worked to her benefit. “I think if we had just launched a few years ago, then I probably wouldn’t have been ready. I needed to really get to a place where I was strong enough and brave enough to say, ‘This is what I want to do. I’m not going to let other people sort of edit who I am or the vision. I just really want to stay true to what I, I feel and what my vision is.’ Now it’s finally in that place. Luckily, hopefully people really respond to it. But if they don’t, I still love what we’ve created. I love what’s coming next even more.”