There are many professional musicians who defy categorization. Some boldly refuse to be boxed into a certain genre, an approach that no doubt has artistic merit, but sometimes has consequences on the business side of the business.
Jen Kearney is one of those artists… very talented, but difficult to categorize. His sound blends musical styles such as Soul, R&B, Funk, Rock, Jazz and Latin, along with impressive vocals and robust songwriting. Think Lake Street Dive meets Tedeschi-Trucks meets Steely Dan.
Kearney has been making music since the 1990s and has shared the stage with Maceo Parker, Los Lobos, Daryl Hall, Mavis Staples, and more. She is headlining a show on Friday, July 1 at Askew in Providence.
The Massachusetts native just came out Atlantic, a four-song EP born from the ashes of the pandemic, after a few years in the UK. I spoke to Kearney last week and learned more about his background.
“I was born in Boston, I grew up in Massachusetts,” Kearney explained. “My grandfather was a violinist from Sicily, he just sort of played, he didn’t have formal lessons or a great education. My uncle on my mother’s side was very musical, and my father writes limericks for our birthdays, so maybe I got the lyric-writing thing from him.
She attended UMass Lowell for music, then began playing open-mic nights and writing songs.
“I lived in London from 2018 to 2020,” she explained. “I was on tour in 2017 with a Latin band called Snowboy and the Latin Section. Snow Boy found my music on CD Baby in 2006, he was the programmer for the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show on BBC 6. He’s this really shining Latin star there, and he decided to cover two of my most Latin songs on his album and then took me there to perform with them in 2017.”
“It went so well that I decided to move there in 2018. I came back here in January 2020 and then the pandemic stopped everything. I took some of the songs I had written there and some that I had written here, I decided to finish them and called her Atlantic because we’re across the pond,” Kearney continued.
As mentioned, his music doesn’t fit easily into a specific category.
“It’s been a very eclectic collection of music, which can bring out an eclectic and diverse audience,” she noted. “It depends where I am too, when I play in Boston, I notice that there are usually a lot of musicians there, I think we attract them. I haven’t chosen a genre to fall into, not that that’s a bad thing, I just haven’t been able to decide on a style of music that I like enough to go for it. I’m just happy that it reaches people, that’s really why I do it, I’m so happy to connect with them.
Kearney shared a bit about his approach to songwriting.
“I spend time writing almost every day in some kind of journal, I’ve read the book The artist’s path by Julia Cameron, she wrote it in the 90s. It’s kind of a creative block, almost a self-help book, Pete Townshend mentioned it, it seems a lot of people have read it. He suggests that you write 3 pages of long writing… whatever pops out of your brain in the morning. I’ve been doing this pretty regularly since the ’90s. I’ve got a ton of stuff that pops up that I can always reference,” she explained.
“’The Magician’ for example kind of came across as a few stanzas on its own. Sometimes it’s not as smooth and usually the musical part I’m just hanging out and practicing, finding a chord progression, working on my lyrical ideas and seeing if the pieces of the puzzle correspond. And/or sometimes I will start with the musical part. It’s a bit convoluted…I couldn’t have worked at the Brill building…I always wonder, how did Carole King do that?
She looks forward to the Askew show on Sunday night. “It’s been a long time since we played in Providence, I’m excited to be back there. It looks like a really thriving scene there.
The Askew show starts around 6 p.m. – For more on the show, click here.
To learn more about Jen Kearney, click here.