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Photo By Paul Moffett
Jenn L. Stout

Better Late Than Never for Jenn Stout

Kevin Gibson

Jenn Stout had always loved music, but at age 28 hadn’t taken the leap toward serious musicianship. And then one day she took a fall instead.

She was walking out of the Pink Door a couple of years ago and slipped on some ice, shattering her ankle in the process. “A plate and seven screws later …”, Stout said, trailing off with a sheepish grin.

But hey, the ankle laid her up for several weeks, and what else was she going to do with her time?

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

Jenn Stout - Cover Photo

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout - Cover Photo Jenn Stout - Cover Photo

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

Jenn Stout

Photo By Paul Moffett

Jenn Stout Jenn Stout

“I look at it as a blessing in disguise,” she continued. “I said, ‘Hell with it, I’m not getting any younger.’ So I got a new guitar, and I wrote and wrote and wrote.”

What she wrote then, and what she has been writing ever since, has gotten Louisville’s attention; Stout is currently working on her first full-length album with guitarist Brian P. White, recently played her first gig in Nashville, and then headed to California for a month to hang out and hit the open-mic circuit.

Good thing that ankle healed up.

Once she was up and around again, Stout said, she went to the Highlands Tap Room with friends, checked out the most recent copy of LEO, and discovered that the bar has a regular open-mic night. She decided to try it out, and kept going back. Shortly thereafter, she started hitting other open-mic venues and doing longer and longer sets.

It was a better-late-than-never experience for Stout, who had played guitar off and on since age 15 but had never pursued it seriously. She admitted she had a bit of a wild streak during her youth and lacked the focus to stick to playing, but she now believes there was much more holding her back.

“I never really sat down and did a whole lot with [music] mainly because I was too nervous to pursue it,” she said, noting that she had a period in her life when she suffered from panic attacks. “More or less, the nerves made a lot of excuses for me.”

She still deals with nervousness before every show, but has learned to keep it in check.

“I get so nervous every single time,” she said. “I don’t think that will ever go away. It’s not as bad as it used to be – I would have to go sit by myself and try not to get sick. But once I get through that first song I’m generally OK.

“I used to keep my eyes closed, because if I looked at everybody I would get paranoid about what everybody was thinking. I also had my infamous green hat” which she used to shield her eyes.

Since she started conquering her fears, she’s been conquering audiences as well – playing around town at places like Stevie Ray’s and events like Louisville Arts Live, and also performing at the Kentuckiana Pride Festival last year.

NERVOUS GIRL ON THE RISE

Stout said she can’t exactly remember when music grabbed her and refused to let go – “I was always one of those people that when I listened to song I really got into it you know?” – but she has vivid memories of getting her first compact disc.

“I remember my dad getting me my very first CD,” she said. “It was the Gin Blossoms. I would sit in my bedroom and listen to it over and over. I still love it, you know what I mean?”

She would later get into Tori Amos and other artists, and it wasn’t long before she started writing, filling her diary with words and feelings.

“I tried to be a poet for a while,” she admitted, punctuating the statement with a chuckle.

Adding music changed things a bit, however. “I would sit in my room and try to write these immaculate love songs,” she said. “It was something really interested in and wanted to do, but I … never let myself settle in my room long enough to focus.”

But once the happy accident took place, that focus finally arrived. And of course there were the nerves to deal with. Stout played a benefit show at Saddle Ridge last year for the Colleen Carrell Memorial Fund, which she said was a tough one, but she noted that her first appearance at Stevie Ray’s “was probably the most nerve-wracking” she she’s done.

It was an open mic hosted by fellow singer-songwriter Justin Lewis, who “talked me through it a bit,” Stout said. She must have done OK, because that appearance led to her inclusion in a Stevie Ray’s Round Robin, in which musicians take turns performing.

Was she nervous for the Round Robin? Yeah. But it was all part of her making the most of an opportunity.

“It took everything I had to walk through those doors,” she said. “I beat myself up so much; I want everything to go a certain way. All these people had been playing a while and were used to doing it. But once we got through those first two rounds or so, I loved it.

“I love that feeling of playing with other people. When musicians can just jump in and play together like that, it’s amazing.”

For his part, Lewis was quite impressed with Stout’s performance and her musical approach in general that first night at Stevie Ray’s.

“Jenn is one of the most positively passionate people I've been around in the local scene,” Lewis said. “I first met her at the open mic I was hosting at Stevie Ray's, so I got to see her work her craft head to toe. Every time I saw her work a kink in a song or even feel complete with a song, her energy was always positive.”

Stout had another nerve-wracking experience as part of her recent trip to Nashville, on which White accompanied her. They performed three songs at the Basement and had to go on first, she said, and noted, “I was a nervous wreck. I was so nervous.”

But the thing to take away from the experience is that it was Stout who made it happen – she figured it would be tough to get into the Basement, and on the venue’s website it noted, “Due to the overwhelming number of requests we receive, your email will be returned ONLY if we deem you appropriate for our venue.”

Stout sent an e-mail with a video link. Guess what happened? “Like, 20 minutes later, he wrote me back.” The sheepish grin returns.

White said an audience member in Nashville said to him after the show, “Man, she plays the shit out of that guitar.”

“Jenn thought it might be a slight, but, I'm sure that it was a compliment,” White said. “And there’s always someone dancing when we play.

“Performing with Jenn has been one of my most enjoyable musical experiences since moving to Louisville. Whether we're playing as a duo or with a band, she always brings everything to her performances.”

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

The forthcoming album will be titled When I Land, and will feature about a dozen originals. It is being recorded at Louisville’s West Pro Studios, and will feature White as well as Nick Beech on drums, Aalics Bronson on bass, plus contributions from trumpeter Michael Felker and strings by Emily Caudill.

While it will be Stout’s first full-length release, she actually did put forth an EP last year titled Wrong About Me. The story behind that one is a tad complicated.

A small local label approached Stout about recording, so they put down six songs and she set up a CD release show at Stevie Ray’s.

“They waited until that morning to give me the mastered version of the CD,” Stout said, “and nothing had been done – it was a complete disaster.” Stout said there were even unedited clips of her talking between songs.

So, she went to Downtown Recording Studios and re-recorded the entire thing in just a few weeks, and that became the released version of Wrong About Me. Still, the whole experience left a sour taste in Stout’s mouth.

“For what it was and how we had to do it, it turned out decent, but it was not what I wanted,” she said. “It was over-produced. So we’re re-doing every song on that CD and adding about five or six more” for the new album.

“It was really discouraging – I probably cried during that period more than I have my entire life,” Stout said. “But I learned what not to do right off the bat. We’re doing everything I want to do this time.”

The first thing she did was put together a batch of good songs, including a new-ish one called “Back to Us.”

“That’s new recent favorite,” Stout said. “It’s about the irony of meeting someone you connect with more so than you ever have with anyone else – and they conveniently live on the other side of the United States.”

Stout is one hopeful romantic. Even in singing about heartbreak, she comes across in a positive manner. The key is that is it’s honest and passionate.

“I think that's the most important thing for a songwriter to succeed,” Lewis noted, “and I love seeing Jenn having the success she's had around town.”

See “The Runner,” which she describes as about being in love with someone who won’t settle down, for further evidence of how she oozes her emotions out in melodies and song structures. “A lot of people really like that one,” she admitted.

And there’s “In Love,” which is “kind of a little more poppy. It’s a poppy song, but it’s still soulful.”

In fact, the word “soulful” is a good way to describe Stout’s voice and musical approach.

“People ask me what kind of music I play, and I never really know how to answer that,” she said. “I think I write from the heart, but vocally it’s more of a bluesy style. Soulful is better way to put it.”

She points to Gavin McGraw and Eric Baker as contemporary influences, but also listens to old blues masters like Billie Holliday.

Besides coming up with solid, road-tested songs, bringing White on board as a collaborator has also been a good move for Stout, who is in awe of what he brings to her songs.

“We have this running joke that we make love on stage,” she said. “He’s an amazing guitar player. I think it’s because he’s so passionate about it.”

“When it's just the two of us, the experience always feels intimate, much like her songs,” White said. “Jenn has a remarkable honesty to her writing and her hooks seem effortless. People often comment about how they walk away singing one of her songs, or can't get them out of their head. I love her natural rhythm. It's very easy to play to.”

Stout’s immediate goals are to work with White to finish the album to her liking and get it released in the spring – and after that?

“Sky’s the limit, you know? I want to travel a lot. Louisville is a great place for music; I think there are a lot of great musicians in this town that don’t get the credit they deserve because they don’t push themselves. That’s why I want to travel and play as much as I can.

“I always said I never needed to become famous or get rich off of it. It’s that basic want to do what you love and be able to survive. If it can go further than that, even better, you know?”

Not so long ago, such things weren’t even on the agenda for Stout. A good old-fashioned Louisville ice storm changed all that, though. Painful lesson? Yes. But a necessary one.

“Two years ago, I sat down and said, ‘I don’t want to be one of those people who says they love something so much, and I want to do this and do this,’ and that’s all they ever do,” she said. “In a way, I’m sorry I waited as long as I did, but I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason. Breaking my ankle was a blessing in disguise.”