From opening gigs with Zac Brown Band, Joe Nichols, Russell Dickerson and High Valley to remaining a staple of Song Suffragettes, a weekly woman-only singer-songwriter showcase at Nashville’s Listening Room Cafe, Jenna Paulette is becoming an unstoppable force in Nashville. Paulette tows the genre lines we so often debate in this industry, and she does it well. Grounded even when she teeters that fine line between genres, you never question her unequivocal country roots. “I feel like the first song I ever released, ‘Coolest Girl in the World,’ was the best balance I’ve had, it’s given me direction as I figure out what the perimeters are for me as an artist. It married the two worlds I represent so perfectly that that has become my goal. It has to have country-western lyrical influence and the pedal steel to ground the music, to bring it back down to earth or to Texas.”
Paulette’s new single “F-150” bends around the back road curves with smooth charm while still packing a knuckle-punch. If it doesn’t feel right in her gut, she doesn’t do it. “It’s an undertone of pop and and overtone of cowgirl. That’s what works for me, and people have started to respond because they can relate,” she says. “The goal of music is relatability — to bring people together based on common experience, to put into words what they cannot express, emotionally. My vehicle for that is what I represent, the ‘modern cowgirl.’”
In her youth, Paulette enjoyed the freedom, sense of wonder and sweat-of-the-brow accomplishment her family’s ranch allowed. “I learned how to work long and hard, that the fruits of your labor are always tangible, and that I love cattle.” Even more, she quickly gained insight into her place in the world as a strong, determined and fearless woman.
“Being a girl doesn’t disqualify you when men see your value and teach you how to become great. My grandfather and uncles never thought twice about me being female. They gave me those traditional boy jobs and expected me to rise to the occasion,” she says. “They were sensitive to the differences in my strength but never gave me a handout because of it. It really set me up for success and made me tough, mentally.” As you’ll soon hear, that strength pours over into much of her music.
Paulette also came to understand what being a tried and true cowboy (or cowgirl) really meant. “My Granddaddy is everything the cowboy represents, and I fell in love with that ideal. It set goals for what I wanted out of life, and those are things that country-western music is all about. It was easy to love country music because it has always painted a picture of the things, people and feelings I love the most.”
Greatly influenced by Leann Rimes, the Dixie Chicks, George Strait and Kenny Chesney, Paulette grew up on the outskirts of a new kind of sprawling, western-tinged metropolis, Dallas, Texas. She was one of four kids, and her parents worked tirelessly to provide the most stable homelife possible. In high school, the young, wide-eyed girl began to realize the stunning contrast between her “hand-me-down ranch truck with red dirt in the air vents,” she recalls, against a long parade of expensive and shiny new BMWs. “Dallas is the cattle and the money kinda all wrapped up into one,” she says with a smirk. Oddly enough It became those things that inspired the “New West” sound, that juxtaposition the old and traditional against the shiny and new.
From belting Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Wide Open Spaces” early on to spinning everything from “Troubadour” by George Strait to Chesney’s “Be as You Are” record on loop, a vital asset to her high school days, Paulette’s sense of musical depth is both rich and of the earth. After reading an article on Chesney’s choice of marketing degree and seeing the effects it had on his career, Paulette was so sure of what she wanted to do in country music that she chose to get her Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication, so she, like Chesney, could have a leg up on precisely how to best package and market herself in an ever-changing world of country music.
That’s where her forthcoming new EP comes into the picture. With producers Brad Hill and Lee Holland, who both guided Paulette to sharper-focused storytelling, she defines what it means to be a cowgirl in 2018. “It’s that you can chose the lifestyle and mentality of the West. It’s something that gets in your blood and needs to be satisfied and I want to represent a picture of what that can look like in our day and age. I have a foundation, and I get to build on it for the rest of my life,” she says, “and it’s based on who I actually am. That’s a really good place to have people get to know you as an artist.”