In Love Again
FOR TWO YEARS, Jen Trynin didnít pick up her guitar. In the life of a musician, thatís an exceptionally long time to avoid an instrument that, for a while, seemed like it would be the propeller on the route to stardom. But after a whirlwind rise ó accolades in national press, a major-label bidding war for her work ó Trynin endured an equally drastic fall when Warner Bros. dropped her contract at the end of the 1990s. So she put her music away. She went to school. She married producer Mike Denneen. She had a baby.
Then she returned to music.
No longer front and center, Tryninís now a sidewoman, playing guitar with Loveless ó along with veterans Dave Wanamaker, Pete Armata, and Tom Polce ó and loving every minute of it. Not that sheís trying to forget her major-label experiences; on the contrary, her rocky ride is the subject of a book sheís contracted to write for Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Tentatively titled Everything Iím Cracked Up To Be, the book is scheduled for publication in 2005.
Q: So tell me how things are going with Loveless.
A: I think theyíre going well. Last night we played at the Mercury Lounge in New York, and we play there ó well, when Iím not pregnant or in early childcare, we play there about once a month. We play down in the city about once a month. And it was good; weíre beginning to get a little bit of a following there, the room was pretty full. We just put out our first record, and itís getting some interest here and there from the so-called major labels, whatever that means in this day and age. And mostly, for me, itís just a lot of fun. Thatís really why Iím doing it now. You know, I used to do my own music and that got not fun, and I stopped doing that for a few years, and now itís just fun again. I love the guys I play with, theyíre all really funny, and itís just a good time.
Q: What are the biggest differences between playing with Loveless, being more of a background person, and playing as a solo artist?
A: Iíd say one of the main differences is I donít feel any pressure. I always thought of myself as someone who handled pressure pretty well, but come to find out, like in the music-business thing, being the focal point 24 hours a day got really wearing on me. It mightíve been more fun had everything gone better. But I donít know, I think that I ended up just focusing more on, I donít know, trying to make it work, and itís very hard to make it work. Iím not the most natural performer in the world, and Iím definitely not a natural singer, and so it takes a lot of work for me, and I ended up losing the love of the original thing, and once that was gone, I didnít know what I was doing there anymore. And being a side person, especially with this group of guys, I get to play guitar and do some singing, and I really like the music, and Iím in more of a supportive role, and Iím more comfortable with it. Itís just fun. If the show goes well, then Iím really happy, and if the show doesnít go well, then Iím like, "Oh, weíll do better next time." I donít care, but in a good way. I donít mean that I donít care at all, but the stakes arenít the same for me personally. Iím the younger sister of one brother, and Iím kind of used to the role of sidekick, and second-guessing everybody, and sitting in the backseat saying, "No, take a left!" as opposed to sitting in the front seat and going, "Okay, weíre taking a left, and this is why, and itís going to work out."
Q: Is there anything that you miss about being a solo artist?
A: I guess the main thing I miss is my love of writing music. I would say thatís the biggest thing. Dave Wanamaker is the songwriter. Dave does the main songwriting. When we learn the songs and stuff, I make up some parts and Dave tells me to play some stuff, so itís not as actively creative a writing outlet as my own thing was, certainly. So I guess I miss that, and Iím not sure I really miss anything else.
Q: Iím surprised there arenít more things about it that you miss. I wonder if thatís because your solo career became so uncomfortable at the end?
A: I think that the part about getting up in front of people and playing my own thing ó in great part, it was always uncomfortable. And I think that really came across sometimes in my shows and my presentation of myself, because, you know, when I started doing this a million years ago when I was a kid, I honestly never pictured myself being a performer. I always thought I would be a songwriter, and I would give my music to people. And somewhere along the way, I donít know what happened, but I kind of started playing in front of people, and it went pretty well. You know, Iím really not that great a singer, so I think that was always kind of a problem for people.
Q: I think a lot of people would disagree and say that you are.
A: Well, I think thatís nice, and Iím always interested in that reaction, and pleased, because I worked pretty hard at it. But I donít know, sometimes I think if you have to really work hard at something, then thereís something lost in the genuineness or something. And that always kind of bugged me, and because I was always nervous about my singing, [performing] just made me nervous, and when I get nervous, my throat gets tight, and my singing gets worse, and itís just downhill. But I really loved writing music, and I did it with so much of my time, and I do miss that. I fully hope to do more of my own music in my life, but never in the way that I did it before, because I just didnít like it.
Q: How long was your hiatus from the music business?
A: I didnít play guitar, I didnít even pick up a guitar for almost two years. For the first time since I started playing when I was, like, 10.
Q: What did you do during that time?
A: For a year I actually enrolled full-time at the Harvard Extension School. I took economics. I wanted to go back and take calculus because I never took calculus when I was young.
Q: You wanted to go back and take calculus? Iíve never heard anyone say that.
A: I know, everyone finds that to be so strange. I thought ó and after experiencing taking calculus I still believe itís true ó that thereís some very basic, natural movements that come to play in all forms of art, including music very much so, and also in writing. And there are just certain ways of movement. I donít really remember exactly why I got so into it, but I just thought there was something there that could help me get on to the next level of creating stuff. Itís just a much more basic look at movement without feeling, I guess. Because when you write a song, thereís movement, but thereís also all this emotion involved. And I thought it would help clear up my mind; I was feeling really brain-dead after my music experience, because there was so little actual music and so much crap that I was feeling foggy.
So I took that, I took a psychology course. After a year of doing a lot of math stuff mostly, I went back for my second year and I started taking writing classes there. I was a creative-writing major in college and I really missed writing, and so that kind of got me back into writing, and thatís how I started writing this book. I didnít realize I was writing a book back then, but thatís how it all happened. And then Dave called me up one day and told me to stop being a weenie and that he wanted me to play guitar in his new band.
Q: Did it take much convincing?
A: He called me on a good day. Because other people approached me and I really had no interest. Like, the very sound of the guitar at that point made me unhappy. So I donít know why that day I said yes, but it started very slowly. He was like, "Come out and hear my songs, Iím going to play at an open mike," so I did, and I liked them, and then we kind of played a couple times and it just kept growing, and now itís like a full-fledged thing. Itís nice. Itís nice the way it happened.
Q: Tell me about this book.
A: The book is based on my experiences in the music business. Itís really just a book, Iím hoping, about this very specific American dream of being a rock star. Iím just trying to look at what that is, and why, especially today, so many people want to be rock stars.
Q: Is that what you wanted to be?
A: I donít know. Thatís part of why I started writing this book. I started writing it about a year after I stopped playing. People kept asking me why Iíd quit, and I didnít have a good answer. I just kept getting really tongue-tied, and I didnít want it to come off like, you know, I couldnít win so I quit. Because it really wasnít that. I never knew what to say, so I started looking at it, and one of the questions is, what did I want? And then in a broader way, what do people want when they say they want that? Why are we so focused on the fame-and-fortune thing, instead of being focused just more locally on our lives and our families, the old-fashioned way? Thereís a very easy answer, which is the world, because of communication now, is just in a sense a much smaller place, and so instead of being the prettiest girl in your town, you want to be the prettiest girl, period. Thatís kind of a simple answer, though.
So thatís kind of the topic, I suppose, and then Iím using my own specific experience to try to look at that. I was never a rock star, I wasnít even close, but I did get far enough so that I was at least at the bottom of the top heap. It was a very interesting experience; obviously I learned a lot about myself and how the world works in the real way, as opposed to how you wish it works. I just think that a lot of people get this fantasy in their head of what it is to be a "rock star," and when I would talk about it with people, theyíd say, "Whatís up with you, how are you doing?" And I would tell them the real thing, and it was like they wouldnít believe me: "Oh, it must be cooler than that!" But the fact is, a lot of it isnít all that cool. Thereíve been some movies and stuff about being in the rock world. I kind of think of my book as the antiĖAlmost Famous. That movie was written about a very different time, and it was also written about men, and what is it like to be in a rock band, and youíre having sex with people and doing drugs. And you know, I wasnít doing drugs or having sex with anybody. Maybe that reflects poorly on me, I donít know. For me it was just a lot of traveling around, feeling very disoriented and very lonely. All my relationships, not with the people in my band but in all my other relationships which took up a lot of time every day, it was these very surface relationships. Day in and day out, youíre in different cities meeting different people who are representatives from your record label, and youíve got to sit in the car with them for 45 minutes when they take you to the radio station, and it was just a lot of forced conversations. It was fucking killing me. I donít mind going out a couple times a month and having small talk with people, but doing it every day ó woo. It was tough. The book, right now itís ... about a week on the road, and you just kind of follow ó I had this one song that seemed like maybe it was going to be a hit, and you just kind of follow the song up the chart, and then it doesnít become a hit, and what is that really like? Thatís kind of what the book is based on. And thereís also another section ó you know, what made my story a little bit different from a lot of peopleís is the way I got signed: I was in the center of one of the biggest bidding wars of that year, and that was very strange...
Q: I canít imagine.
A: Thatís why Iím writing this book! You know, what thatís like: begging to get an opening slot on a Tuesday night, and six months later headlining places, or playing at a college someplace in a cafeteria and having 13 record labels show up. Itís a little weird. So those are the two parts of the action. And what Iím trying to do, and Iíll find out if I do it or not, Iím just trying to talk about and explore that initial idea of who are we, why do we want this, within the context of those two settings.
Q: So now when people ask you why you quit, do you have an answer for them?
A: I say read my book! Itís a complicated answer. And also people come up to me and go, "Oh, man, you got fucked! Man, the record-business assholes!" And they have this whole attitude about it. And thatís just not true. I didnít get fucked. Itís a very complicated business, life is very complicated, there are many, many factors that go into when something pops above the fray and becomes a hit, and that happens very rarely. Most of the time itís this whole mťnage of screwy events that happen; either it all comes together and coalesces or it doesnít. I mean occasionally, yes, people get screwed. But I certainly didnít. I was treated as well as I couldíve been, and I always felt that, and when I got dropped, it was more of a mutual discussion than nobody returning my phone calls. So Iíve never felt poorly treated at all. And thatís very important to me. Iím trying to talk about that in the book because itís just not the way I felt.
Q: How different is the songwriting process from the book-writing process?
A: Iíve never written a book before, but Iíve written lots of short stories, and I would say ó and this relates back to the calculus thing ó what happens in a three-minute pop song and what happens in the creative process of putting that together, and what happens in a short story, at least in my experience, thatís not a dissimilar process. Itís kind of like standing on a road, and you look down the road, like in Ohio or something, and itís so flat you can see for like a mile and half, and you can see a few road signs, and then you can kind of see where the road takes a left, and thatís where it ends. And you can see it as youíre starting from the beginning. And both for pop songs and for short stories, thatís how I feel, so I always feel kind of like I know what Iím doing, and I know where Iím going to take this turn, and that turn, and then we have to do the bridge here. And short stories have very, very similar arcs to them. Writing a book...
Q: You canít see anything.
A: I canít see shit! Itís totally, to use a lame analogy, like walking around in the dark, and you just bump into stuff, and either you include what you bump into or you donít include what you bump into. And since Iím deeply in the throes of writing it, I donít know how it ends. Whenever Iím writing something, I donít know where that is compared to where Iím going to be. Itís very confusing and sometimes a little scary, and when it goes well itís really fun, and when it goes poorly, itís awful. To have a feeling that you want to express in a song, you get some words and you get this whole palette of color ó music ó that includes melodies and rhythm and whether youíre going to play loud or soft, and you get all of this stuff to be able to express your emotions and your point. In writing, you get nothing but words. Thatís very different. Thatís kind of the challenge. And depending on my mood, I wrote stories and songs, I would interchange them, I donít know, for 15 years or something. So Iíd write a couple songs, and then Iíd feel constrained by that and Iíd write a short story, and then Iíd feel constrained by that, and Iíd go back and forth between the two. And now, Iíve committed to writing this book, so Iím limited to the words. Iím trying to do it. I donít know if Iím doing it well or not.
Q: Youíve done some readings in Boston. Is getting up for a reading different for you than getting up and performing music? Is it easier, harder?
A: Much easier. Itís pretty different. But itís definitely easier, because Iíve always had terrible stage fright, because I can just get wacky and totally blank out and forget words, forget a song, forget where I am completely, and itís very bad. And with doing readings, you have the words right there in front of you. Whatís the worst that can happen? You get a tickle in your throat and have a coughing fit.
Q: Or lose your place. A: You can lose your place, but then you go, "Oh, I just lost my place," and everyone laughs, and you go back. So itís much less anxiety-producing. And I really enjoy it; Iíve always loved doing readings, you know, when I was in college and stuff. And I love being read to. So I love the whole thing. Q: Iím sure you have musical influences. Do you have literary influences? A: Yeah. When I was young I was really into John Updike, and read everything by him for a long time. Iím a fan of Dave Eggers; I think heís a great writer. I know heís very controversial and people either love him or hate him. Right when I had stopped doing music, I happened to hear him ó I didnít know who he was ó on This American Life, and I heard him reading from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and I sat there ó I was picking up my dry cleaning or something ó and I was just riveted, and I just sat there listening to him. I was like, this is great. I miss writing. That was one of the things that got me back into writing. It was like the first time Iíd felt inspired in a long time. I could name all my friends around here who I think are great writers ó I donít know if thatís a good thing to do or a bad thing to do. Iíve read a lot of Dennis Lehane stuff, and Laura Zigman, and Tom Perrotta, Brad Watson. All of these people, Iíve learned a ton from everybody. Another person who I really love is Jon Krakauer. Iím so into his books. I loved Into Thin Air, but the book that got me into him ó and I read it like three times, and I was on the road and it just really spoke to me ó was the book Into the Wild.
Q: Youíre a writer, a musician, a mother to a 10-month-old daughter. How do you have time for it all?
A: Well, I donít watch as much television! I canít go out because I have to be home because sheís home. I have an incredibly supportive and helpful husband who takes her almost every morning. We have someone who comes in a few afternoons a week and spends a few hours. Depending on her mood, she goes to sleep anywhere from 7:30 to 10:30 at night. But very often she goes to bed around eight or 8:30. Sheís a dream. Sheís the greatest little girl. And sheís so easy to be with anyway that itís pretty low stress at this point. I often get a lot of work done at night. And with Loveless, we never rehearse, so that cuts down on that! Two of us are in Boston, two are in New York, so we never rehearse, we just play shows. So thereís no real rehearsal time, although I do practice to the record maybe a week before we do a show, I practice every day to the record. And, you know, I donít have a regular job. When people say it back to me, Iím like, wow, that is a lot to do! But itís really not so bad.
Q: Do you think becoming a parent has changed you as a musician?
A: I donít go out as much, so when I go out ó in fact, often the only time I go out the whole month is when we play, and Iím so fucking happy to be out, I think I play with more exuberance and abandon.
Q: More joy.
A: I think so, yeah. I think joy is the word. Iím more joyful of life in general since having her. I was kind of just such a down-in-the-mouth person for so long that I was like, "Oh, I couldnít be a parent anyway," and "Who cares, they get born, everybody dies." It was awful. I had a really bad attitude about it. But, oh. I could never recommend it more highly as the most wonderful thing in the world. Itís just the greatest thing in the world. I love her, I love being with her, it has brought things out in me that I guess I didnít know were in me. It just makes you see life in such a different way. Itís like the meaning of life is just in every single day. I just didnít used to get that. Sadly. I wish Iíd learned it a whole lot earlier.
Q: Well, some people never learn it.
A: I guess maybe thatís true. I donít think I wouldíve. I just kept thinking life was sometime in the future. And thatís totally wrong. And she has definitely helped to teach me that. So in general she just makes me a much happier person to be alive. And grateful and all those things.
Q: Do you think you ever wouldíve become a writer if you hadnít first been a musician? Would you have written a book? Obviously it wouldíve been about different subject matter.
A: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, when I got out of college, I literally sat myself down about six months afterward and said to myself ó I just felt like I had to stop splitting my attention between writing and music, and I should just make a decision to commit to one of them. And it was very simple; I guess I just thought, you can only rock when youíre young, so I thought, Iím going to commit myself to music until Iím 30, and hopefully get something going, and if I donít, then Iím going to go to writing. And then if I do get something going, Iíll do that until it ends and then Iíll go back to writing. And thatís what I did. I kind of stuck with the plan.
- Tamara Wieder
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