…I think the biggest thing we can do right now for each other is to be understanding and kind. These times are especially difficult for so many people and you never know what someone else is going through. We’re all busy but we’re not too busy to be kind, caring and patient. The best thing you can give someone is your support and love.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing JENNA Nation, an R&B/Pop singer and songwriter who is quickly gaining momentum on the international music scene. Considered by many as an outstanding vocalist with a charismatic stage presence, JENNA Nation has already hit some significant milestones in her career. Her album “You Don’t Know” received numerous accolades including being named Canada’s Best R&B Album of 2017 and #9 overall (Music Canada Magazine), and one of the 10 Best Records of the Year (Village Voice Magazine).
Since she began singing, JENNA Nation has performed for the Prime Minister of Canada and as part of the Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill as well as at an Official JUNO’s After Party. In addition, JENNA has appeared at several famed festivals including: RBC Bluesfest, MIDEM, New Skool Rules, the Toronto, Ottawa, and Beaches International Jazz Festivals and has opened for Shawn Mendes, Lauv, Chromeo and Snarky Puppy. JENNA Nation has also been a finalist for several international songwriting competitions.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/99d00760acd5588c44579e8f99822347
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Ottawa, Canada. Both of my parents were always very supportive and involved in my life. I grew up with a younger sister who I still remain very close to and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents on both sides as a child. I took various lessons like piano, saxophone and dance, and I played soccer etc. but I knew early on that being a singer was what I wanted to pursue. I come from a musical family and I have been singing ever since I can remember. Music was always important in my family and a large part of our lives. Growing up, I had a good balance of focusing on what I loved to do, pursuing my music career such as preparing for and participating in local singing competitions as well as starting to gig at an early age, to doing the normal childhood things like sleepovers and birthday parties with friends.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I feel very fortunate to have known from an early age that singing was what I was meant to do. I think the first time that it really dawned on me that I could do this, was my first ever singing competition. As a child I participated in what is called the Kiwanis Music Festival. I used to compete in various genres and categories. The first year that I competed I was eight years old. I entered the musical theatre category and sang “On the Good Ship Lollipop” by Shirley Temple. Ihad prepared for months for this competition and even had a little tap dance routine to go with my song. I was the youngest contestant in the 12 and under category and I ended up winning the competition.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There are quite a few interesting stories that I have experienced since I began my career but one of the first interesting stories was being asked to perform on Parliament Hill for the Canada Day Celebrations. I was 9 years old at the time and not only was this my first professional gig but my first time singing in front of a crowd of over 10,000 people. I was selected by someone who actually saw me win my first singing competition. I remember having only a couple of days to learn the song and then perform on Parliament Hill. I don’t remember being nervous at all, just excited and grateful for the opportunity. I feel like that was the moment that started my career.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One mistake that I made that I can laugh at now is, don’t stand in front of the microphone when you are trying to pull it out of the stand. I was performing at a club in Boston. In the middle of the song I wanted to remove the mic from its’ stand. I was having trouble getting the mic out of the stand and I continued to pull harder. The mic quickly came out but unfortunately it ended up hitting me in the mouth. It really hurt but I continued to sing and as I was singing I could taste blood in my mouth. When there was a break in the song I turned around to the bass player and pointed to my mouth. His face said it all. I knew something was wrong. After the set I rushed to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I had chipped my tooth! Luckily it wasn’t too bad and I was able to get it fixed. Lesson learned. I cleaned myself up and continued the rest of the show and booked myself into the dentist as soon as I could.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now I am working on my 5th album. I am collaborating with an incredible producer who is Grammy and JUNO winning and he is based in Nashville. I had the chance to go down to Nashville to work with him and I look forward to doing that again after COVID. I am really excited about this music because it is all original material and I wrote all of the songs on the album and a couple of them are collaborations with other songwriters. I am really excited about this project because it is the first time I am totally independent so I have complete creative freedom and this music truly represents who I am as an artist and the kind of music that I love to make and sing. The plan is to release the album in 2021.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I think it is important to have diversity represented in film and television because the entertainment industry is all about relating to people. If all film and TV shows were the same and the characters in a show or film are the same, look alike, have similar backgrounds it will only relate to a small percentage of the population or specific demographic. That’s not fair. North America in particular, is very culturally and ethnically diverse. I feel that everyone should have the chance to be represented. We need TV and film to portray what the general population looks like and what their day to day lives might appear. As well TV and movie characters and/or stars are often role models and again everyone needs someone to whom they can relate.
Another reason is that the general population is who watches and supports the entertainment industry. If they don’t feel connected or relate to what they see they are not going to continue to engage. I also believe that diversity in TV and film can help educate — educate those who may not have access to or be aware of other cultures and ways of life.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
5 things I wish someone told me when I first started are: trust yourself and the process; be patient; don’t trust the first person that tells you that they can make you a star; never give someone money up front to provide a service for you; and sometimes your plans aren’t always going to go the way you mapped it out and that’s ok!
I learned that trusting yourself and the process is very important. Many people are going to impose their ideas and beliefs on what you should be doing or how. It can be very overwhelming and believable especially if it comes from people that you look up to or people you have hired who may be successful in the industry. At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for you and what your heart tells you is best for you. So many times, people wanted to take me in a different direction in terms of my sound and image as an artist and I was even told that you will be successful this way. There was a short period of time where I believed them but in the end, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy pretending to be something that I was not.
Being patient is also important and not always easy. I know oftentimes we want things to happen as quickly as possible. We get so excited about reaching that next milestone or moving ahead and becoming what we perceive to be successful. I know that sometimes I have even been down on myself because I felt things weren’t happening fast enough. It’s the quality that matters over how quickly you can get things done. You might just create your best work that way or become even better because you were patient. Being patient allows us to learn, reflect and grow and be grateful for the things we have achieved.
I unfortunately learned the hard way that not everyone believes in you and not everyone is trustworthy. This industry is filled with a lot of business people who don’t care about making great music, or contributing to the industry in positive ways. They care about themselves and making money and they are willing to say and do whatever it takes to continue to get ahead. As a young artist, I was so excited about being done school and finally being able to pursue my dreams full time. I wanted to find someone who could help me get to that next level. It’s easy to fall for what these people tell you and they are very good at making you believe they can help you when all they want is to make money from you. I fell for that a few times with people who wanted to work with me. I was made many promises, told a lot of things I wanted to hear, even given false claims just so that I would hire them to work with me. On top of that, many of these people wanted money up front. After being paid, they were either less or not responsive and didn’t follow through on their promises. This proved to be very frustrating and even damaging to my career at times but I learned to do my research and not to pay anyone up front no matter how good everything sounded. I have since learned that these unscrupulous practices are quite common in the industry.
Lastly, we all make plans and have goals. Some of us are very detailed in our planning and how we are going to achieve the things we want. I was definitely one of those people and I still make plans today but I’ve learned not to be too disappointed when plans don’t go exactly the way I thought they would. I think the first few times that happened to me, I was very frustrated and down about it. I didn’t understand how it couldn’t go my way if I had laid it all out and did everything I could. Not everything is in our control and we have to learn to be ok with that. It’s important to focus on the positive and the things you can control — the things you learned, new opportunities or achievements.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
There are a few things that I would recommend to avoid the “burn out”. For one, having a strong support system is very important. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of people but have someone or a few close people in your life who are positive, supportive, encouraging and make you feel good to be around them. This is so important because we all have days where we feel drained or need a ‘pick me up’ and it’s the amazing people in my life who have helped me through some of those tough times.
As much as we may love what we do, there are parts of the industry that can be ugly or a bit messy and it can be very discouraging or you might just be working so hard that you burn yourself out. It’s important to have other outlets and things you enjoy to be able to relax and reset whether it’s going to the gym, getting together with friends, sitting on a beach or some type of recreational hobby — something where you can focus your attention elsewhere for a bit and then feel refreshed and ready to get back to it.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There are many different causes that I believe in and I think it’s easy to say donate to a charity you believe in or give clothes and food to local food banks and shelters which is all great but not everyone has the means to do that — especially artists that are trying to eek out a living for themselves.
I think the biggest thing we can do right now for each other is to be understanding and kind. These times are especially difficult for so many people and you never know what someone else is going through. We’re all busy but we’re not too busy to be kind, caring and patient. The best thing you can give someone is your support and love.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my incredible family. They have always been so supportive of my career and believed in me. They have made many sacrifices to help me to get to where I am today whether that was my parents having to be apart from one another for long periods of time, spending hours with me and late nights to help me prepare for shows and competitions, providing me the opportunity to work with the best possible music teachers and go to the best schools, financially supporting me to travel and work with the best in the industry and showcase at major music festivals and conferences or spending hours of their time to research, network and to help me behind the scenes for my career. On days where I feel like giving up, they give me the push I need to keep going and remind me why I wanted to do this in the first place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A quote that I really love and has had a big impact on my life and the way I look at things is “It is in the nothingness of your mind that infinite power resides…” It is from Victor Wooten’s book “The Music Lesson”. I love that quote because it made me realize that everything is created from nothing and because nothing is infinite there are infinite possibilities as to what you can do. It reminds me that I am capable of anything I want to do or set my mind to. It makes me feel empowered and reminds me that it all starts with me and that I have the power to make things happen for myself and to create my own reality.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would absolutely love the chance to get together with Stevie Wonder. He has greatly influenced my music and has been a big inspiration to me. I think that he is one of the few great artists that are left. I would love to be able to hear stories of his career, pick his brain about music, the industry and his creative process. Lastly, it would be a great honor and a dream come true to one day collaborate with him.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me @jennagnation for all my social media, Instagram and Twitter.
I also have a website www.JENNANation.com and Facebook facebook.com/jennagnation
You can see my music videos and watch some live performances on my Youtube Channel at YouTube.com/jennanation and find my music on all streaming and listening platforms such as Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Google Play etc.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!