Rising star Jenny Tolman likes to infuse her music with touches of humor, self-deprecation and even a hint of straight-up sarcasm. That’s not a forced effort or some contrivance designed to fill a certain niche. Instead, the good-natured, lighthearted humor is a true reflection of the singer/songwriter from Nashville, and it’s showcased nicely on her first full-length album, titled “Jennyville.”
“I like to write things that make people laugh,” says Tolman, seated inside the office of her Nashville management firm. “I love comedy and making fun of myself, and I don’t take myself too seriously. People don’t want perfect all the time.”
For certain, what fans do want from an artist is that relatable element. In “Jennyville,” they’ll find everyday characters with their own particular quirks and often caught up in crazy circumstances. The result is at times comedic, but at others insightful. For starters, you can point to the current single from the album, “Something to Complain About.” Tolman extracted the idea from a conversation she had with a good friend.
“It was about her and her husband,” Tolman begins. “She was trying to get pregnant but couldn’t. One day, she was telling me about talking with some new moms and they were kind of complaining about how busy they are and how messy their kids were. And she was like, ‘Jenny, I wish I had something like that to complain about.’ I thought, wow, that is so true. We all have these blessings but we nitpick about little things. That line, ‘something to complain about,’ stuck with me.”
During the writing session, Tolman confessed a small nugget to her co-writers, which led to one of the song’s key lines. She lets go an extended laugh before explaining. “I was saying how I was sick of having small boobs,” Tolman says with a slight, but not embarrassed, giggle. “That’s why I put the ‘Double D’ line in there. I actually have a friend who is a Double D size and she complains about it, and I’m like, ‘please.’ So, it wasn’t too hard to come up with lines for that song.”
Tolman’s lyrical mix of wit and smarts has drawn comparisons to Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves, among others. But her perspective is clearly her own, and her characters speak in a unique voice. That’s best demonstrated in songs from “Jennyville” like “Stripper for a Week,” centering around a woman who takes an unusual route to get her bills paid. Tolman developed her writing and musical talents early in life. “I started playing piano by ear when I was three,” she says. “I would pick out the melodies I heard in church. My parents took notice of that and they started me out taking lessons.” Tolman’s father works in the music industry as a talent buyer and also plays some music himself, so those seeds were already firmly planted.
“I always loved singing,” Tolman continues, “so I started focusing on that also. I once wrote in my journal that I wanted to be Alicia Keys.” Might as well set the bar high, right? Throughout that time, Tolman began crafting stories from her life and experiences. At one point, she considered a career as an author of children’s books, but music eventually won out. Inspired by artists like Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert, Tolman set her sights on cultivating the full singer/songwriter package.
Now, she’s taking those crucial initial steps with “Jennyville” along with opening slots for Cole Swindell, Alabama and other acts. Most notably, she performed at the recent CMA Music Festival in Nashville, realizing a dream she first formulated in high school.
“I went to CMA Fest every year with my friends,” she recalls with a smile. “We sat in the very top row of what was LP Field [now Nissan Stadium] at the time.” And when she states “very top row,” she means that literally. She’s not talking about the “nosebleed” section—the “vertigo” section might be more appropriate. For someone who doesn’t exactly embrace high elevations, it proved quite a challenge to overcome that fear. “I am not a heights person at all,” she says, managing a smile. “When you first walk up there, you definitely have jello legs. We started doing these breathing exercises,” she adds with another smile, “to calm ourselves down.”
Tolman could barely see the CMA Fest stage from that upper tier vantage point. But playing that stage has remained part of her overall focus. “Every year,” Tolman recalls, “my friends would point down to the stage and say, ”Yeah, you’re gonna be down there one day.’ I haven’t played the stadium yet, but I feel like I’ve taken the first stepping stone.”
“Jennyville” is available now.