An Interview with Jennifer Budd

Jennifer Budd is a r’n’b / soul / jazz singer from Hamilton that has made a splash since her debut in the local music scene. The album Lip Service was released a year ago and it garnered a lot of hype in a short amount of time.  Jennifer has a special spark that that’s taken over Hamilton and in the past year any music industry related event I’ve attended has been peppered with whispers of  ‘have you heard about Jennifer Budd?’ It’s not hard to see why there is a buzz following her. Jennifer Budd is really talented, she has the sort of voice that you don’t hear too often at local clubs and it makes an impact. She’s got pipes, catchy well-written songs, and she is captivating on stage. It’s wild to think that Jennifer is just at the start of her solo career, and to imagine how much better she will most likely get with experience. Jennifer is very friendly and earnest and is the sort of person you instantly like. I met up with Jennifer recently to talk about her fall tour and learn more about her as a musician.

Q – How was the tour?
It’s been an unreal experience, and the last show is actually this Saturday in Hamilton. It has been my first ever Jennifer Budd tour, and I pretty much arranged it all myself – – which I don’t recommend! But, then again it was also a great learning experience and something I don’t take for granted. The response surprised me – I gave myself low expectations just in case it was a crapper. Almost every place exceeded my expectations. I had a very special show at Maxwells in Waterloo – the amount of people was unreal. I spent some time there in high school and love the city.  

Q – What’s it like to tour with another musician (Melissa Marchese)?
It has been such a great experience! Melissa and I are now good friends and will do more shows together. It was cool to find someone that’s different enough from myself, style wise, I think that we compliment each other well musically. We’ve become friends and have a really fun connection. She’s an amazing performer who is grounded in this beautiful confidence and a raw provoking energy. Going on tour with her was so good for me and made me a better artist. 

Q – Did you always perform with a full band?
The band got together when I recorded Lip Service. I always imagined a horn section and a certain arrangement in my head and fortunately they came along and we’ve been together ever since. I always hear horns when I imagine music and because of the type of loud voice I have the horns match my volume. I like playing with the call and response with the vocal and horn lines.

Q – Where did you grow up?
I was born in Timmins. Shania was my first live concert. In the massive park in Timmins, I remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders to see her. Eventually my family moved down to Guelph so I lived there for a while and eventually moved to Hamilton for university and I’ve never left.

Q – How did you get into music?
I’ve been into music all throughout my life. My mom is a singer and we sang together a lot –  that’s how I learned harmony. Growing up I was into dance and musical theatre. I actually always thought I would go into musical theatre all throughout high school and the start of university. Musical theatre was one thing but something about being vulnerable and writing songs and it just being me out there really scared me. It took me some time and a journey to realize it was what I wanted to do and to be comfortable with my sound. I studied music at Redeemer and went to Nashville for a semester abroad. A few of my classmates played horns and every week we wrote a song and performed a song for school. It was the best experience to be surrounded by so much talent and history. Nashville is amazing. I wrote a song that was more jazzy with a horn section and performed it one night – it really lead me in the direction of my sound now. I realized ‘I’m more of a soul r’n’b, little funk, over-archingly pop’. That’s me.

Q – Can you tell us a little about your song writing process?
I’m huge on recording voice memos on my phone. Most songs start with a melody that I hear in my head that’s recorded on my phone, most often when I’m in the car. I usually just record these little melodies or lyrics and call give them the title of whatever I was doing at the time –  ‘car ride after dinner’, for example. Or, ‘a little too much wine’. That’s usually the start for me, I’m always on alert for melodies. Although I go through month chunks of a lot of inspiration and I do a lot of writing. That’s my personality. I’ve learned about myself through the enneagram. It’s a personality test. There are 9 numbers and it is so cool. Look into it! I found out that I’m a 3 and so I’m an emotional person but I don’t tend to go into that deep emotional reservoir often. I’m not comfortable with it and with handling my own emotions. I prefer to keep it light and keep it optimistic for the most part. I go into seasons of highly saturated emotional work and I go to the piano and go through and write some lines or full songs. I reach that place of honesty and emotional vulnerability with myself – it’s hard for me but it is where good songs come from.  It’s an everyday discipline but the hard work comes in these 3-4 month phases where I’m writing a song a week and work intensely. Two years ago I wrote Lip Service in a state like what I’m describing now.

Photography by Kate Watkinson

Q – Who are some of your major musical inspirations?

Amy Winehouse is my biggest inspiration. If I could be anyone musically but myself it would be Amy Winehouse. Also,  Kendrick Lamar and De Angelo – I love the syncopation that they use. I also love Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The classics. I also get inspirations from seeing my friends shows – people that are in my space and in my industry and it inspires me to see them create beautiful lyrics or a beautiful baseline or whatever.

Q – Can you tell us a bit about about your hair?. It is a major presence in your promo images images and when you’re on stage. 
It has a life of its own for sure!  I’ve thought about putting it up before because it gets in my face and even goes in my mouth sometimes and that makes awkward situations for me. Half way through a song I’ll be singing with a hair in my mouth. I don’t put it up because I like to dance and to move and my hair is a part of that. It’s an extension of me – like a limb. I’ve been growing it for like 7 years so I’m gonna enjoy it. 

Q – What makes a good show for you?
The live show is where the magic is. If I had to tell someone to either listen to my CD or come to my show – I’d say come to the show hands down. There is a lot of intentionality behind everything. I consider the whole show. I’m an entertainer and I put a lot of thought into the show and how that might translate to the people in the audience. It’s important to me to have a connection with the audience – that’s what makes a good show. It’s enriching to see people connect and relate to my lyrics. Am I connecting with people? Every note could be perfect but if I don’t feel a connection it isn’t as meaningful to me.  It is important to tap into something real and something genuine and to experience emotions with people. We all have hardships and go through things and it’s important to make people feel like they are not alone in that breakup or that depression, or whatever. As artists it is our job and responsibility to show a mirror to people and connect emotionally. Heart always beats perfection.

Q – I know that you worked doing promotional work for a music venue in town (The Casbah), what’s it like to cross the stream and see music from that other point of view?
I’ve learned so much. I get venues and why they do what they do and the meaning behind things. I’ve learned about the hardship that music venues face when less people want to come out to shows on certain times of the year or whatever. There’s no guarantee that many people will come to every show – so I’ve gained a huge appreciation and understanding of that side of the business. It also taught me that its important for musicians to go to shows and support fellow artists. That sort of support means a lot.  When one person does well in my city everyone does well. Artists can sometimes be competitive and I think it’s important to intentionally promote and support other artists. Props to people who support local musicians.

Q – You were a winner and a big hit at the 2016 Hamilton Music Awards, what was that experience like?
Everyone was so nice and I felt very supported. It was an incredible weekend to me. It was so strange to be in the green room with my band eating the food and seeing Harrison Kennedy sitting in there casually! Performing was very surreal.  Being on stage was weird because of the lighting you couldn’t see anybody in the crowd, and and the mix sounds scaled back since it’s being mixed for TV. We had to figure it all out very quickly. Getting the award was surreal too. I honestly did not expect it at all and didn’t even think about it so I had no prepared statement or a list of people to thank. I had to walk across that entire stage and just think “Crap! Crap! What do I say?!” It was wonderful and the support from the music community means so much.

Q – Is being signed to a major label the end goal for you?
Not necessarily. I’m not looking to be signed any time soon. Labels bring cool things and also uncool things and where I’m at now I’m still developing myself as an artist. I’m not ready to give up any control at this point, it’s not the right time for me. Maybe down the road, but it isn’t what I’m pursuing anytime soon. You have to be wise with contracts in this business  – I encourage everyone to get an entertainment lawyer to look at the fine print before you sign anything. You have to protect yourself and look into all of the details.

Q – What are you listening to lately?
I like the mixes on Spotify. I’ve been going back to the new Solange – that’s been on repeat lately. The album is so good!

Q – What can we expect from you in the new year?
I will be putting out a few videos of cover songs in the near future. I don’t have any definite plans of new music but hopefully there will be something in the next year.

Q – Thank you!

Find Jennifer Budd on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube.

*Photography by Kate Watkinson.  Collage by Olivia White.