Jen Ayers has been one busy woman.
An accomplished vocalist, pianist, and recording artist, she already has thousands of nationwide shows under her belt fronting the Seattle-based band, Honey Tongues and sharing bills with legendary acts like Tom Petty, Jack Johnson, and Bill Frisell.
After years of staying busy with the band, Jen is back with SHe Said, her first solo album in ten years, followed by a theatrical production next month.
The common word “album” doesn’t feel sufficient enough for the depth of project this is. And a personal one at that.
SHe Said is a love and life journey in musical form, following Jen and her partner who came out as transgender. The album follows the impact of gender identity on a family and a couple who transition together.
The album flows like a melodic mri exposing the heart and soul of a woman and a family facing the ultimate test of love and partnership.
We dove right in with Jen to talk about her musical beginnings and the album that came straight from her heart…
Bridge: Tell us about yourself and your sound…
Jen: I’m a singer, songwriter, pianist, recording artist, actor, mother, wife, now a playwright and sometimes circus performer. I feel like all of my past artistic adventures combined have led me to the creation of the “SHe Said” project – a double concept album AND theatrical production.
The sound? My signature blend of piano-driven 70’s soul/pop meets rock-n-roll with dynamic, soaring vocals and a nod to classic rock operas (The Wall, Tommy) and gender-bending musicals (Hedwig). The result: epic, heart-wrenching headphone candy.
Bridge: Where did your love of music begin?
Jen: When I was five my Mom woke up to me singing and playing “Hello Dolly” by ear on the piano. I started lessons the next week. And I sang all the time, all day long, roller-skating up and down my street listening to my red transistor radio. Music moves me in all the ways.
Bridge: What drove you to make the absolutely insane decision to pursue music? (I’m allowed to say that as a fellow artist)
Jen:I wrote my first song when I was seven, sang in choir in high school, performed in musicals and it was being on stage at 19 with my first band that I had the realization I wanted to make music and performance my life. My partner Graham was in that band with me. We met the first day of college, freshman orientation and had a shared love of music. Our first date involved walking through a snowstorm to see Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same.” We ended up moving to Seattle with dreams of starting our own band. Graham wrote songs on guitar. I wrote songs on piano. Sometimes we’d come together to discover our two separate ideas made one perfect song. Honey Tongue was that dream band that we quit our day jobs for and took on the road across the country.
Bridge: Your new album “SHe Said” – give us all the details!
Jen: The “SHe Said” album tells a story. The songs stand alone, but the record is best consumed start to finish. Even better if you have a turn table to listen to it on vinyl, open the gatefold and get lost in the graphics, snippets of song lyrics and photos on the inside. Old school.
Eight years ago, my husband came out as transgender, which sent us both on an unexpected journey of self-discovery as individuals and partners. Our mainstream, cisgender life was turned upside down and it profoundly changed us. I turned to my piano to cope, writing songs to help make sense of what I didn’t understand. I sorted out my feelings, asked questions and eventually found answers through my music.
I’d written and recorded albums before, but through the process of demoing these songs in my basement studio and bringing them to life, I began working with my collaborator, writer/director Daryle Conners, to envision a more robust telling of the story beyond the music.
We both felt early on that this story had a powerful, theatrical aspect to it, so we reached out to our friend Marc Kenison (aka “Waxie Moon”), a veteran one-person show/actor/performer to get his thoughts on what it was we had. The three of us sat around my dining room table together. After listening to me tell stories with my songs interweaved, he said, “I’m completely moved. This IS your show!”
The process of writing the songs for this project was completely cathartic. My therapy. But my biggest challenge was writing the “SHe Said” script while I was living it. I needed to step away and just let life unfold for months at a time.
We eventually began workshopping the project for small groups of trusted artists, musicians and theater advisors – just me at a piano playing, singing and telling stories. Our plan was to bring the show to the stage in early 2020 and record the album afterwards. Then, the pandemic hit.
So, we switched gears and decided to record the album first. I asked producer extraordinaire Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan, Indigo Girls, Nancy Wilson) to produce it. We spent the first month together masked in my living room, recording each song on piano with scratch vocals. Then, moved to his studio for a year-long collaboration. It was such a luxury to have this kind of time to work on an album and Jeff really managed to capture me in a bottle, seamlessly bringing together my retro influences with a fresh twist and nods to the circus. We brought in musician friends one at a time to add their own special magic, including my partner Graham who has been part of the process from Day one. Graham is my biggest champion and has been there every step of the way, helping with song production ideas and script brainstorms. Graham’s voice is strong in this project, behind the scenes and literally on two of the songs on the album.
Bridge: What is your driving force behind this album?
Jen: “SHe Said” is our love story, but the songs take the listener on a universal journey with themes like partnership, compromise, individuation, identity, change. It explores what it means to be transgender and to love someone who identifies outside of cisgender norms. I hope people walk away from listening to the album and seeing the show having learned something new about gender identity and the meaning of love.
Bridge: What song on the album resonates with you the most?
Jen: I’ve been intensely rehearsing for the “SHe Said” shows, memorizing monologues and practicing the songs. Every day a new tune resonates. Right now, it’s the last track on the album, #16 and the show’s finale, “The Real Thing” – retro soul vibes with a killer groove and great harmonies.
Bridge: What is next for you? What do we need to keep an eye out for?
Jen: The “SHe Said” shows hit the stage at Seattle’s Broadway Performance Hall 10/6, 10/7, 10/8 and 10/9, featuring me, Marc Kenison (aka “Waxie Moon”), a live band (Kathy Moore, RL Heyer, Rebecca Young, Melissa Montalto, Geoff Reading), and a multimedia mashup of 70s animation, soul pop, glam rock, and “The Moth”, all rolled into one.
After that? A “SHe Said” nationwide tour baby!