10 Questions with ... Jamie Lynn Spears
July 3, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Jamie Lynn Spears is already a seasoned entertainment veteran at just 25 years old. She's the little sister to Pop superstar Britney Spears, and she starred in Nickelodeon's hit series, "Zoey 101," when she was just 11 years old. She left her acting career behind and had her daughter Maddie at 16, around the same time that she turned to songwriting. Spears penned Jana Kramer's recent RIAA Gold certified hit, "I Got The Boy," and is now pursuing her own career as an artist. The Louisiana native recently released her new single, "Sleepover," to Country radio, and is featured in a one-hour TLC documentary, "Jamie Lynn Spears: When The Lights Go Out."
1. Jamie Lynn, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Can you tell us briefly how you came from the girl that was on TV and the little sister to a superstar to wanting to pursue a career in Country music?
Well, I guess when you're young, you are figuring out who you are - especially when you're 11 years old and an opportunity is presented to you - of course you're going to say yes. You don't know the true definition of work or responsibility, so you go into it excited. It was an amazing opportunity. But at 11 years old, you don't know what you want to do for the rest of your life. So, I think that the best thing I could've ever done is step away and say, "What is it I want to do the rest of my life?" Becoming a young mother and having to think about those decisions a lot earlier rather than later forced me to sit there and say, "Okay, what kind of future are you going to provide?" That's when I started writing music. I didn't come here and say, "Give me hit songs and let me sing them." It was, "Let me start writing music. Let me start figuring out who I am as a person." I grew up in Nashville. Nashville was a really big discovery process for me coming into a woman. That is how I'm here. I was a little girl then, and I took the time to really grow up. It wasn't one moment; it wasn't one decision. It was time and process, and that's how I got here.
2. Are you spending more time here in Nashville songwriting? Can you tell us a little about your process as a songwriter?
Yeah, I'm in Nashville a lot. I basically live at the hotel. They're like "Welcome back to your second home!" I spend a lot of time doing that. But I'm one of those people that when I'm here, I try to put my head down and stay focused. I love this community, and especially the songwriting community, for embracing me the way that they have. My writing process is never the same. Sometimes, there's something - you're driving down the street, and you're like, "Oh I've got to put that in my phone right now." Sometimes you walk into a room, and you have a co-write, and you're like, "I have nothing today. I feel uninspired, and I don't know what I want to say." Sometimes you hear a melody, and you're like, "Oh my gosh!" And you start singing it, and you know immediately that's a melody that you're going to write to. For me, it's always different; whether it's no inspiration and somebody says something and that immediately inspires you to write, or whether it's a melody, or whether it's an unexpected inspiration, it's always a different inspiration. For me it's never the same.
3. Is there a ratio of an idea that comes versus a melody? On Keith Urban's album, he said virtually every single song started with a melody, and then it went from there with the lyrics filled in later. That's a really different way of songwriting versus driving down the street or something's happening in your life, where the lyrics come first.
For me, I prefer more lyric driven, just because I tend to be able to sing better; I tend to be able to connect better if I am doing the lyrics. Say I walk in here today and have this song title, "Red Hat" - that's what I want to write a song about. Usually somebody will play a few different melodies. I'll say, "Nah that doesn't sound like the right melody for that. Play a different melody." Well okay, they try out this one, and I'll be like "It sounds like it's a little too... not upbeat. Can we do something a little more relaxed?" And we'll build from there. That' my favorite kind, because you're like, "No this is what I need to say and what I want to say. Let's put good music to it." You can get into the studio and build a phenomenal track with anything. But if the words are not good, then sometimes it doesn't stand up well for me.
4. Particularly in this format. I know that there's a lot of Pop influence with songwriters, producers, and collaborators in the format, but Country still is in a place where lyrics really matter, right?
Yes. I'm a fan of Country music, as well. So nothing makes me more excited than to know that there could be this whole song and there's this one line in the song where you're like, "That's the reason I love this song!" You wait for it each time. To me, I want to create moments like that, where people are listening, and it's that one line or whatever it is that makes you... you can't wait for it in the song, because you connect to it so much. So for me, that's what gets me excited. But it's also awesome when you walk in there and somebody has this amazing melody that inspires you as well. That's really cool to me also.
5. You're pursuing a career as an artist, but you do already have songwriting chops. Clearly, you've written a lot of songs; you're in this Nashville songwriting community, and your credibility is growing all the time. That's a great fallback. In your mind, if it doesn't happen as an artist, do you feel like you can be in this community and create good music as a songwriter?
For me, I don't care if I'm a Miranda Lambert - a huge, huge star - or if I'm a nobody. I'm always going to be in the songwriting community. I love it. I love the connections I've made through it. For me, that's a no brainer. Of course, that's a community I always want to be a part of. I want to be more a part of it. I really do. I never want to lose that. Even as an artist, I always want to do that. The thing about being an artist is being able to - it's the cliché saying - you get to get up there and sing words and connect with the fans, and I think they feel that. I think that's the really important part of this year. People will understand the words if they understand the story. This documentary has got that honest side, so people will get it. They'll get me as a songwriter, so they can understand me as an artist. Songwriting, for me, is a no-brainer. I don't care if I'm a nobody or a somebody - I'm always going to write songs.
6. The Country format is an incredibly wide landscape right now. Where do you think your music fits into that?
I think that I fit in a lot of different areas. That's the one thing I want to be embraced for. People tell you, "You know, you need to fit in this lane or that lane." For me, as a woman, as a person, I'm a lot of things. I'm a mother who has songs like, "When The Lights Go Out." I'm a wife who has songs like, "How Could I Want More." I'm also a young girl who likes to be flirty and confident but still in control, and that's where "Sleepover" is. So I think I have a lot of different facets of myself, and I think it's important to embrace that and not be ashamed of that. You can be everything, as long as it's genuine and honest and not trying to be too many things. It all has to be inside of you. I think I fit into the category of just being yourself - whatever that means on that day, and whatever that song is in that situation. There are a lot of great things happening, and I'm hoping to find my niche in it. I think that I can [liken] myself to the mother and the daughter coming to the concert. I think I have something for both of them, because I sometimes get to be on both sides of that. I'm 25, but also I'm a mom. I get it. We've got to get up in the morning and go to car line. I can sing to you both.
7. Can you tell us about your documentary on TLC, "Jamie Lynn Spears: When The Lights Go Out?"
It's a one hour documentary. A big confusion sometimes for people is they don't understand how you go from [Nickelodeon television show "Zoey 101"] to singing Country music, or how you go from being Britney's sister or a young mother to singing Country music. People don't understand that I'm from Louisiana - I was born and raised there. Not only that, but who I was at 11 is not who I am at 25 years old. I did take that time away to raise my daughter. I did take that time to live in Nashville and write and really figure out who I was as an artist. But, because that was behind the limelight - even though I was so busy doing all of this and creating all of this - people didn't see it. And in today's world, if they didn't see it, it didn't happen.
8. Do you feel that that is shifting a little bit? With the success of Jana Kramer's single - which you had a hand in writing - that automatically gives you some stronger credibility. When we talked to radio about that song, they were super impressed by that. I think that goes a long way.
Definitely. And thank you. That song was a really cool experience for me as a songwriter, because I held onto that song for a while. When you finally let a song go, and it finds the right home - it was an amazing experience. It was an amazing experience for me as a songwriter, too, to hear someone kind of validate you. It's not just you saying you want to sing your song. Someone else is saying that this is good, and they want to sing it. The important part with the documentary was to let people in to who I am for the first time, which is really scary, because it could go either way. But let people in, sit down, and tell them how I got from Point A to Point Here. And let them in to my personal life, let them into understanding what I've been doing in Nashville. In this hour, I think it really bridges that gap, because people will want to know [my] story. So I made the decision to do it, and I'm really proud of it. It turned out really good. I named it, "Jamie Lynn Spears: When The Lights Go Out," because I have a song - that's actually a very old song - that I wrote. I decided that would be the perfect name for the documentary.
"I Got The Boy," it's now a huge-selling single and successful. How did that song come to be? You mentioned you held onto it for a while.
That song is seven years old. "When The Lights Go Out" and "I Got The Boy" were written very close within the same time period, if you can tell by the words. I was in a situation where someone that was in my past was with someone who I thought was bringing out the best in him, and it was bittersweet. I was like, why couldn't he have been that way for me? So that was the conversation I was having with Tim [Nichols] and Connie [Harrington] in the [writing] room. You know, I'm so happy that he's becoming the person that he should be, but also, why wasn't it that way with me? It was really bittersweet, because I was really happy about it, but at the same time confused, like how come you were a boy and couldn't grow up for me? So that was kind of the inspiration behind it. And of course, being with two amazing songwriters like that, they help you tell and articulate your feelings in a way that connects with everyone. But that was what was in my heart when I was having the conversation about it, and then I think a lot of people connect to that, because it's a bittersweet feeling. Hearing someone else sing it and connect to it was all the better for me.
9. How did the TLC special come about?
It was one of those things where it was very scary for me to let cameras in. It could've gone either way. It was a scary decision for me to make. But I felt like it was important. If we told the story right and honestly, it would help bridge that gap for the people who knew me as a little girl and didn't understand me as an adult by explaining to them, letting them in to what I've gone through in the past years, and truthfully telling my story for the first time. I think it's important for people to hear that in my own words so that they can better understand why I'm here, how I got here, and what I've been working on for the past years. I think that was really important, not only for my fans - first and foremost that have been supportive through all these years - but also for the industry.
10. Who is the Jamie Lynn Spears that you want Country radio to know?
I want them to know me. I want them to know the person I am - not the child star, or not just a sister - a very proud sister I'll have you know. I want them to see me as another human, as another artist introducing themselves for the first time. Every other artist gets to introduce [herself] for the first time, and I really want that first chance, as well.
1. Much has been made about the lack of women on Country radio. Do you feel at all handicapped by being female when you're out presenting your music to new audiences?
I think the conversation is happening, and there's a hunger for it. I think we're seeing a lot of females come forward right now. I think as opposed to dwelling on the handicap, we need to focus on progress. I think I see progress. I think if we keep focusing on that, as opposed to the negative, then we'll see even more progress. I try to not look at it as a handicap or anything else; I try to look at it as what we have done, and what we are doing. Anytime I see a woman do well, I feel like that's all of us doing well.
2. Who were your musical influences growing up?
Well, my momma and my daddy had very different song selections. My dad was like Alan Jackson, Terry Clark - "A Little Gasoline," he made me memorize it - and Shania Twain. He made me sing those songs with a little microphone in the living room. And then my Momma was Elton John, and she loved Journey. I think for me, I loved singing Alan Jackson and those songs. I felt like my voice rested better there. I loved and appreciated both sides, but I felt like my voice was more comfortable hearing Dolly Parton and those things. I'm not as good as Dolly Parton, but those were things that my ear went to.