Austin Jenckes: More Than a "Voice"
My very first memory of Austin Jenckes was on the first day of Communication 101, freshman year at Western Washington University. In a lecture hall full of over 50 students, we each took our turn to stand up and briefly introduce ourselves. Austin was sitting a few rows ahead of me. He stood up and enthusiastically told us that he was a singer and songwriter. I'm sure I wasn't the only person in the room checking my ears since Austin looked more likely to be a linebacker than a musician.
After hearing Austin perform for the first time at an open mic night on campus, I knew that Austin was not only a singer and songwriter; he was going to be famous. During the four years we spent together at Western, Austin and I shared several classes together and became great friends. Those of us who are lucky enough to know Austin, know that there are truly none like him. Austin carries with him an aurora of positivity, humor, and passion that is infectious in the best possible way.
I am one of many who share in the excitement of Austin’s success in Nashville and now in his new adventure as a member of Team Blake on NBC’s The Voice. Please enjoy this interview as I got to catch up with my old friend and hear about the new roads he is paving with his music.
What made you decide to move to Nashville after growing up in Washington?
After I graduated from Western in the fall of 2010, I spent a year in Bellingham playing bar gigs. That usually meant I was playing half covers half originals. I was making enough to pay rent and having a great time. I could have continued to do that and grow a little but I wanted to do something that would force me to grow both as a person and musician.
I’ve been so lucky to have so many people who support me as a musician in Washington. I felt like I owed it to them to really try to do something bigger than stay local. I knew Nashville was the place because I had been to LA and it just wasn’t the right place for me. I had been to New York and it seemed really scary. Nashville just really worked for me.
What have you liked most about Nashville?
I have loved being able to see how people make a living doing music. For example, the first church I ever went to had Keith Urban’s bass player and Amy Grant’s piano player on the worship team. Everyone in Nashville is doing something with music. It is a way of life here. In Seattle there is a big focus on art, which includes music, but in Nashville everyone is somehow involved in the industry.
What do you miss most about Washington?
I miss having friends that aren’t musicians. I miss having friends that are just friends. Everything in Nashville revolves around music. I know more balance will come in time. I also miss the amazing support group I have in Washington, both personally and musically. And of course I miss the mountains and the water. They just don’t compare.
Many people have been following your music since you performed in college. How would you say your music has developed over the years?
Lyrically I have always been drawn to music that has a message. For a while I thought I would just sing sad songs forever but then I realized that people like happy music too! Upbeat music wasn’t my strong point. I’m focusing more on writing stuff that has weight to it but it is happy and upbeat too. I think I have grown lyrically over the last several years. I’ve worked on being clear and purposeful in what I’m saying in my songs. I’m finding balance in my lyrics to include things people want to hear while also saying what I want to say.
What are some musicians or other things you would say inspire your lyrics?
Need to Breathe is my favorite band. Their music, lyrics, and everything is great. I also really like them because they are "big idea" based. The way their music has grown shows that they are a band that is okay with having big dreams. They were a huge inspiration to me in that way because they started as a Christian band and then grew into their own style rather than trying to fit into a mold.
What would you say has been the hardest part being an aspiring musician and songwriter in Nashville?
I think it is finding the balance of finding life outside of music. It is really easy to be sitting in a bar hearing the stories of the multi-Grammy award winning icons you are sitting arms length away from. It is easy to start chasing what others are doing and to lose yourself in Nashville. It’s not just Nashville. I want to do what other people think is cool, but I want to stand my ground with what I was meant to do. Some days I feel like I am moving mountains and some days I feel like I am at the bottom of the barrel. Being on The Voice really isn’t a huge deal when you are talking to someone with a Grammy, and that is both a good and bad thing.
Being a musician full time has can be hard, what else do you do to pay the bills and grow your skills?
When I moved to Nashville I had saved up money but that was gone after about six months. So I started working in a warehouse for about nine months and then I decided to audition for The Voice. I needed another job while I waited to see how that would pan out so I got a job running scooter tours. I have also done some odd jobs here and there. I have done some vocal demos. Some songwriters don’t sing so they pay other people to sing their songs.
Also, since I moved here in January 2012 I have written about 120 songs. I had a couple songs that were almost picked up by artists but ended up not making it. Songwriting has helped me make sense of my own music and I wouldn’t have learned that if I hadn’t started writing songs for other people.
What made you decide to audition for The Voice?
I had a friend of a friend who was involved with the show and he was able to get me an “industry audition,” which meant I didn’t have to show up and wait in the enormous open call. It was about three months before I heard anything back from the show. All together it was about a seven-month process before I got to do my live audition in front of the judges. I wanted to audition for The Voice because it was a good opportunity. I have always felt like I was born to play music. A few years ago I don’t think I would have been ready for The Voice but I think this was the right time for something like this.
Can you describe some of your thoughts and feelings as you performed in front of the judges?
I just went into performance mode. The hardest part was all of the pre-shooting with my family because you don’t have a lot of time to say all the things you want to say.
What can we expect next from Austin Jenckes?
Well I can’t say what will happen with The Voice. The last of the Battle Rounds will happen this week and then move on to the Knockout Rounds. After that we move to the live filming. But besides The Voice, I have been writing and preparing for a new album to come out sometime next year. I am also in the process of booking a West Coast tour to start early next year.
To listen to Austin’s music visit his Bandcamp page. His music can be purchased on Bandcamp or on iTunes. Watch below to see Austin wow the judges with his blind audition on The Voice and tune in this week to see him perform in the Battle Rounds. The Voice airs Mondays at 8/7c and Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.