Jena Irene Asciutto first came into the public eye when she was runner up in season 13 of American Idol. But don't let her two hundred thousand-strong fanbase throw you, Asciutto is shifting gears to present a kind of indie pop that references the greats while forging her own focus. Her upcoming album Cold Flame is a sequence of songs that articulate the shifting perspective of a young woman passing through the ordinary, extraordinary events of life.
Based in Detroit, and informed, but not overshadowed, by the musical history of that town, Asciutto is developing her own brand of indie pop with a focus on a more mature vision that will please, and surprise her fanbase that already carry expectations of this young lady.
ARTISTdirect caught up with Jena to speak of the process behind her new full length album, the band of babes she has built, and just how to win a GRAMMY.
Where are you right now?
I’m currently typing up these answers in the DIME-Detroit building, where my label, Original 1265 Recordings, is also located.
Please name your fellow band members and their roles... oh, and who has the best dance moves?
I do a few different types of show; some with my band babes and some alone. My guitar player is Elise McCoy, Drums -- Duane Hewins, Bass Player -- Craig Shephard (Shep), Keys -- Brandon Bland (Showtime). All of these talented peeps are also from Detroit and we’re one big happy fam! But I don’t know in terms of dance moves -- they all have their originality, but I’d say Shep is low-key the best dancer.
Tell us about your new album: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
My album is called Cold Fame. It’s been a development process for about 2 years with writing it, recording, perfecting the live side of things, and making sure each song fit the story. I’d like to say it’s a concept album about growing up and figuring out who I am, which is pretty much what we’re all continuing to figure out day after day. A whole swimming pool of emotions I discovered throughout the last few years; but I love that the story ended at self-acceptance. Though there’s a lot of frustration through the first half, there’s also a lot of contentment towards the end.
I worked with my producer (and one of my managers) Kevin D. Nixon, along with Detroit session musicians (the most talented I’ve come across) - some of which are in my live band :) It was recorded at Detroit recording studio, Studio A. The candy is the fact that I got to play that gorgeous grand piano in the studio every day for a good year.
How do you describe your music to new friends?
My music is always evolving, but the constant has always been a singer/songwriter vibe with an epic live instrumentation. I love using live instruments to make the listener feel like they’re in the same room as when it was created. Lots of passion in the lyrics, lots of brutal honesty -- it was very therapeutic to write haha.
How did you first meet, and where exactly did you become a band?
I met all the musicians on Cold Fame at DIME Detroit (Detroit Institution of Music Education). I actually knew Elise (Guitar) a while back when I was in my first cheesy cover band “Infinity Hour” at 14 years old haha.
Other than cars, what should Detroit be known for?
Detroit should be known for its expression of art. Whether you’re talking music, street art, film etc., It will always be of original quality.
Please look around you right now and please describe the first item or person you see that’s significant to you.
I’m so incredibly grateful for my 3 dogs. They will always be the loves of my life no matter who comes and goes! They’re a handsome fam.
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music, please tell us all about why you find it so inspirational...
The first thing that inspired me to pursue music was when I started writing songs. I was 9 when I started putting words together that created melodies, but I didn’t really know I was writing songs.
I always find joy in it as if it’s a get-a-way trip into my mind. I just discovered a huge inspiration in the last 3 years or so -- Amy Winehouse. Her ability in writing songs and knowing exactly what she wanted in terms of her music is what struck me initially. Above all, I find her lyrics so relatable in describing the way she feels - as a listener of all of her records, I feel like I’m in the room with her.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
The best piece of advice I was given about pursuing a life in music was from my managers. ‘To never let anyone or anything come between you and the music.’ It makes a lot of sense since it’s always been the constant in my life.
Not including your current crew, who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
I would love to take Lena Dunham with me to drive from gig to gig for a day.
What song best sums up your life right now?
Probably the song ‘Extraordinary Machine’ by Fiona Apple best sums up my life right now.
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
When someone tattooed some handwritten lyrics on their back shoulder. I love Sandi so much- she’s one of the most loyal people I’ve ever met :) But I was shocked that someone was so inspired by my s*** they wanted it on their body forever.
Take a moment to dream - Where do hope to be a year from now?
I hope to be at the Grammys a year from now accepting ‘Album Of The Year’. Hahaha -- go big or go home. ;)
What’s your next step towards that dream?
My next step at conquering that dream is by releasing my album, Cold Fame on June 2nd of this year.