Singer Jen Todd ’83 has released her first solo CD, Happy As We Are.
Here, her thoughts on inspiration, song writing, and juggling the day job.
Being an Adelphian helped set me on a musical course I could never have imagined. Bruce Rogers introduced us to such a variety of musical styles. I learned so much about close vocal harmony and guitar work from my friends Cathy Nilsen-Thoma ’80 and Carol Nilsen Damonte ’80, and Margaret McGee Graham ’83. I gained an appreciation of the classics from superb vocalist Christie Springer ’80. The amazing Rachel Coloff ’87, now on Broadway, inspired me to perform with passion. After leaving UPS, I was fortunate to be led into a Seattle recording studio by my wonderfully talented actor/singer friend Marianne Simpson Winters ’82. A four-song demo I recorded back then allowed me to meet up with a childhood friend, Kevin Jones, who heard that recording and gave me a call. We formed a folk-rock quartet with his sister-in-law, Kristy, and her husband, Steve, called Three Track Mind—three lead singers, three-part harmony, lots of acoustic guitar, exciting rhythms—we played together for seven years, recording two beautiful CDs along the way.
A couple of years after Three Track Mind disbanded I got a phone call from national touring artist Laura Love. We’d crossed paths over the years, and she suddenly had an opening in her band. Playing with Laura I have met so many of the artists I admire—Patty Larkin, Catie Curtis, Holly Near, Dar Williams, and just this past weekend in Montreal, Cris Williamson, a pioneer of women’s music. The first festival I ever played with Laura was in North Carolina. Our set followed Willie Nelson’s!
I don’t write too many songs, but the ones I do write usually start with one line, one idea, and that line ends up being the title of the song. I then build the song around that one line. Sometimes the end gets written before the beginning, and I have to work backward. But it’s always with a guitar in hand, and words and music being created together. What draws me to any song is the passion behind it. I know I’ve got a good one if it gets me teary as I’m writing it.
My musical style has been influenced by so many people. I adore Shawn Colvin, Sarah McLachlan, the Indigo Girls, kd Lang. When I was younger it was all about Debby Boone, Amy Grant, the Jackson Five, Andy Williams, The Osmond Brothers. I guess I’m attracted to passionate voices, and perhaps purple glitter! Lately I love Coldplay and Crowded House and Catie Curtis and a fabulous Australian band called Fruit. Mix these together with a little Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, The Sundays, Frank Sinatra, and Prince—mine is an eclectic library!
I dedicated the album to my dad, Frank, because I love the guy, and he passed away last year. He and my mom have been incredible supporters of my music, but for him, I think he thought it was just a hobby. I’ve worked at Boeing for 14 years in human resources, and he was so proud of that. While he loved hearing me sing and play, I think my Boeing job held more merit for him. Something in him shifted, though, when he heard some songs of mine on the radio. He was a huge believer from then on, and he just loved to come see the Laura Love Band as my very proud father. The musical gene I got from my mom, who sang for years with the Seattle Symphony Chorale. She taught my sister and I to sing Hawaiian folk songs when we were little kids. When hounded, she also plays a mean Brahms Hungarian Dances on the piano!
Balancing my “day job” at Boeing with my music career at times has been challenging, but (knock on wood), I’ve never had to miss a gig, and I’ve never missed a deadline at Boeing. When we arrive back at SeaTac airport at 1 a.m. on a Sunday, having been on the East Coast all weekend, and I’m the only one in the band who has to get up for work the next morning, the thought does cross my mind that maybe it’s time to retire from corporate America! So far, though, the balance is working out fine. And I have very nice bosses!