Creator and front woman of Jen Jayden Greenstone, Jen Jayden has blazed a non-traditional trail though an industry dominated by male producers, front men, and exploitative images of femininity. How has Jen kept her personal truth and kept moving forwards? What does success mean to her and is there an end point?
You have worked in many areas of the industry – you began on broadway. What were the challenges you faced in that arena, particularly as a woman, what did you learn?
I would say number one, the first challenge is putting myself into a box – I went to school for music – because that was the one thing that – as an artist, as a singer, you wonder…how am I going to make money in this industry? Whats realistic…I always wanted to be singing in my own band and doing my own music but that never seemed realistic. So broadway seemed like…okay, thats what people do to make money and thats what most people think is the definition of success.
I never really liked Broadway – I never really gravitated towards that kind of stuff, so elements of it seemed like a job…elements of what should be my passion seemed like work to me. But I grew to love it because it still involved what I love. Definitely being out in the world of auditioning when I first came to NY and having to go for these jobs, especially as a 20-21 year old straight out of college, every insecurity of the world is brought up. a lot of times I was caught up in the “am I doing this well?” “I need to do this better” or…
I was often consumed by the pressures of age and beauty…am I pretty enough, skinny enough, young enough? Oddly I worried about the talent part the least. I often doubted all of the outside packaging, not yet understanding that the inside needs to lead for anything on the surface/outside to even move forward. As I’ve gotten older, and gone through the roller coaster that is the entertainment world and seen the digital changes, I’ve finally come to the place where I am finding myself almost forced to pursue only what I truly love musically. In my 20’s/early 30’s, success to me meant being signed by a major label and being rich and famous, no matter what the cost. Competition was more familiar than collaboration. Now, I find competition to be a wall. Collaboration like breathing. And while I still am on the path to fame and fortune …I know that when I achieve those touchstones I will be in that position as a force that can lead as a positive example of strength, intelligence, passion and compassion, rather than just a body on the cover of an exploited magazine. Today I guide my career and trust my own direction, and I trust my audience, rather than relying on auditions, music execs or bullshit statistics.
You also went on the cruise ship circuit for awhile- what inspired that choice?
I worked in a small dinner theatre in Florida right out of college. I had a great time with the group of people I was working with, but we were paid shit, put up in horrible apartments and we were BROKE. even though we were all so super broke, it was ridiculous! One of the girls left mid-contract to work on a ship where I heard that she was making $800 a week singing (which at the time seemed like a fortune to me!) and she was traveling and doing better shows….tIt seemed like a dream. So I literally took off in the middle of the night; left at two in the morning, drove to New York, 2 months and a handful of auditions later i was hired and my cruise ship career was set in motion. Quite literally my inspiration for that was financial. Travel was a bonus that I only came to realize I absolutely loved.
You shared with me that you then went through a very difficult and frustrating time – what was that about? In regards to marriage, your career, finding itself second to your husband…
I met my husband on ships, [he was] my sound engineer. We fell madly in love in a dream world…no bills, no worries. at the time it seemed like that for me and my then fiancee was…we had the same mutual goal. He was helping me record, we were working on the project together: to get me a record contract and go on tour together. That was kinda our limited (narrow-minded) goal, when we first came together. Over the course of the years as we worked to that goal together in LA, other producers began to enter the picture, and the evolution of my own music and my own art was growing. Him not necessarily being a contributing partner to that, challenged him and brought up every insecurity: issues of trust, financial issues, every issue we never addressed as a couple in another world, where everything was fine and those questions were…everything was solid, you know? We’d never ever discussed how we would handle any of these things.
All of these issues loaded on at once, it was impossible for us to sift through and the easier avenue was to place blame, and frustration and all those kind of things. So when I made the choice to try and just stop all of that, and remove something from the equation, (which was me) so we could have a break, to try to restart everything. It seemed impossible. I didn’t realize that, number 1: he had become my security blanket as far as…he was my first and primary supporter. So, giving up that caused me to second guess everything I was moving forward to do musically and in my songwriting. Financially he had also become my security blanket. Originally I was the one that was our financial security blanket…that scenario had turned around where he started finding success in his music career, independent of me, with the people who were my idols. Suddenly I was drowning. Its crazy. So to be able to move forward…yeah, it seemed insurmountable, it seemed like climbing Everest. Looking back on it, I find it amazing that I was able to navigate that. I find lots of material from that.
Creative people are very passionate when it comes to love. Theres a reason why a lot of artists gravitate towards other artists. If you’re gonna be with an artist, it’s very challenging to accept some of the passions, roller coasters of the artist. It requires not only the artist to find, in themselves, a way to become level…whether it be meditation, training or your own outlets so you’re not so crazy. But it also, then, requires, that other person to be able to think outside their very linear box and go, okay, I can accept some of these different things.
Neither one of us knew the meaning of balance. Moving forward my mission is to find security and happiness within myself. there is no other person that can give me that. they can only walk with me and vice versa and enjoy the journey.
You went through bankruptcy – many women have troubled relationships with money. How do you think you got there? What did you learn? What do you do differently now.
Money. I mean this has been a…dare I say…issue…for me for a very long time. I didn’t realize your relationship with money I think definitely comes from a young age. I truly believe we learn from our parents or whatever figure of authority as a kid, how to treat money. i was fortunate, when i was young my parents were doing very well. i didn’t want for anything. i didn’t have an allowance. There wasn’t a relationship with money. i saw my parents having fun when there was money. And when there was no money there was no fun.
So for me, my association with money was more ‘the more you have the more fun you can have.’ [This included] credit …the more credit you have the MORE fun you can have! I can remember in college writing a bad check to go on spring break! So when I started making a lot of money, the more money I started making, the more fun I started having, and I wanted other people to have fun with me because that was more fun! So I never saved a penny. I was never taught to save. I was never educated in the fact that you could invest. I’m still working on educating myself now.
When you get up to that point [of debt], it literally feels like you are drowning, and you might as well be. Its the worst possible feeling ever. I had this association that also began with my parents that bankruptcy was the worst thing you could do. That it is better to work your ass off and kill yourself then it is to declare bankruptcy. And for many people that is what they associate it with. I was finally advised that that was definitely not the route I should be taking and I did declare bankruptcy. It felt like I finally got some air, and it was a very freeing thing for me. Several years out of bankruptcy, I am do see the repercussions of it, now: be it the fact that it is more difficult to rent a car; or that there will not be me purchasing a house any time in the next year or so; to any business start up/loan/investors. [These things] are a bit more of a challenge. So these are different things that I am having to face now, which is forcing me to look at money in a different way.
Money isn’t everything, but it does merit respect. I do not have credit cards. I operate mostly in cash and i don’t spend what i don’t have. I am also very grateful for what i do have and my “needs” and “wants” are very different from what they once were.
Describe how you re-visioned your self and climbed back up to form Greenstone.
How did I revision myself? How did I reform Greenstone? I stopped re-visioning myself. I stopped thinking about what I needed to be. I stopped seeing this crazy picture. A friend asked me to play a show and I was like: “Oh, right, that feeling of playing in front of an audience is awesome.” I stopped thinking. I took my head out of the game and just got back to doing it because it felt good.
I started writing for me, playing for me.
You can sample some of Jen’s magic via the official Jen Jayden and the Greenstone website.