Tawnee Kendall: For Her Own Sanity
Interviewed by Jay Austin Seals
Jay Austin Seals: Put these in the order that you think best describes yourself: Singer. Guitar Player. Performer. Songwriter.
Tawnee Kendall: It would probably be: performer, singer, songwriter, guitar player.
JAS: At what age did you find yourself gravitating towards performing music?
TK: Oh my god… four, three? My parents tell stories about how I would be putting on performances; they always said I sang before I could talk. It would creep out my babysitters that I would be singing in my crib when I was really little, before I spoke words.
JAS: As an individual performer, how do you “Rock”?
TK: The most I identify with rock, performance wise… is with classic rock. I grew up listening to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Elvis Presley. A lot of these front men were really dynamic, super big performers. That was how my parents and I connected… over these performance styles. That for me has always been one of the biggest things, in regards to rock, how impressive and dynamic all these performers were. And they were on the edge of history… setting a precedent for things that had never been done before.
JAS: How do you “folk”?
TK: My mother grew up all over the south and her mother was in a bluegrass band, so my mom grew up playing and singing folk. My mom and dad have a lot of similar musical styles, but my mom heavily influenced me with folk and country. I grew up singing Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton. I loved Allison Krauss. So folk is definitely in my blood.
My parents always stressed that music is the most important thing. When I was going to college, they stressed their desire to put college on hold because they truly believed my talents were with performing and singing. They saw the passion that I had for it. Oddly enough, I still went to college and did music on the side. My parents believed that my purpose in life was to be a musician.
JAS: Tell me what these artists bring to mind:
JAS: Patsy Cline
TK: Her effortless soul and storytelling… She precludes all the fads that our on the radio… having all these trills and being all over the place vocally. She has really powerful simple melodies and the way she uses her voice. I don’t think people perform that way anymore. How she’s influenced me is… trying not to get ahead of myself, just really trying to think about what the message of the song is and the power of the individual note… less is more… there is so much power in an individual note if its being sung about a storyline that carries a lot of weight and history. Being able to sing that in that one note with power has more of an impact than trying to figure out how to put all these bells and whistles into the song.
JAS: The Doors
TK: Jim Morrison is one of the most impressive performers. All the things and videos I’ve seen him perform in, he is completely and utterly lost in the song. Its almost like there is no self awareness of who he is or who he is in front of. He is the complete vessel of portraying the story. I love that! I love that he can get up on stage and stop thinking about everything else, and just let this music pour out of him.
I frequently try to do that. When I’m on stage, it doesn’t matter if I’m making a weird face or I’m falling over something or being contorted. It’s the fact that is what your body is feeling at that moment the music is going through your body. He was definitely an eye opener for me in that respect.
JAS: Neko Case
TK: For me, it’s her writing style. She has some pretty powerful lyrics. She and Jim Morrison are similar in the way that they write. They have the ability of describing tiny little elements that are so specific about whoever or whatever they are singing about that you are almost transported into whatever storyline they are telling because the details are there. And they use them in such a calculated way that you almost feel like you’ve taken on their story yourself, even if you have no shared history or way of relating. She’s just a really impressive lyricist, not to mention just being a really phenomenal vocalist as well. She definitely has the power of story.
I try to understand her similar mechanics in describing a story. Making sure that the story is broad enough that you can relate to it. You can sense what is cooking on the oven or the way the fabric felt on skin. Adding in those contextual details are very important.
JAS: Joshua James
TK: He is a phenomenal, incredible storyteller. He also has this ease of not letting the structure of the song be so rigid. He allows for a lot of emotions to seep in.
JAS: Martha Wainwright
TK: She, and really all the Wainwrights, has this beautiful, theatrical element that they add to the music. I really love that.
JAS: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
TK: So, she’s probably the one on this list that really gets the grit across. The hardest thing to convey about my music before a person has seen it is how raw and gritty it is. She’s so sexy in the way she delivers stuff. She’s doing the growls and its all very sexually enticing and that’s a different sort of power in and of itself.
JAS: It seems the word “shy” is not in your design and you seem to have a lot of fun with your appearance, from the way you dress to your tattoos. How do you feel this plays into your role as a performer?
TK: Um, yeah… I definitely don’t try to go unnoticed (laughs). I’m kind of in the business of being recognized. It’s funny, the reasons that I dress like I do and have tattoos is not for shock value. When I was younger I would always paint my face and wear costumes to school. It always seemed more fun to be dressing thematically, almost like playing a character. You go up on stage, that day you’re a superhero or your from the 1920s and being able to channel that kind of emotion and energy in a certain way… for me, it’s always been about playing different parts and accessing different parts of your own emotions and desires and personality traits. It’s a lot easier to do that when you’re portraying an actor or a character. Like Grace Potter, more than it being sex appeal, it’s a confidence in my body and in my own skin. When you’re a kid and you’re dressing up in costumes, it takes a lot of bravery to be able to step outside and not let the criticism get to you. And now, it’s not like everyone thinks the way I dress and the way I act is great. There is still criticism, but it’s my confidence in myself that allows me to be sexy and what allows people to receive me as being sexy sometimes because there is a sex appeal that’s not negative because it’s based from a calm center.
JAS: As a writer, when are you in your wheelhouse… When writing personal tales or observations on the world around you?
TK: It’s definitely easier for me to write from a place of pain and personal experience. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately (laughs) I’m in a super happy place. So I’ve actually had to reinvent the way I write music since I have an amazing partner, I’m happy at work, and I have a great family. There’s not a lot of depressing areas to pull from right now, so I am trying to do a lot more… which I think is a better option for a musician, being able to reference your own personal experiences and be able to take from that and also be able to look at the world around you and see what other people are going through… to be able to tell their story as well. It shouldn’t be an entirely narcissistic point of view.
JAS: On a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being humble – 5 being proud, where would you like to see the tone of your bio fall?
TK: I say right in the middle honestly. I’m certainly proud of my music, but I’m not disillusioned about where I am or where I come from or how far it is that I need to go.
JAS: Is this art for the sake of art, or is it a destination you’re going for?
TK: I would love to play music for as long as I possibly can and have people still interested in listening to it. I think I personally would enjoy having elements of fame… because that would mean that now music is my job, and that’s what I want to do. I would much rather be on a stage every single day of my life than being at a desk. I can tell you without hesitation, when there are days when I’m not doing or focused on music, it’s not a good day for me. It’s almost like it’s not an option. I really want to be doing music… for my own sanity.