Known for her incredibly soulful voice and signature blonde, curly hair, Jennie DeVoe built her career the old fashioned way, with lots of hard work and a little luck. She’s performed just about everywhere, from the Lilith Fair stage (alongside kickass songstresses like Sarah McLachlan, Liz Phair and Sheryl Crow) to the Jazz Kitchen at 52nd and College, and has been a longtime staple in the local music scene.
To be clear, Indy is her adopted hometown; she actually grew up in Muncie and graduated from Ball State. After that, she worked in a studio in Broad Ripple where in addition to fetching donuts and answering phones, she lent her voice (and sometimes, her writing talents) to clients like Meijer Superstores. Fifteen years after the release of her first CD, DeVoe is still making gorgeous music as one of the foremost independent artists in the Midwest.
Her independent status is of her own choosing. “I got some interest from Universal and Atlantic and a few other big [labels], which was really cool,” she says. “But we started reading about, like what really happens here, and I found out that some labels would gather people up under contract, and then they’d decide later if they’d release your record. I remember reading in Rolling Stone that Patty Griffin was getting dropped from her label, but they were keeping her last project, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s crazy!’ And it seemed kinda like a prison and sort of like a sign. So I decided to go at it myself.”
Pattern Magazine: Jennie DeVoe
Text by Maria Dickman
And being her own boss definitely suits her. “I entered at a time when it was weird to put a CD out by yourself,” she says. “It’s almost like I know more about the business than I intended to when I got into to. It’s like, as a writer, what am I going to do? How am I going to make a living? Well, you just have to connect. You have to start working with people who you like to work with, and then you figure out the people and personality types that you don’t like to work with. And you just have to keep learning.”
“The easy stuff is being on stage. The hard part is the back end of it, and just kinda keeping a juggling act in the air.”
Her work ethos is making a difference. With every new record, she gains new radio play and new fans. Radio, in particular, has ushered in new challenges and opportunities thanks to the popularity of internet streaming. “Yes, some people are stealing our music, and we know that,” she says.
“But at the end of the day, when people really like your music, it’s still building fans. You can’t rely on everybody; it ends up being sort of an honor system. But you have to embrace it as a navigable thing and transcend it as ‘I’m making good music and doing what I can with it.’”
And she is. “There’s a DJ in the UK right now who’s been playing our songs right between Duffy and Amy Whinehouse,” she says. “It’s the best company to be in!”
Part of her success comes from working with incredible production talent. She’s put out three records with John Parish, who’s worked with PJ Harvey, one of DeVoe’s favorite UK artists, as well as Tracy Chapman. “His record with [Chapman] seemed to marry some kind of pop aspect with his edgy production quality,” she recalls. “So I got ahold of him, and he wanted to work with me. John’s been fabulous to work with. He does really good stuff with my music, and he helps me think outside the box. You create these invisible walls for yourself, and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. And he made some of mine
evaporate. Now, I’m just more able to go, ‘I’m going to try that,’ or ‘I want to do that, or, ‘I want to work with that person.’”
“It’s been a really slow, unfolding thing for me, “ she says. “But you can do anything you want; you just have to figure out your route. And your route might be different [as a female artist] than if you were a guy, but that’s ok. You figure it out, and you just go for it.”
“Big radio and big labels are big business, and their goal is definitely money. And to keep the perception going, they just need new stuff constantly. So, yeah, I think we’re a little on the outskirts of that,” she says. “the good thing about us is that we’ve definitely earned our fans, one fan at a time. It’s not like someone got in your ear and was like, ‘She’s the new thing,’ and you hear me every five seconds—although I love that—but there’s something about when they give that to you, they can also take that away. So having the grassroots following seems to be really strong. Once you have fans that you’ve earned that way, they never go away.”
She’s built her fan base gradually, going bigger and further with every tour, while still trying to maintain an intimate, authentic experience for her fans. “Listening shows are my favorite,” she says. “You’re the reason people come. The lights go out, and they listen. With that setup, you tend to really be a better artist, because they’re giving you this undivided attention. It’s So fulfilling and self-indulgent for me. I love it.”
She’s performed in the company of some of the greats. They include John Hiatt, a Grammy-award winner, Hoosier, and one of her favorite writers. The Dixie Chicks, Ziggy Marley, and Roseann Cash are all on the list as well. And she’d performed in some incredible venues, too, like the Bitter End and the Living Room in New York, as well as on the Lilith Fair stage, But at the end of the day, she loves coming home to her roots.
“I have a certain amount of ambition, but I’m a really private person,” she says. “I’ve been to LA, and New York, and I can’t imagine living there. I can handle it for a minute, and then it’s craziness. It’s just different people; it’s like everyone’s intentions are altruistic and they’re kinda after something. I just kind of know everyone here, and it’s comfortable. I’ve got a little rock star gene, but I don’t crave more fame. I don’t need the spotlight. I like it, I’m at home on stage, and I love that, but I also like a normal life, too. As normal as it can be.”
Her most recent record, Radiator, was completed last March, but because she’s independent, the roll out has been gradual. “We did a local release already, but we’re just starting to do the national release,” she says. “I’ll be working that through the end of the year, possibly until next March. So, we’re kind of slow—mighty, but slow.”
Slow, but mighty. It’s a great reflection of her career growth thus far.
“My career’s never gone down. It may be a slow climber, but it’s never taken a new dive.” she says. “It’s just neat. It’s neat to be able to say that I’m really doing my art, and paying the bills, and I’m really my own boss. It’s really weird, and cool. Yeah, it’s really cool.”