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Saturday, Aug. 12, 2006 | After a gig at an Encinitas cafe, local musician Molly Jenson is approached by some fans, all of them gushing with praise. It’s a picture that the Rancho Bernardo resident would never have imagined a couple of years ago. Though a singer all her life, it was not until another local musician persuaded her to make an album that she began to see herself as a singer/songwriter.
Nowadays, Jenson hits up venues from San Diego to Santa Barbara. She has collaborated with more San Diego musicians than she can even count. With a San Diego Music Awards nomination in the Best Pop Album category for “Maybe Tomorrow,” Jenson says she’s ready to take her music beyond San Diego, one fan at a time.
But when it came to make a decision on whether to move to Los Angeles, the 27 year old chose to stay – for the time being. In between conversations with well-wishers, Jenson explains what makes the San Diego music scene less catty, how musicians survive and why she hates going solo on stage.
How did you get started in music?
Well, actually, I’ve been singing since I was really little, in plays and stuff. I started singing in choir when I was fourteen. Choir was really the biggest thing for me. My choir teacher was a huge influence just in music and singing. That’s really all I did in high school. I was in choir and musicals, and so that’s when I started singing.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue music?
I thought about it a lot. But I grew up to a lot of really cheesy music. And so, whenever I tried writing, I really struggled. In January 2004, (local musician) Greg Laswell called me up. We had a mutual friend who told him I had been trying to write. He called me out of the blue and said, “I wanted to see if you wanted to write and see if we can make an album.” I thought he was crazy, and then I said OK. So we got together and we wrote a song in our first meeting. And then we kept working and did an album. I didn’t really think I was going to do music until I made an album.
What kinds of venues do you play in, what kinds of and audiences have you played for?
I play in a lot of different places. I play in a lot of coffee shops and I play in a lot of bars. I’ve also played at churches.
I want to do a tour. I want to go all over. My goal is to be touring on a regular basis, but right now I’m just trying to build a fan base. I play in San Diego once or twice a month, Orange County once or twice a month, Los Angeles once or twice a month.
When it comes to writing a song, do you have a process that you go through?
Writing is really hard for me. Songwriting is a hard thing. I really like to collaborate with other people. I almost feel like I can’t finish a song until I collaborated with somebody or until I have someone else fine-tune it.
What I would do is sit down with my guitar or my piano and I just start playing. I’ll have an idea for some lyrics. Then I bring out that lyric and start singing with the chords I’m coming up with, then I start writing down what’s coming into my head. I do it all together. It’s not like I write a ton of lyrics first and then the music.
You just got nominated for the San Diego Music Awards, what did you think when you found out?
I was shocked. I was really sick that day I got nominated. I threw up for the first time in 16 years. I was out of it. It felt like a dream. I wondered what would happen when the awards came around; I didn’t know if anybody had my CD. I thought it was cool to be nominated. I had no idea what I was nominated for but it’s a real honor.
How would you describe San Diego music scene? Is there something unique about it?
Well, the scene I can describe is the singer/songwriter scene, the independent scene. I think it’s a tight scene. I don’t think there’s a lot of jealousy. There’s something less competitive about San Diego than there is in L.A. Everybody in L.A. is working somewhere. They’re all musicians, actors, and they’re all competing against each other. Here, it’s a lot more laid back. People are really rooting for each other.
You talk about the tight scene, does everyone play with each other?
Yup. One of my shows was with Anya Marina. We practiced together for a week, we played on each others’ songs, it was just this night with camaraderie. You could tell there are these two San Diego girls that really loved each other and loved each other’s music and support each other – as friends but as also musicians.
Who else have you played with?
Everyone in the San Diego scene. Name anyone and I’ve played with them.
(Local musician) Gregory Page?
Yup. He’s like the epitome of San Diego music; you have to have Gregory Page when you think of singer/songwriters. Yeah, we’ve all played together and we all make a point to play together.
When some people think of San Diego, they might think of the Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, the surfer musician type. Does San Diego music go beyond the surf?
Well, I can’t stand the water. I stay as far away from it as possible. Yeah, it’s way beyond that. If you want to put it in one location, it’s really in North Park, Normal Heights area, and places like Twiggs, Lestat’s cafe and the Ken Club, around there. That is pretty much where the singer/songwriters hang out.
How does one survive as a musician?
Well this one survives by living with her parents and taking money from her parents. It’s really hard. Like tonight, I made about $10. I sell CDs but I have an investor so I have to pay him back for all the CDs before I can even see any of this money. So, right now it’s really hard especially when you’re really trying to pursue your music. You can’t have a full-time job because for a lot of shows, you have to be there in four in the afternoon. So you have to have a flexible part-time job, but you still have to make enough money for rent. Luckily, my parents have taken me in and they make me pay rent but it’s cheap. I’m working for my dad and I’m working for a company I used to work for.
Right now, I’m trying to get into doing voiceovers and doing jingles. That sort of stuff pays me really well but it’s flexible and it gives me time to work on my music.
You mentioned while you were onstage how you don’t like playing by yourself, is that a reflection of the camaraderie in the San Diego music scene?
Performing by myself is so different than when I perform with other people. I just get really insecure when I perform by myself because all I’m thinking about is what my guitar sounds like. I’m thinking of so many things. When I play with other people, I feel more free. I just have more freedom to just let go. I feel a little stifled when I’m by myself.
Did you ever think of moving to Los Angeles or somewhere else to do music?
I almost moved there a couple months ago. I had a manager who said “You need to move out here.” And then I thought about it a little bit more, and I said you know I’m not ready to move to L.A. It’s a big step. I mean there’s tigers up there -lions and tigers and bears. I know that all San Diego musicians feel a little bit intimidated by L.A. I think it would be good for music, I’m mostly thinking about moving up there, because I think that the San Diego music scene is a great scene but I think anybody can get trapped.
I think unless you get discovered here, which happens, you have to move out, for sure. I think San Diego musicians can get stuck here, it can be really comfortable just to be here as a musician. I think it’s a good place to get grown, a good place to learn, but I don’t think it’s the best place to stay unless you are really comfortable playing in just the same place the rest of your life and not really going anywhere.
What is next for you? What is your plan?
I feel like I’m close. Right now, I’m paying my dues. I’m a starving singer/songwriter, a starving musician – literally. And I’m very lucky to have a very supportive family to back me right now. I’m basically getting great response from my CD, and it’s good that I have a CD. I have a great CD and I know I can say that with confidence.
Right now I’m trying to get placement in TV and films because that pays and it also lets people hear my music. I have some people shopping my music to labels. My goal would be … I just want to make music and make money. I have no desire to be super-famous or super-rich. I just want to be able to live by doing music, by touring, selling CDs and just by performing.
– Interview by MARNETTE FEDERIS