St. Louis-based Jen Norman started a country music career in Nashville in the early 2000s and has since made a name for herself as an indie roots musician in Missouri. We sat down to chat with her about her two-decade-long music career, the birth of her first child, and the personal connection she and her wife have to the Columbia area’s beloved Burr Oak Tree.
Interviewer: Before we get into the music, I want to talk about you. What do you do? What does your day-to-day life look like outside of music?
Norman: I’ve lived in the St. Louis area my whole life and right now I’m playing music for my job. I’ve spent about twenty-two years playing music around the area. I’ve worked different jobs during that time. I was working for a craft beer company up until Covid hit and then I lost that job due to Covid. During the midst of Covid, I got pregnant and I got married and so I have a sixteen-month-old baby girl so I waited a little longer to start than most people. I had her at forty-one so she definitely keeps us busy. My day-to-day life is mostly spending time with her and working on music.
Interviewer: If you’re playing music as your job right now, are you playing your own stuff or playing with a band? What does that look like on a professional level?
Norman: I do mostly solo acoustic shows. I’ve done a lot of that for many, many years. But I also play in a duo with an old friend of mine and then I play in a trio band that mixes my songwriting with [that of] a good friend of mine that writes songs. I try to do a little bit of everything. Sixty to seventy percent of my stuff is solo acoustic things. I haven’t been playing much with the full band—I will be playing with the full band at Roots N Blues, so that’s super exciting.
I did go out on tour in 2020. I had a thirteen-week, seven-state tour booked. Unfortunately, it was starting the week that everything shut down due to Covid. So I got a few of the gigs in then had to take some time off, obviously. Later on we did get more of the tour dates in and some of them are still in the midst of being rescheduled. That was my first real concert tour, so to speak. But yeah, I play around St. Louis a lot. I do a little bit of traveling here and there. I actually just opened a show for Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis this past Friday night in Lee’s Summit, Missouri so I travelled for that one.
I stay fairly busy in St. Louis. I kind of pick and choose what I do these days because I have the baby. I spent a lot of time taking anything I could get and to a point I still do what I have to do. But I do try to pick and choose somewhat. And I’m actually in the studio right now recording a new CD so I’m looking forward to that coming out this fall. I’m hoping to have it out before Roots N Blues. I’m in the studio with the full band, so that’s exciting, too. That’ll be my fourth full-length project.
Interviewer: That kind of leads me into the discussion about your music. You recorded your first full-length album in 2003, is that right?
Interviewer: So can you walk me through what got you into music and the beginning of your career?
Norman: I’ve been around music my whole life. I was raised in church, my dad is a pastor. So I started out pretty young, seven or eight, playing percussion. I played drums in church for a long time. I’d always liked to sing but I didn’t think I was any good at it so it took quite a while before I really started singing seriously. When I was in high school I did some choir and I did some small ensemble music things. I stopped going to church when I was nineteen for a long time and I started playing at different restaurants and clubs and cafes and things like that. At that time, I wasn’t really playing guitar, I just sang with backing tracks. I was really into country music at the same, and that kind of led me into [playing that genre]. I kept pushing and pushing and pushing, trying to get into Nashville. In 2001 or 2002, I met a guy that worked with a lot of up-and-coming artists in Nashville. He gave me a lot of encouragement and said he wanted to work with me and he managed my career for a couple years. Not a whole, whole lot came from that, but he did help open doors for me and gave me some experience. He was the one who pulled me into record my first album in Nashville. I wasn’t writing songs yet, so he sent me a bunch of songs I could choose from from Nashville writers, so I chose ten songs and recorded those. That was my first album, which came out in 2003. I was in my early twenties at the time.
Interviewer: What was the album called?
Norman: Leaving on the Next Thing Smokin’. It was very country. That style of music is quite a bit different from what I do now. But that’s how I got my start. I kept going back and forth to Nashville as much as I could. I had a couple other people that worked with booking me, getting me onto TV shows. And then in 2006—I’d always dabbled in songwriting, but again, I wasn’t really good at it—I kind of got serious about writing songs. I finally picked up the guitar. I’d been trying to learn for years but wasn’t really getting anywhere. I finally started to learn some chords and learning those chords really led into my songwriting. I accomplished quite a few songs between  and the time my first original album came out. I put my first original album out in 2011. That was called Learning As I Go. It really opened doors for me locally. I started playing bigger shows and doing all the pride events and some bigger things around St. Louis.
I kept writing and my music was slowly evolving into what I would consider more indie roots rock. Over the course of years and break-ups and relationships and all those different things, I just kept writing. In 2016, I put out the record that I’m the most proud of. It’s called Speak Through Me. I recorded it with a full band and put a lot of time and energy into recording that record. That was my last full-length record. Between then and now, I’ve released three or four singles so I have new music and I’m in the process of recording more new music, which is going to be my next record, [which] will come out this year.
Interviewer: Is there anything you can tell us about that or is it something you’re keeping under wraps for now?
Norman: There’s gonna be a few songs on there that are old songs, but I never recorded them. The record is kind of gonna take you through the different sections of my life. It’s gonna have some old songs—it’s gonna have some old break-up songs, which were from a very long time ago—and it’s gonna have some older songs that are more happy and optimistic and positive. And then it’s gonna go all the way to my newest stuff. My newest single that I released, called “Moon Baby,” is about my wife and my baby girl. It’s kind of the start of our journey together and the journey of creating her, which is kind of interesting because our whole relationship started around the Burr Oak Tree in the Columbia area. The story is in the song, but the Burr Oak Tree played a huge part in us getting together and then we both have a thing with the moon so we did a lot of wishing upon the moon and then we named our baby Luna.
Interviewer: What a beautiful story. I feel like anyone who grew up in Columbia has some connection to that tree and I love hearing the different memories people have associated with it.
Norman: Yeah, my wife is actually from that area—not Columbia, but around the area, so she was real familiar with the tree and kind of introduced me to it. The part of our story—right before we met—heavily involves the tree, so it’s really cool. We took our little girl, just a few weeks ago, we took her there and showed her. We’d taken her there when she was real little, but we took her there and showed her the tree and kind of tried to explain. She’s only sixteen months, but she had fun running around out there.
Interviewer: Now we can talk a little bit about the festival. This is your first time playing Roots N Blues, correct?
Interviewer: So what was the experience like, getting the invitation to be a part of the lineup?
Norman: Oh wow. Well, we’d gone last year as spectators, me and my wife and my baby girl, who was really young, maybe six months or so, and we had a blast. After that experience, my wife was like, ‘It would be so awesome if you could play this festival.’ When the email came in, I was in shock. I didn’t want to get too excited because I was like, ‘What if it’s not really going to happen?’ But then I started talking with [festival co-producer] Tracy and I just felt so humbled and honored, really, to be playing among the artists that are booked this year.
Interviewer: Who are you most excited about on this year’s lineup?
Norman: Jon Batiste, probably. I’ve been a huge fan. I watch him on the Stephen Colbert Show all the time and I’ve been kind of following his solo career. Him, and Wilco and Bleachers. Tanya Tucker—I’m so excited.
Interviewer: Is there anything you can hint at about your set?
Norman: I am gonna pull a couple old songs and maybe a brand-new song. But I’m gonna be doing a lot of the stuff from Speak Through Me. Like I said, that’s the album I’m really proud of. I’ll play “Moon Baby” for sure, especially cause [Roots N Blues] is in Columbia. You can expect an indie rock feel. We’re gonna mix some mandolin in on some songs. It’s gonna be a little of…kind of crossing different genres.
Interviewer: Sounds like it’s gonna be an awesome way to start off Sunday.
Norman: Yeah, I’m excited.
Until then, you can catch Norman playing around the St. Lous area. Find her full listing of shows, as well as more information about her and her music, on her website: jennormanmusic.com.
To see her play Roots N Blues on Sunday, October 9th, grab a pass here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com/