Girls Who Rock: Jenn Rykert
Jenn Rykert is one awesome lady making waves in the music biz! Not only is she an inspiring singer/songwriter, but she is a serious women's advocate whose songs exude female empowerment. Check out "The Weaker Sex"- the glorious and unapologetic anthem about "being a girl". We loved this pop-rock and passionate song so much we had to know more! Check out our exclusive interview with Jenn below!
Tell us about your journey into music. Was there a certain event that sparked your creativity in music, or was it something you identified with all along?
Creating music has always been part of my life; although I didn’t acknowledge or accept it until recently. I never called myself an ‘artist’ or a ‘musician’ and would often laugh when people called me that. Not until I released my 1st 6-song EP last fall did I begin to actually respond out loud when people asked what I did, “I am a musician. I am a singer a songwriter. I am a performer”. I guess releasing my recordings made it feel official or something. As a child I would spend hours writing lyrics, making up melodies and recording them on my little tape player, and then “perform” them for hours on my coffee table stage. I remember a babysitter showing me how she wrote down all the words to the songs she loved. That’s when I fell in love with the process of actually writing out words. I have an affinity for handwritten words - it’s one of the most beautiful art forms to me.
Part of why I’m so connected to music has to do with the fact that I grew up in an addict home, with ample exposure to extreme neglect and abuse. There were times I was like an orphan being traded from house to house to anyone who would take my sister and I in. I had many, many challenges, some of which continued into adulthood. Music became the place I knew I would be understood and loved, and where I could hear some honesty. I was tired of living with so many secrets and it was hard to detect the truth from lies. So I would search for that perfect painful song until I found resonating pieces of myself and my stories. Then I would listen to that one song maybe a 100 times, until the painful edge in my heart was a little lessened. That’s when I realized how powerful music was. I didn’t pursue recording or songwriting professionally until about three years ago when I met a grammy-nominated artist who began to mentor me. Up to that point, I had never written about my personal life in songs. The dam opened and I wrote more than 50 songs that year, and co-wrote hundreds of others. Let’s just say songwriting can be some good therapy. I have an insatiable appetite for songwriting. Songs help me own up to my story as well as help me connect to those of others. I think music is the most powerful form of communication on the planet.
Why is it important for you to share music that empowers women/girls?
The obvious reason is that there just isn’t that many of us in rock-n-roll. How many headlining, badass, female-led rock bands, who actually write and perform their own songs, can you think of? I’m talking about on a culturally-tectonic-shifting level like The Beatles, Elvis, Nirvana, U2, etc. I just Googled “top rock bands of all time” and wanted to cry - in the first twenty images that came up, there wasn’t a single girl! Not one female in any of the top 20 bands of all time! I acknowledge there are a few women who are breaking through, but that’s exactly my point - women are the exception in this industry. And the world is missing out. We need the stories, expressions, and sounds that can only come from women and girls! Don’t get me wrong, men have given us some amazing music. But it’s time for women and girls to step up and not be the exception any more. Secondly, I want to be a part of changing the overall image of women in music. Sadly, when you think of female artists, usually images of half-naked, half-starved bodies are what comes to mind (there are exceptions of course). I think most female artists would agree that current music industry credentials are not based on how talented you are, but on how “sellable” you are. Definition: How ‘sexy’, ‘youthful’ and ‘perfect’ your hair, body, and skin are, and how willing you are to cater to men with your music and image. I want to see a new era in music. I want to see masses of female artists who aren’t selling out. Who aren’t selling their bodies for the record deal. Who are confident and fierce about the talent and songs they have to offer the world. I’ve struggled with this issue for years, with my identity and my body image. And it only intensified when I began to do music professionally. I was suddenly being stared at on stage and in my music videos and then being picked apart. It’s been a huge challenge to hold onto “me” and not get caught up in trying to appear more sexy just so I can “make it” in music. I’ve witnessed female artists literally starving themselves to death just so they feel more beautiful to men and more appealing to the music industry. This cannot continue! It’s time for a new message! My personal struggles with this issue have lead me to fight harder for my personal identity and for the identity of women and girls.
What is your advice for aspiring female musicians?
My advice is to remember that no amount of money, record deals, or ‘likes’ can equate to personal happiness. Stay true to yourself and your music. There’s something you have to give and it won’t be heard if you water it down. Be aware that this will take some massive ovarios! I personally chose to walk away from a huge management deal because they wanted me to change my look and the lyrics of my songs so I could be more “wholesome, less offensive, and broader reaching”. It was a really tough decision because, not only was I walking away from quite a bit of money, but also a guaranteed promotion, support, tours and a promise of massive exposure for my new EP. Ultimately I decided to walk away from that deal, knowing that immediate cash in my pocket would never tranquilize the future regrets that would haunt me for not staying true to myself and my music. Your message is too valuable to NOT give to the world.
What is the best piece of advice you have learned along the way?
Don’t wait for someone else to believe in you or for someone else to say, “You are enough! You have what it takes!”. You have to believe you are enough. You have to believe you have what it takes. If you wait to hear those things from other people, it only leads to grief and heartache. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to hear “You can do this!”. And accolades feel amazing! But if the only place we get our self-esteem is from outside of ourselves, it can become a drug, and then you find yourself needing your daily “hits” of approval from others. You’ll spend all your time, energy, and money trying to find the next person to give you your self-esteem-hit for the day. And what’s crazier is, even when you get it, it still won’t be enough. You ultimately have to be enough for you, and find approval within yourself. I’m not gonna lie - this is tough! There’s a reason I have a lot to say about this topic. It’s part of my life’s work.
I would love to share “Weaker Sex” with our readers. Can you tell us a little about the video and it’s message?
I always struggle a little when sharing where my songs come from. I believe every piece of art is a collection of experiences, and I usually like people to make their own conclusions about what it speaks to them. But here are a few components: I remember having a moment of “That’s it. I just can’t take this anymore!” after watching a moving performance of the song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”. I resonated with the sarcasm and it’s underlying message. It unlocked the bottled up messages I had received over my lifetime as a girl and as a woman. It was that night that I started working on the song “Weaker Sex”. I’m kind of shocked that even as a female business owner living in an urban city in America, that I still received messages like these: Boys are natural-born leaders and should lead women in business & every other place. Women shouldn’t lead or “rule” over men. Women who speak up, take charge, or have strong personalities are bitches. Rock-n-roll is a boy’s industry. We don’t need your brain - just sit there and look pretty. If you’re not skinny or young, you will neither make it in music, nor be valued in general. Women are a trophy, a prize for a man’s arm. Women are too emotional and the weaker of the sexes. A woman should be sweet and mild-mannered (act like a sophisticated lady). You can’t say that. Stop being such a girl. Pissed off yet? Ya, me too. In fact, one of my favorite nicknames was given to me by well known bassist, David Labruyere, who affectionately said I was “a rainbow of pissed”. I would say that pretty accurately describes the place from which I wrote “Weaker Sex”. It’s a sarcastic, rockin’ song that’s also emotional and heart-wrenching, and then turns into an anthemic cry at the end with an underlying message of, “please, we have to open our mouths - the future of our world depends upon it”.
You can follow Jenn at: