Meet Detroit songwriting duo Jenny & Jackie ahead of the Hamtramck Music Fest

Jen David and Jeffrey Thomas had each been writing and performing with local bands for several years before they finally met (and eventually married). But it would be a couple more years before they formed their groovy minimalist-pop project known as Jenny & Jackie.

They've had a busy first few years together, including the opening of David's instrument store, Third Wave Music, in late 2016 and the release of their debut album, Summer, last August. The duo's debut sonically evokes the temperate tension-release vibes of its titular season with warm toned guitars, dulcet tones, and sweetly indelible melodies. And live, with their distinct vocal styles, reggae riff guitars, loop pedals, pared back percussion, shakers, and a sweet saxophone, they're able to affect the mood (for the better) of any room they play.

Both were already staples around the local music scene, with previous appearances at past Metro Times Blowouts. Before the sixth annual Hamtramck Music Fest kicks off this weekend, we wanted to get readers acquainted with this creative and driven couple.

Jenny & Jackie want to put out an album for every season, eventually. They've written a lot of new songs that you can hear at Hamtramck Music Fest this weekend, but they haven't decided what season it sounds like yet. Maybe spring? Maybe autumn? Maybe summer: part 2?

Metro Times: Tell us how you met and then how and when you started making music together.

Jen David: The day was May 25, 2012, at 1480 Gallery (now Simplified Clothing). It was an art opening that both our bands at that time (illymack, Gardens) were performing at. Rumor has it that during illymack's set Matt (Zilkowski) nudged Jeffrey and with a wink and a nod helped turn his gaze my way. Jeffrey actually wrote a song that's now on our album, "Oh, Jenny," two weeks before we met. He wrote us into existence! He sent it to us a few weeks after we started dating and I was so nervous I would hate it, but I thought the demo was beautiful and unique. It took until both of those previous projects ended before we started writing together. Once the growing pains of adulthood somewhat settled (business, house, marriage), then Jenny & Jackie was born. We were itching to get some of these songs out after not making music of our own for a while.

MT: On the subject of influences, what do you share, where do you differ?

David: I joke that to get over my Beatles obsession I had to marry one. That's the group we bonded over, and Jeffrey looks like he could be a Beatle, for sure. If you're a Beatlemaniac, there are so many avenues you could discuss late into the night about one of music's largest, longest, and lovely spectacles. We also share a love of girl groups, Motown, and early rock 'n' roll. But I'm heavily influenced by an almost diary-style lyricism (Lennon/Ono/Eminem). I desperately want to sing like Ronnie Spector and I try to write songs like Carole King, but musically I lean toward minimalism. Jeffrey is much more sonically focused; his unique influences are Velvet Underground, Syd Barrett, Silver Apples ... He writes music before the words, and I'm the opposite.

MT: Jen, you said minimalism. There's the melody of the Beatles, there's also some reggae riffs on your album's songs. What's the songwriting process like?

Thomas: Some songs existed before and then were completely transformed to fit this project. "Dig That Course" was an unused Gardens song that found proper footing with this project. I like the idea of not giving up on a song if you think it's worth it; it being a matter of finding the good arrangement. I really enjoy how "Whomi Gonna Be" flourished in a more band-type setting with Corey (Weedon) and myself playing with Jen. I love its original solo-loop-pedal version too.

David: And Jeffrey had an idea for a reggae-inspired alter ego called Jackie Rainsticks, and I had also been doing a solo-loop project called Jenny Junior. So the combination of those two projects is where Summer came from. The minimalism was in response to a lot of the thick, layered music we had been listening to; I wanted to hear some air between our parts.

MT: You own, opened, and have now been operating your own music instrument store (Third Wave Music) for a few years now. What sustained you through that endeavor, from Day One to its grand opening?

David: Once I get a bug I can't scratch, I have to see it to fruition. My mom has sold pianos and organs since I was in the womb, but she's only been a (store) manager. I've seen her work hard her whole life for someone else, and saw men who she outsold and outshined get promoted above her. I wanted to empower myself through ownership in a male-dominated field. (My mother)'s where I get the drive and skills from. My daddy is a jazz pianist, and has played in Detroit since the '70s, so I love when people come in and say, "Oh, you're Jimmy's daughter." (It) gives me a family-style community feeling. He helped me grow up appreciating the craft of music.   

MT: As musicians who've been performing around the scene for more than a decade now, what do you appreciate most about the waves of the "scene" that you've seen go by over the years? What still needs improvement?

Thomas: I looked up to lots of musicians older than myself and definitely wouldn't be who I am without various artists here inspiring me. I don't know if our generation is that different; seems like the same things drive us to be creative. Being fortunate to know so many artists, I know that there are even some talented people who aren't showing people what they're doing right now. So I'd say encouraging people to get out there, encouraging diversity ...

David: Yeah, everyone I played music with before I was 25 is a DJ now [laughs]. I like how many more art-rock (and) synth bands there are, how great performers and genre-busting women artists are getting more of the love and attention they deserve; I love genre-bending bills, getting your old friends to start new bands. I want more house shows and new DIY spaces! I think the biggest coming-of-age-lesson is to appreciate spaces because they can be temporary. Space can influence sounds and crowds and creativity so much and define a moment in time.

Jenny & Jackie perform at 10:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 9 at the Painted Lady Lounge; 2930 Jacob St., Hamtramck; 313-874-2991; see for full fschedule; Tickets are $15 for wristbands for the full festival schedule, March 7-9.

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