Jenna Andrews Talks Co-Writing, A&R Changes During Covid-19

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

When Jenna Andrews and BENEE co-wrote “Supalonely” last year with Gus Dapperton and Josh Fountain, they had no idea it would become a bonafide social distancing banger with its own TikTok dance. But that’s exactly what’s happened over the last few weeks, even though the track was released back in November.

“To be honest that song was probably written in 20 minutes,” Andrews told American Songwriter in an exclusive interview featured below. “It’s so interesting–I’ve written a ton of songs, and a lot of times with the best songs–like “Supalonely”–we were just kidding around. In the most charming way we were all making fun of each other. We were like, ‘Are we going crazy that we think this is good? This is ridiculous, calling a song ‘Supalonely.’’ We really didn’t know what to expect.”

“Supalonely” is a sugary electro-pop tune about being, in BENEE’s words, “a lonely bitch.” In the song, the New Zealand artist–born Stella Rose Bennett–bounces between pouty sad-girl and tongue-in-cheek bad-girl: “Now I’m in the bathtub, cryin’ / Think I’m slowly sinking, bubbles in my eyes / Now, maybe I’m just dreamin’ / Now I’m in the sad club, just tryna get a backrub.” Gus Dapperton makes an appearance in the song and accompanying video–a colorful confection that shows BENEE bopping at home with a bowl of cereal.

While Andrews used to write alone with her guitar in hand, she’s become a staunch co-writer over the years. The Canadian singer-songwriter and label executive wears multiple hats as an executive producer, vocal producer, and A&R consultant who’s championed rising artists such as Noah Cyrus and Lennon Stella in addition to BENEE. She also heads a publishing venture–Twentyseven Music–with Barry Weiss, whom she met during his tenure at Island Def Jam. 

Andrews recently spoke to American Songwriter about co-writing “Supalonely,” mentoring younger artists, and getting more involved in A&R and publishing. She also reflected on her early Myspace days, plus her alternate career path as a sports journalist. Check out the full interview below.

AS: I know this last week was a big week for you, since “Supalonely” shot up in the charts. Can you tell us a little bit about working on that song?

Jenna Andrews: I’ve known Stella–that’s BENEE’s name–for like a year, maybe just over a year. She had one song out that was pretty popular in New Zealand called “Soaked,” and I was just such a big fan of hers. I had already been connecting with her over FaceTime. We actually didn’t meet in person but we had connected so much over FaceTime that when we met we were already so close. 

To be honest that song was probably written in 20 minutes. It’s so interesting–I’ve written a ton of songs, and a lot of times with the best songs–like “Supalonely”–we were just kidding around. It was like, ‘Who knows if this is a joke or a real song?’ In the most charming way we were all making fun of each other. We were like, ‘Are we going crazy that we think this is good? This is ridiculous, calling a song ‘Supalonely.’’ We really didn’t know what to expect, and she released it in November.

Yeah, it’s been out for a few months now. 

She put out her [Stella & Steve] EP in November, and I also wrote another song on the EP with her called “Blue.” That’s a much more sad song–it’s a guitar-driven song, which is super emo and way different emotionally. That EP came out in November, so it’s funny to see how [“Supalonely”] really caught on on TikTok the week when this whole coronavirus situation started [to ramp up].

Who are some other artists you’re working with that you’re really excited about?

Lennon Stella, who I just finished an album with that I A&Red. That comes out April 24. I’ve been working with her since she was 14. This is exciting because it’s the first album that we’ve put out–she’s 20 now. 

Noah Cyrus. I also co-wrote the remix with Leon Bridges of “July.” That’s exciting because it’s doing really well. We’re making our way up the Top 40 Chart. It’s definitely a slow grow but people are loving it–it will be the biggest hit she’s had so far. It will surpass “Make Me Cry,” which is amazing.

I’m working on new stuff with BENEE. I was supposed to fly to New Zealand last week to start working on her album. So we’re talking about doing some FaceTime sessions, but that’s definitely the first trip I’m taking once this is all over. She’s one of my favorite artists to work with right now.

Do you find that writing for someone else feels different than writing for yourself? Do you approach those things differently?

When you write for yourself it’s about your own experience but it’s a way to connect to other people. A lot of times you’ll write something for yourself and then another artist connects to it because they experience it too.

In terms of how I approach [songwriting], I love collaborating. I absolutely love it. These days I rarely just sit down and write for myself. That’s how I started–I used to write on my guitar and never co-write. You know what’s so nice about co-writing? It’s someone else’s perspective. It’s the same thing as having a conversation–if I’m saying something it may inspire you to say the next thing. To me, if you find chemistry, there is nothing better than collaboration that you feel so comfortable and vulnerable with.

In addition to songwriting, you also do A&R consulting and head a publishing venture. How did you transition into those facets of the industry?

I don’t know if i would call it transitioning. It’s more of an old-school approach of being an executive producer. Quincy Jones did that to Michael Jackson. For me Lennon Stella was the first artist that really brought me into it. Like I said, I started working with her when she was 14, and I just connected with her on a deep level and started writing with her and vocal producing. She decided that she wanted to go solo, so I developed her and got her signed to this label called RECORDS. And coincidentally Barry Weiss, who’s the head of the label, was the head of my label when I was signed to Island Def Jam. So I brought Lennon to Barry, and it was because I really trust him and thought that he would do well by her. 

During that same period he hadn’t signed Noah yet but he asked me to write with her because he was considering signing her. So I wrote with Noah and we had a strong connection. Then they ended up signing Noah, so it just happened naturally. After I signed Lennon to RECORDS, Barry asked me if wanted to consult on more artists, [which] just made sense because [of] my relationship with Noah. 

Then the publishing thing–I’m signed to Sony/ATV as a writer, and naturally I’m always thinking big picture, outside the box, so when I would write with writers that weren’t signed or artists that weren’t signed that I thought were amazing, I would just tell my publisher [Rich Christina], “Oh have you heard this?” I naturally would bring them a bunch of people, so he was like, “You should have a venture here.” I was like, “Oh my god, I never even thought of that.”

A&Rs get a bad rep. If you were to ask the kid in me, the artist seven years ago, “Would you ever get into A&R?” I would have been like, “There’s no way.” But you are what you make it.

You’re doing it your own way.

Exactly. I wanted to redefine it, and bring what I’ve learned as an artist. Now I have so many skills–I’ve been on the artist side and I’m a songwriter and vocal producer, but also I’ve gone through a lot of the crazy things–the politics that not everybody knows about. So I could help [artists] navigate that, which has been a nice thing because you feel like you can act as a mentor.

The publishing company works the same way. When you’re signed to a major publishing company there’s so many people and you can get lost in the shuffle. When you have a little independent company within a major, you can act as a voice which is really exciting for me. And there are a lot of artists that I write with that [meet each other through me.]

If I’m working with Lennon or BENEE or Noah, I could say, “Hey, this producer is amazing,” and they may work with them because they trust me. With Lennon, a lot of the writers I’ve had her write with are the writers I’ve known for ten years. This one guy that she absolutely loves wrote on my first EP. [That’s] Jaramye Daniels. He goes by the Jerm. His biggest song is with Jessie Reyez, it’s “Imported.” I met him in Philly like ten years ago and he was just a background singer. I was like, “You’re amazing.” I thought his voice was unreal and I just loved him, so I asked him if he wanted to come to New York to write my EP with me and he did.

You were already doing A&R!

Yeah I know, as an artist! He literally wrote my whole EP with me and then he went on to become this crazy songwriter and years later I put him in with Lennon and Lennon fell in love with him. So it’s not just about music–it’s about personality, too. It’s the same way as you tell your friend, “Oh my god, you should date this person. I know you’ll fuck with them.” ‘Cause their personalities will gel. That’s the same thing you have to do when you’re writing.

I read that at the very beginning of your career you shared your music on Myspace. What do you remember about using that platform? Is there anything comparable now?

It’s interesting–you can’t really say Spotify is comparable. Myspace was really the whole picture–it was your top friends and all those kinds of things. I almost want to compare it to SoundCloud in a weird way.

For me, on Myspace, I wrote this song for my parents for Christmas and stuck it up on Myspace and that was it. If you have a song on Spotify explode on TikTok or something–it wasn’t like that. I didn’t have this crazy fan reaction, it was more like an industry reaction. 

In terms of accessing a creative community and helping [me] get one foot in the door, [Myspace] was everything for my career, and a lot of other artists’ careers too. It was a way to be exposed to particular people that people followed. It’s the same way it works now, but it’s on steroids now.

Lastly, what’s something your fans might not know about you? Do you have any secret talents or interests?

I put it out there how much I love dogs, so that doesn’t count.

Not everybody knows this–and it is out there, but I don’t say this in a ton of interviews–I went to school for broadcast journalism. I did interviews. I’m from Calgary so there wasn’t much of a music scene there, but started working in a radio station. I was working the overnights at a radio station, and I got offered a sports broadcast job when I was 19. 

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