After parting ways with Big Machine Records, in the wake of a devastating tornado that ripped through Nashville, just before a global pandemic swept in, Lauren Jenkins had a choice to make. Having made great strides in her music career, she felt paralyzed by the rug of confidence and financial support that was ripped out from under her. But Jenkins had been working at her artistry since she was 15 years old, and luckily she had no plans of quitting.
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Against all odds, the multi-talented artist finally created the record she hoped her debut 2019 album, No Saint, would be. On Friday, July 9, the 29-year-old Texan delivered the first part of a trilogy of EPs, Miles on Me.
Jenkins went into the studio of her longtime collaborators Shuffle Brother Music (Gideon and Gabriel Klein) with members of her touring band (Ellen Angelico, Megan Jane) and began cutting songs without the constriction of a genre or a label’s expectations. The four-track collection is an unapologetic account of a formidable era.
“At the moment, it was a bit of a shock, but looking back it was a gift,” Jenkins tells American Songwriter about losing her record deal. “For the first time, I have the freedom to make the decisions. On No Saint, I had to fight more than I would’ve liked to for my ideas. Some of those battles I won, and some I didn’t. I’m so proud of that album. Making a piece of art is a challenge at any level, and there are parts of that record that are beautiful, exactly how I wanted it to be. But there will always be parts where I wish I could’ve done it my way.”
Dividing the eventual LP into a trilogy of EPs served both a creative and a budgetary purpose. Jenkins’ love for telling stories in three parts dates back to her film days. While the music industry moves toward a “single cycle,” Jenkins is still a proponent of long-form storytelling.
She says, “I want to hear a whole story, not just three minutes of one small thing. If you have a greater story to tell, how do these interact with each other? And what’s the longer narrative?”
She attempted to draw out the chronology of her songwriting with a three-part music video series, Running Out of Road, attributed to her first album. As she sat down to write her second album, a narrative revealed itself to her, again in three parts. When the pandemic began, she says, “My income totally vanished.” So three separate studio sessions, spread out across the financial year, seemed not only creatively opportune but also financially doable.
Leading up to this first EP release, Jenkins shared a few tracks, beginning with, “Ain’t That Hard” shortly after she was released from Big Machine last spring. The song unfolded as she unraveled onto paper, and her ability to bring those still raw emotions into the studio with her to record reminded her of the value her independence brought. She was finally able to do what she had initially intended—to make music on her own terms.
“It was really important to me in the midst of all of the heartache and uncertainty that I have the freedom to do what I want to do. I wrote this song, and I wanted to record and release it, so I did. And I felt like the message was really fitting for what was happening,” she says. “I love songs that have layers. This one is about a relationship. It’s a reminder to myself and other people to be careful with each other and with our hearts because it’s very easy to break someone’s heart or break your own. And it happens every day all the time.”
On April 9, the artist revealed “Like You Found Me.” Co-written with Blake Chaffin and co-produced by Jenkins herself, the anthemic declaration of independence serves as a centerpiece for her chapter-opening collection. She says, “I wrote it after the line I’m finally fine on my own rang true for me.”
The title track, featuring indie-folk artist David Ramirez, evokes an atmospheric aura. Combined with Ramirez’s deep tones, her brazen vocals shimmer in a melancholic retrospect. Though her closing track, “My Own Advice,” suggests an inability to learn from her past and the lessons she tells herself, listeners can hear Jenkins’ growing in her roadworn strength with each verse of “Miles On Me.”
“Talking to my co-producers, I was like ‘it’d really great to feature somebody on this one,’ and David was on the top of my list,” she says, “I decided I was going to reach out—which would’ve been a huge battle had I not been calling the shots this go-’round.”
Miles On Me, penned mostly over the course of 2020, picks up exactly where Running Out of Road leaves off. The film ends with Jenkins standing in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere. Part 1 begins with “Where the hell does she go from here?”
“Miles on Me, for better or worse, is one hundred percent me. If people hate it, there is no one to blame except me,” says Jenkins, laughing. “But music, to me, has never been about whether or not it’s received well. I’ve just made music because I feel I have to.”