Musician, heal thyself

An interview with Jenny Wood

Written by Natasha Park

If you’re ever fortunate enough to hear Jenny Wood, the guitarist and singer-songwriter, perform live, you might overhear comments such as:

“Man, she's like Fergie and Jesus.”

"Wichita's sweetheart."

"I didn't know whether to be turned on or scared!”

"Community leader."

"Local celebrity."

"Healer"

Recently, she's known as the musician who survived a tragic accident: In 2019, two criminals in a stolen, speeding vehicle collided with Jenny's mother's car at the intersection of Douglas and Broadway. The accident took the lives of her mother and niece and left Jenny with a 5 percent chance of survival. In this SPLURGE! interview, Jenny, with her trademark frankness, shares her story of grief, healing and the sustaining power of music.

SPLURGE!: Jenny, you are recovering miraculously well! Will you share some insights and challenges about your recovery process?

Jenny Wood: Thank you. Due to my brain injury, I have no taste or smell. So, this salad from Newport Grill looks amazing! But … I can't taste it. I'll eat what's healthy because the taste doesn't matter to me anymore. (Laughter.)

I assure you, it's as good as it looks. (Laughs.)

JW: After the accident, I was cognizant and aware that I might not be aware and cognizant of certain things. That was a weird position. I was told that I'd have to start from scratch. My recovery took hard work and support. Thankfully, I can live on my own now. I go outside. I laugh with the mailman. I go to the store. I joke with the cashier. I think they don't know that I almost died! So, it's as if I'm at the beginning of an incredible, sacred relationship with life that only came from knowing death and overcoming significant disability.

I'm excited about life. I can perform and ride my bike. I couldn't do these a year ago. I've begun writing a song inspired by the fact that I'm better now. It's about how my trauma and recovery were just as traumatic for someone very close to me. The accident and recovery weren't all about me.

I love noticing families interact, like at the park. I'm not ready to have that for myself, mostly due to a lack of trust, which wasn't an issue before the accident. The love and attention from Wichita during my recovery were necessary — I’m grateful for the love and support. But the accident also caught the attention of people who acted out of ill intention. I wasn't able to recognize falsehoods at that time due to my severe traumatic brain injury. Their actions left me heartbroken with emotional and financial stress.

Some of the heartaches came from the idea that Dad was my gauge for ethicality. Though he passed a few years before the accident, he continued to be the part of me that could see falsehoods. To lose that was losing Dad all over again. Thankfully, I can now recognize falsehoods. This gives me the confidence to begin to trust again.

How do you describe yourself and your music?

JW: I deeply care about what I sing. As a female musician, people expect a certain cute thing. I'm not that. I'm honest and weird. When I sing, people become uncomfortable. Then the uncomfortable wears off. It leaves the reaction of, ‘Oh my God! I know you!’ That becomes a special connection, one not based on superficiality.

How has your career and music evolved?

JW: In my early 20s, I made obscure music in different timings and tunings. But then, I started making connections by accident while on stage. Those relatable accidents were profound. The crowd felt like they knew me. That connection was new and remarkable to me. Those unforced moments led to specific and open lyrics about my life. I became more accessible.

What advice would you give the younger you?

JW: Things are going to be weird. Things are going to be hard — keep on. The ideas you have, follow through with them, make songs about them, feel weird, sit with the weird, continue. Protect the songs you make; be careful who you trust. The art you are making is the most valuable thing that you are. The fruits of your labor will appear when you are older. Your art is productive. It will heal people. Keep working on those weird little songs after school because all of that weirdness and those insecurities are steps toward something profound.

What motivates you as a songwriter?

JW: Every heartache, pain, and shock are lyrics toward healing. When an audience member, who's a stranger, relates and cries to me, I cry with them. It feels like family. That feeling and connection is a glimpse of my life, the fruits of my labor, in that very conversation.

How did the title “community leader” come about?

JW: Like many creative avenues — especially music — there's an idea that you need to go on the likes of “The Voice” or leave Wichita to be successful. This limiting idea is false. We don't see many people making a living off their creativity here. But I have done this. I get to go into schools and show the kids, yes, I'm weird, I'm creative. Be weird, weird is good! It’s possible to earn a living off your creativity. I'm proof of this.

Find out what your community needs. Develop your creativity to meet that need. People will want to support what you are making because they will see a part of themselves in your product. I write specific lyrics that individual supporters can relate to. They then heal from something I wrote, inspired by them. I make songs where I'm imparting personal conflict with their similar conflict. It's a co-creation process. It encourages more songs, more healing, more support. It's an honest way to make a fulfilling living.

What projects are you excited about?

JW: I'm happy about my new YouTube series titled “Voice. Heart. Mind.” The intention is to share life's ups and downs. It aims to find that special connection between the viewers and myself. It's currently available on my YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/superJWoo.

To catch up with Jenny Wood, hear her songs and watch her videos, check out JennyWoodMusic.com and youtube.com/user/superJWoo.

 
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