Passionate, fiery and soulful, Austin-based indie rock artist Jen Zava speaks honestly about this ride called life. Hailing from a small town in South Georgia, she found her calling early on and began singing around age three in church. “I was born a singer…my mom and dad sang in church choir, my Grandad was a music minister and preacher and I loved to hear him sing,” Zava says. “He inspired me. In my teenage years I started writing poetry that I would put to vocal melody, and eventually in my early 20’s I began writing on guitar.” After high school garage bands and coffee shop songwriter nights in Georgia, she craved adventure so she sold all her belongings to move across the country to Austin, Texas, to follow her dreams of making it in the music industry.
Since her move to Austin in 2001, she has performed with many bands around town, such as Doctari, Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes, Monster Big Band, Magnificent 7, The Grooves, The Pictures and many others. She has toured all over the country and has sung at events such as the Presidential Dinner in Washington D.C. and halftime shows at the San Antonio Spurs games. Formally known in the local scene under her full name Jennifer Zavaleta, the time has come to take on a bit of a new identity as she reinvents herself with a brand new solo project coming out May 2017.
“So many artists have their alter ego. I thought it would fun to have one for myself, but JZ was already taken. I didn’t want to forgo my real name altogether, so I just shortened it to seven letters. Seven is my lucky number,” Zava stated.
Zava’s musical influences transcend genres to form a unique sound of alt-pop-rock, mixed with her witty and soul-baring lyrics. “I’ve done a little of everything in music world,” says Zava. “Acoustic duos and trios with my husband, tribal pop bands, rock bands, cover bands, full fledge costumed party bands.” Her musical talent effortlessly flows from one genre to another when working as a hired gun. As one noted Austin musician, Jon Blondell (Willie Nelson, Sublime) puts it, “It’s easy to say wonderful things about Jennifer. I will sing her praises to the world. The first time I heard her, I was taken by her musicality. She sings every style like it’s the only thing she’s ever done”.
"Jennifer is a gifted songwriter who experiments with traditional form,” says her album producer David Messier, President of the Texas Chapter of The Recording Academy and Owner of Same Sky Productions. “It was a pleasure to work with an artist so willing to escape the A-B-A-B, (verse- chorus, verse - chorus) thing. That approach coupled with her unique and powerful voice allowed us to experiment in the studio and truly capture unexpected moments.”
In addition to her captivating stage presence, her versatility remains one of her greatest strengths, and her original music presents that front and center. In 2015, she put out Prisoner of Love, a jazz EP, under her name and has since been working on her newest project, her first original works album, Power to Change. Poised for release in May this year, the 11-track album exposes Zava’s vulnerability, strength, hopefulness and desire to improve herself and the world around her. “Power to Change is a full length album I’ve recorded over the past five years, with songs written during the course of the last 20 years of my life,” she says.
Zava speaks of mistakes made, and the redemption that follows. “I am finally, and for the first time, focusing on my own artistic work. I’ve contributed to many bands through the years, but never put true effort into promoting my own music. I am proud of this project and know that I am where I am supposed to be. I intend to make music until the day I die, and feel that everyone has their own path in life. I just want to enjoy my life and share my voice and my music. I’ve saved and recorded song by song over years. It’s truly been a labor of love. And all the subsequent ones will be too. I’m at my best when I’m singing. I want to share my best with people.”
“This record is such an eclectic mix of genres and eras of music with unusual transitions and multiple styles within each song,” says Andre Cantave, engineer and production on the album alongside David Messier. “You can hear influences that range from Nick Drake, Donovan, Dylan and Love, to The B- 52s, INXS, Flaming Lips, Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger and Tame Impala. The thread that ties it all together is Jennifer’s ethereal voice and her complicated melodies that dance throughout the album and bring light and authenticity to the music.”
One of Zava’s greatest inspirations for her music comes from her daughter. “I am a proud mom to one strong willed, amazing young woman. She has totally inspired me to be a better person…to try a little harder every day.” You can hear traces of her daughter’s influence all over the album, particularly on the track, Heartbeat. “I wrote this song for her. Becoming a mom is the single most amazing experience in this world for me, but it’s also not always easy and I am not perfect. I’ve made a complete ass of myself in front of my kid…losing my temper, making the wrong decisions, and setting a “not so perfect” example. The message in this song is saying, every time you feel your heart beat, just know that I love you. Even when I’m making mistakes left and right, know that I love you. The chorus sings, “the past, and the future and the present are fleeting, just know that I love you when you feel your heart beating.” It’s recognizing the fleeting aspect of life, and the constant heartbeat throughout it. It’s about life and love and how we live.”
Zava’s daughter even wrote one of the songs on the new album, titled I Luv You. “I left the house one day for a gig. I asked my daughter to do something creative instead of just watch TV. I said, “Why don’t you write a song or a poem?” Later that evening, she texted me I Luv You. Every time I hear it, it makes me smile.”
The title track, Power to Change, is a testament to what Jen Zava stands for, that in changing yourself, YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE THE WORLD. “This song is about fighting that inner negative voice that shows itself in the form of self-doubt, negativity, jealousy, comparisons, telling yourself you’re not capable… I’m talking to all those negative inner emotions and telling myself that I do have the Power to Change the things about myself that I don’t like or that don’t serve me well. In doing this, I/you have the power to change the world around you. It’s the ripple effect. Perception is everything. It’s a song of hope and encouragement to people to believe in themselves.”
"Jen Zava is an inspiring new artist,” says Austin musician Shelley King. “Her song, 'Power to Change', is positive and dynamic. The world needs to hear her now!"
Production, engineering and mixing for Power to Change was done by David Messier and Andre Cantave at Same Sky Productions with mastering done by Jerry Tubb at Terra Nova Mastering. Jen Zava was the key songwriter and vocalist on the record, accompanied by Rowan Zavaleta, Candace Lynette Sanders, Andre Cantave, and David Messier on vocals. Andre Cantave, Utah Hamrick, and Chris Maresh played bass on the project, and in addition to Zava herself, Chris Zavaleta, and Andre Cantave played guitar, Lee Simmons played banjo and mandolin, Steve Bernal played cello, Kevin Flatt played trumpet, Steven Vague played Bari Sax, and David Messier played organ, keys, drums and percussion.
Now, with her forthcoming May release, Jen Zava is poised to make her mark. She has had the power to change not only in going out on a limb on her first solo project, but in realizing her destiny as one of Austin’s great new artists with a truly stellar debut.