Jen Elliott may not want to be called a diva, but her voice is definitely diva-worthy. She's coming to Triumph Brewery in Princeton on July 2nd with her band and she's intent on proving that she's a rocker - not a diva.
"Divas scare me!" said Elliott. "I guess it's not quite clear yet. I can tell you that what I want to do is probably going to lean more towards rock and roll. I'm not ruling out diva, but what I want to do is play music, and get some real feeling in the music. I think that's what people really respond to. That's where I want to take it."
She was raised in Jacksonville, Florida and moved to New York City, as so many do, to pursue her dreams. After working as a geologist and a headhunter for a plastics company, she now bartends and works in a guitar school to help pay the rent.
Since releasing her first record, The Secret's Out, she's been playing clubs throughout the New York / New Jersey area. This will be her first time playing at Triumph Brewery.
Jen's music runs through a range of rock and roll, blues, pop, soul and a little funk. She admits, it can be a little difficult to categorize.
"You have to keep it simple or people don't know where to put you," explained Elliott. "We normally say a mixture of rock, blues and pop. If they need an artist to compare to, my answer sometimes is a cross between Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt with a little bit of the Rolling Stones thrown in."
Chances are you won't hear much of the Stones' influence on the first record, but Jen says that the band has definitely moved more in that direction. The band, which was originally formed to record the record, has now been together for a while and has established its own identity. In doing so, the live shows have become more bluesy and rock out more.
Elliott's strong vocals may be attributed to her gospel background. ?Her first introduction to music was through church - Southern Baptist style - far away from the rock and roll world.
After graduating college, Jen decided to take her chance on stage at an open mic night in Jacksonville.
"I hadn't really had the rock and roll thing going on at all," said Elliott. "I've always been a performer type person, but it was definitely not on the rock and roll or live music side. It was more like musical theatre or the Church choir.
"I had always written stuff on my own and finally one day I had to sing it. I don't know why. But I started signing at open mic nights and I was terrified! I remember I brought one of my closest friends with me - didn't even tell anyone else - so I'd have someone there to console me if it really sucked!"
That first night, Jen sang a capella and was surprised by the reaction from the crowd. Instead of sucking, as she feared, the crowd actually liked it.
"I started doing it more and more and got a great response," added Elliott. "I realized that if I didn't pursue what I really loved, I would be selling myself short."
She moved to Manhattan and managed to get some early recordings into the hands of Trebor Lloyd, head of the independent record label City Canyons. He agreed to work on a three song demo project with her. The positive reaction from the demo and shows around New York City led to the recording of The Secret's Out.
The first thing that grabs you about the debut CD is the opening track, "Move." This shows off Jen's voice in a soulful, funky beat. It's the type of song that is truly different from anything you've ever heard before.
Other highlights from the disc include "Why Can't This Be A Love Song?", "Empty Eyes", "I Can't Concentrate", "Love Crazy", and "The Secret's Out".
According to Elliott, as well received as the songs on her CD have been, the newer songs are getting an even stronger response. And the older songs have also changed somewhat as the band has tried different things along the way.
"The music is fun and we have a great time," said Elliott. "It's all about the rock and roll. I think the new stuff is a little edgier than the record, but it still has that blues rock and roll feel."
Jen Elliott will be at the Triumph Brewery in Princeton on Friday, July 2nd. The Secret's Out is available at her shows or online from places like Tower Records, Audio?Lunchbox or CDbaby at: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/dreamspinner
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.