Atlanta-born musician Jenn Downs is a thoughtful storyteller with a punk rock sensibility, who breaks your heart and makes you laugh in equal measure. Along with her band mate and partner Koby Downs, they are a bold duo, making acoustic Americana indie rock that borrows from the best of that genre and bleeds raw, original folk rock power. For these reasons and more, we’re grateful that Jenn found a moment to answer a few questions about her music, the South, and what’s next for the band. And, I’ll go ahead and admit that one of my personal favorite lines is from “Yes Pls”: “We may be unsweetened, we may be loud, but it has never been about what you’ll allow.” Listen to all of their songs though and read on for more.
Where are you from? Where are you now?
I was born in Atlanta, GA, grew up in Riverdale, GA, moved back to the city for college, and now I live in Decatur, GA. Koby is from Allentown, PA, but has lived in the South since the 90s. He says y’all with conviction now, so I suppose he’s an honorary Southerner.
Tell me about the music you make.
For most of my musical life, I’ve been more of a rock and roller. I love playing loud, angry, rowdy music. For a while Koby and I were in a band together called Superpill where we got to do that kind of thing. As I’ve gotten to be a better songwriter, I want my lyrics to be heard more, so playing acoustically makes sense. It’s also easier to get two people together for practice or a show, and it’s easier to throw the guitars in a car and head off to a cabin to chill out and write.
I sometimes describe my writing style as “you’re either going to laugh, or you’re going to ask me if I’m ok”. I haven’t recorded a lot of the “are you ok?” songs, so mostly I write songs that use humor to break up the despair. The songs might sound light, but there is some deep pain and desperation hidden if you look closely.
As for our musical style now, we’re somewhere in the Americana genre. If I hadn’t lost my Southern accent somewhere along the way, we could probably be a country duo.
Does living in the South impact your music?
I do tend to include thoughts about the South in my lyrics. In “Yes, Pls” the first line is “Grew up a good girl, with southern manners” and go on to say “now I know better, and I won’t raise my hand to speak.” It’s interesting how my experience as a woman in the South was being told I could be strong and do anything, but at the same time felt expected to please, especially to please men. Be strong, but be a good girl was a common refrain.
I also write about silly things about the South. In “Winter Whenever.” I sing “when the Georgia summers come, we’ll crank the A/C down to 61”. People laugh about 61 degrees being “winter” sometimes.
My twitter and instagram handle come from a record label I once had called “Be Particular” which my family from southwest Georgia would shout to us as we left to drive home after a visit.
What are your hopes for your music?
I’d love to one day move past the constant existential crisis about whether or not I should continue making music as I get older. I love performing, and I hope I get to keep playing shows. I also love to travel, and playing shows when you travel makes everything more exciting. I hope we get to tour Europe one day. I’d love to teach one day too. My exit strategy from working in tech is to be a songwriting and drum teacher.
What’s next for you?
- I’m writing an album called 7 Songs About 8 Bird Tattoos to tell the stories behind all my bird tattoos. 7 songs will cover the bird tattoos I have now, and the 8th tattoo I’ll get to mark the completion of the album.
- We have shows coming up:
- Nov 18, 5pm at Kavarna in Oakhurst, Decatur – Show and Q&A about songwriting and music making
- December 20, 7pm Java Monkey in Decatur
Any favorite Southern folks?
The Drive-by Truckers are one of the reasons I write music. I fell for that band when Shonna Tucker was their bass player, and maybe they’ve faded for me a little now that they are an all-male band. I do appreciate their continued voice in politics.
Lilly Hiatt, Amanda Shires, Rhiannon Giddens, Shovels and Rope, Donald Glover, Loretta Lynn, Beyonce, RuPaul
And I love reading the The Bitter Southerner
Everyone at The Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta
Any other Southern women or non-binary or trans Southerners making music that we should know about?
My voice/guitar/songwriting teacher is Bucky Motter. Our show on Nov 18th will be headlining after a student showcase. Bucky is not only an amazing musician and songwriting, he is the reason I keep going when creative doubt sneaks in. And I know he does that for others, too, because every student showcase highlights these amazing musicians that have whatever “IT” is deep inside of them, and Bucky helps bring it out.
Juliana Finch, Kim Ware (The Good Graces), Total Babe, everyone in the Girls Rock Camp ATL family, Bark (from Knoxville), Laurie Ray
*All photos provided by The Downs.