Jenn Howard
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Jenn Howard

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States | INDIE

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States | INDIE
Band Rock Pop


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"Ten years after Project NIM, singer Jenn Howard steps up with her solo debut"

Ten years after Project NIM, singer Jenn Howard steps up with her solo debut
By Keith Spera, The Times-Picayune
December 18, 2009, 5:05AM

At the tender age of 21, Jenn Howard was already burned out and disillusioned.
The day after graduating from Metairie Park Country Day School, the young singer lit out for New York to see if Project NIM, the popular local rock band she joined at 16, could make it in the Big Apple.
Three tough years later, Project NIM broke up. Howard returned to New Orleans, quit music and tried to be “the good little New Orleans girl,” she recalled recently. “Get married, be a school teacher.”
That didn’t feel quite right either. And so, a decade after her New York adventure, she’s released her solo debut, “Up at Night”; her backing band includes members of Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes. She and the band, dubbed Crazy McGee, play a CD release party Friday, Dec. 18 at Carrollton Station.
At 32, hard-won experience has replaced the youthful naivety and bravado of Howard’s Project NIM days. As a teenager, her wise-beyond-its-years voice earned comparisons to Janis Joplin. After Project NIM quickly built a sizable local following — thanks in part to Howard’s potent versions of Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Piece of My Heart” — she assumed she’d soon be a star.
“You don’t grow up with a passion like singing, and know you’re good, and not have those high hopes,” she said.
Her bandmates, friends since grade school, graduated high school ahead of her and moved to New York. While finishing at Country Day, she flew to Project NIM gigs and wrote songs via three-way-calling. After graduating — barely — she joined the rest of the band in New York.
The other musicians enrolled in college and built a support system away from the band. Howard did not.
“I was barely 18, living alone in some hole in the East Village. I called my dad two weeks after I got there, crying: ‘There are people doing drugs on my stoop. I don’t know what I’m doing here.’”
After two years, Project NIM moved its base of operations to Connecticut. Nine months later, after three albums, the band broke up, and Howard came home.
“There was a sense of defeat that came with being so young,” she said. “I had such high hopes for it. But it was time for me to reel it in.”
She took classes at Tulane and taught kindergarten, distancing herself from the music business. Meanwhile, her former bandmates found success with a new project, The National. The National’s 2007 release “Boxer” has sold 170,000 copies and was named album of the year by Paste magazine.
“I’m very proud of them,” Howard said. “Those guys always wanted to do the boy indie rock scene. That was what they were meant to do.”
As years passed, Howard realized not singing was not what she was meant to do. “It started to eat away at me.”
Friends asked her to sing at parties. At school, she scribbled lyrics during recess. Angst kept her up at night, hence the title of the album she would eventually record.
At a party, Daniel Price, a local artist who is now deceased, pulled Howard aside, sat her down, cued up Etta James’ greatest hits, and instructed her to listen to the entire album.
“I cried,” she said. “It was unbelievable to me. I’d never heard it. Daniel was like, ‘This is what you need to be singing.’ And he was right.”
Newly inspired, she sought musical collaborators. Jazz guitarist Felix Wohlleben schooled her on the standards; they formed a duo to perform at the Rusty Nail in the Warehouse District.

Jenn Howard's band, Crazy McGee, includes members of Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes.
She and Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes guitarist Marc Paradis wrote original songs. Other members of Johnny Sketch joined in.
To finance the recording of “Up at Night,” she turned to her old friend Lee Yates. Yates first encountered Howard when he hired her to bus tables at Café Rani. He didn’t realize she could sing until he watched her upstage a panhandling street singer with a sultry “Let’s Get It On.”
Years later, after selling his interest in Dante’s Kitchen, Yates wanted to break into the music business. He formed a record label and publishing company to release “Up at Night.”
“I’m looking at the artists on next year’s Lilith Fair tour,” Yates said. “Jenn’s got a voice as good as any one of them.”
As to be expected from an album featuring Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes, “Up at Night” is raucous. “It’s not a ‘New Orleans record’ at all,” Howard said. “It’s 10 years of stuff that was locked up. It’s not quiet. I was quiet for a long time.”
She harbors no regrets about her roundabout career path. Moving back to New Orleans and taking time off allowed her to watch her younger sisters grow up. And she can now approach music with dedication and realism.
“I don’t have these I-want-to-be-famous aspirations. I want to be respected for what I do, and have people enjoy what I have to offer. If that means I have to have a second job on the side, fine.
“Ultimately, music is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I’ve made my decision.”
- Keith Spera, The Times Picayune


Up At Night 2009
13 original compositions



Influences - Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Amy Winehouse, Brandy Carlisle, Ella Fitzgerald