THIS STORY ABOUT JENA MALONE begins one drunken night in a Spanish hotel room with a voice in her head and a C-chord, minor key.
After an especially draining day of filming, Malone had taken solace in the quiet confines of her suite and an attractive bottle of alcohol, what kind she can’t exactly recall. Unable to fall asleep, the actress began singing to herself – not an uncommon occurrence, though this time something was different. “I felt like women hijacked my throat and I started hearing these musical loops in my head,” she says. “Before long I was freestyling country tunes in mythical Spanish.”
Inspired, Malone recorded her voice onto a computer and played the tracks for her movie co-stars. She received rave reviews.
Now some two years later, Malone is ready to take her songs to a wider audience. With a band by her side and a record deal in the works, this precocious prodigy is gearing up to add another title to her resume: musical artist.
On a wet spring afternoon, Malone is taking shelter at a Mexican bodega in Brooklyn. It’s miles away from Hollywood, but for this 22-year-old enjoying her huevos rancheros, it’s the perfect spot to talk about the wild ride that’s taken her from movies to music and everywhere in between.
After years of non-stop acting left her feeling drained and defeated, Malone says music has become an almost necessary therapy. “I’ve been acting since I was ten and you lose your innocence a little bit as an artist,” she says, picking at her rice and beans. “Getting the freedom to do music was intoxicating and I was able to become a child again.”
Raised by her mother and her mother’s partner in a remote town near Lake Tahoe, Malone’s childhood did little to suggest a musical renaissance to come. The family lived away from concert venues and any musical influences were drawn strictly from the radio or from what her friends had to recommend. While Malone’s voice has drawn comparisons to experimental artists like PJ Harvey and Bjork, she admits she had far less ambitious tastes growing up. She listened to “whatever was on the radio” and favored bands like TLC and New Kids on the Block. Her mom introduced her to Reba McEntire and her sister’s boyfriend brought home a taped recording of “Stay” by Lisa Loeb. It became Malone’s favorite song.
When the family moved to L.A., Malone was introduced to more diverse artists. But she remained relatively on the fringe, preferring country to contemporary and Broadway to Billboard. “I grew up with a theatre background and Reba McEntire,” she says. “That was all I knew.”
It wasn’t that she had no interest in mainstream music. Rather, Malone wasn’t satisfied with a catchy melody and semi-relatable lyrics. She wanted more from music. She wanted to be inspired.
It finally happened one night while she was filming Stepmom in New York. “Susan Sarandon invited me to an Ani DiFranco concert and it fuckin’ changed my life,” Malone recalls, eyes wide with glee. “I went home and memorized all her songs that night.”
These days, she cites people like Neil Young, Daniel Johnston and Nina Simone as influences. Indeed, during the photo shoot for Corduroy, Malone is frequently heard humming in the background. “What is it you’re singing?” she’s asked.
“It’s Billie Holiday,” she replies. “Have you heard of her? She’s one of my favorite artists of all time.”
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