[jen]There’s something about folk-roots artist Jen Sygit that draws people to her. It might be her sinuous harmonies that will make you tap your foot and nod your head. It could be the gripping lyrics about the truth of love, life and everything in between. Maybe it’s the many instruments that find their way into her music, including guitar (both acoustic and electric), banjo ukulele, accordion and dobro.
Or it could simply be how expertly she and her music work together. She’s only been performing since the release of her first album, Here to There, in 2003, but music has been in her blood since childhood. “My mother tells me that I would grab whatever instrument was lying around and given a few minutes, I would start picking out melodies,” Sygit said via e-mail.
Sygit’s music has come a long way from picking up instruments as a tyke. “With my first album, my classical training was more evident, especially in my voice and I think I was really just emulating the music I was listening to at the time. With my new album, I’ve sort of started to figure out my voice and style,” she said. “Now instead of emulating other music, I let it inspire and influence what I’m writing.”
The guitar is Sygit’s main instrument, and she has favorite ways to play it. “I play my guitar both with and without a pick. You get totally different sounds from your fingers than you do from a piece of plastic, but both have their places,” she said. The first band she ever played in was called ‘Omni,’ and she played electric guitar. “I’ve moved on to play more acoustic music, but I still love rocking out.”
Her music draws insight from country, indie, folk and classical music. “I am definitely influenced by country music, especially classic country. Janis Joplin and I have the same birthday, so I guess I always feel like we’re somehow cosmically linked,” Sygit said.
Her ideas also come from artists such as Greg Brown, Tom Waits, Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin, Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Todd Snider, Ray LaMontagne, Gary Jules, and Ryan Adams – a killer setlist for any genre lover.
Sygit, however, isn’t necessarily living the alluring life of the rock stars she looks up to. “Most of my touring is around Michigan because that is where I’m the most well-known,\” she said. \”I’ve played shows in 11 states, mostly around the Midwest and east coast. I don’t make a lot of money and I don’t lead a glamorous lifestyle. I get to travel and that can be fun, but the reality of soaring gas prices, long hours alone in the car and sleeping on floors and couches can make the road a hard place to be.”
Performing at new places is as exciting for Sygit as warm apple pie. “I’m always excited to play in new places in front of new audiences. I enjoy connecting with the many communities I visit and educating them about the other types of music out there that aren’t in the main stream – music that I think many people wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise,” she said.[main]
Folk roots is an interesting genre of music for her to put herself into, but it fits like a glove. Rock n\’ roll lyrics and melodies seep into her songs, and even some blues and contemporary ride on the back of the main genre line. It’s all mixed together in a satisfying blend.
“It’s hard, I think, for artists to classify ourselves because we all want to be original, but if I had to choose a genre, I think I would say folk roots. I’m a songwriter, but I also mix a lot of blues, jazz and old-time music into my live shows,” Sygit said.
Music is the path Sygit has chosen for herself, but it wasn’t the only one she considered. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from MSU with a cognate in advertising.
She does most of her performances solo, but she also works with Laura Bates in a duo they call ‘Calamity Jane.’ “Laura and I have been friends for years now. I met her when she used to play with and write songs for a bluegrass band called ‘Hot Toe Mitty,’” Sygit said. Sygit also works with a backing band called ‘Spare Change’ with three other equally experimental artists. “I typically play with Spare Change at festivals or larger venues that can afford to pay a full band.”
Sygit does not consider herself to be famous, but her fans give her enough support to start her on the road to fame. “I get contacted daily by fans – usually through e-mail, but sometimes people will stop me when I’m shopping or getting coffee and tell me how much they enjoy my music.”
Every artist has encounters with crazy fans, and Sygit has her own story to tell. “My favorite story was when I met a little girl named Irene at a music festival I appeared at in northern Michigan. She asked me who I was and I told her I was Jen Sygit. I must have looked sorta bedraggled from my drive, because the little girl told me that there was ‘another Jen Sygit coming to the festival and that she was beautiful.’ I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted; it still cracks me up to this day.”
Sygit knows there are young independent artists like herself who are struggling through the business themselves, and she recognizes them. It isn’t an easy road in the entertainment industry, and only those who truly have talent, drive, and passion survive. “You know you’re up against these ridiculous odds, but it’s just something that you know you have to do,” Sygit said.
“If you don’t love music you shouldn’t try to make a career of it, because someone who truly loves it will be able to put the amount of effort into it that it takes to succeed. But, if you truly love music then you owe it to yourself try.”
Sygit will be performing in the East Lansing area this month. Every Tuesday night she hosts an open mic night at the Dagwood Tavern in Lansing. She’ll be performing at the Ten Pound Fiddle Coffee Shop in East Lansing on February 22 at 8 p.m. and she’ll appear at Leroy’s in Lansing on February 28 at 9 p.m.