When I first heard “Jenny”, the new single from Nashville Southern rockers SWEETTALKER, it shot through my earbuds like a bolt of electricity, and I sat straight up in my chair. I like real-deal, energetic, guitar-driven hard rock, and I don’t often get to hear something that stimulates my senses in quite that way. Hearing more from and about this group was a must, so I met with vocalist David Brown and guitarist Ryan Pattengale for a caffeinated conversation at local coffee dispensary 8th & Roast:
Me: “Jenny” is the only song I’ve heard, is that the only song there is?
David: Definitely not. Could you imagine playing a set where there’s just one song?
Ryan: We’re just going to keep remixing it…like, “this is the reggae version of ‘Jenny’.”
Me: Do you have a steel drum player?
David: It’s Nashville. We can find one somewhere.
Indeed, Nashville is a resourceful and magically alluring place; so much so that it caused both men to walk away from the trajectories of their individual paths, on opposite sides of the country. The pair met through a producer years ago and struck up a friendship. “My original plan was to move to L.A., I was on my way,” explains David, a Georgia native. “I ended up dropping the management I was with in Los Angeles, and was back at square one.” Ryan came to Nashville from Indiana after his band broke up, slept on a friend’s couch for about seven months, all the while trying to convince David to leave the desert and move to the Music City. “It was time to do it,” says Ryan. “I said ‘let’s do this music thing we’ve been talking about doing.’ That was about three years ago.” David finally decided to make the move to Nashville; “I drove 33 hours in one sitting,” he recalls. “It was so nice to get back to the southeast and see some pine trees, I almost jumped out of the car to hug one.”
The singer adds, “When I first moved to Nashville, I was going to writers’ rounds, trying to build a catalog, trying to get some songs picked up to make some money, because I had no other direction. It wasn’t right up my alley, but it was close enough. One day, I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, because it just didn’t feel genuine anymore.” The pair had been continuously hashing out songs together; “When ‘Jenny’ popped out, we were like ‘let’s try this’,” says Ryan. “We’ve landed on something that we can both agree on is a cool direction.”
The song isn’t necessarily about a person; “On the surface is about a bad relationship, things like that can be toxic; you don’t really realize it while you’re in it, and then you get out of it and you’re like ‘oh my gosh, I was so stupid,” explains David, as Ryan interjects, “Things aren’t always as they appear, don’t reach for something out of insecurity or because it’s the shiniest thing.”
“Jenny” is captivating from the first notes of its feverish acoustic guitar intro; in a time when there’s and endless amount of commercial fluff swirling around, SWEETTALKER’s “Jenny” is a refreshing and much-needed shot in the arm for the rock n’ roll scene. “I feel like there’s not a middle class for rock n’ roll anymore. You have the poverty line and you have the ultimately wealthy people. As of right now, you have a divided community, but I do see a middle class emerging, it’s coming back. For a long time, it didn’t seem like there was any traction to be made with rock n’ roll, you had to be country, or pop, or piano rock, or something else,” Ryan says. “It seems like it’s becoming more accepted on an everyday basis, not just like on a Super Bowl basis, you know what I mean? Paying $5 to see a kick-ass rock show….that’s coming back.”
These days, the band is comprised of David, Ryan (who, by the way, is now a proud homeowner, a fact which effectively ended his need to couch-surf), and Ryan’s brother Hayden Pattengale. The group has been writing and recording new material, and putting their affable natures to good use; “At this point, we’re trying to get out there and meet people, we’re trying to be real, we can get into the hearts of these folks who can see what we do and who will actually enjoy it. We’ve seen nothing but love in that way,” states Ryan with a smile. “It hasn’t been just showing up and playing and it being spectacular and everyone loves you, it’s about the personal side of it too.”