Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils
Upcoming performance dates
Interview with Jennifer Westwood by Joe Tell.
1) What's your favorite song? It would be impossible to pick one song of so many. But probably the song that really strikes a chord with me personally is "Try a Little Tenderness" as recorded by Otis Redding. There's so much I love about it and if my life were a movie it would fit prominently on the soundtrack. The lyrical content and the way its delivered is perfection. At the start its like someone sitting a young man down and having a heart to heart, and by the end, especially in some live versions, he's full on preaching.
2) What artist(s) inspired you to become a songwriter? Songwriting is never anything I thought about or thought I could do. I think just being in church and around different styles of music and the way it moved people made me want to try but it was more of an activity like sitting down and coloring than a conscious effort to write a song for people to hear. When I was in my first band I really didn't like the lyrics that were presented to me. They were far too vague and held no meaning to me. I felt if I was going to sing something, it should matter. That's when I became conscious about lyrics and cadences and how emotion fits in.
3) What song have you written is your favorite and why? This time of year my favorite song I've written is "Round and Round." Sometimes a song is mingling of truth mixed with fiction, my story mixed with someone else's stories. But that song is 100% about me, how I relate with my hometown personified, how I love it, and my complicated relationship with it. Winter in Detroit is hard on me.
4) Why do you write songs? I write songs to express myself but also for the challenge. I don't feel like its something I'm qualified to do but I don't feel like I should care. So writing a song is like firing anyone that has criticism for me or would tell me what I can and can't do, what my place is in this world - sometimes that means I have to fire my critical inner voice.
5) Can you remember the first time you wrote a song? The first time I wrote a song, I am pretty sure it was a rap. And I'm pretty sure it was Jesus rap.
6) Who gave you support to keep writing in the beginning? Who gave me support in the beginning to keep writing? No one. I do have supportive parents. My dad wanted me to go to music school and I didn't. I was afraid of the debt and I really regret that. But as far as writing goes, I think its safe to say I surrounded myself with the wrong people. I had low self-esteem and maybe the people in my life were the people I thought I deserved. When I did go to school for music for a while, it was re-iterated to me that it was a waste of time and money. I don't remember anyone ever telling me, "that's a great song" or "you should keep working on that". I know one local songwriter made mention of one of my lyrics kind of early on and it made me feel great. But if I were waiting on approval I don't think I'd be writing now.
7) What do you feel like when you sing one of your songs and people applaud? I won't lie. Having people applaud to a song your wrote is an amazing feeling. Especially if the lyrics are sincere and personal. Its a great risk to wear your heart on your sleeve whether people know they are your thoughts or not. It does make me feel validated and I feel a connection to people, like I've found my tribe.
8) Are you more of a singer or songwriter? I'm more of a singer. I feel like its more comfortable to interpret someone else's words and get creative with approach. It goes back to the "wearing your heart on your sleeve". I'm still often inhibited and there's less risk involved in telling a story written by someone else and it also feels less selfish. You get to express and work out all these feelings in front of the world that wouldn't be appropriate during the course of normal day. So to top it off and say, "here's my version of love, life, work, play"... Sometimes I get hung up on that or that inner critical voice jumps in. And going back to those moments when people applaud or tell me how much they love a song for xyz, it really goes a long way in reminding me that this is a way that we all relate to life's ups and downs together. I definitely want to be a better songwriter. Its something you practice like anything else.
9) What inspires you to write? People I love, people I can't stand, horrible circumstances, situations I wish I could change for people, the absurdity of the world, things people say about me or tell me.... all inspire me to write. Sometimes just normal conversations I overhear make me want to go home and write. Ordinary talk can be so poetic. In the past I've had hang ups drawing off my own personal anger or heartache where another person was involved. . I felt like it was not a thing a nice girl would do, to air your dirty laundry, or worried people would think I'm hanging on to things I'm over. I think I'm ready to break that trend and I do regret not expressing myself more fully.
10) What's next for you and the band? Dylan and I are wrapping up the year here in Detroit. This is our longest stretch home in 4 years - 3 months straight! We've had a lot of ups and downs but find ourselves in a situation where we are able to catch our breath. Normally I'd be getting ready to escape the Detroit tundra with some gulf states touring but we need to stay put for a minute to get ahead. We are focused on getting in the studio to record a few new songs and tending to personal business in preparation for 2020. In late January we will be headed to northern Arizona where we have been offered a beautiful spot to work on writing and pre production by some generous people that know how hard we work. We will be collaborating. The time is right for us to shift gears. We will be performing in New York, Kentucky, then make our way west via Nashville, Memphis, Austin and hit some places in NM, AZ and CA as well. In the meantime, we are doing lots of local events in Southeast Michigan. Musically, I have an idea for 4 EP's I want to do as a series if I have my way.
Dylan Dunbar and Jennifer Westwood
Full band shot from the Lexington Village Theatre in Michigan.
Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils are a self described "music genre bending band based in Detroit, Michigan that combines blues guitar licks, soulful vocals and rustbelt sensibilities," their latest EP, Marfa Lights proves that statement in spades.
Music review of Marfa Lights by Joe Tell.
The title track, Marfa Lights, is a sweet and soulful track. The Handsome Devils lay down a slow and sensual groove for Jennifer to sing along with. Jennifer's vocals are a unique and soothing blend of the sultry soul of Aretha Franklin and the primal passion of Janis Joplin. Dylan Dunbar's rhythm guitar is classic Motown at its best and his solo adds a touch of funky blues to the sound.
Next up is Sinner Part Time, a song about drinkin' and hard livin' proving that the versatile band has a real knack for rock-n-roll. Sinner Part Time offers a staccato beat punctuated by a distorted guitar and soulful slide guitar melody. Jennifer's vocals rise high over the hard driving beat. A cool bass lick takes the song out.
Covering the timeless country song Jolene seems to be a rite of passage for any country music band that wants to be taken seriously. Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils cover the song beautifully. Jennifer's passionate vocals soar above the dramatic music. Their cover of Jolene is one the best covers I have heard of this classic tune.
Living On A Fringe has a country rock sound and sensibility that would fit in perfectly on any country music radio station playlist. The lyrics describe the dreary in's and out's and demanding daily grind of a blue collar lifestyle. Dylan Dunbar's slide guitar adds a stylish sense of melody to the sound.
Nothing A Bourbon Can't Fix is an uptempo rocker and one the best on the Marfa Lights EP. The guitar drives the song into a frenzy and Jennifer shows off her rock vocal chops. Needless to say the song is about throwing back a couple of pops with some close friends in trying to erase some bad memories.
Marfa Lights is a fantastic first effort by the band. They flawlessly blend Americana, Blues, Country and Rock styles in a way all their own.
Highly recommended, see the band on tour in a town near you!
Special thanks Jennifer Westwood.