Before Jenna Paulette was a rising country artist in Nashville, she was a cowgirl on her family’s ranch in Texas. Her debut album The Girl I Was—which released March 31—laces together tributes to her roots with bright hope for her future as she rediscovers her identity following a toxic relationship.
Paulette’s music has grown with her and followed her journey from listening to classic country cassettes with her grandad to writing her own records. In a recent visit at the MusicRow offices, Paulette shared a bit about her upbringing and what led her to Nashville.
“I sang [The Chicks] songs at the top of my lungs on the back of a four wheeler checking cows with my granddad,” she says. “I sang ‘Wide Open Spaces’ and ‘Cowboy Take Me Away.’ What I was living is what I got to sing about in the environment that made me feel the most like it was real. That’s what made me want to sing country music.”
When it comes to her dreams, Paulette had a key inspiration: fellow Texan George Strait.
“I always told people I wanted to pull a George Strait on this town and do what he does—do the cowboy thing for real but tour on a high level and produce the best country music I possibly can while living what I sing about.”
She adds, “I had just figured out in college that you could actually write songs for a living. I always knew I wanted to sing country music but I didn’t think that songwriting was an occupation. So I started looking at the songs I loved and seeing who wrote them, and what made me hear them in it. Ashley Gorley was one of the most consistent [songwriters I saw credited] because he is massive.”
After meeting Gorley while visiting Nashville, he became Paulette’s mentor, coaching her through the writing process with weekly phone calls and encouraging her to make the move to Nashville. Paulette is not one to shy away from criticism, and eagerly learned all Gorley offered to teach her. From him, she learned that it is identity and authenticity that makes people stick around—not just one good song.
When Gorley asked her to pick between being a songwriter and being an artist, Paulette chose being an artist.
“It’s awesome to experience a record from top to bottom. I made [The Girl I Was] because I want to be an artist that puts out records,” she says. “I wanted people to have a lens to experience everything through.”
She co-wrote her a tune from the album called “You Ain’t No Cowboy” with Rhett Akins. The song’s message is there’s more to being a cowboy than Hollywood’s hats and sunset chasing scenes.
“The cowboys that live up to living under the hat are full of good character,” Paulette says. “It’s this level of respect for people and things that deserve honor. I love that aspect of the cowboy. [“You Ain’t No Cowboy”] was this juxtaposition of what society says a cowboy is, but it turns out ‘you ain’t no cowboy at all.’ You look like him, you act like him, there’s a million miles you put on that saddle of yours but when it came down to it, you didn’t stick around like you said you would. That’s what matters more”
As her career grows, Paulette continues to write songs that feel genuine. She wrote “We Know How To Friday Night,” with Bobby Pinson and Casey Beathard at Sea Gayle, where she signed in 2021. This crowd favorite resonates with those who grew up like Paulette, while those who didn’t sing along anyway.
“This is one of those ones that whether people know my music or not, they’re [cheering] in the middle of the set,” she says.
With The Girl I Was, Paulette wants fans to share in her lifestyle, and she brings them along for the ride.
“It’s a really fun way to live your life and I’m just grateful for it. I’m grateful that people are even interested in hearing songs about it, and that it can relate to people outside of the world that I grew up in.”
In addition to songs from her The Girl I Was album, Paulette also shared some new tunes. “Darlin'” is an introspective look into leaving a bad relationship and rebuilding.
“I got out of a terrible relationship that did a lot of damage, but coming out of it made me a lot stronger,” she says. “This song is about the difference between being loved by somebody now and the situation I was in before.”
Between her authentic storytelling and unique style, Jenna Paulette is sure to take her career into the next level in 2023. Listen to The Girl I Was here.
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