By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Jenn Gooch's distinctive warbled vocals alternate from plaintive to punchy, from breathy to brash, and, when paired with the wispy finger pluck of her tenor banjo, she sounds every bit like a woman who would claim the possum as her spirit animal (which she does).
While Gooch's folksy, roots-music sound may not be for everyone, she fits right in opening for acts like The Drams, Spooky Folk and, in one upcoming gig, Bosque Brown. Originally from the area, Gooch spent the last three years earning her MFA at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University. But, in June, after graduation, she moved back.
"I decided that I wanted to go where something vibrant musically was going on," she says. "And so much went on in Denton while I was gone that it just made sense. Moving back for me was like starting fresh—not starting over."
Now, the obvious accusation here would be that Gooch is just another area musician who moved away, only to skulk back home. But that's not the case with Gooch—she didn 't start singing or songwriting until after she left Denton.
She did, however, start playing the violin at age 11 and continued to do so until she developed "severe performance anxiety" while in music school.
"I played classical violin until I was 21," Gooch explains. "After a while, I just started freaking out before I'd play."
When she sliced into her finger while cutting lemons for her day job, she was left unable to play for weeks, and, ultimately, unable to try out for placement in an orchestra.
"I was relieved," she says. "And I didn't do anything musically for eight years."
Then, while working on her degree in art, Gooch says "stress relief" came in the form of a banjo she found for $125. "I bought this old banjo and just started writing songs," she says. But she was unsure of her creations, so she sent some of them to friend and former Recycled Books Records and CDs co-worker George Neal, frontman for The Slow Burners.
"She would send me these songs to look over," Neal says, "and, admittedly, I was kind of jealous because she came right out of the gate with these fully formed songs that really impressed me."
Neal isn't the only one Gooch impressed: Ryan Williams, of more than a few local acts, contacted Gooch after hearing the recordings.
"I told her that I liked her stuff and that I'd love to play with her," Williams says, and for the last month, he and Chris Garver of Delmore Pilcrow have been playing as Gooch's backing band.
What's next? Well, that should come as no surprise: "I knew I was coming back to Denton to make an album," Gooch says. "Something that is conceptually and musically cohesive, not just all the songs that I happen to know."