Meet Jennifer Zavaleta. She is an incredibly talented songstress and musician who began singing at age 3 in a small-town Georgia church. After moving to Austin, Texas in 2000, Jennifer was instantly immersed in the thriving music scene. She’s been a member of numerous music groups over the past 15 years, ranging from tribal pop to jazz & blues, party bands and acoustic trios. She continues to draw a crowd at well-known Austin jazz clubs such as The Elephant Room and Brasshouse when she performs with Magnificent 7 and Monster Big Band. Jennifer lives with her husband and daughter in Wimberley, Texas but spends a good amount of time touring and making media appearances with her exciting new band, The Mrs.. We wanted to chat with Jennifer to find out how she balances the roles of parent and successful musician, and learn about the positive and unique message that The Mrs. is spreading throughout the country.
BPP: Tell us about your path to becoming a professional singer. Did your family expose you to any music lessons and singing or did you pick it up on your own?
JZ: I was exposed to music in the womb! My mom sang in church choir and I followed suit at age three singing solos on Sunday morning. I was also in youth choir, and my parents provided piano lessons for my sister and me. In my teenage years, I sang in a cover band with some friends playing covers of Dust in the Wind, Man in the Box, and Hotel California. Long live classic rock. We could throw down with some Metallica too. In college, I started singing in karaoke contests, and then around age 20 I was in my first original music group. We would play open mics and coffee shops, covering Pink Floyd tunes and playing originals. Soon after that I started singing with a well-known cover band in Austin Texas, Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes. This is where all my stage confidence was built as a performer. Singing, dancing, and acting like a crazy person while having a blast with my bandmates on stage really helped me to grow into a comfortable space as a performer. If you’ve never seen Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes, I suggest you seek them out…they put on a fun show. I started writing music in my early twenties when my now husband bought me a guitar as a gift, and I added this music to the poetry I’d been writing since my teen and college years. Aside from some childhood piano classes, I didn’t really take music lessons until about a year ago. I am mostly an “ear” musician, meaning I don’t really read music, and when I write, I do it because I think it sounds good, not because of any particular knowledge of music theory. It’s all an experiment.
BPP: How and when do you recommend exposing young children to music and instruments? Does music play a role in your relationship with your daughter?
JZ: Yes, music absolutely plays a role. I believe that music is innate in all of us, so the sooner kids are exposed the better. Rowan was exposed to music like I was- in utero, hearing me play guitar and feeling the vibrations of me singing and humming. We bought her a ton of baby music CDs that we would play in her room. Everything from world music nursery rhymes to a Beatle’s piano cover album. I sang her to sleep and still do sometimes. She’s been singing since she was tiny. We bought her a keyboard and little pink guitar. We signed her up for violin at age 6 at her request, then let her stop when she told us she wanted to. I don’t want to push anything on her, but I want her to experiment. She has since shown interest in drums, guitar and piano. I have a feeling she will always sing like I do, and if she picks up another instrument along the way, then great. We will support her in that for sure! Music plays a huge role in our relationship. She’s got a great little voice, and a good ear for melody. I love hearing her sing.
BPP: What was the transition like to parenthood when your daughter was born? Did you have to take a break from performing?
JZ: I was pregnant when I left Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes, and the costumes had just started to get tight. The band had been very busy traveling and playing almost every weekend, so switching gears to a desk job was interesting. For two years, I did very little in the music world besides singing and writing music at home. It was a major change. I slowed down for a while, and went through the emotional roller coaster of becoming a new parent. When my daughter was two, I auditioned for another band and got back in the Austin circuit playing weddings and corporate parties with various cover bands for the next six years. I also started singing with a couple of jazz groups during this time. Occasionally I would play out in coffee shops with my indie-folk music, or in a blues group on 6th Street with my husband. I also sang at church quite regularly.
BPP: Being an integral part of several music acts, you often have to report to work in the evenings and on weekends. How do you balance being a mother, a wife and a professional musician?
JZ: It is crazy. Sometimes I get home at 3 or 4am, or have to be gone for a few days at a time. I feel guilty at times but counter that with the fact that I am in my daughter’s daily life to the point of annoying her on most days. It’s a juggling act just like any other job. I have a supportive husband that helps take over where needed. Our schedules are not completely traditional, but that’s ok for us. We make it work. Sometimes it’s stressful but so was sitting in front of a computer all day when I used to do that.
BPP: What do love about being a singer? Are there any aspects that you are not so fond of?
JZ: I love that it just comes out of YOU. You don’t need another instrument. YOU are your instrument. It’s awesome actually. I love the spiritual aspect to it. The contemplative exercise that it is to sit down and write a song about your feelings, about what’s going on in your head. I can reluctantly go to a gig, not wanting to leave my house when my daughter is getting ready for bed or going to a local football game, not wanting to put on makeup or dress up…but first song into the gig, I feel better. I feel energized. I feel less stressed. It’s a great way to release. Living in Austin, the live music AND allergy capital of the world, my only complaint about singing is having to do it when you sound horrible due to allergies or illness. But again, struggling with allergies or illness in any profession is no bueno.
BPP: You recently joined a new five-women rock band as one of their singers and guitarists. The Mrs. is getting national attention and praise. Can you talk about how this band formed and the message it is trying to get out?
JZ: This band started with a couple of girlfriends getting together about 5 years ago and deciding that they wanted to start a unique music project with a positive message. They have worked really hard to make it a success. I joined about a year ago after getting an email inviting me to audition. I was very interested in the band’s concept: an all female, majority mom, pop-rock band writing their own music about topics that reach deeper than partying at the club or boyfriend problems. The current message of the band is supported by our first single release, “Enough”, which you can buy on iTunes. The song is essentially communicating, I’m enough. Just the way I am. which is a great anthem for young girls and women everywhere who struggle with self-esteem issues and societal pressures. I could talk for hours about this band, so my suggestion would be to look us up online at www.themrs.com. At our site, you can learn about our “Magic Mirror” movement, which I think everyone on earth could benefit from. Check us out for sure!
BPP: What has it been like traveling on the road with The Mrs.? What kind of response have you received?
JZ: Traveling with any band has always been, and is always a unique, rewarding, and adventurous experience. One of The Mrs.’s most notable performances to date was at BlogHer 2014 in San Jose California. We were very well received by thousands of female bloggers and opened up for Kerry Washington’s keynote speech, which was great. We also took our Magic Mirror (which you have to look up!) to the conference to let the women there experience it. Search on Twitter #imenough and check out some of the photos from that weekend and the shows we’ve done since. There are many good things happening with this band.
BPP: You have attended some amazing events in the last year and met some pretty amazing celebrities. Queen Latifa and Lionel Richie to name a few. What has that experience been like for you and does your family ever feel left out?
JZ: My daughter thinks I’m famous. Ha! I assure her that although I am in a band that happens to travel and attend cool and exciting events (sometimes in a limo), I am certainly not famous. It is really cool to take a look at yourself through your kid’s eyes sometimes. I’m sure that will change in her teen years, so I must appreciate it now! She’s always on my mind though, so when The Mrs. were at the Elton John Oscar party, and we met Elton, I held a note up during our photo op saying “Hi Rowan”. She loves Elton John’s music, so I thought it would be a cool momento for her to have later in life. My husband is very supportive and always tells me to have fun on band trips. He’s a musician too, so he understands all that goes into it, emotionally and physically.
BPP: What can we expect to hear from The Mrs. in the next year? A full album? A concert tour?
BPP: If you have one sanity-saving pointer for new parents, what would it be?
JZ: Don’t stress over every little thing. Let your kids be individuals and don’t compare them to other kids. It’s just not worth it. It’s ok to make mistakes as children and adults, and we all do. Be honest, be humble, try your best. Don’t let guilt overwhelm you. That was more than one sanity saver, but I could go on and on! Every day is a learning experience. I have learned more from my child than I ever knew before. Time flies, and I know that sounds cliché, but I didn’t realize the truth of that statement until I became a parent. Savor every second.
We appreciate Jennifer sharing her experience with BPP! Anyone who sees her perform or spends time talking to her can tell that she exudes the confidence and loving attitude that The Mrs. is sharing with their fans. Let’s face it, all new parents can benefit from the affirming message of “I’m Enough”. If you are in Austin, we highly encourage you to go see Jennifer perform when you have a chance. And keep your eyes peeled for The Mrs. showing up at an event or on a TV program near you. They are on the move and ready to take America by storm! C&K ♥