Q&A: Watertown’s Jen Trynin Nearly Became a Rock Star, Now She Embraces Her Literary Side

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Watertown’s Jen Trynin, a former rock musician who is now writing about her life, also runs Earfull with her friend Tim Huggins, the original owner of Newtonville Books. (Courtesy of Jen Trynin)

What’s it like to almost become a rock star, and then walk away from it? That’s the unique experience Jen Trynin had in the 90’s when her song “Better Than Nothing” suddenly grabbed the attention of every major record label. But after signing, she actually decided to put her professional music life on the back burner and embrace her more literary side.

This summer she has a new story out in Ploughshares, the prestigious literary magazine published by Emerson College. The emotional story, “Hello Kitty,” will be a part of her future novel. We spoke with Trynin about her writing career, her erstwhile life as an almost rockstar, and how she’s combined her love of literature and music to create a series of local events for people who also love both, called Earfull.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Watertown News: Tell us what “Hello Kitty” is about.

Trynin: “Hello Kitty” is primarily a story about just being so sad that my child was going to end up being an only child.

There were a number of years that I went through IVF. I had my first and only child at 39, and I very much wanted to give her siblings like I had. And then I started to realize it probably wasn’t going to happen. And it made me feel very sad and lonely for her. That’s what the story is about, what it’s like to not have a sibling.

WN: Does your daughter know what the essay is about?

Trynin: She’s now 20. And I’m now writing my second book. [Hello Kitty is] an excerpt from the book. But she’s a funny child and she’s never read any of my writing. She was like, “I just don’t want to read it.” But it occurred to me as this was coming out, I was like, “Oh, hey, I’m so sorry. I should have checked with you on this.” So finally she read the story the other day, and I was very happy that she actually really liked it. It’s like, holy relief. What would I have done, you know?

WN: When is the new book coming out?

Trynin: I’m still writing that new book. My first and only other book is called “Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be.” That was about my time as a supposed rock star in the nineties. I’m not going to give too much away, but the new book is called “Death is a Number.” And it’s basically just about a family. I don’t have my log line down for it yet because I’m still in the in the throes of it. But it’s in three sections basically pre-math, math, and aftermath. Hello Kitty is from first section.

WN: Correct me if I’m wrong, but in your first book [“Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be”], it seems like there’s sort of a tension between a decision of: Should I keep trying to make this music thing happen, or should I step away?

Trynin: The reason I got to write that in the first place and get it published, besides hopefully being a semi-decent writer, is that when I was signed to Warner Brothers in 1995, I was the biggest signing of a new artist, ever. And that doesn’t mean I was so great. I was a new and completely unproven artist. I just fit some sort of niche and they all convinced themselves they needed me.

When I got signed, there was just so much pressure put on me. I was supposed to be the next big thing. And I was like, in Rolling Stone that summer. It was just like, whoa, this is a lot. And then I released my independent record called “Cockamamie,” and, you know, it did pretty well for a new artist, but not compared to what they wanted. They wanted me to literally be what Alanis Morissette ended up being. And so there was really nowhere for me to go.

You have to read the book to understand more about the music business. By that point, I was just sort of like, I’ve been doing it for a long time. My heart was in writing and I could read the writing on the wall, so to speak, in the music business. I’m good. I’m not that good. So I had a child and I went back to writing and I just changed my life.

WN: As someone who walked into the music industry and then walked out, would you have any
advice for someone who was trying to be a musician these days?

Trynin: Well, you know, trying to be a musician, there are so many different ways to be involved in music. So, so, so many. I’m really just a songwriter who ended up have a voice that was good enough. And I’m not so ugly. So, you know.

I say if you could do anything else, do something else and just write songs in your spare time. It’s a very strange, unpredictable life and lots of highs and lows. Really, the only people who end up staying in it is people who have no other choice. They just can’t do anything else. I believe people should follow their passion, follow their heart, and they’ll know if they need to get out. It’s a really, really, really hard business. I wish I had better advice.

WN: How about someone who is looking towards the writing side of things?

Trynin: I’d say the same thing.

WN: If you can do something else, do it?

Trynin: Yeah. Of the people that I know who are writers and who are real full-time musicians, and who are real songwriters, you do it because you just kind of have to do it. It’s hard to explain. Otherwise, especially in today’s world … I just think if you have to do it, you do it. And if you don’t have to do it, you’ll do something else. It can take a little while to figure that out.

I guess you can file it under all of our parents telling us to keep our day jobs.

WN: Tell us a little bit about the that Earfull events that you’ve been hosting.

Trynin: So, Earfull is something that I started with my late husband, Mike Denneen, who ran Q Division recording studios, and my very good friend Tim Huggins, who was the original owner of Newtonville Books when it was in Newtonville back in the late ’90s or early ’00s. We started Earfull in 2000.

My time in the record business was in the ’90s, basically. And I was getting older and I just sort
of left, which people thought was strange. But I was a writing major in college and I really wanted
to get back to writing. So, I started on the book that I ended up getting published, and I kind of was transitioning between music and writing. I was in a band called Loveless and I went to the Harvard Extension School. I met all these people like Brad Watson, the great writer from the South, and he introduced me to Tim Huggins, who was also from the South. Those guys and a bunch of other people started coming to my rock shows, and then I would go to Tim’s readings in Newtonville books. And I was like, you know, I really do like readings, but, sometimes they get a little sleepy. So, we were like, why don’t we try doing some shows that combine readings with rock shows?

And we have this friend, Michael Creamer, who owned a now-defunct small bar called The Kendall Cafe. We would do [these events ] once a week for six weeks, and then take a break. And people seemed to love it. So we did that for about three years or something. Then I had my daughter and I took some time off and went through a lot of stuff, and then we started doing it again.

So now we’re trying to build it. And so it’s just a very simple concept: two authors, two musical acts in two hours at a restaurant or pub, and usually the audiences are no bigger than about 100. It has a very like kind of a down-home feeling. Everybody gets to know each other, regulars start to come, and you get to meet people, and you get to be turned on to new artists. And music fans and book fans get to be turned on to new people they never would have heard otherwise.

WN: Is the goal to be focusing on local writers and local acts, or is the idea “hey, this person sounds cool, let’s bring them in?”

Trynin: It’s kind of a combination. We do focus on local because we like to keep everything local. As we’re expanding it to different areas — we’re gonna experiment with expanding to Chicago — so when we do that, then we’ll have two great authors and two great musical acts that live in Chicago. It’s supposed to really be about building trust and building community more than anything else.

EARFULL events will resume on Sept. 19th at The Burren in Somerville’s Davis Square. For more
information check out https://earfull.org/shows. To see the latest of Jen Trynin’s writing, visit

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