Los Angeles-based musician Kim Lenz has been cultivating her take on rockabilly since 1998, releasing three albums, including a pair for Hightone Records – one of the most influential labels in the genre – and playing hundreds of dates around the world. Already a recognized force on the roots music scene, Lenz is now poised for a breakthrough with her upcoming albumFollow Me, scheduled for release on August 20th via Riley Records.
Follow Me stays true to the genre and its traditions, but Lenz also allows her recent life experiences to show through in a way that she hasn’t attempted before. While growing up in San Diego and Phoenix, Lenz was a fan of Blondie, The Pretenders, X, Big Star, and The Buzzcocks.
“I’ve always had a penchant for good pop music,” she says, but Lenz really fell in love when she moved to Los Angeles and discovered the burgeoning roots music scene there.
“It was pretty small back then,” Lenz says of the community at that time. “Big Sandy, Dave & Deke, and the Reverend Horton Heat were all happening there in that small scene. Everyone was looking back and taking their own stab at what they found. It was cool.” At the time, Lenz was working in an office that piped in the Pasadena public radio station KPCC throughout the day.
“That’s how I came to know the standards and classic American songwriting,” she remembers. Armed with a musical education in the works of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, and others, Lenz moved to Dallas to finish school, and to take a chance at becoming a performer herself, playing her first show at the Bar of Soap (bar in the front, laundromat in the back.) She immediately knew that she had found her calling.
Lenz began performing regularly around town and a year later was named the Dallas Observer’s “Female Vocalist of the Year.” Flying back to L.A, she recorded a 45 that quickly found an audience among the rockabilly scene there. The call to make an album for Hightone Records came soon after.
“It did better than anyone expected,” Lenz says of her debut album. “We toured and played about 200 dates a year for three years. We were so wild back then, when I look back, I’m surprised we survived!” Lenz then took a break to start a family, and assumed that someone else would fill her shoes while she was gone. But no one had. “I was able to pick my career back up seamlessly,” she says about returning to the road. “That is one thing about this scene. Once they love you they love you forever.”
Lenz hopes that loyalty continues with Follow Me.
“They say that money can’t buy love, but I paid dearly,” Lenz sings on the album’s opening number “Pay Dearly,” and her wise words only become more candid and potent from there. The songs on Follow Me reflect recent difficult events in Lenz’s life that she knew she had to incorporate into her work.
Following the release of 2009’s It’s All True, and the tour of packed houses that followed, Lenz suffered a series of personal setbacks. Discovering that she was adopted and that her family had kept it secret all of her life, opened up a flood of terrible memories for Lenz to sort through and come to terms with. At the same time, Lenz also lost her friend and bandmate, Nick Curran, to cancer.
Lenz has built a career on making music that adheres to a traditional rockabilly sound, and working on Follow Me with a legend like Leyland has allowed her to continue that. Leyland was also able take Lenz’s unusually heartfelt lyrics and work with them in this context. Or as Lenz says, “He took these tough sad songs and put a sparkle on them.”
Follow Me’s first single is its title track, which evokes everyone from Amy Winehouse to Wanda Jackson, incorporating elements of soul into Lenz’s established American roots sound.
Follow Me, the latest album from Kim Lenz and The Jaguars will be released on August 20th, 2013 via Riley Records.