Young and on Fire: Jane Ellen Bryant

Meet the 25-year-old musician who was recently named the Austin Music Award’s Best New Austin Band and Female Vocalist for 2016–2017.

By Emma Whalen, Photos by Daniel Cavazos
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For many, coming-of-age stories often involve first heartbreaks, first jobs, first cars or first dingy, little apartments. For up-and-coming rock musician Jane Ellen Bryant, these stories are no different, except hers is imbued with a bluesy, sometimes gritty swagger that aptly reflects her Austin roots. 

“I call it heartbreaking rock ’n’ roll. It’s got a little bit of pop, folk, country, rock and anything that feels like me,” Bryant says. “Even the ballads can sometimes rock out, but they’re still sad.”

Most people know Austin is a town with music practically paved into its streets. With musicians playing anywhere and everywhere, from the airport to coffee shops to international festivals, it’s no wonder a child growing up here would aspire to become a musician. And obviously, there is no shortage of passion or talent here. Bryant took these influences and honed her skills at music camps before studying vocal performance at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

“I think [growing up in Austin has] influenced [my music] more than I even really know, but growing up here, you’re surrounded by amazing, talented musicians all the time,” Bryant says. “‘I’m really grateful to have grown up here and to be surrounded by it.”

When she returned to Austin after graduating from Belmont University, however, she knew she needed to distinguish herself from the crowd. Following her father’s advice and a common adage sworn by successful people—“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”— Bryant began to live a different sort of rock-’n’-roll lifestyle.

“There’s so, so, so many talented people here, some way more than others. But it doesn’t matter if you’re not willing to put in all of the hard work and never give up,” Bryant says. 

Teaching private music lessons four to five days a week by day and writing, recording and practicing new music by night, Bryant doesn’t have much time for distractions. Her goals are big and span beyond Texas, but she’ll always call Austin home base.

“A lot of people have complained about Austin being a hard place for musicians right now, but I think it’s incredible how nurturing this city is,” Bryant says. “There’s not the business that there is in L.A. or Nashville or New York, but it’s just this real, homegrown, nurturing thing that you eventually gain a lot of exposure from, and they’re going to support you whether you’re a beginner or not.”

Bryant has played at the Moody Theater with Ian Moore and Zach Frost, and performed at South By Southwest. This year will mark her second appearance at the festival. She was also recently named the Austin Music Award’s Best New Austin Band and Female Vocalist for 2016–2017. 

Bryant’s goals for the future have a distinctly Austin influence. She says her dream venue to perform in is the Paramount Theatre, as it has the size to reach a large audience but the intimacy to allow her to perform a range of songs. 

From her upbeat pop, folk, country tunes to her bluesy ballads, Bryant uses her music to embody her coming of age from the good, the bad, to the ugly. 

“I love Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt,” she says, noting her role models. “They’re these female powerhouses that have their own unique voice and sound. Their music sounds like them, but it’s still both popular and timeless.” 

Let there be no doubt, all of Bryant’s momentum did not come easily, but as it continues to grow, she attributes much of it to her support system. From her parents, who are often seen standing near the stage at her shows, helping sell merchandise or simply cheering in the audience, to her producer, who approached her after her performance at the Moody Theater, to the music community in Austin, which she credits with creating a supportive environment for all musicians, she’s adamant that she didn’t get here alone. 

As Bryant continues to come into her own and works toward touring as an opener or a headliner, she keeps coming back to the same goal: give back to Austin.

“It’s been so cool to see people like Gary Clark Jr. and Shakey Graves bust out of here on the big leagues but then give back to the community so well,” Bryant says. “I really admire that, that they’re both still so involved in helping Austin artists and giving back in whatever way they can.”

For now, there’s no telling where 2017 will take Bryant, but if her new single, “All in My Head,” combined with her second performance at South By Southwest and winning the Austin Music Award’s Best New Austin Band and Female Vocalist for 2016–2017 are any indication, it’s that Jane Ellen Bryant isn’t a name Austinites will stop hearing any time soon. 

janeellenbryant.com


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