Jeanna Salzer: Contemporary Pop Newcomer
The past few years have seen Milwaukee turn out a number of powerful rock 'n' roll bands. While there is room for variety within the city, there is usually a consistency in the volume at which these acts play (loud) and the gender of those doing the playing (male). It's a band-centered, male-dominated world out in the noisy clubs of this city.
Potentially lost in the din of such a scene are talents like Jeanna Salzer, a Milwaukee singer-songwriter who, on Sept. 18, will celebrate the release of her debut EP, Raindrops, at Soup's On (221 N. Water St.).
Salzer, a third-year student at Alverno College, is blessed with a voice that belies her young age: She sings with an authority and authenticity that seems to have little place in the world of contemporary pop music. In many ways, Salzer might have found a more welcoming musical environment in the 1970s, as it's clear that she has been influenced by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and James Taylor. Yet Salzer is not content to simply revisit the past. Decades and genres collide on the up-tempo track "Take it All," a song in which Salzer crafts a sound that combines her appreciation of the '70s singer-songwriter with the aesthetics of modern alternative rock (think Fiona Apple, Natalie Merchant/10,000 Maniacs and Ben Folds Five).
Adding to the appeal of the tracks on Raindrops is their somewhat unpolished sound: Salzer only started her musical career in 2004, when she had to write a song for her high-school theology class.
"I started writing songs from there," Salzer explains. "I had been playing piano since I was very young, so everything just seemed to come together."
Crucial to Salzer's growth as a musician has been her commitment to writing. As Salzer began to take her music more seriously, she "started journaling and writing, getting all my thoughts out on a page." Not surprisingly, many of her songs started as sketches within her notebook.
Equally important to Salzer's evolution as an artist is her family. Growing up in West Allis, "my house was always full of music," Salzer says. "My parents listened to all sorts of people, from Led Zeppelin to Al Green." Such exposure to diverse talents has left its mark on Salzer's inclusive approach to songwriting.
Will Milwaukeeans warm to her approach? Salzer is doing all that she can to sell herself to the city. "In the past year, I've been telling myself to be a little bit more proactive," she says. And while she admits that "being a female and being poppy" may put her at a disadvantage in Milwaukee, she is not ready to admit defeat.
In fact, Salzer seems quite optimistic about the future. She is understandably excited about her record release show, and she believes that Milwaukee institutions such as 88.9 FM are "taking a step toward helping smaller solo artists." Such developments allow Salzer to conclude that Milwaukee remains "a realistic place to get your foot in the door." Here's hoping that she's right.