Whey Jennings Seeks Musical Redemption on New EP, ‘Just Before the Dawn’ [Interview]
Whey Jennings is feeling a lot more optimistic about his life these days, after overcoming a longtime struggle with addiction and finding happiness in his marriage to his wife, Taryn. The traditional-minded country singer used those struggles — and how he overcame them through faith — as emotional fodder for the songs on his new EP, Just Before the Dawn, which he hopes is going to help others in turn.
The new project builds on themes of addiction, sobriety, faith and redemption, and Jennings tells us that he set out to create an album around those themes after he wrote the central song, "Just Before Dawn." The plaintive acoustic ballad reveals a more sensitive side than much of his supercharged country rock. Jennings wrote the song for a movie titled American Outlaws, which debuts on Saturday (Sept. 23) at the Boston Film Festival, and he was so pleased with it, he began writing more songs to a set of themes, working with his frequent collaborator, Wes Shipp.
Jennings had explored some of the same themes on his previous album, If It Wasn't for the Sinning, but in retrospect, he feels it was too soon in his sobriety.
"I came out of recovery and I went straight into writing, and I was just so overwhelmed with everything I had going on in my life, I poured it all out on paper," he reflects. "I found a bunch of great songs, but I feel like I got my point across better with this project."
Jennings names "Wild Child" and "Daredevil" as two of his other favorite songs on the new project, and admits with a chuckle that both of them speak to his own wild days. "Wild Child" addresses the changes he's made in his life since meeting his wife, who has helped steer him toward recovery and sobriety.
"At that point, I was still out there doing bad things to myself," he recalls of meeting his wife for the first time. "She was actually already in recovery, and I kind of knocked her off of her square. We ended up going way down the rabbit hole together, and then we both got clean together and got married.
"I've got all of my children back, I've got a new baby, I bought a house ... I've been sober for about four years, and life's just been great," he gushes, adding with a hearty laugh, "I used to be a wild child, like a freight train runnin' — and now I'm not!"
"You have to hit rock bottom in order to get back up. You've got to have nowhere to go," he states when asked what finally drove him into recovery. "I hit rock bottom and dug a hole, man. I hit rock bottom harder than most, and I guarantee you I was about eight feet past rock bottom," he says with another infectious laugh.
"My wife and my manager, they cornered me one day, and they said, 'We're not gonna watch you kill yourself no more. You can either get your sh-t together, or we're leaving.' And I said, "Yes, ma'am,' and I went to rehab. And I learned more in 28 days than I did in 27 years of addiction."
Jennings says he "started hanging out with the wrong crowd, doing the wrong things" after an injury left him unable to play sports during his school days, and his partying developed from there into a full-blown addiction. He had been raised on the Bible, and when it came time to go to rehab, he chose a faith-based rehab that helped him to re-connect to the values of his youth.
"When I got clean and I got my mind back, and I started reading Scriptures for the right reasons, I started to realize how magical and beautiful it is," he states. "It's the most pure, perfect thing I've ever witnessed in my life."
Jennings is the grandson of Waylon Jennings, which he calls "a blessing and a curse."
"I thought about changing my name a lot of times, but I'm also very proud of who I am, so I'm glad I didn't," he reflects. "I'll never be Waylon Jennings; I'm just Whey Jennings, and that's who I'll always be."
The singer-songwriter has set some lofty goals for his new music.
"I want to change lives with my music," he tells us. "With my life and the music I put out. I've dealt with a lot of regret about my past, but one thing that it helps me out is, it gave me the ability to show people what my life used to be, and what my life is now, and that it really is possible to change your life if you really want to."
Just Before the Dawn drops on Friday (Sept. 22). It's available across a wide variety of digital music providers. For more information regarding Whey Jennings, visit his official website, or keep track of his music and tour dates via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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