Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

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Q&A With Gina Venier

By Dale Henry Geist

If I was a country radio programmer, I would immediately put Gina Venier’s “Nora Jane” into high rotation. It’s got it all: modern production, finger-snapping groove, earworm melody, and a universal theme: that jittery feeling of bringing home a new love to meet the family. But, of course, if I was a country radio programmer, I’d have no qualms about that lover being the same sex as the singer. Real radio programmers? If they’re smart, they’ll do the right thing, because damn, “Nora Jane” sounds like a hit.

“Nora Jane” earned Song of the Week honors in this week’s Roundup, so we circled back with Gina via email to get more insight into what went into it.

“Nora Jane” is about those feelings around introducing a new romantic interest to your family, which is something lots of people, of any orientation, have gone through. But in this case, it’s also a coming-out moment, since the new lover is also a woman. Is this based on your own experience?

Yes! I am loving how we can all universally relate to this song — no matter WHO it might be— but this is based on my “Nora Jane” — I met someone, and I felt strongly about them. I thought it wasn’t fair to me, or to her, or even to my family to not be honest about that. The idea of having a “Nora Jane” means bringing someone home with confidence, not hiding who you love, not being ashamed of love. However, it’s the trepidation we may feel in the process. “What’s my Dad gonna do when I bring you home? What’s my Mom gonna say when I tell her you’re the one I love?” I had those exact feelings and nerves. Luckily, my story ends on a positive note. “My Dad wasn’t too tough when I brought you home / Mom gave me a hug when I told her you’re the one I love.” I am lucky I had a family and group of friends who were very supportive of me, and just wanted me to be happy. I know that’s not the case for everyone. 


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

The sound of “Nora Jane” is so modern and radio-friendly – did you intentionally make it accessible to a contemporary country audience? And if so, does that feel like a bold move, considering the queer subject matter?

I feel “Nora Jane” has the power to emotionally educate people, especially those who may not be fully comfortable with this type of topic– this type of love story. Maybe they never looked at it this way before, and maybe they can understand this type of story better after hearing this song. Maybe they can at least be open to it. 

So, my intention was to always keep this song universal, in every way. I think the most important part was writing something real, something that had feeling, something that had truth — whether it was coming from a queer perspective or not, whether it was my story or not. To me, that’s what makes it accessible, and that’s what makes it bold. As far as how the sound unfolded, I was fortunate to be working with some of Nashville’s best songwriters and producers, and that’s where you can really dress it up and find magic. I was very hands on in the production process, and made sure it was exactly how I heard it in my head. Especially the drums! I hope it is the type of song and sound that can crossover, be genre-free and be accessible to all audiences.

I understand that you’re a drummer as well as a guitarist – does your drumming influence your approach to songwriting?

Absolutely. I was a drummer first! I’ve been playing drums since I was a little girl. It was the first instrument I learned, and I’m glad I learned the importance of rhythm early on. It’s impossible for it to not show up in my songwriting, and in the studio when I’m recording vocals and even when I’m playing guitar. There’s always a percussive sensibility in my songs and always in my live shows as well. A lot of my sessions early on in Nashville– the ones that didn’t have a producer in the room–meant me lugging in my cajon and laying down a groove to get some movement or a vibe going. It’s also a great base to work with for writing melodies. 

What was the process like of taking “Nora Jane” from an idea to a finished track?

It was a journey! Honestly, I had the idea / story in my phone for YEARS before I took it into any room. I wrote it in 2017, and the relationship was long over by then. But I waited for the right combination, or maybe I waited until I was confident enough to share it with someone… Whatever it was, it felt right the day I brought it to Summer Overstreet and Savana Santos. They instantly helped me unpack the story: how it all went down, how I felt, and how to put it in a song with clever lines and strong melodies. They were the ultimate songwriting dream team. Savana did a demo of it, and I pitched that version around to different publishers / teams in Nashville. It finally found the right home once I did — I signed with Red Door Music Group, and had a team put together behind me by my publisher, Abbey Adams. I co-produced the track with Rian Ball, who had to practice so much patience working with me… for real! I was so particular about this song. We were beyond lucky to get Derek Wells on guitars and Evan Hutchings on drums, and it truly all came together from that point. 

Again, it was the ultimate dream team for me during the entire process. I feel very blessed by how it all happened.

What’s next for you?

Ready for the most Nashville response ever? WRITING WRITING WRITING! Haha. We’re always writing in this town. Always trying to level up in every way. That’s what keeps us all sharp! 

I’m working with some stellar combinations in the writing room, and as always, playing lots of shows in town, and trying to play more out of town. I’m on the main stage this year for the Nashville Pride Festival, which is very exciting. I’ve played the side stage the past few years, and finally got a slot on the big girl stage.

I’m working towards putting a cohesive project of songs together, and trying to create a strong supporting cast to follow up “Nora Jane.” I’m constantly digging into who I am as an artist, and continuing to work on the confidence it takes to share my story. Stay tuned. There’s so much more for me to say, and my goal is to always stay authentic along the way.