The “Beat ‘N’ Track” this month showcases the songwriting strength of sophomore Jilian Linklater. The 19-year-old songwriting major first turned to piano, pen and paper in times of heartache, and the songs that resulted on the other side of the pain taught her some of life’s little lessons. A few years later, in her freshman year at Belmont, the the seasoned songstress awed audiences at two separate ASCAP Writers’ Nights. After securing top honors, she earned a performance spot at the 2011 Best of the Best Showcase. But Dustin Stout learned all the hype doesn’t cloud the vision of this Michigan native. For her, it’s all about one thing: the song.
Talk about the first time you wrote a song. What’s the name of the song? What’s it about?
The first song I wrote was called “I Don’t Need You Anymore” when I was 15, and if the title doesn’t give it away, it was a very dramatic song about a boy who broke my heart. So original, I know. Though the song isn’t one of my best, I still remember exactly why I sat down to write it, and that’s really what was important to me. I sat down and wrote it because I felt like it would be a good way to put it behind me and get something positive out of the situation. I never really intended for anyone to hear any of my songs at all. I just started writing to feel better.
Talk a little more about that. How does songwriting lift your spirits?
I played music and wrote songs to make me happy and to cope with whatever was going on in my life—even if I just got frustrated with someone. I remember getting in fights with my mom about stupid stuff. She would say, “Okay, Jilian, go away and go play guitar or something. It will make you chill out a little.”
Is songwriting something you were always interested in, or did you start by accident?
I wouldn’t really call it an accident, but I didn’t really start playing around with songwriting until my mid-teens—which is kind of later than most, I think. I always had played piano, and it made me happy to play music in general. But songwriting came along later.
How would you describe your style? Is there a common theme that you tend to cover in your songs?
My songwriting style varies, but for the most part, I usually just describe my music as acoustic pop or singer/songwriter. As for a common theme, I mostly write about real-life situations—whether it be in my life or a friend’s or family member’s.
When you write a song, do you think about performing it in front of other people and what they will think?
For me initially in the songwriting process, I never even considered the listener. Songwriting will always first and foremost be something I do because it makes me happy and helps me cope, but there are times when the listener comes into account. A song could make perfect sense to me, but it could leave the listener completely lost. What good is a song if you can’t get some sort of message across?
You’ve performed at two of the Curb College’s ASCAP Writers’ Nights and even got to perform at last spring’s Best of the Best Showcase. Talk about how it felt to get such an honor and to be recognized so positively for your music. How does it feel to perform your songs in front of so many people?
To be honest, when I applied for the ASCAP Writers’ Night, I didn’t think I had any chance of getting it. Everyone writes at Belmont. So being picked twice – and as the winner last year – was so awesome. I was jumping out of my skin. And the showcase was crazy fun! I remember walking off the stage after playing my song looking at my violinist and percussionist. We all three were saying, “Yes! That was so fun! Let’s do it again!” We were so pumped. It was such a fun night.
That’s great. Getting to play at a showcase as a songwriter is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But when it comes to writing and performing, do you prefer one more than the other?
I would have to choose writing over performing. Though performing can be a rush, like at the showcase, it all just comes back to the song for me. I’ve said it a lot, but I love songwriting because it makes me feel happy! The performing part isn’t as big of a factor in that. Sure, I would still play music. But without songwriting, music wouldn’t be as big of a part of me.
Speaking of the music that’s a part of you, your EP is called “The Back Door EP.” What inspired that name?
The name “The Back Door EP” is credited to my roommate Emily Clark. It came from one of the songs on the EP called “Familia.” That song is just about growing up and family and coming home again which described the period of my life very well. So I thought that grabbing a line from that song would be relevant for the time I was releasing it. Plus, it’s got a nice ring to it.
I heard your EP was recorded in a dorm room. Is that true, and if so, talk about that experience. Is it everything you thought it would be?
Yes, it sure was recorded in a dorm room. My good friend Tyler Newkirk introduced me to Chris Royer, an audio engineering major, at the beginning of my freshman year, he and said he would be down to record some stuff. It just snowballed from there. The dorm room recording was super fun but challenging. There were space constraints and visitation hours we had to work around, but we made it happen. Chris made his wardrobe into a booth with carpet and blankets draped over the side. It was lovely. I sang right to all his clothes.
One song that’s not on your EP is called “Make Me.” I heard you perform it at the most recent ASCAP Writers’ Night, and from that moment on, I was a Jilian Linklater fan. Now, this isn’t your typical love song. Talk about why you wrote “Make Me” and what the song’s about.
I wrote “Make Me” just this past summer. I actually found a little piece of paper with the idea for the song written on it in my dresser. I must have just scribbled it down a while ago and forgotten about it. But the song is about wanting to have your heart broken, which is the opposite of most songs you hear. But this song is about someone who has never been in love or feels incapable of love, and it seems that maybe a heartbreak is the only way that person can realize they are in love or can be in love.
I always say there’s no greater thing than to feel the words of a song more than you even hear them. Your songs do that and strike such a chord with people who are listening. Why do you think that is?
Well, I’d hope that the reason for that is that they can relate and feel the genuineness of the words they are hearing.
I hear you are a sucker for country music. In fact, you even have a song called “Country Song” on your YouTube channel. Talk about what you hope people feel when they hear this song.
I do love me some country music. The funny thing about “Country Song” is every single thing in the song is true. I didn’t just sit down and say, “Hey I’m going to throw a bunch of country music clichés in a song.” I sat down and wrote about my night, and it happened to sound like a country song! The whole attitude behind country music is that it’s real people and real experiences, so I hope that comes across in this song.
It definitely does. Well, you’ve recorded and released an EP. You’ve won an ASCAP Writers’ Night and gotten to perform at last year’s Best of the Best Showcase in front of all of Belmont. What’s next for Jilian Linklater?
As of right now, I am just writing as much as I can. And hopefully, in the future those songs will land me a publishing deal. That’s really what I have my eyes set on right now. But ultimately—if I want to be really cliché—I want to be happy doing what I love, with people that I love. Maybe If I’m lucky, the two will go hand in hand.