Jeni Schapire woke up one day and didn’t recognize her own life. Formerly known as Jennifer Rae, a professional moniker she had been using since she was 15 years old, the Nashville-based musician started to feel suffocated. Her stage name no longer felt true to who she had become, so she shed it completely. Reemerging clear-headed and much stronger with her debut single “What’s in a Name,” co-produced with Daniel Markus, Schapire reclaims her own narrative.
“It is the declaration that this is who I am and this is what I want to be called,” she tells Audiofemme. “Beyond that, when I wrote this song, I stopped to look at my life. I felt isolated, alone, scared, and I didn’t know the person who was staring back at me in the mirror. I had made choices for other people and didn’t know what I wanted.”
“What’s in a Name?” is a life-preserver, a way to uncover her identity and pull her safely back to land. “It isn’t too late for me to make the choices I want to make and to be the truest version of myself,” she says.
Schapire began writing her forthcoming EP (of the same name) nearly a year ago, and when COVID-19 hit, she, like many, turned inward to do some long-overdue soul-searching. “That’s when I was certain I needed to shed my stage name. So as any songwriter might, I wanted to write a song about it. No more hiding…. just pure authenticity,” she explains.
In taking stock of her life, she also realized how many toxic people she’d allowed into it, that truth be told, didn’t deserve her time or energy. “I was not putting myself and my goals first. I was choosing relationships and my partner’s goals over my own,” she admits. “Each song on this EP is an examination of myself in some way: looking at things I wish were different, ways I wish I could change, wanting to be someone else, loving someone who can’t love me back.”
With barebones lyrics that read as fleeting images flashing through Schapire’s mind, there’s a subtle sorrow etched into the song, a sorrow she must feel again if she has any hope of moving onward. And yet, “What’s in a Name” remains surprisingly textured and atmospheric. Synths thrash against organic instruments, including a brassy horn riff. It’s a delicious, hypnotic soundscape to give her sparrow-like vocals proper flight. “Another language/Lips moving/Shape shifting,” she chirps. “Say it again/Can’t grasp/Leave it.”
By the song’s final frames, the music and vocals bleed together and fade, mirroring her personal journey to glorious enlightenment. “That’s not mine/What you call me/I’m someone else/Who you made me,” she sings.
“This song began with just experimenting with different sounds and plugins. Up until I became fluent with Protools, I felt like I couldn’t fully express myself. There was a powerlessness to having to rely on translating my vision through someone else,” she explains. “That power and clarity has made working with Daniel and other producers effortless. I lay a groundwork for what I’m imagining and then they can expand on it. Beyond experimenting and just really learning as much as possible, I listen to so much music. I’m so hungry to hear what speaks to people. It’s so informative. Everyone gains such a different emotional impact from music and that fascinates me.”
“What really unlocked it as a song was the piano part. It shifted the feel from C major to A minor, and from that point, the song kind of finished itself,” she adds. “But the outro did come from Protools freezing on the horn riff! A computer crash that I am actually grateful for.”
What’s in a Name is one of those wholly special records, culminated from a deep well of life experience. Playing piano since the age of five and growing up in Princeton, New Jersey (a “wealthy town with so many different kinds of people”) Schapire admits to having a pretty charmed life, while also navigating a broken school system. “The schools there pressure cook their kids until they either become astronomically successful or they burn out. It’s home, and I miss it, and I’m incredibly privileged to have been raised there, but growing up there was really hard.”
Schapire later studied at Oberlin College and eventually moved to Nashville. “People always say Nashville is a big city with a small town feel, and that is absolutely the truth,” she recalls of her early days there. When she first began actively recording, her style leaned heavily into the indie-rock and Americana arenas. Nashville’s in-built melting pot of influences was almost distracting, and to Schapire, the work never felt quite right. “I was still looking for the sound that felt like the truest expression of myself. That’s also why I’m so excited about this EP. It just feels like me,” she says.
What’s in a Name is about declaring her worth and staking her claim in the music world. One single in, and it’s apparent Jeni Schapire has something profound to say. As important as this moment is, she carries a bit of emotional weight on her shoulders. “I think the mistakes that I’ve made have cost me time. Making mistakes and learning lessons is a time consuming feat,” she says. “It’s so necessary, but I wish I never sacrificed myself, my goals, and my worth. I don’t regret the mistakes because they’ve brought me to where I am right now. But selling myself short ─ that breaks my heart.”