Honky Tonk Heroine

By Jennie Roberson

July 10, 2019

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Photo credit: Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash.jpg

Cindy Jollotta’s career is on fire. After returning from a successful world tour and putting together her debut album, Jet Plane To Reno, she is ready to take on the States and embark on a tour of the Great Northwest – making stops from Grants Pass, Oregon all the way up to Anchorage, Alaska. With honeyed vocals and wickedly clever lyrics, Cindy’s style has been described as “Dolly Parton with a whiskey back.”

Cindy is not afraid to make her music personal – talking about everything from her bisexuality to music business dealings and her complicated relationship with religion. And her sunny stage presence helps it all go down with a smile.

While she is excited for the upcoming tour, Cindy is not afraid to send the elevator back down. Her ambitions go beyond her solo work and establishing empowering venues for other female country musicians. I sat down with her recently to look back on her musical and personal journey, talk about the upcoming tour, and what lies ahead.

Jennie Roberson: How did you come to identify as bisexual?

Cindy Jollotta: Oh, through much trial and error. (Laughs) When I was maybe 15 or 16, my mother sort of pulled me aside and asked, “Are you a lesbian?” And of course because I was raised very Christian – not just Christian, but in a very fundamentalist Christian household – my answer was, of course, “Absolutely not! No way!” Because I thought being a lesbian was … like a sin. If you’re a lesbian you’re a sinner, so then you’re going to hell. And I saw them as this other, sinful group of people – something so different from me. But she saw something in me basically that I never saw. I went a long time without ever having a boyfriend or anything, and I generally disliked most men because I have trust issues. So I was so averse to the idea of any homosexuality whatsoever, I wouldn’t even think about it.

And then when I was with Dan, my husband, [he] noticed I would have like lingering looks at bottoms and I would have little fantasies [that] would largely be about women. And instead of being intimidated by that, he encouraged me to explore it, which was amazing on his part. ‘Cause he, you know, he risked losing me. He saw there was some part of me that I needed to explore. He saw long term that if I didn’t explore the feelings I had, then I would just be, I would just be...

Repressed?

Stunted, or I would end up resenting him. Because we were best friends from the time we have been together, we’ve always been super-super-close, so we were always really honest with each other about everything. So I was honest with him. When he was like “I saw you looking at her,” I would be honest. With Dan, he was my best friend, and I never was afraid to be honest with him. And I think honestly the trusting relationship I have with Dan is what got me here today. Because I didn’t feel like I had to hide who I was for him, because “if he knew who I really was, he wouldn’t love me” or whatever. I never thought that.

Photo by Dan Reynolds

How has it been being out as a queer artist, or a bi artist?

That part’s been great. I haven’t had any issues with that. In fact, I think having a community to be a part of has made being an artist, an open artist, a bisexually open artist, more fulfilling. Because I have this whole community, every time I write anything that’s remotely pro-bi or anything that promotes bi visibility I have this whole group of people that’s so behind me and also appreciative of it. So if anything, I would say being bi has made being an artist much more fulfilling because of the audience. My bi peeps!

How do you see yourself as a musician? And how does being bi fold into that? Does being “Dolly Parton with a whiskey back” have room for being bi?

My favorite part of being a musician is writing songs, and I’m very lyrics-heavy. I spend way more time on my lyrics than I do on the music, on the melody. Not in every song, but in many songs. I want to make sure what I’m saying comes across. So that’s how I see myself musically. I’m message-centric, and being a bi artist makes me want to make sure any message I have in my music is, what’s the word I’m thinking of, inclusive and honest. Bam, that’s it.

Is there anything that you would like people to know about you that maybe isn’t part of your public persona?

The number one thing people don’t know about me is that I’m terrified all the time. I’m terrified of failure, I’m terrified of making a mistake, I’m terrified of people not loving me, I’m terrified of disappointing people I love.

I get on stage and I’m making jokes and la-de-da, everything’s happy and free and fun. When I do get on stage I do feel like that because usually I’ve said hi to friends before the show, my people are here, and it’s great. Shows are a little bit different. [But] when I’m writing the music, and every day I wake up and every day I go to sleep, the one thing I struggle with constantly with is fear. So that’s the one thing most people have no idea. You know now because you’ve gotten to know me, but people don’t know that. But I’m practically ruled by fear constantly.

Are there any of your songs/covers that have a specifically bi+ leaning? Anything on your current album you’re about to tour with? From the past, anything you like to play in your shows?

So obviously “Room in My Pants”

I wrote Room as a result of being both bi and polyamorous. So when we first started polyamorous hookups, Dan is a very sensitive person and would always really be into spending time in getting to know someone, whereas I had my walls up a little more. I would be like, “That was fun, thank you, move on. Thank you, next!” (Laughs) We were talking about how I’m very committed to Dan and I only have room for him in my life, but I have room for women in my pants. So it started out like that, which sounds really awful. I’ve definitely evolved past that. Then I fell in love with a person who changed my mind. But that song did start out as me exploring my bisexuality. Because I’m married, my bisexuality came along with my polyamory. I had to explore those both simultaneously, simply by the fact of me being in a committed relationship while discovering who I am.

What are you looking forward to the most on your tour?

Honestly I’m really excited to see my former bestie who left me for Portland. (Laugh)

I’m also really looking forward to seeing some people that I met with my former band. I’m gonna be performing at this really cool Nolan Family barn… I met [the barn concert venue owners] through a couple shows we did in Portland with my former band. When I lost the band, I felt like … it was as if it never happened, like I had lost everything. But it turns out I didn’t. I have a lot of friends and fans I got during my time with the band I’m gonna get to still continue seeing, so that feels good.

So yeah, catching up with people I met on former tours is gonna be fun. Like fans that I’ve had for 5+ years I’m gonna get to see them again.  That’s gonna be really cool.

Will there be any specific bi+ songs on your tour?

Yeah! I have a couple of things in the works that are not fully fledged songs. I have a friend in Seattle who’s gonna join me for “Jet Plane to Reno,” he’s gonna do some harmonies, and then we’re gonna do a cover of “Stand By Your Man/I Kissed A Girl.” So that mash-up is definitely a bi-focused song. And then I have a secret bi+ song...

Photo by Benjamin Ford Photography

There’s a secret bi+ song?

There is! I’m very excited about it. But I need to finish it off before I’m ready to be more specific about it. Let’s just say it’s inspired partly by Queen.

Tell me all about your new project, City Girls/Country Music. 

City Girls/Country Music is going to be a community of women who create country, folk, and Americana music in cities around the world. I decided to start it because I was following some Instagram accounts like @women_want_more and @bookmorewomen – which are amazing, you should follow them – and I was seeing festival after festival that was like 90% men. There’s a lot of female country musicians I listen to that don’t get any radio play, they don’t show up at festivals.

For me personally, I used to do all the booking for my [former] band, the Podunk Poets. I had a way easier time booking when it was a band with mostly men. If you go to Spotify, I have way more plays on my personal music than I did with the band. I also have way more followers on Instagram. So if you look online at what a booker might look at – like Instagram, Spotify – it would look like I am more successful. However, getting booked is ten times harder. And I think it’s specifically because I’m a solo female musician.

I got this one rejection that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had written to a booker, I tried to book myself, I got a no. And I thought, “F*** that s***, I’m perfect for that.”  And I was like that’s it – you don’t want to let me into your space? I’ll make my own space. So that’s what I decided to do. 

I travel a lot, so I’m really lucky to have a wide footprint. I spend a lot of time back East as well as in other countries. So I knew right away I could do [shows in] New York City, Boston, and L.A. to start right away. The first show is in L.A. on August 17th, and will feature Leigh Madison, Courtney Cowart, and Drew & Ket.

I just really want to make a space for specifically women, but also for country music to be performed in the city. In L.A. we have hundreds of venues, if not thousands of music venues, with four bands every night. There’s live music constantly, but there’s only a couple of country music nights. And I know for a fact there’s a lot of country musicians, and a lot of female country musicians, who aren’t getting chances to play. So I want to make an opportunity for specifically women, and for country music nights in cities, because there’s a lot of country musicians , and a lot of people like country music.

**Answers have been truncated and edited for brevity and clarity.

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