Photographer: Mark Tucker
Jana Kramer wants fans to know that she’s not hiding behind characters anymore.
Kramer, 29, first became known as an actress, with roles on shows such as “Friday Night Lights,” “Entourage” and “90210,” as well as in films such as “Click” and “Prom Night.” That led to a starring role on the hit series “One Tree Hill” for the series’ last few seasons.
On “One Tree Hill,” Kramer got the chance to showcase her musical side, singing songs that would eventually appear on her self-titled debut album, released earlier this year. And with the show coming to a close, she decided it was time to solely focus on the music.
“In the very beginning, it was very different,” Kramer said during a phone interview to promote her appearance today at BonfireJam. “I still had something to fall back on. But with the show ending, it had to really be me. But I think all the fans from ‘One Tree Hill’ knowing all the songs really helped me out and helped me through it.”
The focus has paid off: Kramer’s debut single, “Why You Wanna,” reached No. 3 on the Billboard country chart, the highest ranking ever for a debut single by a female artist. The previous record holder? Just a little song called “Tim McGraw” by someone called Taylor Swift.
“It was so cool,” Kramer said of the single’s success. “I knew that was what we were reaching for, to make the highest debut of any female, but it was insane, because (Swift is) amazing. It was a really cool thing. My whole team worked really hard at that. I had no idea it would be so successful, but I’m really happy about that.”
Kramer said the song’s relatable storyline and rootsy sound are key to its success.
“It was country, not super poppy, and my voice is definitely a different sound,” she said. “Once it came on, people could know it was me. And I think everybody’s been through that situation, so they could understand it.”
The rootsiness of Kramer’s sound and her twangy vocal style have taken some people by surprise, given the singer’s Michigan roots.
“Everybody thinks country is just in the south, but it’s all I grew up on,” she said. “I grew up listening to Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. It’s how I’ve always sang, and I always wanted to do music.”
Kramer said having a clear vision of what she wanted to do as an artist was key to the making of her album.
“I wanted to make a record like Deana Carter, that is current but had a lot of (classic) influence,” Kramer said. “You really should have your own vision when you make an album. It’s your baby. I wanted it to be true to me. I didn’t write everything, but I wanted to make sure the songs we got out of Nashville were all good. It’s important because it makes you real to your audience.”
Kramer did co-write a couple of songs on the album, and said she loves writing.
“Songwriting to me is like therapy, sitting in a room and talking about what’s on your mind and getting it off your chest,” she said. “It’s crazy when you’re done writing and your hanging out with your friends in the room. This is work?”
The second single from the album, “Whiskey,” is now climbing the charts.
“To me, it’s a song about that one moment of regret where you wish you could take something back,” Kramer said. “I’m the kind of person that doesn’t live with regrets, but there’s always that three minutes where you want to take something back, and that’s what that song’s about.”
Kramer is hoping that “Whiskey” duplicates the success of her debut single, but she’s got a busy year ahead no matter what.
“We’re already booked to 2014, with a nice tour next year, so we’ll keep going and connect with fans, and I’ll start writing for the second album next year,” she said.
And connecting with fans is exactly what she’ll be doing tonight in Chumuckla.
“We have a lot of fun, me and my band,” she said. “We’re pretty high-energy, we like to rock and have fun. So if you’re ready to have fun, we’re ready for you.”