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BY BOB KRASNER | The more things change, they say, the more they stay the same. Jenna Torres is both a witness to and an example of this maxim. Having lived in the East Village for more than two decades, she can attest to the changes there — less junkies, prostitutes and dealers, more yuppies. But, she said, “The soul of the neighborhood has stayed the same. The exterior has changed dramatically, but there is a feeling of intimacy here that I don’t feel anywhere else.”
A singer, songwriter and musician, she has changed a bit herself during her time in the East Village. There have been many jobs — modeling (for the LaRocka agency and Pucci Mannequins), real estate, salesgirl, office work, street fairs — anything that she could do to keep making music.
“I did whatever I could so that I could come home and write a song,” she said.
The music has changed, too. While still a teenager, she was part of a five-girl group signed to Casablanca Records. She moved on to progressive rock (“My boyfriend was really into the band Yes”), heavy metal (“big hair, leather and lace I enjoyed it immensely”), folk (“my music softened when I had a daughter”) and now country.
Through all the changes of musical genres and accompanying clothes, the constant has been a feeling of purpose.
“Music is a context for revealing my emotional life,” Torres said. “A piece of my heart always came through in my songs. Country music is as close as I’ve come to a perfect fit for me.”
Finding that fit was the result of being signed to a publishing deal at Warner Brothers Records. Although she never actually recorded for them, her A&R guy sent her to Nashville for a songwriting collaboration.
The result of that project was “Busted Heart,” by For King & Country, a number-one song on — of all places — the Billboard Hot Christian 100 Chart. Though the opened doors in Music City are tempting, and the atmosphere inspirational, Jenna is content to write and record there and then come back home to the space she shares with her teenage daughter from a defunct marriage.
Reflecting on her years rearing a child in the East Village, she wouldn’t have wanted to do it anywhere else.
“This is an amazing place to raise a child,” she said. “It’s a diverse, colorful place. My daughter called it ‘our village’ and it really is. It’s a real neighborhood where people know you. Nothing is too far away and the parks are wonderful.” And, she added, “It’s so easy to order food.”
Sitting at the laptop where she writes most of her songs, she fondly but hesitatingly reflected on her years living in the neighborhood. As she randomly recalled various moments in time — being photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, measuring Mick Jagger’s inseam for a suit — she made it clear that the past is not what she is about.
“I’m not a girl who goes backwards,” she stated. “I’m a tomorrow person — I’m always thinking about what I’m doing next.”
For more information, visit jennatorres.com.