By Eddie Rowley - Sunday World, Irish Independent Newspapers
Dressed casually in jeans and jumper and sitting yoga-style on a hotel couch, streaky-blonde Jenna Toro cuts a striking figure.
The green-eyed Irish girl, with Spanish roots that are carved in her facial features, has an understated confidence, and as our conversation unfolds it becomes evident that Toro also possesses a grasp of life way beyond her years.
Even before my encounter with the 20-year-old Dubliner, the depth of Jenna’s emotionally charged songs was an indication that I was about to meet someone very special.
And Jenna Toro is someone very special; a bright, well-read, deep thinking yet earthy, modern young woman who courageously pours out her heart and exorcises her demons in superbly crafted songs.
“My songs are autobiographical and writing them is like therapy for me,” Jenna explains. “I write to express myself and to sort out my own problems. It’s to benefit me, my life, and it’s for my own well-being. It’s how I deal with personal issues.”
This process of self-therapy and analysis began for Jenna at the tender age of eight when her actions accidentally led to her beloved family dog, Chance, being struck by a car.
“I had left a door open in the house and Chance escaped and got knocked down,” Jenna reveals. “I didn’t know what to do; I was in bits, so I just ran upstairs and wrote a song. It was my first song and I called it Take A Chance because it was the dog’s name and it was chance whether I’d left the door open or not.” She laughs now at the memory.
Jenna’s interest in music also developed by chance after her parents were advised by her school that they should get her involved in a social outlet to give her over-active mind a break. “I was reading all the time – I still go through three books a week - and I was too concentrated on school work; so I said I’d play piano and I started doing piano lessons. The music just came out of that,” she says.
Her musical influences were formed by her dad’s collection, ranging from the Manic Street Preachers to Alanis Morissette and Radiohead.
But when her aunt Gillian introduced the then 15-year-old Jenna to American singer-songwriter Tori Amos, one of the few alternative rock performers to use a piano as her primary instrument, it was a defining moment in her musical development.
I get terrible insomnia and I end up listening to albums in the middle of the night,” Jenna reveals. “One night I played the Tori Amos album, Little Earthquakes, on the discman. When I got to song number five, called Winter, I just bawled my eyes out. It’s a piano piece and it’s the most amazing song in the world to me; and since then I’ve been a Tori fanatic.”
While in secondary school, Jenna recorded a demo of covers and sent it to several industry people she found through the Hot Press Yearbook. One of them was Barry Gaster, whose clients include The Corrs and Brian Kennedy.
Barry wrote back and said, ‘Write your own songs, this is really great stuff.’ Up to that moment I hadn’t seriously considered songwriting, but after Barry said that I started trying to figure out how to write music on the piano.
At that time on the radio it was all guitar kind of stuff. But when I heard Tori Amos, who was a huge artist making amazing music and it was piano-based, I thought, ‘I can do that too.’
“After that, I went out and bought Tori’s complete anthology and learned all the songs. And that was really when my songwriting started developing.”
Jenna’s off-beat, slightly alternative style, with intelligent and emotionally intense lyrics that are set to be the road map to many young people’s lives, is utterly compelling.