In the case of Jen Trani, that’s exactly what it was…discovery.
At the age of 13, Trani’s mom, Chris (hi Chris, your daughter rocks), pulled out her old acoustic guitar from the attic, dusted it off, put on some new strings and gave the instrument to her daughter for a birthday present. The young teen’s life would be changed forever.
Trani fell in love with playing guitar so much that she packed up her belongings and headed to the respected Musicians Institute in Los Angeles where she earned her bachelor’s degree in music performance. She also met an astounding, yet budding singer named Abby Miller and the pair would go on to form the acoustic folk duo simply called Jen & Abby. The duo would release an album, Cannot Rearrange, in 2008 and soon found their music on hit television shows and in films.
Trani has gone on to be an important part of Hollywood as the on-set guitar/band consultant and guitar double for “Beverly Hills 90210”; played on a CBS commercial for the season finale of “The Amazing Race”; played on a commercial for the National Association of Realtors; co-authored two compositions, “Destroy Me” and Cannot Rearrange, that were placed in the independent romantic comedy “Weather Girl”; and co-authored the composition “Collide,” which was featured on the “Gilmore Girls.”
Along with Jen & Abby, Trani is in the band Malin Akerman and the Mystikats and is a private guitar instructor for Mahalo.com, where you can find Trani all over YouTube giving her unique style of guitar tutorials.
We sat down with Jen Trani to talk with her about her music, negative comments on YouTube, and meeting Drew Carey on the “Price Is Right.”
Innocent Words: How’d you come about discovering your Mom’s acoustic guitar in the attic?
Jen Trani: I knew about it since I was younger, but it was in our basement then. Once we moved the guitar ended up in the attic…then when I saw the movie “Reality Bites” and at the end of the film there was a scene with Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum on the bed playing guitar, and I thought I could do that.
So I asked my mom about the guitar in the attic, and I asked to see it. She kept saying no because it was dusty and needed new strings, etc. A few months later on my 13th birthday I got this little present, a VHS tape on how to play guitar. I thought that was funny because I didn’t have a guitar. My mom told me to go look under the bed, and she got her old acoustic set up for me.
Looking back, it was a really nice guitar. I didn’t know it then, but it had great action and a small body with a perfect neck. It was small, so for a small kid like me it was the perfect starter guitar.
Anyway, I told my mom I didn’t want to take any lessons. I wanted to learn on my own. Granted, before guitar I took piano and other music lessons, but this I wanted to do on my own. I think that is what helped me become a good instructor, because I had to have patience to learn the guitar and I have to have patience with my students.
IW: You must have done a good job, because you ended up going to the Musicians Institute. Did your parents worry about you going off to a music school as opposed to a traditional school?
Trani: Maybe a little. Both my mom and stepfather trusted me. They were nervous for me like any parent would be sending their kid off to school, but I think with my mom always being musical, she wanted to be supportive because she didn’t have that when she was playing guitar.
IW: You did all right considering your songs from Jen & Abby ended up in some films and television. Was that your intended goal?
Trani: No, it just happened really. When I met Abby she was just going through a bad breakup and wrote all this poetry, and her friends thought she should do something with it. She wasn’t going to MI (Musicians Institute), but her friends told her to put up a flyer looking for a guitar player. She lied to her friends and said she did, but she didn’t. They kept encouraging her and she finally did. I found the flyer, and she was looking for someone into Wilco, Bright Eyes and Ani DiFranco. I was only familiar with Ani at the time, so I thought I’d give it a shot. We met, and I thought it was going to be a disaster, but when we jammed she was amazing. I even tried to trick her with progressive changes and other things, but she nailed it.
At this time, Abby was also working as an actress and she was doing some commercials. Abby is really good at networking and the whole social network thing, so while on set she constantly talked about these songs we had, and people were more and more interested. The next thing you know we had songs in “The Gilmore Girls,” “Real World,” and a couple of songs on a Lifetime movie.
IW: When did the job at Mahalo come about?
Trani: Well, that’s kind of a funny story too. I had this idea of posting jazz solos online, only slowed down at like 50 percent so people could see how to play them. I told this idea to a friend of mine who also played guitar, but he wanted nothing to do with it because he didn’t want to be on camera.
I was well out of MI at this time, so after I told my friend this idea, about two weeks later he sent me a link to a Craigslist ad looking for a female guitar instructor. I know, right? Craigslist. But you do what you have to do when you really need money.
I gave my friend the number of where I was going and headed out. It turned out to be Mahalo. They had me do a test run, and they said I would be really good at this. They gave me 10 songs to learn – one was “Hotel California,” one was a Paramore song and a Coldplay song – anyway, I did those 10 and then went out to Utah to see my mom and stepfather, thinking if I get a couple thousand hits that would be cool.
When I got back home I looked it up, and it turned out “Hotel California” had like 75,000 hits in just three months, and the Paramore song had something like 25,000.
That’s when reality set in, and I’ve been working for Mahalo ever since.
IW: Seeing how you have a wide range of influences from Alison Krauss, Bright Eyes, and Deftones to Fiest, that must help with learning a lot of different styles of songs.
Trani: When I was in school I was forced to learn songs I didn’t want to, and when I teach students I have to learn songs I necessarily wouldn’t normally learn. I might not like a certain song I learn, but when you learn a song a student wants to learn and teach it too them, the light in their eyes is amazing.
I don’t see it as you are supposed to like this music, but not like this type of music. If music makes you feel, it shouldn’t have any boundaries, you should just enjoy it, embrace it.
IW: Do you pay attention to the YouTube comments on your videos, because I’ve read some pretty nasty comments.
Trani: It took me a long time to get used to the fact that people would post a lot of negative, mean things. It really, really affected me for a while. I wasn’t used to that. But I have three amazing friends who are in the limelight, and they helped me on getting around any negativity. I don’t know if you ever really get used to it, but I try. Mostly I just try not to look at the comments…at least the bad ones. Honestly, I feel defenseless, because there is nothing I can say to have the person say, “Oh yeah, I am sorry, you were right,” because that will never happen.
Mostly the bad ones are personal attacks on me. One of my favorites was someone called me an “oily American whore.” Someone else also said…oh, what was it? They said “Amy Winehouse, get back in the grave and stay dead.” I didn’t get that one, maybe because we both have dark hair and tattoos?
But the way I see it now, if the people can only attack me personally, it means they can’t find something to attack about my tutorials, so I am doing my job. I can take criticism about my playing if someone makes suggestions, but personal attacks are ridiculous.
IW: It seems like in every guitar tutorial you have a different hair style. What’s the deal?
Trani: I have no consistency with my hair. I wish Mahalo had a hairstylist, but my hair does whatever it wants to do. It’s been long, short, medium. Now I have a Mohawk, but that’s a lot of upkeep since I am Italian, and my hair grows really fast and thick.
IW: The biggest question I want to know is, how’d you score the “Price is Right” gig, and was Drew Carey cool?
Trani: That happened a couple years ago, and it is easily one of the top five moments in my life. That gig came about…the show was looking for someone to demo the guitar they were giving away and contacted MI. The school asked me if I was interested, and of course I would do it. It was great. I got my own dressing room and free food. It was like the rock star treatment. Then I had to go on, but I didn’t think about I would be on this turntable which was spinning around and I would playing guitar at the same time.
At the end of the showcase showdown Drew walked over to me, and I thought about this before, what do you say to Drew Carey? Well, turns out I was in this musical, Baby It’s You, where I was a guitar sub and got to work with the two musicians who were on “Who’s Line is it Anyway,” which Drew hosted. So when he came over to thank me, all I could think to say was, “I work with Linda Taylor and Laura Hall.” He said, “Those are nice people to work with,” and that’s all we really said.
IW: Did you get paid too?
Trani: No, I didn’t get paid or even keep the guitar. I was wearing an MI, shirt and I played a Jen & Abby song, so they considered it free advertising, but still it was awesome. I got to see all the cars and prizes backstage, it was like Christmas.