Austin Jenckes’ ‘If You’d Been Around’ Is a Meditation on How Loss Lingers, Years Later [Exclusive Video]
Even though Austin Jenckes co-wrote his new song, "If You'd Been Around," he feels a little strange about taking credit for it. "Because one, [my co-writers, husband-and-wife duo] Tammi and Lynn [Hutton] are such amazing songwriters, and two, because it's just one of those ones that came out of nowhere through us talking," Jenckes tells The Boot. "Which is not how it every day goes."
Both Jenckes and Tammi Hutton lost their dads at a young age, and the song emerged out a conversation between them about the lasting impact those experiences continued to have on their lives, even as adults. "People always joke about daddy issues ... but there's a lot of truth to the similarities people have, and the things they can share together, when they both know what it's like to not have a parent around. And specifically, to not have a father around," he continues.
From there, the song "fell out of the sky," as Jenckes describes. Lynn Hutton offered the title, and they wrote the first verse and chorus right there and then; later, they finished the writing process over emails and text messages. It was a pretty simple write, in terms of agreeing on what they wanted to say.
Now, Jenckes is sharing an acoustic alternate version of "If You'd Been Around," exclusively for readers of The Boot. Press play above to watch.
The song accomplished more than Jenckes ever could have planned in another respect, too: It allowed him to express some emotions about his father's death that he'd never before been able to fully articulate.
"I'd never expressed any negativity, even after it happened, when I was 16 years old," he relates. "I don't think any of my family or close friends or fans over the years really saw that coming. Just that interaction has been really therapeutic, because it's opened up some conversations with my sister and mom."
Vulnerability and openness are Jenckes' calling cards on his new album, If You Grew Up Like I Did. Its lead song, "Fat Kid" -- the only track on the project he didn't write -- elicited an avalanche: He got messages and comments from those who grew up feeling like a "fat kid" in a literal sense, of course, but what surprised him more is how much the song resonated with people who knew what it was like to feel like a social pariah.
"I'll get people that say they love that song because they know what it's like to be left out, to be the last one picked," the singer says.
Lots of artists strive to be vulnerable, but making real, raw, honest music takes legwork. After Jenckes moved to Nashville and began honing in on his songwriting, he realized that he had to do more than just say he wanted to be open and honest in his songs. "My wife would actually bring it up," he recalls. "She would say, 'You like to be vulnerable when you're the one bringing up the vulnerable conversation. But when somebody else does, you don't want to be caught off guard.'"
As he created his album, Jenckes says he tried to write honestly, but not so specifically that fans wouldn't be able to relate to his stories. Later on, the response to "Fat Kid" was especially gratifying for that reason: The song was simultaneous universally relatable and specific to his experience.
"If You'd Been Around" is vulnerable for another reason: It doesn't focus so much on Jenckes' father's death itself, but rather on the way that trauma continues to impact the singer today. Now a father himself, he explains that his daughter's birth brought back a rush of emotion he didn't expect.
"I remember when my daughter was born, literally within minutes, feeling guilty because I was ... kind of angry?" he says. "And I didn't know why. It took me a second to process why I had that feeling ... I was in shock for a minute, because I was just processing those emotions."
Jenckes admits that he doesn't always know what to do with those emotions -- "I have a tendency to just kind of shut down," he says -- but writing songs like "If You'd Been Around" helps him connect with the people in his life, whether that be fans, family or friends, more closely.
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