Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Jeni Varnadeau

  • Published Nov 06, 1998
Jeni Varnadeau
by Dan MacIntosh for Crosswalk Music

{{Jeni Varnadeau}} is not your ordinary Christian female vocalist. For one thing, she rocks harder than the most of them do, and so it should come as no surprise that John & Dino Elefante (known for keeping those Petra boys still rocking after all these years) are both back at the helm as producers of her second solo release, ==No Hesitation==. But being a little out of the ordinary has always come naturally for Varnadeau.

"I think for my whole life," admits Jeni "I wanted to be different, and I never did things the way everybody else did them. And I still don't. Usually if everybody's doing it, then I won't. I'm not really a rebel," she clarifies, "I just want to be an individual."

Also, unlike many of her musical peers, Jeni didn't listen to a lot of secular music growing up. She says, "During the 80s, I didn't really listen to secular music. Before then, I listened to a lot of country. My dad always had Dolly Parton and The Oakridge Boys in his little 8-track, and I've definitely had some different influences all throughout my life. But during the 80s, I just pretty much stuck with Christian music."

One Christian musician who inspired her to be different and stand out from the pack was {{Charlie Peacock}}. "He was kinda weird, but he could get away with it, and also he's such a humble, gentle man, and he just has such a neat spirit. He actually has Godly character and integrity. It's neat to find somebody who you admire musically, and then you can look at their spiritual life and go 'They're in tune that way, too.'"

When describing her own sound, {{Jeni Varnadeau}} strikes comparisons ranging from old school folk singers, such as Joni Mitchell, to modern waifs like Sarah McLachlan, and even the name {{Margaret Becker}} gets a mention or two.

But if she carries any of Mitchell and McLachlan's vocal traits, it's purely coincidental. Instead, {{Jeni Varnadeau}} has kept in touch with the goings on in Christian music. In high school, she worked at the Christian radio station in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. After high school, she earned a degree from Belmont University in Nashville for commercial music, with an emphasis in vocal performance.

"I could probably have told you anybody who had an album out, when it came out and all the songs on it," says Jeni of her radio days. The most of her work there was behind the scenes. "I took the class to get certified, but I never got on the air. I mostly helped when people would have a request, and I would queue it up and get it ready to go."

Although the off-center Peacock has had a lasting affect on her musical persona, it was a man with a horn who inspired Jeni into becoming a Christian artist. "I went to a {{Phil Driscoll}} concert. I was probably 10 or 12 years old, something like that. And I remember going down front during his altar call as a part of feeling being led into the ministry. Even that young, I just knew that, regardless of what my career might be, I was called to serve Christ full time."

This event was the spark, and Jeni's calling really began to catch fire as her public school days neared their completion. "The rest came during late junior high, and into high school when I started praying "God, what do you want me to do with my life? What do I want to do? Where are my gifts and talents? What are my weaknesses? And that kind of thing."

Seeing Driscoll in concert did not inspire Jeni to pick up the trumpet. Nevertheless, she just recently celebrated her 2nd wedding anniversary with her trumpet playing husband, Rory Partin.

She's fortunate to have a professional musician in the house, since this songwriting singer wouldn't exactly call herself a truly professional musician. "I play guitar and piano, but I'm not real good at either one." Although she writes the most of her own songs, she usually doesn't write these on an instrument. "I usually just write lyrics and melodies, and let the chords come later. Most the time I co-write, and usually the person that I'm writing with plays an instrument."

She stays close to the songwriting process, because she places great value on the lyrics of her songs. She's well aware of just how vital the message is for Christian music, and she never takes her responsibility as a messenger lightly. "One of the things I like about being an artist," she explains "as opposed to someone who is a hired singer-like someone on Broadway, or at Opryland or something-is that I can say what I want to say, and how I like to say it. I don't have to say it like someone else would say it."

Jeni credits producers John & Dino Elefante for helping her to become a better songwriter. "One of the things that John encouraged me to do writing wise," she says "is to dig deeper. Go deeper inside, and figure out what your heart is really saying, and then say that."

With the ==No Hesitation== album, Jeni invites listeners to go deep with her. The title of the album comes from "a phrase in the song If I Believed," says Varnadeau. "When I think about it and hear it, it's a challenge to me, because I don't want to hesitate in my faith."

"Just realizing how we as Christians say we believe in God, and we say we believe in Jesus, but many times we don't really walk in what we say we believe. I think if we really believed that God gives us power in our lives, and if we really believe that Jesus loves us, I think our lives would be radically different."

Clearly, {{Jeni Varnadeau}} is an out of the ordinary singer who wants her listeners to be different too: radically different in Christ. Not to just claim to be Christians, but to take steps of faith, without fear, and without any hint of hesitation.