When considering Jana Kramer -- either in her famous role on miniseries One Tree Hill, or her new direction as a country chanteuse -- it's easy to imagine her presenting the most glamorous image possible. At the Faster Horses Festival in Michigan last month, Kramer did certainly project a gleaming persona (even in flip-flops and shorts!) but she also showed off another endearing and softer side.
The singer/actress sat down for her interview, but not before giving a couple of hugs to some very special spectators...her little niece and nephew, who came to see Aunt Jana in action at her job. After all, it's not too often she comes to work near their hometown.
Yes: "I am a Michigander!" exclaims the Detroit-area native. "There’s nothing more that I love playing a show in my hometown...the fact that I get to see my family and friends. My nieces and nephew are out here for the first time watching a show.
Kramer loves more than just her near and dear in the Mitten State. "Country music fans in Michigan are the best. They really are," she says. "There are more rednecks in Michigan than in the South! We're proud of our country music, and we sing it loud in the cars, and I’ve been doing that since I was a kid."
Indeed, Kramer did have to initially assert her roots in country music when she made the leap into the Nashville fray two years ago, forcing audiences to see beyond her Hollywood exterior and into the soulful musical talent that lay just under.
"It was really hard starting because everyone was like, 'Oh, you’re just starting as another actress coming into the format,'" she explains matter-of-factly. "Like, look, I’m not gonna go away. I think I proved that because my first single was such a success, and that was awesome. But, you know, my last two songs struggled a little bit, and if I wasn’t committed – trust me – I could have gone off and said, screw this. Gone back to acting."
Kramer additionally weathered a high-profile breakup in 2013 that caused gossip to ripple in Music City. Seemingly out of nowhere in 2012, she announced her engagement to fellow musician Brantley Gilbert, a relationship the pair had kept largely under wraps before going public. After enjoying a rash of press regarding their storybook romance, by the following year the two had quietly decided to call it off. Kramer undoubtedly had some pain to nurse, but she kept a remarkably solid front, choosing to simply forge ahead with her passion: Music.
"My heart and soul is in music," she notes. "I wanted to deliver the next album and just be like, basically just slam it on your desk: I told you I’m not going anywhere," she says. "Where I am now too as an artist, it's night and day from my first album."
That new record is as yet untitled, but Kramer has been working on it since fall of 2013 and testing a few of the songs out on her touring audience, including the well-received single "Love." She explains that she wrote more than half of the album herself, and is excited to get critical feedback once it finally hits the streets.
"I was so fearful, but at the same time I knew I had to step up my game," she explains of embarking on her sophomore path. "I’ve listened to my first album now, and now my second album and I’m really proud of myself. I’m proud of all the songwriters that you know collaborated with me on this album.
"You know, I'm just excited for people to say it was better than the first," she says, adding with a wry smile, "That’s crossing my fingers."
"[The new album] here is me...Get to know who I am really am," she invites fans. Don't mind if we do.