Listen above: Jernie Millán discusses her lifelong pursuit of creating music. (Jenny Rogers/WUFT News)
As the Gainesville music scene booms with a surge of emerging artists pushing the boundaries of sound, local artist Jernie is hitting all the right notes.
Jernie Millán, who goes by her artist name Jernie, was awarded the quarterly MusicGNV Recording Grant in December to record, execute and perform her new EP “Different Sun” debuting on Friday, followed by a live performance at the Heartwood Soundstage.
Brandon Telg, co-founder of MusicGNV, said his nonprofit aims to build Gainesville’s independent music community while providing resources and programming to launch the careers of local artists.
“This music community has meant more to me than I can really put into words,” Telg said. “To know the music industry as a whole is pretty arcane; Just being able to provide opportunities for their growth is paramount.”
Funded primarily by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, the MusicGNV Recording Grant pairs with recording studios and venues to award one out of about 40 applications with a weekend of studio time to develop professionally recorded and mixed songs, he said.
“During COVID-19, many artists in our community struggled without having paying gigs or venues to perform,” said Assistant Director of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department Leslie Ladendorf in an email. “We thought this was a great idea and agreed to sponsor the grant.”
29-year-old Jernie labels her signature sound as R&B and jazz, drawing inspiration from powerhouse, musical theater and jazz vocalists like Martina McBride, Lindsay Mendez and Esperanza Spalding.
The Fort Pierce-born artist grew up singing country music at age 5, crediting her family as the biggest support system during her early music career. At age 15, Jernie faced a turning point when she won a spot to perform at the annual 99.9 KISS Country Chili Cookoff, a one-day country music festival in South Florida, she said.
“For the first time, I did a whole set in front of 50,000 people, and it was just incredible,” she said. “I got to meet a couple of country acts that were playing like Sugar Land, another influence of mine, and to have people who I looked up to be excited to hear me perform meant a lot.”
After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in music industry in 2017, Jernie moved to Nashville — one of the nation’s largest hubs for music — where she occasionally gave local performances.
Four years later, Jernie moved to Gainesville in 2021, where she spends her time as the director of communications at Trinity Methodist Church, volunteering for local nonprofits and performing at open-mic nights across town.
Now, Jernie said she hopes to focus her attention toward building her music career again, to which she thanks MusicGNV and its recording grant for making possible.
“One question I was asked while applying was, ‘Why do you want this grant?’” she said. “And I answered by saying that I think this could be a really beautiful musical snapshot of my time here in Gainesville, with musicians who I really love and appreciate.”
With the help of bandmates Nicholas Mendez and Jahirah Williams, Jernie captures the essence of the world around her, her own emotional bearings and everything in between through her lyrics, she said.
“I feel like for a while, I was burnt out, and this process has truly made me rethink my capabilities and the value of leaning on others for support,” she said. “It’s allowed me to vulnerable with my music and lyrics and believe in myself again, too.”
Jernie and her band spent two 12-hour days in January recording her new EP comprised of four songs at Pulp Arts, one of several recording studios that works with artists who win the MusicGNV grant.
Accompanied by sound engineer Danny Clifton and facilitated by director of outreach and artist relations Steve Head, Jernie said she poured her soul into the given sessions and left the studio with a completed, professional EP.
“Jernie is an exceptional vocalist who borrows from the hallmarks of a lot of greats in R&B with homages to electronic music and theatrical influence, but her sound is really diverse,” Head said. “She blends a lot of different styles and executes it in a way that is definitely the mark of a talented musician who makes very creative, very fresh choices.”
For Head, the collaboration between the studio, MusicGNV and the parks and recreation department demonstrates a true testament of the city’s commitment to pushing local artists to their full potential.
“Creative solutions come together through collaboration here in a way I don’t see in other towns,” he said. “It’s powerful knowing we have a role in helping a person’s creative vision and in some capacity, dreams, get out to the world.”
Jernie hopes her EP will strike a chord with her listeners during her release show at the Heartwood Soundstage. And though the breakthrough of her career is just getting started, Jernie said music is something she will always hold close to her heart.
“It seems pretty cliché, but music is the universal language,” she said. “It’s forever connected people through lyrics or expression, and it makes us feel like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.”