Jana Kramer Puts Down Roots After One Tree Hill

Debut Album Features Hit Single, "Why Ya Wanna"

Jana Kramer‘s winding career path has finally led her to Nashville. Born and raised in Michigan, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career and appeared on Friday Night Lights, 90210 and Entourage. Then she landed a breakout role as aspiring singer Alex Dupre in One Tree Hill, a prime-time WB series filmed in North Carolina.

Two years ago, after frequent visits to Tennessee, she officially made the move to Music City.

“Gosh, I was in L.A. for about nine years, and I never felt at home at all — until I moved here,” she says. “Even before I bought my house, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m going to live here forever.’”

The relocation has paid off, as her debut single “Why Ya Wanna” has become a Top 20 hit. And on June 5, she released her debut album on Elektra Nashville. That career momentum has helped
shed the stigma that she’s just another actress who’s “gone country.”

During a visit to CMT, the upbeat singer chatted about her musical influences, her upcoming tour with Brad Paisley and that darn ex-boyfriend from “Why Ya Wanna.”

CMT: You made such a strong impression at country radio for being a new artist. How did you go about making that personal connection and proving yourself?

Kramer: I was getting so much criticism. They were like, “Oh, God, another actress coming in, trying to make it in country radio.” I had a ton of criticism. A lot of people on the radio tour were like, “Nah, I don’t want to even bother to see her.” [My label] was like, “Just meet her.” Once I met them, I always thought, “Let the music lead the way. Just be me.” I’m from Michigan and a down-home girl. I’m not what they were expecting. They embraced me, and it’s been unbelievable. I’m so thankful.

How many times did you hear those critical comments?

Oh, a million. By the day, it’s less and less. There are a few people who still haven’t met me who are like, “Meh.” But now all of the people who were not believers are now becoming believers. But I do remember the people who believed in me in the beginning. I’ll never forget that.

I feel like you embraced a traditional country sound on “Whiskey” and “You Only Want Me When You’re Lonely.” Why did that approach appeal to you?

When I first met with [producer Scott Hendricks] and played him some of the things I was writing, he was like, “Wow, you’re country! You’re not poppy.” There are some things that can lean more pop, but I love Deana Carter and even older than that, like Loretta Lynn. That’s what I grew up on.

Have you found that people are surprised that you sound so country?

Yeah, everyone! They’re like, “You’re from Michigan! How are you country?” I say, “Keith Urban is from Australia. Let’s have a debate.” (laughs) It doesn’t matter. There are more rednecks in Michigan than there are in the South. It doesn’t matter where you are. Who cares?

I’ve heard you talk about “sass with class.” What does that term mean to you?

My definition is: “I don’t want to kill any of my ex-boyfriends. I just want them to suffer a little bit.” And I don’t think that’s bad, I really don’t! It’s not like I’m going to be standing out there with a shotgun. But I just hope something happens, like I hope it rains on them on their wedding day. (laughs)

What was going through your mind when you got the offer to tour with Brad Paisley?

People were always asking me who I wanted to tour with, and I always said Jason Aldean or Brad Paisley. I’m really happy I got the Paisley tour. His fans are just awesome, and I love him as a person. I think he’s an amazing entertainer, and I love his songs. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. I’m sure he doesn’t like to hear that! (laughs) I’ve been a fan for a while.

When you look out at the crowd when you play live, what kind of people are you seeing?

A ton of girls, because a lot of them are One Tree Hill fans. (laughs) And then the dudes who have to be there, but then they became fans of One Tree Hill. A total mix — and that’s what’s awesome. That’s what I wanted. I wanted not just the girls. I wanted the guys and the older people. I wanted to reach a whole group of people.

What is a typical day on the road for you?

If I’m not too tired, I’ll go for a run and open up the lungs a little bit. We have load-in pretty early for the Brad Paisley stuff. We play the show, which is early, then we’ll go out and see the town we’re in. And I’m a huge gamer. I make my band play games with me, like Catch Phrase and Things and Guesstures. It’s really fun.

What kind of games are those?

Things is my favorite game in the whole entire world. It’s like, “Things you shouldn’t do in front of your in-laws.” … And you have to guess who said which thing. But it gets really dirty really fast! It gets very inappropriate very fast!

Is it all guys in your band?

I have one girl, but the band is all on the same bus. We’re all around the same age. There’s a great mixture of everything. There are no crazy partiers. We all even ourselves out pretty well. I love having a girl in the band because we can be like, “Boys, blaahh!”

Would you say that music is like therapy and helps you work through things?

One hundred percent. It is absolutely therapy. When I first started on the radio tour, I was still hung up on the guy I sang “Why Ya Wanna” about. And now I’ve worked past it, from singing that song. I’m like, “You know what? You don’t deserve for me to be thinking about you right now.” So now I’m on “I Hope It Rains” with him. Like, “I hope you suffer!” (laughs)

Have you crossed paths with that guy again?

I have. And he still gives me a big ol’ hug and just thinks that everything is dandy.

You can’t leave him hanging, so I think you should give him a big bear hug next time.

(laughs) “Hey buddy! Things are awesome!”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.