Singer-songwriter Jodie Manross is taking a break from her day job to do an interview. Nearby to where she is talking on the phone there is a person with a series of needles sticking in their body.
It isn't as bad as it sounds. Manross, who recently returned to Knoxville, is now a licensed acupuncturist as well as being a musician.
She seems as happy to be back in town as audiences and friends are that she's back.
"I was in Manhattan and I loved it and I had a great job there, but I just started missing Knoxville," says Manross. "I knew I had a problem when I should've been studying for my boards I was looking up 'Houses for sale, Knoxville, Tenn.'"
A longtime Knoxvillian, Manross moved to New York in 2007. She went to school, worked in a spa in the Tribeca area that was owned by Robert De Niro and had plenty of good experiences.
"When I went to New York my intention was to just be a struggling singer-songwriter," she says. "I just loved the idea of being on Bleeker Street in some dive bar, and I'm happy I can say did that."
She also met her fiance, Russell Tannebaum, while playing a show at Kenny's Castaway on Bleeker Street.
"I learned a lot in New York about being a more professional presence onstage. Sets in New York are about 45 minutes long, so you pare it down to your best songs. I felt like I learned the ropes and what's important. Not learning a bunch of cover songs to please your audience, but being true to your art and focusing on originals."
She also became a more confident guitarist and storyteller and a more assertive businesswoman. She says when she would sing a cappella, which few people were doing in New York, she could quiet a room.
"I got a little bit more tough and serious in New York ... It helped me find my center and what's going to connect to the audience the most."
Even though she had family in the city, she says when she'd return to Knoxville to visit and perform, Knoxville felt like home.
"I knew I'd be sad if I didn't move back," says Manross.
Plus, she says, while she was away, Knoxville was transforming into the city she'd always hoped it would become.
Manross says as much as anything, though, she missed a music community that was friendly and accommodating.
"It's hard to find your niche in New York," says Manross. "I found great places to play and I had a positive turnout, but nothing is an easy process up there. You say, 'Hey, can you play with me?' and they'll say, 'Yeah, $250 for one rehearsal and one performance.' You're just passing the hat and it's going to cost $1,000 for a band! In Knoxville, it's just, 'OK, dude, just buy me a beer.' It's just about the music instead of the connections and the politics of the scene. It just feels more positive and organic."
She's also back performing with Knoxville multi-instrumentalist Laith Keilany, who is in remission from stage 3 lymphoma.
"He had a stem cell transplant from a frozen umbilical cord and that saved his life. He was the third adult in Tennessee to get it done and the first two people didn't survive it."
Manross says she's still evolving as an artist and trying to find that happy place between the bluesy, powerful songs that audiences want her to sing and the softer, folkier material that she enjoys performing as well.
Her fiance plans on moving to town soon and she's gotten nearly as many acupuncture clients as she can handle without even advertising.
Knoxville has welcomed her return.
"And New York didn't really need another acupuncturist."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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