Jenna Rae and Martin Farrell Jr. spend a lot of time on the back roads of Kansas. As singer-songwriters and multi-instrument musicians eager to play gigs and hoping to grow their fan base, they perform at venues big and small as well as festivals throughout the region.
“Whenever we’re driving in the middle of Kansas and we see a big abandoned, awesome looking old building or barn, we always think about stopping to see if it’s available,” Jenna said. “We have a dream of someday owning a big studio in an old barn.”
For now, though, the engaged couple — their wedding is in May — is happy creating music in the living room they’ve converted to a studio in their rental house in Stull, Kansas, an unincorporated community about midway between Topeka and Lawrence.
“Being country musicians, there was talk of moving to Nashville,” Martin said. “But we love being close to Jenna’s family and this is a nice location for touring. We can head any direction and within 10 hours be playing in a number of states. You don’t have to be in a certain location to make good country music. We realized if we can figure out how to do it ourselves, we can live wherever we want.”
And that’s what they’ve done. In 2018 they formed Lost Cowgirl Records, a home-based recording studio, record label and publishing company. Jenna is the owner and Martin is the producer. They’ve assembled instruments (a collection that continues to grow) and everything else they need to create recordings and video as well as market and distribute the recordings.
Not to say a call to come to Nashville wouldn’t be answered, but the couple said they feel inspired by the world right outside their window and the “normal lives” they are able to live in Kansas.
The only neighbors they can see from the large living room windows are cows grazing and an occasional coyote.
“It looks like old Kansas, untouched Kansas,” Martin said. “So it’s more inspiring than most studios that are in basements or don’t have windows.”
Added Jenna: “The sunset here is amazing, too. It’s cool to have musicians come over and record as the sun is setting because the vibe changes so much when the sun is just pouring into the window at golden hour. We get some good takes at that time.”
Lost Cowgirl Records might have started as a way to cut costs for their own albums but it has grown in scope as the couple has become more confident in their skills. They market themselves as helping Americana songwriters find their way in the modern-day music business.
“Lost Cowgirl Records is our studio, but it’s also a platform for female artists because we noticed there were fewer women in our genre and our music scene,” Jenna said. “Martin would take me to these open jams and I’d be the only woman there. It took me a long time to get the courage to be a part of the jam. We created Lost Cowgirl Records to have a place for women and to support women’s music.”
The label’s first release was Jenna’s debut solo album “Workin’ Woman” in 2018. She said the songs were inspired by many years of working as a nurse by day and musician by night, and she dedicated the album to her mom Tracy McCarty, “the lady who taught me to be a workin’ woman.”
A review in Country Music People Music magazine said: “A gift to the more traditional country fan. With quality melodies, ‘Workin’ Woman’ even manages a neat commercial edge. Fans of high quality country music with an echo of the past should give it a spin. It’s quite impressive.”
Jenna’s second solo album “Country Lo-Fi” is scheduled to drop April 1. In between, Lost Cowgirl Records produced and released albums for fellow Kansas musicians Elexa Dawson (2020) and Lily B Moonflower (2021), as well as an album for Unfit Wives (2021), a Kansas City-based bluegrass band that includes Jenna on vocals and guitar.
In 2020, Jenna and Martin released their own album titled “Cosmic Western Duets.” The couple started learning Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris duets and liked how their voices nestled together. The songs on their collaborative album tell the stories of their lives while living with Jenna’s grandma in rural Missouri in 2017.
Their time there made them realize how much they enjoyed small town living, so they were thrilled to find the house in Stull with a perfect space for a studio.
“Another great feature of this house is that it has a tornado shelter in the back room with concrete walls and ceilings, which works well as our reverb chamber,” Martin said. “That’s a technique where you put a speaker and a microphone in the chamber and you play back your recording, and it makes it sound more like a live band recording.”
Lost Cowgirl Records frequently uses a technique where it records each instrument separately and then layers them together, versus recording a live band playing all at once.
“It gives me more freedom for composition and arranging the song,” Martin said. “It’s like building the song as opposed to making the song and then presenting it.”
Martin said their style as individual artists as well as when they perform as a duo is vintage vibes and nostalgic emotions. One way they achieve that is by using old microphones for live performances as well as recording. He finds and repairs vintage dynamic, ribbon, condenser and crystal microphones from the 1950s through the 1970s that he says, “give you a sound that you just can’t get with a new microphone.”
Jenna and Martin’s shared love and appreciation for classic country music brought them together in the first place.
Martin came to Kansas from Minnesota to attend the University of Kansas. Jenna was born in Merriam, Kansas, and attended Pittsburg State University. They met in 2016 while both playing banjo at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. They stayed in touch for the next few years, played a few shows together and spent a lot of time talking classic country music. Eventually they started dating.
Martin quit his 40-hour-a-week job building backyard pools five years ago and is now a full-time musician and producer. He typically has gigs booked with as many as five different bands and also plays pedal steel guitar at a church, while juggling at least two producing projects from the home studio.
Jenna continues to work part-time as a nurse in the burn and wound clinic for the University of Kansas Health System. It allows her to keep her weekends and holidays free for playing gigs.
“We love Kansas and we love playing for little towns,” Jenna said. “And playing music is such a high energy, high stimulation job that it’s nice to be able to come back here to the middle of the country. Not only is it a great place for a studio, but also the relaxation.”
Readers can go online to hear the music they have created as well as the music they’ve produced for Lost Cowgirl Records. Go to thelostcowgirl.com to hear all recordings under the Lost Cowgirl label and to see artist videos.
Visit jennamartinduo.com to see their work together and there are also pages on the site for their individual work. (Martin produced his first album in 2015 and released his second “Coffee and Laundry” in 2021, recorded at Lost Cowgirl Records but released with his own publishing company.) This is also the best place to connect with them on social media and keep up with their live performance schedule.