Adrienne Tooley was just like any other girl growing up in Murrieta. She loved drama and immersed herself in Vista Murrieta High School’s Drama program. She dreamed of attending college and of becoming a star on Broadway. Little did she know what twists and turns her life would take, leading her down a path that would involve her love of music and performing, a life in New York City and eventually the release of her first EP, Nowhere Girl.
“I spent a lot of time in the theater program, it was my haven in high school,” Tooley said adding that her original plan to become a Broadway performer was derailed by a guitar. “My dad bought me a guitar when I was 14 and I looked at it and thought ‘what am I supposed to do with this?’ It sat there gathering dust for a couple of years and then in high school when, like every teenager does, I picked it up. I had this type of melancholy and I kind of wrote a couple of songs.”
Tooley said her friends thought the songs were good and the thought of becoming a songwriter were in the back of her mind, but theater remained her main focus. She graduated high school in 2009 and headed off to Pittsburg where she attended Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts with a focus on Musical Theater.
“It’s a really good school; it was like all theater all the time. It was a really intense atmosphere,” she said. “Studying it in such an intense form helped me to realize it wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my time.”
Tooley, who works in what she calls a very cliché job at a restaurant, said as she came to the realization that the one thing she had focused so much time and energy on was no longer satisfying her, she turned to writing to help herself understand her feelings and to figure out where she was headed from there.
“I ended up getting this flash of inspiration,” Tooley said. “I didn’t have my guitar with me at school, so I used my roommate’s keyboard and I wrote a song called ‘Second Hand Guns’. When I was done with it I thought, ‘wait a minute, this is the perfect way for me to meld these two things I’ve always loved.’”
Tooley, who had been singing since she was a child and journaling her entire life knew she was on to something with “Second Hand Guns,” a song she still performs today. She packed her bags and headed back to Murrieta from Pittsburgh for Christmas break.
“I had decided I was going to leave school, so to help me cope with that, I started writing songs,” Tooley said. “I finally started sharing those songs with people and I got a really positive response and discovered it was a great way to deal with everything all of my emotions it kind of helps me lay my life out and sort through things.”
Tooley said sometimes when she finishes a song she thinks is about one thing, upon hearing it in its entirety she discovers it’s actually about something else.
“When I am done and playing it, I realize I’ve worked out something else that I didn’t even know I needed to work out,” she said. “In that sense it’s a very roundabout journey.”
Tooley said she doesn’t regret any of the choices she has made since leaving high school. She did manage to finish her bachelor’s degree in musical theater through the conservatory, albeit through online classes. While back at home she made the decision to move to New York rather than stay in the area and try to make a go of it there instead of in nearby Los Angeles.
“That is something I thought about for a really long time,” she said. “Staying in Southern California made the most logical sense to me, and yet there has always been something so romantic about New York City. I think it comes down to being so very young and so involved in musical theater for such a period of time in my life.”
When it was time to decide where she wanted to be to launch her career, the romanticism of New York City won the battle and she once again headed east.
“There is just something about New York City that you can’t find anywhere else,” Tooley said. “It’s a feeling, it’s an energy. In New York there is such a sense of community, it’s easier to get those opportunities you need to progress and to move forward. It lets you be yourself. It’s a diversity you can’t find in L.A. where everybody is trying to fit the mold of what’s going to be the next big thing and make a lot of money. In New York, I feel like we are creating things that we have to share with the world.”
Tooley, whose main goal is to share her music with others, said her biggest musical influences are rooted in the 1970s folk movement.
“Joni Mitchell is my queen,” she said, adding that she could listen to Blue on repeat for days on end. “There is just something about the combination of her voice and the lyric that just makes me stop everything and listen.”
Other artists who have influenced her indie-folk style include James Taylor, Bob Dylan and Carole King.
“You can definitely hear their influences,” she said.
Tooley said the key to being successful in the music business isn’t who you know but rather how hard you are willing to work and how much you are willing to sacrifice for your dream.
“For me it always comes down to hard work, you can be talented as you want but if you don’t put in the time, effort and energy and you aren’t 100 percent committed to what you do you aren’t going to get anywhere, especially in a city this big,” she said. “Everybody is kind of working towards a greater goal so you better put in the time to make sure you meet yours.”
To listen and download Tooley’s EP, Nowhere Girl, visit www.adriennetooley.com.