How has life changed since getting signed?
Well, I can tell you how it hasnt changed. I still live at home. I still borrow money from my mom quite often. Its changed in that fact that I have well over one hundred airline ticket stubs. I learned how to thrive on three hours of sleep. And playing live is amazing. I never played live before.
So you just got signed without ever playing a show?
Did you get signed from demos?
No. I never even sent one to a record label. I got signed off my softball coach.
Have you heard the story?
Its fucking great. I was playing club softball for a summer league, and my softball coach was retired from tv, which I didnt know, and I played him a song because he was a cool guy. So I played him stuff on the piano. He thought it was great and told me I should play it for his friend who owns a label. So I played him six songs on the piano and sang. He sent me to my first producer and he hooked me up with Hollywood records.
Was it a small label?
It was a really small label.
Its funny because you never know who someone knows.
I know. Its crazy. If you saw a picture of my softball coach you’d never think he could be the guy who’d help me get signed.
Were you ever even thinking of getting signed?
No. I was sending in my applications for college. I was going to college to be a high school coach and teach choir and English.
So music was a hobby?
It was beyond a hobby for me though. I would go home from school and play for three hours, not for practice, just because I loved it. Its like therapy for me. I needed the therapy for two hours a day or else I would have gone insane.
Is it weird now to take these personal songs, put them on a record, and have people peering into you?
Its not weird to me that they can look into me, but it is weird when someone comes up and says, Hey, Jess, whats up? I mean, that is really cool and I dont ever want to be some diva bitch, but it is weird that people know so much about me. I totally know what it is like to be in their shoes. I met Ani Difranco and I had no clue what to say to her. I was the biggest dork in the world. I was like, Uh, I like your music. And youd think Id be better at it, but I wasnt.
Being from Buffalo and being familiar with her, I know what you mean. Ani is sort of like a star without being a star, and really larger than life.
I know. She is so amazing. I couldnt believe how small she was. I was thinking I could break her in half. (laughs) But I love fans, especially the ones that just come up and say hi and just talk about stuff like, Hey, did you see the football game last night? (laughs)
A lot of fans are really insecure about coming up to an artist, because either they overdo it or they say nothing and regret it.
I know, but I guess its because they dont know if someone is going to be a diva bitch or not. My thing is that people get nervous talking to me so I try to crack a joke on myself to them and they laugh.
Then they laugh and are probably thinking, Oh no! Did I just laugh at her? I cant believe I did that.
(laughs) I dont want fans to get nervous around me.
Now, did you have to go into the studio and write or were these already done?
They were all written before. Most I wrote when I was sixteen and recorded them when I was eighteen. A whole batch of the first songs I wrote actually made it on the record, like “Your Girl”, “Im Sorry”, and “Dreams Will Fade” were songs I wrote when I was sixteen, wait, maybe fifteen. But I wrote them in February of 95. Wait, I was fifteen, dude. (Jessica then repeats dude again and starts laughing)
Was it weird going into the studio for the first time?
Hell, yeah. Ive never put anything down before.
How did you record them before?
I have this tape recorder and Ill just record it on there, but not like a four-track or anything. But it was weird to be in the studio and having people play on it and I didnt like it. That was weird. I would have someone play a guitar part and Id be like, Uh (lets out a little pretentious laugh), I dont like that. But I really worked with some great musicians.
Was it even harder because you are so young, never had any studio experience, and find that they didnt want your input?
Well, they didnt really listen to me. I had big problems with that. Im a very friendly person and all smiles. When it comes to my music, Im not fluffy. If they dont get it right, they have to do it again, because Ill do my parts over and over and over for hours until it is right. I worked with the best musicians, and because they have, they didnt disrespect me. They always listened. They said, You wrote the music, you tell me what you want. That was really cool. I had more problems with producers.
Did you take piano lessons?
I did for like six months when I was eight, but I hated it. I took enough lessons so that I could read music, then I told my dad I didnt want this mean old lady teaching me anymore. My parents said I didnt need lessons if I practiced. Ive always had this weird attachment to my piano. There is this picture of me with my dad when I was one and Im reaching for the piano keys and I couldnt reach them, and Im reaching the keys and my dad is playing.
Where did your knack for writing melodies come from?
Well, my dad sings and writes. I grew up watching the process. He really struggled with writing and he would really work it over. For me to see that process, it made it easier for me to skip some steps and improve on it. I learn visually. I learned to play piano before I took lessons by watching him play. I would mimic his right hand with my fingers. He would play his music and I would play along with him.
I think a lot can be said for your piano playing, but writing melodies is no walk in the park.
I think it helps to have music pumped to you while you are still in the womb. (laughs) My family is the type that has music playing all the time. Wed wake up on Saturday to music playing to clean the house. If you were going to sleep on a school night, my dad would have his stereo cranked at like two in the morning. And we could all fall asleep. That is how much music was a part of our lives.
What was the kind of music playing?
My mom liked sixties and seventies singers/songwriters, from Cat Stevens to The Beatles. A lot of Beatles, especially the early Beatles.
Lets not even get into the Beatles or youll have me here all day.
I used to wake up every Saturday morning to “Please Please Me” and that whole album. Id hear (Jessica begins to singing “I Saw Her Standing There”) and Id be like, Aw shit, Ive got to clean. (laughs) Just in the last five years Ive been into older Beatles stuff. Im the biggest Abbey Road freak.
My favorite is the Magical Mystery Tour album.
Its a little more heroined out. (we both laugh)
Its pretty trippy, but I love that.
My dad is more into the Rolling Stones and Motown. I got a lot of Al Green too, and a lot of pop.
Were you worried that you were going to be labeled pop, and then lumped in with all these manufactured groups?
I knew I would. I had an ulcer when I was seventeen, so I just dont worry anymore. If they listen to my music, itll tell. I do get a lot of radio people who lump me in with Britney Spears.
Really? Duh. Whats up with that? You arent exactly doing costume changes and bringing a big dance crew with you on tour.
I know. Im not out there humping the ground. I saw her at the forum humping the ground. (laughs) I saw her change. I mean, come on, Im nothing like her.
If it was the 60s, you wouldnt have to worry about it because pop was actually cool then.
I know. Im just waiting for the days like Fiona Apple, like she can come out with an album and not be lumped in with other artists. She was the first young girl, and she came out at nineteen just like me.
+ charlie craine