Jessica Lynn - Summer 2020
There is something incredibly special about Jessica Lynn. Born in Brooklyn, USA, Jessica is one of today’s most popular country artists and it’s absolutely no surprise why. To date she has released 2 EPs: her self-titled debut in 2016 and 2017’s successor Look At Me That Way, both of which gained Jessica massive attention for the hugely powerful yet personal tracks that each presented. Importantly, they evolved a fresh twist on the genre. Of course, a country blueprint is present throughout but with added rock, blues and soul flavours which together create a very unique and captivating sound. Jessica has since gone on to tour the world and to have enormous success with her nationwide US television specials. Sadly current world events would mean that plans to tour the UK this summer have had to be put on hold but there is still much to get excited about. Jessica has just released her new single Run To, the most beautiful song about longing for someone or something that is no longer in your life that perhaps has special poignancy given the current COVID 19 enforced restrictions. We catch up with Jessica at her home in New York where despite the disappointment of postponed shows she is incredibly upbeat and greets us with the warmest of welcomes. Always the person to focus on the positives, the lockdown has provided Jessica with precious time to be with family and also, as we are soon to discover, wonderful opportunities to create more music and to connect with fans. We make ourselves comfortable and our conversation begins…
I’d like to take a moment to go right back to the beginning. How did you discover music and the guitar and tell me about the journey you’ve had that’s lead you to be the incredible artist that you are today.
Living in New York and growing up in Brooklyn – which is probably the least ‘country’ of places (laughs!) – I grew up about an hour north of New York City. So it’s really great because you go an hour south and then you’re right in the heart of Manhattan and you go an hour north and you’re in the county of New York. So I really got a good balance of all things growing up: all types of music and all types of cultures. My dad was a New York City street cop - he’s retired now – and as funny as that is he was also Brooklyn born and raised. He loved country music, always, so even though we never had a country music radio station here when I was growing up, I always had country music on in the house because he was always playing it. I remember long car rides with Glen Campbell and George Strait on and I became a very big fan of Phil Vassar as I started to grow up, but I was always playing in a rock n roll band. Some of my biggest influences are AC/DC. I love classic rock so I kind of blended my own style of music as I got a little bit older and started writing. I decided a little bit later in life, at about 20 years old, that I wanted to transition into country music and my own style of country music I guess I should say. I became a solo artist at that point. I left the rock band behind and it’s just kind of been upwards and moving forwards ever since then and I attribute it to a lot of really hard work and belief in myself. I come from a very normal working-class family. I never had an uncle who worked for Sony Records or anything like that (laughs!). I just worked really hard. I started my first band when I was 13 years old and was slugging it out working on the New York City night club scene as early as 15 years old playing my original music. So it’s been a very long journey but also a very rewarding one. The ups and downs of what I’ve experienced along the way, the heartbreaks as well as the triumphs, have made me who I am today.
When you were 13 years old playing in your first band and then 15 starting to play venues in New York City, do you remember what your hopes were at that time and did you imagine it could bring you to where you are today?
I said to my husband yesterday actually that if I’d gone back and told my little self what I’d be doing, like an 11 country tour this year and things like that… I always knew I’d do something and I always believed in myself but I guess I never really realised I’d become, I guess, a world-wide brand in some aspects. We found out yesterday that I charted on iTunes Top 10 in Italy and Austria and the Top 100 in the UK. For me as an American artist that’s just something you dream about ever since you’re a little kid and I remember so clearly – very vividly – my early days of playing music. I joined that band when I was 14 and entered an international battle of the bands, and you got to play in all the best New York City night clubs. It was so exciting and we kept making it round after round, and here we are competing against adults who have been doing this their entire lives, and you had like a bunch of kids with our parents showing up (laughs!). I’ll never forget, I’ve always had a really strong fire within me, and what really pushes me is to be in the face of adversity, and I remember like it was yesterday one of the earlier rounds of that contest, we showed up and I used to play a little heart shaped guitar that came in a bright purple gig bag. We showed up with the band and I started pulling out of the case and I remember this group of older guys laughing at me from the other side of the room. I remember at first feeling bad and then thinking ‘I’m gonna kick these guys butts!’. And we did (laughs)! So it’s just kind of been my motto ever since. I love being the underdog. I’ve kind of been that coming from New York and trying to break into the country music scene. I’ve just always believed in myself and ever since that moment with that little purple bag.
It is wonderful that you reacted in that way because quite reasonably that could have knocked your confidence and your future as a musician could have stalled there and then.
I think it’s the most important thing. A lot of people ask me why I think I’ve been successful which is kind of such a hard question to answer but I really believe it’s because of a good attitude and the ability to get kicked down so hard and brush yourself off and be like ‘Alright, I’m gonna try this again’ because it’s one of the hardest things ever. There are so many talented people out there who just can’t do that and it’s really, really hard. I think it’s the key to success.
This June you were due to play 12 dates in the UK as part of your Lone Rider tour but clearly world events have meant that this now won’t be possible. You have a strong fan base in the UK, and this was evident by the amazing reception you received when you played the Ramblin’ Man Festival in 2017. At what point did you know that the tour wasn’t going to happen and how disappointed did this make you feel?
My PR team starting writing me early on, maybe about a month ago, saying ‘things are really bad here’. The moment we kind of knew that maybe we were going to have to cancel was when the festivals started to get pulled. We held on as long as we could. I can’t tell you how many emails my team sent that said ‘until we are forced to cancel we are coming’, because we have been looking forward to this for so long. I live for getting out on the road and meeting the fans and hanging out with them and performing. We worked so hard on the show. We had 12 new songs for the show this year that we have been working tirelessly on and to think that it wasn’t going to happen was really devastating. I definitely cried over it, I’m not going to lie, because it’s more than just going on a trip. It’s really your blood, sweat and tears for a whole year of preparation to get there. But we’re not cancelling, we are postponing. The new dates are going to be announced soon. I’ve been trying to do a lot of live streams and everything for the UK especially because you guys over there are just so amazing. As an American to be so welcomed by the people there and the way you guys appreciate live music is so special. I remember my very first date was in Glasgow, maybe 3 or 4 years ago, and I remember from the very first night it was just a party! And it’s always like that in the UK. It just blows my mind and everyone is just so supportive. It’s wonderful there and I can’t wait to come.
The great news is that the tour is being rescheduled for 2021. What can you tell us about how the rescheduled plans are coming together?
I’m a big believer in fate and how everything happens at the right time. When this whole thing hit I knew it would be for a reason, and maybe it’s because the single’s going to wonderful things for me and next year’s going to be even better than this year was going to be, but we are just going to move it by a year. So we’re going to come a little bit earlier I believe. Nothing is set in stone yet but we’re looking at May next year. I have a bunch of stuff already scheduled in the States here for the whole Fall, in to the Winter and a Christmas tour and stuff. It looks like all of my European festivals are also getting shifted to next year.
In meantime fans have lots to be excited about, starting with the fact that, as you’ve just mentioned, you do have a new single Run To which was released on 24th April. This is the most beautiful song where are you sing about something most people will be able to powerfully relate to, essentially longing for someone or something that is no longer in your life, that feeling of heartbreak and of about love and loss. It’s also a song that perhaps has relevance to what’s currently happening in the world and the fact that circumstances dictate that many people simply cannot be together. How autobiographical is this track and where did the inspiration come from?
Thank you for saying all that. When I wrote it I did not know the impact it was going to have on people and it meant a lot to me just because of the circumstances that I wrote it in. One of my biggest inspirations of all time musically is Richard Marx and he was my very first concert when I was 5 years old, and talk about a full circle moment, I got asked to open for him this year. It was incredible! Standing next to him backstage and watching this guy I’ve admired my entire life saying "Hey, how about Jessica Lynn! Wasn’t she great!" was one of the best moments of my life. I debuted the song acoustically when we opened for him that night, and I wrote it as a love song or as something more of a feeling, like you just want to feel something like you said. It doesn’t have to be someone. For me it was music. I wanted to run to the feeling I felt when I was really happy playing music, and I can’t tell you how many people after that show were crying and hugging me at the merchandise stall when I did my meet ‘n’ greet, talking about how much it meant to them or how it had reminded them of someone who’d passed away. For me as the songwriter to know that someone could take my words like that and make them so special to them in such a unique way really meant the world to me. I run my own business and I’m a totally independent artist. Everything you see or hear me do is by my own hand and sometimes it’s very difficult to be creative when you’re always so busy doing the business stuff for yourself. So my New Year’s resolution was to sit down the first 2 weeks of 2020 and play and song write and not do a single other thing or let anything else occupy my mind, and I think some of the best stuff I’ve ever written came out of that period. I sat there with my guitar until my fingers were almost bleeding about 8 to 9 hours a day. I just wrote, and I didn’t write for what I think would fit in on radio, or what would be good in a live show or what’s going to sound like what else is hot right now. I wrote just from my heart and totally left my head out of it. It reminded me a lot of those early days with that little purple gig bag where I’d just sit and I didn’t know anything about the business, I just knew I loved music. I would just sit down and I’d write these great songs because I wrote them from inside, and it really reminded me a lot about that, and I think my new music reminds me a lot about the stuff I wrote when I was about 15 or so because it’s real, it’s genuine, it’s honest and that’s where Run To came from – just a very honest place in my heart.
It’s no surprise that you were able to see first hand the real emotion that people felt from that song and the connection it made because Run To is a perfect example of the strongest of songwriting and also how a song can powerfully connect with people on emotional level. How representative is this track of your forthcoming EP?
I think that it’s very representative. My new music is very rock orientated and very soul orientated. In Run To you can kind of hear bits of soul flavoured piano and instrumentation in there and it’s very, very genuine music. It’s just me. It’s a mix of everything I’ve loved growing up as a New Yorker and I feel that I am very different from a lot of other country artists because a lot of them grew up in the south and midwest and they grew up on traditional country and that was just never me. So the whole new album, and the whole new live show is very, very varied which is really who I am as an artist. It’s also kind of 80s inspired. I always loved the big rock power ballads - I’m a huge ballads person – and there are some other tracks on there that kind of have that flair as well but everything has an underlying vibe of rock and blues and soul and country as well of course.
You co-produced Run To with your dad Cal Calamera. How comfortable are you sitting in the producer’s chair and how easy is it to juggle the role of both artist and producer simultaneously?
I am by no means an engineer so my dad does all that stuff. I know the basics of all the DAWs and the engineering programs but not enough to do like a real record. My mind has always worked in the way that when I write music I write it in its entirety. I am a multi-instrumentalist and I learned to play all these different instruments solely for the purpose of being able to produce and communicate to my band what I wanted. I played drums, I was classically trained on the piano, I played guitar and harmonica. I actually started on the bass guitar before I went to guitar. I learned that so I could actually say to the drummer "Okay, this is what I want". I never wanted to be able to not relay what I was trying to create. So for me it comes very natural because when I write anything I hear the entire thing in my head. The first time I sat down and started playing Run To the lyrics and the chords came all at the same time and I heard the strings, I heard the drums and I heard everything in my head as I was going. So for me it’s just about creating physically what I’ve heard the entire time which makes producing very easy.
So we mentioned of course that you have plans to release a new EP and this will be your third EP. What is it about releasing EPs as opposed to albums that attracts you?
The way the music business has changed where it’s so digitally driven and single driven it is extremely difficult for any artist, even at a major level, to be selling records right now because everyone goes on and they stream the tracks on Apple Music or Spotify. It’s so hard to make real hard sales these days, especially for an independent artist like me who self-funds and does everything. To try to compete with selling full records is crazy with the status of the business right now. A silver lining for me in this whole quarantine position is that it was going to be an EP but it is now going to be a full length album because I had the time to finish it now that we’re not going on the road which is very exciting for me. We’re going to kind of again pave our own way with how to release it. We’re first just going to release a bunch of singles so we play the digital game and then we’re going to put out the full album, for all my fans that have been with me for a long time and who deserve a full-length album from me finally.
We’ve mentioned of course that you won’t be touring the UK in June, and you’ve already shared some examples of how you have used this time to create opportunities. What will the next few months mean for you?
I’m going to continue to just connect with people as much as I can. I can’t even tell you the number of messages that are almost making me tear up as I read them on my socials like ‘thank you so much for doing that live stream concert – I really need a smile right now’, so I’m just going to try and be as actively engaged on all my accounts as I can. It’s actually really amazing because we’ve literally toured everywhere around the world, from Mexico to Poland, Bermuda, Lithuania, – we’ve been all over the world. We’ve toured in almost every USA state. So for me when we go on the road it’s interesting because we play for crowds all over but the thing that I’ve loved about the livestream is that I have everyone in one place. It was blowing my mind! Last night I did a live stream at 8 pm my time and it has almost 100,000 viewers this morning. It was crazy to look and and see that there were people that I recognise from Scotland in there, from England, from Lithuania, from Texas, from Mexico. To see all these people that I’ve connected with all of these years in one place was so heartwarming and amazing. That is something I am really enjoying about being at home and finding this new way to connect with people because it almost makes you think about your journey in a way and how you’ve connected with all these wonderful people and friends and fans and how they’re still with you and we’re all together at this time. People always ask me in interviews why I do this and what’s my driving force. I always say that I don’t want to sound cheesy by saying this but it is the connection you make with people. My favourite part of any show is not going on stage and playing, it’s meeting everybody after or seeing people’s faces in the audience when I say certain things or when I see them connecting with the words of a song. That’s what drives me to do it and the amount of times I’ve had life changing messages after performances… One of my favourite things that I’ll remember the rest of my life is that we were in Poland a few years ago where I played this festival and I went back to the hotel room after and opened up my Instagram account and there was a message sitting in there from a man that said ‘I’ve had the worst 3 months of my life and I didn’t want to live anymore and coming to your show tonight showed me how happy somebody could be. The way you smiled and the way you moved around on stage and how music makes you feel and the way it made me feel watching you, it changed my life. You gave me another chance’. That I could do that for somebody is incredible and that’s way I do what I do. That’s why these live streams are also so important you’re not alone, we’re all still in this together.
As our conversation draws to a close we reflect upon the overwhelming strength of songwriting within the new single Run To and how of course we now have a heightened sense of anticipation for what will be a full-length album from Jessica. As well as being an incredibly gifted musician with the most beautiful voice, it’s Jessica’s drive, passion and her ability to connect with people in the most profound way that has captured the hearts of fans worldwide, and these special qualities are presented in her songs in the most moving and uplifting way.
For more information visit www.jessicalynnmusic.org and in the mean time, check out the lyric video to the new single Run To below.