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A Dirty Dozen with JESS JOCOY – April 2020

| 9 April 2020 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “Nashville-based Americana singer-songwriter Jess Jocoy is set to release her debut full-length album, Such a Long Way, on April 10, 2020.  The album was produced by Michael Rinne (Miranda Lambert) and Dylan Alldredge (Mary Gauthier, Joy Williams, Leon Bridges) and recorded at Skinny Elephant Recording in Nashville.  With a crystalline veracity in her uniquely authentic songs, Jocoy constructs eloquent narratives that drift between the poetic and the conversational, which some have called “Jason Isbell meets Emmylou Harris.” We get Jess to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

Photo Credit: Patrick Sheehan

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

“Love Her Wild” came from the title of the book of poems by Atticus. The title was so striking to me: what does love her wild mean? What kind of relationship would that look like? It takes strength from both sides for someone to be told and to hear, “I don’t need you, but I want you.” It’s a bold statement. I knew someone once who was daring enough to tell that to their lover, and it wasn’t received well. Understandably, at first. But the more I really thought about it, the more I began to see that there’s a balance in knowing who you are. It’s not arrogance. It’s knowing your worth. This song is about a woman who knows who she is and love is not passive to her. She will love fiercely, and hopes (if not expects) her same love to be returned.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I’ve been singing since I was little. Country music mostly. Around 13, I started to take yearly summer vacations to Nashville, and that’s when I came to realize that I really wanted to be a singer. I think I was about the same age when I wrote my first song. I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote this simple little, I guess you could call it a worship, song called “God Is Here.” I’ve always stuck by country music, though, at the heart of it. Of course, the dream morphed and matured once I did move to Nashville in 2014. I was in a winter of my life, and honestly in culture shock at how different Nashville was from what I expected. It was all so strange. But in the midst of feeling like I was losing myself, I came to discover what kind of music I really had and have a passion for creating.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

Like I said, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for country music. My first concert was Alan Jackson when I was a kid – I was (and am) a huge fan. For three years straight, my dad would drive me to school and we would listen to Alan Jackson’s Drive album and Shania Twain’s Up album (literally, every day). I would sing along, and he would play the steering wheel drummer. Artists like Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert, and the Dixie Chicks raised me as a kid and teenager. Since moving to Nashville, I discovered artists like Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile, as well as deepened my love for classic country like Patsy Cline, Billy Walker, and Hank Williams. The Americana-roots spectrum has really given me a vein to experiment and find my sound.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

Jason Isbell (you’ll quickly come to find I’m a major fan), Brandi Carlile, Emmylou Harris, Lori McKenna, Reba McEntire, and Miranda Lambert. That’s six, but why stop at five?

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

This is a tough question… I’ve always thought getting to sing with Reba would be mind-blowing. That would be a dream! And why? It’s Reba.  Do you need a better reason? She’s been so pivotal to country music and women in country music, and we’re all blessed to get to live at the same time as her!

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I try to write various styles and tempos within my catalog to keep a show interesting, but I’m definitely drawn to the ballads and heart breakers. At the heart, I’d say my music is country, emphasizing on lyrical depth and substance. Each song should have a purpose, and I really focus in on the lyrics, even more than the music sometimes, for better or worse. My mom’s love of classic rock and my love for post-rock instrumental entices me to lean towards ambient swells, but I also want songs that could have mandolin and banjo and pedal steel. So, Americana/alt-country feels pretty good. To my recollection, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a cringe-worthy review. Is it possible to say that without sounding narcissistic? I’ve been told a few times that my voice reminds people of Reba (great segue), which I’ll never cringe over!

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

So, this is an area of musicianship that’s new to me. Growing up, I was really the only person in my little world that was pursuing music. While supportive, my family wasn’t really musical. They would haul me around the state to go to singing competitions – I’m so grateful that they’ve always believed in me. But music was never really something I did with other people, even after moving to Nashville. I came to find out how substantial co-writing and collaborating is, but music had been something I did by myself for so long, that it’s been really difficult to open up and share it with others. When I first moved to town, I was also going through that panic-stage of questioning whether or not I was really good enough. For better or worse, music was something I’d upheld as almost sacred. It’s something I’m continuously having to work on. Really, in the last year and a half have I started to find “my people.” It’s been beautifully humbling to learn how to open up through them because, not only are they my friends, but I see them as family. And I’ve really come to understand that music is about community.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

I don’t often get starstruck, but I may have mentioned, I’m a huge Jason Isbell fan. I was working at a Bluegrass/Americana record label at the time of the 2018 Americana Honors & Awards, and my boss just so happened to be the producer of that awards show, which is held at the Ryman Auditorium here in Nashville. She asked me to be PA for a couple days and having worked at the Ryman previously, it was a dream week.  So there I was in the lobby, just kind of pinching myself, watching artists I revere roam about, and all of a sudden Jason Isbell walks out from the auditorium with the lovely Amanda Shires. Amanda and I had met briefly in the past (my claim to fame is our bonding over a stained-glass lamp I’d had on my desk at the time), and she recognized me and introduced me to Jason. It was like standing before royalty in the palace of Music City. I literally couldn’t speak, and I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but it happened and I will forever cherish that moment.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

There’s something really powerful, and kind of unexplainable, about playing music, especially your own music, either in a room of strangers or friends. So many thoughts are going through your head, but also it feels like nothing at all. It’s euphoric. If for some reason I could no longer be a musician, I’m not sure what I’d do. I’ve worked on the music industry side, and while I learned so much and will be forever grateful for the knowledge and relationships I gained, there was always a part of me left unfulfilled. All I want to do is travel and play music, so I guess if for some reason I wasn’t able to do music, I’d still probably find a job that includes traveling. I don’t know… I’ve always wanted to try my hand at screenwriting. Maybe there’s something there. At that point, I’d be directionless so the sky would be the limit.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

I would like someone to ask me what I believe the purpose or intent of my music is. What do you feel is a major struggle that comes with being a musician/songwriter? The answer would be: I write with the hope that audiences can get to a place where people listen; for people to put down their phones for three or four minutes at a time. There are so many artists out there like myself who labor over their lyrics, but with the ever-shortening attention span, sometimes it’s tough getting people to really digest the message behind a song. On top of that, writing a feel-good, upbeat song tends to be a lot harder than a ballad, so it’s an interesting challenge to keep in mind: “Ok, I have to create a show that’s entertaining and not too sleepy, so what should I write now that will serve as my ‘fun’ song?”  Conversely, the question about artists that influence me is always tough to answer. Necessary for sure, but tough. I grew up with such a wide range of musical taste – my mom taught me about classic rock and my dad gave me a love for country music – that it’s like, who can I really narrow down as influences? There are so many! But like I said, it’s a necessary question nonetheless.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I was in a strange place, emotionally, when I moved to Nashville. I was still reeling over the loss of my dad to cancer the year before, but I was also excited about moving to study songwriting at Belmont University – my dream school in my dream town. When I got there, I was overcome by culture shock. Long story short, I folded in on myself when I should’ve been meeting people and building my community. Rather than going out and making friends, I sat in my room and wrote sad songs; I’d closed myself off from other people. In my solitude, I started to compare my art to my classmates’ and peers’ art, and I went down this really dangerous path of self-doubt, to the point I’d started to convince myself that being a musician wasn’t in my cards. Finally, I hit this brick wall, if you will, and told myself: I either had to pack up and go back home or stay and do what I believe I’ve been called here to do, which is make music that I believe in. Looking back, I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much time feeling inferior. But, I also believe that that dark period was necessary for my growth. Am I completely cured of self-doubt? No. But, who is? I now choose to rely on the notion that I’m going to fail along the way, but the only real failure is give up and let this purpose go to waste.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

You like asking the tough questions, ha ha! I love Patsy Cline – there’s a magic about her, and I don’t know that there will ever be another artist like her. I would love to go back and be a fly on the wall when she was recording songs like “Crazy.” She sounded like a spitfire, and she wasn’t sold on the song at first, but when you think “Crazy,” if you’re anything like me, you first hear Patsy’s silky, lilting vocals. That song is timeless.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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