Imagine working towards your dream of becoming an accomplished vocalist only to lose the power to sing! It happened to this amazing artist, yet here she is today with new EP Voices behind her and on the tail end of scheduled live performances. RnB checks in on her unique and inspirational story!
Q. I read your bio this morning, I couldn’t believe about your experience with losing your voice and having to endure permanent damage, how amazing you didn’t give up and fought to get back to where you are—can you tell us a little of what that time period was like for you—when you found out about your health issues and then when you decided to not give up…
A. It’s been an interesting journey to get where I am with a lot of ups and downs. I’ve been singing since I was a little kid and I feel like when I finally started getting serious about it was when I lost my voice for the first time. I get every singer’s worst nightmare – I got nodules! And then I developed permanent scars on my throat that made it really hard for me to even just talk. I took it as a sign from God that I was just not supposed to sing. Oddly enough it was during this time that I found writing. And eventually, after three month of basically not speaking and carrying a white board around with me everywhere to communicate, I got my voice back! I went to a vocal coach who trained me back into shape. My voice had grown stronger than ever and I was booking all the lead roles in the musicals I had auditioned for. One winter though – in 2013 – I kept getting sick but I had booked so many gigs beforehand, like weddings, birthdays, bar gigs, basically anywhere I could share my voice and music, so I couldn’t actually back out of any of them. So I sang through the constant sickness and it took a huge toll on my voice. I ended up getting nodules for the 2nd time. I was sure that this was going to be the end – but I decided to go on vocal rest again. My voice came back but it had this really rough, raspy texture. I hated it so much! But oddly enough it ended up being the thing that people loved most about my voice. So here I stand permanent scars and all, still chasing my dreams no matter what the obstacle. My voice still acts up every now and then – some days are better than others, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Q. I read that it was through that period that you really developed as a songwriter, since you couldn’t focus on singing—I think it takes a lot of deep inner focus to get to that level to write, as opposed to singing something someone else handed you—it’s not for everybody, did you have to work with yourself to get to that level of creativity—like I don’t know, meditation, long walks, turning the phone off– was there a method you used and if so, please explain?
A. OH MY GOSH Songwriting was so hard for me to really focus in on. I actually wrote my first song when I was 12 and it came so easily to me when I was a kid. But as I got older, I just couldn’t for the life of me finish a song! It’s not something that comes naturally for me anymore and I really had to discipline myself to just write. I used to be so attached to the outcome – like I had an idea of a song, and I’d start it and I’d have so much expectations for how I wanted it to sound that it would just never be good enough and I could never finish it. So I actually started doing this thing where I would just free write for about 10 minutes straight and then take what I wrote and burn it. I was so afraid to do that in the beginning because I thought, what if I wrote something in there that was really good! And then I realized that the really good lines stuck with me. Doing this really helped liberate me and opened up a new method of songwriting. It’s still a struggle for me, but I feel like with the amount of practice I put into it, I’ve gotten better. I’ve been writing a lot for my next project and overall I’m much happier with the writing and content.
Q. You came out on the other end of things with a different voice, were you upset at first or was it an automatic feeling of this was destined to be and learning to see where it could go and finding things you enjoyed about the new sound?
A. Oh I was so sad. Like depressed even. I thought – why would God give me such a great gift and then take it away from me? It was a really tough thing to adjust to. But I had to accept it for what it was and once I did that, I saw how beautiful and raw my voice really was. I have this logo which is a box with birds coming out of it. The idea behind it is that it’s my “voicebox.” It’s a physical representation of my voice – all tattered up and frayed but still opened and unafraid. The birds coming out of it is a symbol of how I found my voice and I let my voice soar no matter what the obstacles/circumstances.
Q. You funded your EP through an Indiegogo campaign. I think that is so cool. You reached your goal—what was that process like? Were you active in the promoting of it? Did you find yourself checking the numbers every few minutes to see where you were at with it? Sounds exhilarating but nerve wrecking at the same time—what was it like for you?
A. Thank you so much! I remember starting that campaign and feeling like I was about to jump off of a cliff. I had been planning it for months and was so nervous about it because there’s a chance that I could look like a total fool and not even come close to my goal. But I started live streaming a lot through Periscope and developed a following really quickly! And it was these fans along with a lot of family and friends who had wanted to see me do this for a while that fully funded the campaign. My goal for $5,000 and we ended up pulling in something like $5,405 I think. I was so beyond happy. The process was exhaustive but totally worth it.
Q. Your music has kind of an “old soul” vibe to it, I love that sound, by the way, but you are so young—where does that influence come from with you? Your experiences in life or just the music you grew up with? Both? Please share…
A. Thank you! (laughs) I’ve been told I have a bit of an old soul. But I actually grew up on Top 40 music and old R&B karaoke! It wasn’t until high school that I discovered jazz music and soul music and I was obsessed. No one else listened to that kind of stuff so it was like a secret guilty pleasure for me.
Q. Out of your songs, which song would you best say best represents where you are right now—like which song is “Jessica”?
A. (laughs) That’s a tough question! There’s a song that’s actually not released that I played at my Album Release Party that I call “My Song” that talks about where I’m at in my life and I feel like is very much My Song. So many people have told me to record and release it, but I played it as a special surprise for everyone who came to support me that night. Out of all the songs on the EP, my favorite is still “Secrets”.
Q. What do you want people to get out of listening to the EP? How do you want them to walk away feeling from playing it?
A. I hope that love oozes out of them when they listen to my EP. (laughs) That sounds so weird, but I mean they’re love songs. I want them to share them with someone they love.
Q. Who do you listen to?
A. My playlist right now consists of a ton of Indie R&B, Singer/Songwriter and Pop. So artists like Nao, Alina Baraz & Galimatias, but also Jhene Aiko, the Weeknd, Ariana Grande and then some Emily King, John Mayer.
Q. If you could work with or collaborate with someone on something, who would you like to work with?
A. Hmmm… I would love to work with this immersive theatre company, PunchDrunk. I actually studied theatre in college and it’s definitely a huge love of mine. I would love to create a huge experience for people so that when they come to see me live it isn’t just standing in a crowd and listening to music but find some really cool way to get everyone involved and tell amazing stories in the process. PunchDrunk does an incredible job of this and I actually dedicated a big chunk of my thesis on how they’re changing the game. They’ve most recently worked with Rihanna on her ANTI debut – they’re the masters behind creating the mysterious rooms! Aside from that I LOVE collaborating with local indie artists!
Q. Where do you see yourself, five years from now—ten?
A. Five years from now I’d like to be a well established recording and touring artist! Ten years from now I see myself going back to my first love, musical theatre and doing a lot of acting on film as well.
Q. What advice or words of wisdom would you give someone working on their dream and then they suddenly get slammed with a setback?
A. It’s not going to be easy. People aren’t going to understand what you’re going through. But listen to the voice way deep inside of yourself and trust your gut. You know what you’re meant to be doing here; you just have to listen to yourself. Don’t play small, and it’s ok to do things without asking permission. If you’re fortunate enough, find a community where you feel safe and fully self-expressed and try out your work with them. When you need a friend, tweet me!
You can tweet Jessica at https://twitter.com/Jessica_Louise , check out her website at www.jessicalouisemusic.com