IT has been a long time since I have featured Jessica Rotter…
on my blog. It has been a while since her track, Porch Song, came to my attention – I have never stopped following her music. She is a terrific solo artist but is part of the trio, JEMS. I talk about those twin responsibilities and whether there is new material afoot. She discusses life in L.A. and how it is for a young artist there.
Plains, Rotter’s terrific album, was released last year so I was eager to know what the rest of the year has in store - and whether there are tour dates; if we can see her in the U.K. and the artists that have driven and influenced her.
Hi, Jessica. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, Sam! I’m doing well!
Things are busy right now - so I’m taking a minute to respond to emails and relax!
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I am a singer and a songwriter. I released my first album last year, Plains, along with a dance film for it – and, I also have a career as a vocalist for a variety of projects (movies, T.V. shows; albums, live performances etc.)
I am currently working on my next album and taking my Folk sound up a notch - with a little Rock/throwback air.
PHOTO CREDIT: @abby_shoot
It seems you have wrapped up a new single. What can you reveal about that and the kind of things we can expect from it?
I have a new single out August 18 called Other Side of the Sun.
It is an upbeat vintage sounding song complete with soulful backup vocals. I wanted to release the song with the Total Solar Eclipse that is happening on August 21 (which just so happens to be my birthday.)
The song is about a relationship with bad timing (I’m sure we’ve all had one of those) where the desire flips from one person to the other constantly. Not too close, not too far - as if orbiting on opposite ends of the universe - but still controlled by the same force.
I believe you perform as part of a trio, JEMS. Can you tell me about the girls you play alongside and how you came to meet? How important is their friendship and music to you – not only as a fellow musician but a human?
So. JEMS was formed VERY recently out of a common desire to get out and play more...
Emily Colombier and I have been friends since we were babies and she was the person who encouraged me to play my music in the first place. She and I found viral success with a mashup we did of the song Stay, by Rihanna, and (the song) Animal, by Miike Snow. She’s been singing backup for me at all of my shows since the very beginning - and I would sing backup for her.
Sarah Margaret Huff was a new friend who moved to L.A. from Nashville and, in an attempt to help her find her footing in L.A., we started playing together and hit it off. She came on tour with me as a backup singer and the three of us bonded like crazy! A lot of people were talking about how our voices sounded together and how our personalities filled the stage in such complementary ways.
So, we decided we should team up and play out. We are excited to be playing a series of shows in late-August and September!
Will you be working on an E.P. or album – either as a trio or solo artist?
I am working on an album as a solo artist.
Our trio will hopefully be recording some songs soon! Our cover of Dolly Parton’s Wildflowers has gotten a lot of praise so I hope we can get that out soon.
For now; you can see our video on YouTube.
You describe yourself as a ‘musical storyteller’. How important is it making your music honest, personal and relatable? It seems like your music really connects with people. How vital is that in terms of inspiring your creativity?
I think every opportunity a singer has is an opportunity to take other souls on a journey.
Musical moments shared are powerful, so whether the story is a narrative or a sensory journey, I like creating moments. For my own music, I really do write honestly and from experience – so, I try to find the universal truth or the common thread that a listener will be able to connect with. It’s not even something I overthink though. I don’t know if it’s from writing poetry or directing theatre...but I feel like finding the common thread in emotional experiences is second nature to me.
I still hope people take the time to get to the bottom of a metaphor in a song and let it sink in for a minute. It can’t all be face value.
Was music big in your childhood? What kind of musicians do you fall for at a young age?
My parents are both musicians and so were my grandparents - so music was definitely huge. I listened to a lot of The Beatles and Motown - a lot of ‘oldies’ and a ton of Classical music.
I appreciated that kind of musical foundation because I think it trained my ear from early on to hear harmonies and count beats.
Music you have written has been heard on T.V., film and around the world. How humbling is that and what is your reaction when you hear one of your pieces on the screen?
Hearing my music alongside other art forms is INCREDIBLY satisfying.
I love seeing how different artists can merge crafts so effectively! It’s always an honor to be entrusted to share someone else’s creative moment.
I have heard your latest live performance, Porch Song, which was captured in Woodland Hills – playing as part of JEMS. What was that experience like? Will you be recording any more intimate videos like that?
I’m sure we will.
We have one more video like that to roll out as JEMS along with a few concert videos. JEMS is fun because we all feel like we can take more risks with it - and I kind of wonder if we will put ourselves out there more because there seems to be less to lose.
I haven’t even released a live performance video of myself - and JEMS has three!
The first exposure I had to you was when I reviewed Porch Song – when it first came out. I love that song and never asked where it came from. What is the inspiration behind that?
Strangely enough; that song was written before Emily Colombier’s step-dad (Geoffrey Lewis’) memorial.
I was driving there and thinking through these words and when I parked my car; I turned on my iPhone Voice Memos app. and recorded the song start-to-finish. It was almost like Geoff brought those words to me. Geoff was an actor/author/artist. Their whole family is creative: so there’s a very strong powerful energy around their house and everyone Geoff touched.
You probably know at least one of his children.
Based in California; how important and influential is the area and its people? What is the music scene like where you are?
Living in Los Angeles is crazy.
The stakes are always higher. You never know who's going to show up. It’s good because you get comfortable performing for influential people - I get much less nervous performing in any other city. The music scene in L.A. is very split, geographically. Certain venues are known for certain things and I find the acts that start Indie - and break out of L.A. - are usually East-side, Indie-Rock bands - and everyone else (are) usually Pop artists on labels.
There’s a small singer-songwriter community that does a little Pop-writing, too. It is cool to live here, though, because you can kind of conquer your hometown - and it means a little bit more than if I lived in a city with a population of 100k - or something similar.
Are there any new musicians you recommend we investigate?
You should check out the band LEAN, too. They are also a production team and they produced my new single. They have a new song out called Come Back. It’s a fun, summer jam.
Have you any tour dates coming up? When can we see you in the U.K., perhaps?
We are playing in Nashville and the Californian West Coast in August - and I’ll do a proper slew of Jessica Rotter shows once I finish my album.
I am planning on mastering the album in London so I would hope to play a few shows there! 2018?
If you could name three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Neon Bible by Arcade Fire
Because it was my first album that made me feel like the darkness inside of us wasn’t weakness - and was a shared human experience.
Carole King - Tapestry
It is so obvious but it really is the best. Those songs kill me and she has the best heart and soul. I have, like, thirty more albums I could put in this meaningful album list…but…
I will say I most often put on Bon Iver - Bon Iver when I’m looking for a record to listen to.
I listened to it tonight. Holocene and Michicant are two of my favorite songs, ever. They’re perfectly melancholic.
What advice would you give to musicians coming onto the scene right now?
Find a way to make money that doesn’t suck out your soul and it will all be a lot more fun.
I have so many artist friends that are trying to make ends meet in the silliest jobs - that are not paying enough and take up too much time. By singing and writing for other people’s projects, and even teaching a few students, I have the freedom to work on my own art.
So, I guess my advice is do everything you can to not let your soul die and spend as much time as possible creating.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Halfway Home by Broken Social Scene (this song made me feel EUPHORIC when I saw them play last month.)
Follow Jessica Rotter
PHOTO CREDIT: @reiten