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Words by Emily Hollitt {Emily Hollitt Content Writer{Malina Claire}

JESA is one of the most exciting new voices to enter the local music scene over the past few years. Combining elements of neo-soul with indie rock and classic folk, her music is charming to listen to and easy to digest. Her voice may be soft and sweet, but that doesn’t hinder her ability to use her songwriting as a means to spread powerful messages.

JESA entered our radar for the first time in 2020 with her debut You Before Me, an upbeat breakup bop about reclaiming yourself after leaving an all-consuming relationship. “How silly could I be to put you before me” she sings candidly over bright, sparkly, 80’s-influenced synths.

Recently, she released her equally impressive sophomore single Black Swan, a soulful ode to overcoming mental health. Arpeggiated chords follow her simple vocal melody as she pours her heart out, detailing how she came to terms with living with depression. The track is sonically reminiscent of Amy Winehouse with hints Allen Stone; soulful and heartfelt.

After playing the single on loop over and over, I just had so many questions to ask JESA about this track and her perspective on music in general. Luckily, she had a few moments to spare.

I absolutely love your new single Black Swan. Can you take us through what inspired this song?

Why thank you! Black Swan was born out of one of the hardest periods of my life. I was 20, living away from home in Brisbane, not knowing how to take care and love myself yet, studying music fulltime and living in this constant state of stress. I was so far from my true self that I had fallen into a deep depression and wasn’t even aware of it. One of the classes I was taking was called ‘poetry and literature’ and I fell in love with poets like Rupi Kaur, W.H. Auden and Suzi Quatro. Music was my only confidant in these times and I wrote songs everyday as a catharsis. Lyrically, Black Swan has this continuous theme of the juxtaposition of darkness and beauty, grief and hope. Through this song I found acceptance of where I was in my life and the steps I needed to take to feel better. 

I love the blues-y influences of the song. Were there any songs/ artists in particular that inspired this sound? And is this style something we can expect to hear more of from you?

At the time of writing I was OBSESSED with The Teskey Brothers and always had their entire discography on repeat. Particularly their 2018 album ‘Half Mile Harvest’ touched me musically with its power, rawness, soul and vintage sound. Can’t forget the greats like Aretha Franklin and Rihanna who embody true female empowerment which shines through Black Swan also. 

What does your average songwriting session usually look like?

An average songwriting session usually looks like me sitting in the sun with my guitar or curdled up at the piano. My songs either begin with a vocal melody, a lyric note from my phone or a chord progression that is really resonating with me. From there, it’s mostly a process of trying to stay open enough to let the song take shape naturally. I find these days it’s mostly working with that internal critic and telling it to ‘shh‘ that allows me to remain curious and follow the intuition that guides all creativity. 

You self-identify yourself as an ‘artivist’. Who do you consider some of the most influential artivists who inspired you to be so open with your own songwriting?

As a teenager I discovered Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote and Ngaiire; I’ve always been inspired by the way their music powerfully unites people with messages that create togetherness, empowerment and solidarity. Both are female First Nations artists who have this incredible way of weaving their culture, knowledge and activism into their art – whether that be who they work with, how they present their music visually or lyrically what the song’s message represents. I think First Nations, BIPOC and LGBTIA+ artists have and always will be the leaders in this field as they’re speaking from their lived experience of oppression. I think as artists it’s our job to feel and then reflect that back to society. For me I feel there are a lot of issues in this world that are hurting us all and so it naturally comes through in my music.

What’s your favourite album of all time?

Right now I’d say ‘Punisher’ by Phoebe Bridgers. But that’s an incredibly hard question and it changes constantly. 

It’s been a tough couple of years to work as an independent musician. How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect you, both positively and negatively?

Yep, I truly feel for so many people in the music industry who weren’t supported like other industries. It was absolutely devastating to see. I have memories burnt into me of friends calling me balling their eyes uncertain of how they would get by. I think, negatively, the pandemic created so much fear, hysteria, panic, loneliness, poverty, uncertainty and death that it divided people in really scary ways. On the flip side, it forced me deep into so much healing (which comes from a place of privilege). I spent a lot of time walking, meditating and getting back to simplicity which became a massive time for growth that I’m incredibly grateful for. 

Who are some of your favourite local musicians around right now?

The Northern Rivers is full of world class musicians and some I know and love are: Meraki Mae, Sam Buckingham, Nidala, Juman, George Grace and Jex Lopez

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to anybody who wants to start their own music career?

Ah this is a BIG one. I’d say focus on expressing yourself in the most real authentic unapologetic way possible and finding the spaces and people who allow you to only expand that. Never sign anything without legal advice and learn to do as much as you can yourself before you spend a dollar. Most importantly – go for it.

What’s the best show you’ve ever played?

I still think to this day performing at Bluesfest Byron Bay with my highschool band in the Lotus Palace stage was the coolest thing ever. 

And finally, what can we expect next from JESA?

I’ve got some more music coming out this year. You’ll have to keep your eyes out by signing up to mailing list on my website or by following my Instagram and Facebook.

Black Swan is available now on all streaming services – LISTEN HERE

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