When Jess Jocoy sent me her new and heartfelt EP, released this year, I definitely wasn't expecting what I heard. So what did I hear? A genuine soul, who through each lyric and chord change, has known heartbreak, but still has so much hope. All that in a voice? YES.
I recently sat down with Jess, and am happy to bring you that interview.
CTM: I just finished listening to the EP and I did not want it to end. How long was this particular project in production?
Jess Jocoy: I started writing this EP just over a year ago, during my senior year of college. I was studying Songwriting at Belmont University, and I was coming to the realization that I was going through a quarter-life crisis. Having lost my dad two years earlier to lung cancer, and moving across the country from Seattle to Nashville where music and creativity is literally overflowing, I was left feeling directionless. The five songs that made it onto the record are songs that are so personal but I felt like they needed to be shared, if anything to serve as my introduction as a writer and an artist.
CTM: You have some definite country vibes here on the album, but there are also some hints of folk and blues as well. Do you classify yourself solely as a country artist?
Jess Jocoy: In a perfect world I would commercially classify myself as “country,” but I don’t know that my sound could make it on the major country stations (at this time). I was raised on classic country, so I’ll always have a place in my heart for that sound, but I’m always trying to broaden my musical scope. I like the term “Americana”. I know some people think it insinuates a lack of direction, but in this genre-bending age, Americana is a melting pot of sonic expression. I really dig that I can write a song with a country foundation, but can also turn around and write a song that people would label as blues or folk without having written to a certain structure. If people want to call my sound country, let them call it country. If they want to call it blues or folk, that’s great too. I’ll keep calling it Americana until my style of country comes back around.
CTM: When I heard your song "Easy", I had to hold back my emotion. Real love (as you say in your lyrics), isn't easy. Tell me how you hold back the emotion when you perform that track live?
Jess Jocoy: That’s a tough one. I poured out the rawest parts of my heart in that song. It’s the only song I’ve ever written where I, too, have had to hold back emotion while singing it; sometimes I get overwhelmed. I don’t really know if I believe in ghosts until the music starts. Then I see the boy I wrote it about as plain as day, as if he were standing at the back of the room. I can see his expression, his blue eyes, heavy with guilt. I always end up asking myself if I made a mistake by letting our relationship fade away, but he made the decision to choose someone out of convenience, and real love shouldn’t be about convenience. Real love is ups, downs, and worth sticking around for.
CTM: What's the first song you wrote on the EP and how did that impact the rest of the recording?
Jess Jocoy: The past couple of years have seen me writing a lot of songs, so I don’t exactly remember which song from the EP I wrote first. But, “Easy” was the first song we recorded. I’d told my producer Daniel Dennis that I’d wanted a country-folk sound and that if nothing else, left listeners feeling something, good or bad, after the song ended. We’d started with acoustic guitar, and then he broke out the resonator guitar and pedal steel, and I thought the whole record was going to have the same flavor. But, being that my interests float between post-rock instrumental bands like Explosions In The Sky and the outlaws like Waylon Jennings, I started to find that I was leaving space for both ambience and a good train beat.
CTM: When I hear you, it feels like a blend of Joni Mitchell and Martina McBride. Who would you say are some of your biggest influences?
Jess Jocoy: Those are some pretty incredible examples of powerhouse women, so I’ll take that blend any day! I’m finding that I’m sincerely drawn to lyricism in songwriting - some folks gravitate towards the instrumentation, etc. but my favorite part of music discovery is intentionally listening to the lyrics. I mean, you think about a great song: the songwriter could’ve chosen to write about anything in the world; they could’ve used any words to make their point, but they chose to tell that story with those words. Jason Isbell has been my biggest influence, both lyrically and instrumentally. He’s a master of blending poetic and conversational - even confessional - into a song that says something worth saying - whether it be personal or simply as the narrator. I’m constantly in awe by his work. Ruston Kelly is like that, too; Ryan Adams, those guys know how to write songs. But then there are writers like Joni, Harlan Howard, Tom T. Hall, Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, Dolly Parton. They've crafted songs that may as well have been around since the dawn of time. Those are steadfast writers - legacy writers - that gave the world what they needed, even if the world didn’t know they needed it. I want to be that kind of writer. It’s a slow road, though. I’ve still got a lot of living to do, but that’s part of the enjoyment.
CTM: What's your favorite song on the EP and what's the story behind it?
Jess Jocoy: This sounds vain, but I really love every song on this EP. “A Thousand Ways To Disappear,” the opening track, is the clearest picture I could paint of Nashville-living. You throw a stone in this town and you’ll hit someone who’s a songwriter or trying to be an artist, or both. Rent is outrageous, so you live a tiny rundown house with four people you may or may not know. You have to wear two faces when you're starting out: your artist face, which you wear 24/7, and your day-job face that you have to wear 9-5. Nashville's a great place to lose yourself. But, it’s also a a better place to ask yourself who you really want to be.
And then there’s “Long Live the Song,” which was, in a way, my way of asking Nashville what happened to country music. Opinions aside, it’s objective to say that country sways heavily pop today. My idea of country music is built on storytelling, authentic instrumentation, and genuine sense of community. I wrote this song when I was working for a local t-shirt company, listening to “El Paso” by Marty Robbins. A guy walked in and commented how they just don’t make songs like that anymore. There are players in East Nashville, and I’m sure elsewhere, who wear the Nudie Suits and dare to sing ballads in barrooms, but right now that revival is a spark, and not yet a wild fire. There’s a reason we’re still singing along to “Ring Of Fire” and “Stand By Your Man.” The singers are gone and the writers may be gone too, but those songs hit us where we need to be hit.
I also really love “(Pilgrimage) The Time Between” because it was the first song I wrote about my dad after his passing that wasn’t really weighed down with sadness. I wrote it for my last songwriting class in college: we were told to read Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl and to write a song about our interpretation of the book. The word “pilgrimage” was on the first page of the introduction. I never read any further. The idea of this life as a pilgrimage - a passing of one place to another - was something I know I’d heard before, but that word made it sink in. The chorus is my favorite part: life is hard and love is mean, but only if I let it be, and sometimes I do. That’s the whole point, though isn’t it.
CTM: Finally, what do you have in the works now? Are you touring the record? Writing the next one?
Jess Jocoy: I’m working towards a full-length record right now. New Heart/Old Soul was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of songs. I have an extensive back catalog of songs that I’m reworking as well as writing new songs every day. As it is right now, I'm one of those artists wearing two faces, working my 9-5, but I’m also playing as many gigs as I can here in town, strategizing the works for a regional tour. I just want to get my music out to as many ears as possible, and to travel with my music.
It was such a joy speaking with Jess Jocoy and I really hope you'll check out her latest album!
Want to keep up with Jess and her new projects? Follow her here:
Peace and Love,