Meet the LA femme fatale categorising her own hazy sound as “horrific hillbilly.”
My umbrella frantically blasts inside-out as I dodge the rain and cram into the narrow door of a tour bus. Inside, Reese Witherspoon flickers on a small TV screen as 1998 film Pleasantville runs quietly in the background. There are mirrors on the ceiling and panels of pink leopard print everywhere.
Jesse Jo Stark is stretched out opposite me, her legs impossible miles of flared denim. As she croons in her languid Los Angeles accent, her bedazzled nails twirl and gesticulate in front of her face in a hypnotic way.
Saying that Stark is rock ’n’ roll royalty is an understatement. She’s the daughter of Richard and Laurie Stark, the husband-and-wife owners of high-end jewellery and lifestyle label, Chrome Hearts. Cher is her godmother. She counts Bella Hadid and Virgil Abloh as friends. Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols produced her first EP, and she’s opened for Guns N’ Roses before. Real casual stuff.
Admittedly, Stark has been dealt a phenomenal set of cards, but it would be unfair to wave off the incredible amount of talent she has as purely just circumstance.
Raised on David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac, her genre-less sound is hazy blend of warm-weather indie and plucky rock. To the table, she bring her hypnotic stage presence, femme fatale style (observed by her 212K Instagram followers), and insta-hit tracks such as “Dandelion” and “Baby Love.” She’s opened for the Vaccines for their sell-out show at London’s Roundhouse, and even had a month-long residency at LA haunt The Echo.
We caught up with the singer and talked touring with Cher, Instagram stalks and her karaoke song of choice…
What was the moment you knew you wanted to pursue music?
I’ve always loved music. I took a lot of different lessons when I was little, like guitar, although a lot of it didn’t stick. I asked my mum about vocal lessons and then my godmother set me up with her vocal teacher and I actually wrote my first song with her when I was like 7.
Who did you grow up being influenced by?
I’ve always loved pop music like Britney Spears and the Spice Girls, but then my Dad always played really weird things and a lot of country. There were also a lot of things that I didn’t really appreciate at the time but hit me later. Like Brian Eno, The Clash and then Mötley Crüe.
How would you describe your sound?
I don’t know… dreamy. I don’t consider myself as rock. So I always say horrific hillbilly, I’ll stick with that.
What are your biggest influences?
I love old films. Those influence my writing a lot. Just the way everyone used to speak.
What mood are you usually in when songwriting? A lot of people say you have to be sad or angry?
Sad. I can’t write about my boyfriend until we’ve broken up, you know? It’s a lot easier to write about loss for me, I guess.
What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received about your music?
I love when someone says they feel like they’ve been waiting for me. I do think it’s about finding your tribe. It’s about finding your little weird crew of people and I’m allowing them to be themselves. I love when they say, “I feel like myself when I listen to your music”. That makes me happy.
Do you prefer being in the studio and songwriting or do you prefer being on stage interacting with fans?
I love both, but it’s really cool to work on something for so long and then be able to perform it and share it. It’s a completely different feeling to writing. I haven’t been touring that long and I’m still learning and it’s a completely different feeling. But that’s kind of the pay off right?
How do you want people to feel when they leave your gigs?
I would say empowered and sexy. If they feel anything that would be pretty cool, right? That would suck if they were just like, “this is bland as fuck”. Even if they’re pissed that’s cool, even if they hated it…
What do your friends like Bella Hadid think of your music?
Bella is the most supportive friend I’ve ever had, but I don’t think that she loves my music. Like I know she loves it because it’s me, but I’m still hoping to write one song that she actually fucks with and listens to.
Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols produced your first EP and you’ve opened for Guns N’ Roses before? Talk about rock ’n’ roll royalty – how has that affected your music?
I’ve definitely learned from them. They’ve always been honest with me. They’ve never lied to me or tried to build me up if it wasn’t earned. I’ve had to take control of the way that I want to sound but I do think during the time he did that EP with me that he did pull a lot out of me. He challenged me. Of course I’m influenced by them, they’re insane. I’m very intimidated by them still.
How is it having Cher as your godmother?
Yeah, she definitely showed me how to bedazzle things and do my makeup and my nails. I grew up touring with her and I actually hated it because there was a lot of rules and it was intimidating because I was always around adults and I had to go to bed at a certain time. But she heavily influenced me and I feel like I love this because I always used to be on a bus. So it’s crazy what sticks to you, but we did normal things. She showed me how to do my makeup and we played cards and she always won.
Who were your style icons growing up?
Her, my parents, Poison Ivy from The Cramps. The Clash – I like that they are always in suits. I’m really obsessed with Sharon Tate right now.
How would you describe your style?
I like to be comfortable and warm. I think I’ve gotten a little more ladylike, I love Audrey Hepburn. But then I always have Dr. Martens… I think I’m all over the place.
What do you like performing in?
I love my stage boots that I designed with this guy in LA. They’re very Nancy Sinatra. And dresses… I think I’m getting the hang of what I like to wear on stage. I like my legs out for the most part. My dad always said show some skin. I never wanted to show any parts of my body but I’ve actually grown into my body. My dad, he’s very glam. He’s like, “wear some big eyes and show your legs,” so I’m trying to do that.
Who is your biggest Instagram stalk?
My sister, she’s way too cool. Lady Gaga, recent discovery.
If you could go back in time and write a song, which one would it be?
I wish I had wrote [Fleetwood Mac’s] “Silver Springs,” but if I was going to choose one as a karaoke song it would be an 80s one, like [Dusty Springfield’s] “Son of a Preacher Man.”