When hoping to build up the anticipation surrounding a debut project, artists usually look to unveil their most stellar single, one that embodies the feelings and sentiments that lay at its core. And, this is exactly what singer-songwriter Jess Chalker has done with the release of “Stupid Trick”. Drawing on the infectiously synth-heavy sounds of 80s music, the track hopes to fill listeners with elation ahead of Hemispheres‘ November release – a feeling which is only furthered by the track’s London-bound and mime-featuring visuals.
When speaking on her upcoming album, the artist claims, “my debut record as a solo artist, Hemispheres, is out 5th of November. It’s scary as hell putting this into the world; I did a lot of personal work to feel ready. It’s something I’ve put off for ages, mostly due to the fear of exposing my personal world. But, all my best experiences in life have come from being brave, and I consider releasing this record a really important part of my growth and self-acceptance as an artist.”
Upon the release of “Stupid Trick”, the artist sat down with Wonderland to talk all things music. Head below to enjoy our interview with Jess Chalker…
Hey Jess, how are you? How has this past year been?
I’m doing ok, thanks for asking! The past year has been hard. But, it’s been good to slow down a bit.
With everything that happened last year, was your creativity affected?
Oh definitely. A lot of artist friends have also said they felt an intense creative pressure this past year, almost as if Covid lockdowns set an expectation to be prolific. Actually, I purposefully didn’t write all that much during lockdown. I have this mindset where I don’t like to keep creating endlessly until I’ve set some things free – it is as if you give and you receive. So I chose to use the creative time I had to finish songs that I’d been working on, and I ended up finishing a record. It was very liberating and a much-needed distraction while recovering from lots of intense medical procedures last year.
How did you first get into music, what sparked the interest?
I did piano lessons as a kid, and my dad owned an instruments store in Australia called The Guitar Factory; music was always around. No one really knew I sang or wrote songs, though. I was very shy about that and also grew up in a strict religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses) where that stuff wasn’t really encouraged, especially from women. It wasn’t until uni that I was hanging out with a friend in a music room and he heard me singing and encouraged me to audition for a music performance class. I sang an acapella version of a Tori Amos song called Me and a Gun and got in.
I ended up having a great mentor, Winsome Evans, who had a controversial reputation in Australia but had a great impact on me musically. Later, when I got a bit more confidence, I started uploading some of the songs I’d written to YouTube and got a little following. Professionally it all started from there.
You’re from Australia but moved to London, do you think this move impacted your music?
I think so, in that I found myself turning back to my artist roots after moving here. I used to spend a lot of time in the US as a songwriter, where it felt like the ‘publicness’ of being an artist was more important than the work, which kind of put me off. It’s also a very youth-obsessed culture there, and Australia is similar.
Here, I feel like anything goes, there is less pressure to make yourself a spectacle. And, artists are a bit more empowered to be left-of-centre, which is my natural inclination anyway. Maybe it’s a sign of being more mature or giving less fucks? Also, most of my favourite artists and records of all time came from here, so being in the cradle of that is really inspiring.
You were also part of a duo We are the Brave, do you think there is a big difference working solo in comparison to working in a duo?
It’s definitely easier being the one in control of all the creative decisions. Going solo has been an opportunity to establish myself musically too. I think there is a stereotype that persists when you’re in a band. For example that men are the musicians and women are the lyricists, and that just isn’t true at all.
We are the Brave was a great time, but it was probably the most volatile relationship I’ve ever been in. Possibly the most creative as well. When I left, it took me a little while to regain my poise and feel like I could actually do this on my own. There is still a lot of respect between the two of us though, we actually have a few songs together on this record.
And now you’re gearing to release your debut album, talk us through your mindset going into project?
My debut record as a solo artist, Hemispheres, is out 5th of November. It’s scary as hell putting this into the world; I did a lot of personal work to feel ready. It’s something I’ve put off for ages, mostly due to the fear of exposing my personal world. But, all my best experiences in life have come from being brave, and I consider releasing this record a really important part of my growth and self-acceptance as an artist.
Did you feel a pressure at all when creating the album?
It’s funny, I don’t think people realise that the usual commercial process of releasing a record often takes creating hundreds of songs, whittling them down to a list, working with a quality-control team, agonising over every tiny production detail, and sometimes scrapping full albums entirely.
Because I did the album independently and on a small budget, I haven’t had any of those same pressures or an A&R looking over my shoulder every step of the way. It’s a very artist-driven record because quality control stopped with me. I’ve had total creative freedom. Because of that, it’s maybe not the most commercial sounding record, like, there are no songs that are an obvious choice for the next Apple commercial, or any burn-down-the-dancefloor style tracks. But it’s honest and full of pure moments. There is no kick, snare, or vocal glitch sound I chose because they were on-trend. Everything is there because it served the song best and felt right for the overall body of work.
What do you want people to take away from your music?
Creating and crafting these songs has been quite healing for me so, hopefully, they offer some kind of safe space, level of escapism, inspiration or stepping stone for people. Or even just something fun to put on while making dinner, whatever really.
Who inspires you?
My little sister! She’s a new mum and has had to deal with quite a lot of challenges in her life. But, she never loses the huge amount of love she has in her heart or her ability to see the best in people. I’m also constantly inspired by nature and have been getting into bird watching a bit lately.
What is next for you? What are you most excited for?
I’m really excited to enter my next creative state after this record is out. I think one good thing that came out of the pandemic was that it became painfully obvious to most of us that there’s much more to life than ticking boxes or occupying one prescriptive space relentlessly. It feels like some of the old moulds have been broken with more of us feeling the freedom to acknowledge and explore our suppressed passions. I’m looking forward to diving into this more on my next record and collaborating with other artists who feel they have been set free too.