Hailing from Colorado and the Sunshine State, hyperpop/house virtuoso Jess Jessica has been weaving together unique sonic textures from a very early age. Jessica picked up a pair of drumsticks and began experimenting with Ableton on the family computer at the age of ten, her early influences ranging from classic rock to metal, 70s funk, and psychedelia. However, it wasn’t until her gender transition in her early twenties when she discovered the full extent of her musical potential, embracing her affinity for disco, house, and saccharine early-2000s pop.
Jess Jessica’s latest album, aptly titled Streaming Music, is predominantly influenced by the online landscape in which music is consumed today, with most of the tracks condensed to a minute and thirty seconds. A clear reference point for her sound is the world-renowned 21st-century musical pioneer SOPHIE, with songs like “Magic D” and “Drip,” closely emulating the watery, oscillating textures and the sounds of snapping latex and fizzing liquid that have become hallmarks of SOPHIE’s signature sound.
But at the same time, the sonic landscape of Streaming Music remains entirely unique. “I love SOPHIE, but I’m not trying to be her. I’ve seen people who are clearly inspired by her doing really cool things and I’ve also seen some pretty distasteful imitations that almost feels like grave-robbing,” Jessica tells me, making it clear that she is much more interested in carving out a path of her own. Her songs are not quite as violent or corrosive as SOPHIE’s. They’re much more chill and pulsing, evoking the lush tropics of a queer utopia in Ibiza.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Jess Jessica to talk about what she wants to say with this album, how she fell in love with house music by catching a DJ set at her first festival, and the intrinsic ties between music and personal identity.
To start, what are your main priorities at this point in your career?
It’s tough, because there’s a bit of a divide between the career side of things and the musician side. Right now I’m really focused on the direction I’m headed in musically. I’m trying to hone in on this space between house music and hyperpop with an asterisk, since hyperpop means a lot of different things to different people. I kind of regret my first release from a brand standpoint, because it’s totally incongruous with the rest of my work. My musical interests are so wide and disparate, so I eventually came to understand that finding a niche is kind of necessary in order for other people to understand what you’re doing. I might not get to shoot in all different directions, but I at least get to hone in on a sound that I really find interesting and can utilize to find my own place between these two worlds. As a person with ADHD, I kind of detest the idea of hyperfocusing on one thing, but I also see the necessity of it.
That’s interesting. How does this idea of finding a niche affect your art?
I think with this new album, attention and focus are really big themes. I basically wanted to make an album that was influenced by the medium of streaming. When you think of records like Dark Side of the Moon, the music is extremely shaped and each song only fits within the context of the rest of the album, so they don’t work as standalone tracks. If that album had come out when CDs were a thing, it would have been an entirely different album.
In that regard, I’m very consciously allowing the medium of streaming to shape the music. I’m really challenging myself to see if I can tell a fully fleshed out musical story with an interesting buildup and some sort of payoff in just a minute and a half. I’m fully aware of how people are consuming their music through streaming. That thumb is right over the skip button. I do it all the time. So I guess it could also be a strategic way to game the streaming monetization system.
You started producing at quite an early age. How have you evolved as a producer since you started?
In terms of the resources available, things are entirely different now. I guess in a way you could look at it in terms of everything being the same or everything being totally different, especially with electronic music. The technology has gotten a lot more advanced, but the basics of synthesis are still pretty much the same. A big difference for me is that I’m actually paying for Ableton now, instead of pirating all my music software like I did when I was thirteen. I think the biggest change is this massive proliferation of free resources that are extremely high-quality, even just professional-level advice on YouTube walking through the intricacies of producing and creative ways to utilize the technology.
When did you first discover house music and what drew you to that particular sound?
That definitely came in stages. I was really into electronic music when I was twelve and thirteen. Some of those musicians from back into the day are people I kinda cringe at now. I came from a classic rock and metal background which is what I played on drums back in the day, which is a little embarrassing. I think the first time house music sunk its claws into me was the first time I attended a music festival. I think I was a sophomore in college, and I ended up at the house stage for most of it. This was the Sunset Music Festival in Tampa. I saw Claude VonStroke there, and the Dirtybird Records sound became extremely influential to me. The context of a long DJ set is very different from hearing a singular song in isolation. And hearing it on a massive system where the bass is actually moving with you is unparalleled. It was the trippiest shit I’d ever seen. Hearing house music live in the context that it’s built for–the dancefloor–was what really made me passionate about it.
I also went to a queer nightclub event in Ibiza called Glitterbox, and that really opened up my brain to early house and disco pioneers. I can’t wait to go back. The last time I was in Europe was for business school. Side tangent: I strongly regret going to business school. At the time I thought I was choosing something practical that would guarantee job security, but it turned me into a full-on Marxist instead [laughs].
What are the themes that tie Streaming Music together?
It’s basically me conducting a survey on everything that influences me, but also trying to hone in on something that’s mine. I’m still very much in the process of figuring out what I ultimately want to sound like. I think this is just another step on my musical journey through the sounds I want to explore. I’m at a point in my career where I still have a lot to prove.
SOPHIE once said “I just don’t have so much fun looking back. The future seems more real.” Where do you see music going in the future?
In terms of sound, I think SOPHIE was very on top of things. She was one of the most forward-thinking sound designers, even just in terms of texture and timbre. She was just out on her own in open water, doing stuff that was entirely unique. The direction she was heading in continues to be incredibly influential.
In terms of where I see music going, that’s a tough one. I’m almost a little bit scared of it. I recently found out that OpenAI has Dall-E 2, which you can give any text prompt and it will produce infinite variations of an image in any style. I see the same sort of thing happening to music. I see it quickly turning into something that completely devalues all the hard work that goes into the craft of making music. Even most of the arrangement process isn’t that complicated, and if we can get AI to do that as well, that terrifies me. I’m all for democratizing access to creative expression, but how far are we willing to go, and at what cost?
How is the way you present your personal identity reflected in your music?
Once I actually started embracing my transness, I started creating and consuming music more honestly. I had always loved girly, bubblegum pop music, but I was always very secretive about it because of the way I was socialized growing up. In the same way that I presented a masked version of myself to the world—pretending to be somebody I wasn’t—I wasn’t being authentic and that was reflected in the music as well. Since transitioning, my music has become more honest.
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