Bikers in Bakersfield – An Interview with J.E.S.S.

Sprawling approximately 96,820 acres across Kern County, California, the rustic city of Bakersfield is home to a long line of outlaws. And the city’s most culturally significant contribution to music history is the Bakersfield honky tonk sound pioneered by west coast country rebels like Buck Owens, Johnny Paycheck, and Merle Haggard.

Raised in a Christian household in Bakersfield, abrasive indie pop songwriter and motorcycle aficionado J.E.S.S. has felt like an outsider her entire life. From a sonic standpoint, her burning shoegaze sound couldn’t be more different than the aforementioned country artists, but the stubborn, rough-hewn, quintessentially-Bakersfield outlaw spirit remains.

With ethereal vocals anchored by a driving bassline, J.E.S.S.’s latest single “Hell is on the Way, Dear,” is a desperate call to action for a long overdue societal reckoning with religion, specifically how the power dynamics being abused in America’s sociopolitical climate go hand-in-hand with Christianity. The song was written in response to personal trauma and the oppression and injustices J.E.S.S. has faced on a daily basis. “In the past I’ve struggled a lot with my own frustrations and anger, not knowing how to cope and manage my emotions before I reached my breaking point. I would allow those negative emotions to be pushed down and internalized until all that bottled-up energy reached the point where I could no longer take anymore and it transformed into rage,” J.E.S.S shared in her press release.

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with J.E.S.S. to discuss productive ways to cope with powerful emotions, the writing process for “Hell is on the Way, Dear,” and repairing vintage motorcycles.

To start, would you tell me a little about yourself? 

My name is Jess. I’m currently located in Bakersfield, CA.  I’m 33 years old. Outside of music, I also like to work on other projects, I love fixing things and working with my hands.  Right now I’m working on rebuilding a vintage Honda CL360 motorcycle.

How and why did you start creating music? 

I’ve always had an interest in music, but I did not start creating my own original music until about 2015.  Throughout my college career I always took music classes on the side as extracurricular classes and wanted to learn as many instruments I could get my hands on, but always felt like it would not lead to anything more other than a hobby.   That was until after I finally came to terms that I was living my life according to someone else’s wants and not my own.    It always felt like no matter how hard I tried to push away my desire to pursue music, nothing else ever worked out and I would always feel the pull to pursue music come back stronger.  And now that I’ve decided to finally pursue it, nothing ever felt more natural and I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be.  Which is something I’ve never experienced in my life until now. 

I love how your sound balances dreampop/shoegaze with a distinct groove. Who would you consider your main influences? 

It’s always hard for me to answer this question because I don’t really feel like I have a main influence. Everything I have become exposed to or listened to can be credited to my creative inspiration. One thing I love about the dreampop/shoegaze genre is the big atmospheric soundscapes and feeling like you are immersed in noise. I remember the Cults being one of the first bands in the genre that I came across and was instantly enamored by their sound. There is just something about the lush ambient immersive soundscapes that is just so appealing to me. 

Your latest single “Hell Is On The Way, Dear,” tackles religion and oppression. How did the song come about? 

When I wrote this song, I didn’t even know what it was going to be about. Lyrics are typically the last stage in my writing process. When I laid down that driving bass in the intro, I think the concept of the song started to emerge. I could feel it was going to be a song fueled by rage, yet not entirely aggressive, but a response to something unjust. Although when I first started creating this song, it was not a conscious intent to target religion/Christianity, however, I would say the lyrics can be tied to my own experience with religion. I grew up in a religious household, and there was one point in my life where I thought it was something I wanted to be a part of.  I thought I had found what my soul was yearning for, (which was acceptance and love), only to realize I’m not welcome there either and could not find the love in people that Jesus had preached about. Though there’s a lot of things I can say about my own experience and reasons why I chose to distance myself from the church, this song isn’t only about pointing out the irony in religion. It is also a response to the oppressive systems in society that often works hand in hand with misplaced and unwarranted religious ideologies. When I wrote this song a couple years back I did not realize how much this song would mean so much to me now as the social, political, and economic climate of our country is becoming more and more unstable under failed leadership tainted by corruption.  I think more and more people are starting to wake up and are fed up with all that is wrong in our country and how it’s being run by those who do not have the best interest of the people in mind. There is only so much we can take until the anger and outrage boils over. If there is anything I’ve learned in my own anger, sometimes that’s where change begins.

You are releasing your forthcoming album in April. Can you tell me a little about the record and what your favorite parts of the process were? 

It’s my very first record, and to me it feels attached to a part of my healing journey.  When I started writing this album I was going through a lot in my personal life and learned a lot about myself through therapy and self-reflection.  I feel it’s the easiest for me to produce/compose music because it’s so natural or sometimes effortless when I get into my creative state.  However, I think my favorite part of the process is the writing phase, because it’s always the last part for me.  Because I am moved by the music, yet it’s like I don’t really get to know what it will be about until it’s revealed to me as soon as I start speaking/singing the words. It almost feels like communicating with my consciousness in a way.  

What can fans expect from your live shows? 

Well I’ll have to see when the time comes since I have not played my music live yet.  As of right now I’m preparing to gear up for shows, but I think I have a good idea of what it will be like.  Connecting with the music as a listener is something, I feel, is important to me as much as the energy that goes into entertaining.  And for whatever reason I always felt like I have an entertainer spirit in me, which I even find a bit confusing because in real life I’m more of a private, introvert, that hates attention/the spotlight kind of person.  But only music seems to bring the dancer/performer out of me. So, I’d like to say I’d do my best to give a good show and want my audience to feel the energy of the music and band.  

How do you feel about the current state of the music industry with regards to how it treats women and LGBTQ+ people? 

I still feel like there is still not a fair representation of all types of musicians in the mainstream media, especially women and LGBTQ+ people. Although the media might have given a sense that members are a lot more accepted and there is a little more visibility, I think there is still a lot more to be done to make the music industry more inclusive and celebrate diversity. I’d like to see more artists who don’t exactly don’t fit the industry mold.  

Who are some of your favorite current artists right now?

I don’t know if they are still active, but they are the most current artists for me that really got my attention…St. Beauty.  I just remember seeing them live when I was working at a Janelle Monae show and I was just so captivated by their music and performance.   

What does the rest of the year have in store for J.E.S.S.?

I’m going to be focusing on playing shows and working on new material and collaborating with other artists.  I’m also working on a separate project as a music producer.  So there’s a lot I’m looking forward to!  







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