Fatea had the great pleasure of catching up with Jess to find out about what's been going on for Jess and The Bandits since we last spoke! The greatest pleasure in talking to Jess, other than that accent of course, is that it evolves into an actual conversation. Our conversation covered, among other things, an engagement, a new album, a tour…it's all been happening!
Jessica Clemmons chats to Fatea's Helen Mitchell
JC: Hey Helen, its Jess again (due to a minor crossed wire we had spoken briefly earlier!). Sorry for the background noise; I've got a music video tomorrow and I'm doing some prep. So how are you?
HM: It's great to hear from you. I'm good, how are you?
JC: I'm good, just here in London, getting ready. Now that we have the time correct, that helps a lot!
HM: It's ok, you gave everyone in my office a good laugh earlier!
JC: That's funny (laughs)
HM: So where've you been? It seems ages.
JC: I know…well…I've been making a new record, been spending a lot of time writing in the U.K. then Nashville, so yeah, it's been busy! But now we've got it done and we're gettin' it out.
HM: So does that time bring more excitement, or anticipation of how it's going to be received, or…?
JC: I mean, I think it's a little of everything, you know? Just like any time you release an album, you just put your entire heart on your sleeve, for everyone to listen to and judge you for (laughs) which is always slightly nerve wracking. You know, writing songs and making music is very personal; it's personal to the person making it but also to the person listening to it. So you don't know what people are gonna say but that's part of the game, isn't it? So yeah, our goal is to make the best project that we know how and hope that people love it as much as we do.
HM: So how did you know the time was right for a new one?
JC: Um, you know, it just felt like…obviously, when you're playing the same songs over and over again, you're very keen to get new stuff, but it started when people started asking for new music (laughs) and when the people ask for new music, that's when you know it's time to make new music.
HM: (laughs) I suppose that's a clue, isn't it?
JC: (laughs) It's a really big clue.
HM: So how long has it taken, from deciding to start to write to it being ready to come out in the world?
JC: I started writing in January of last year- actually no- I started writing in the autumn of 2015. I started writing, not seriously working on the new project, but always knowing it was going to happen, so it would be silly to not at least take a crack at some writing. Then, from that point on, really from January of last year, it was full steam ahead. You know, we were still performing, still on tour and writing all at the same time.
HM: Is that hard to juggle?
JC: Oh yeah (laughs) it's not easy but you know, that's kind of why from the autumn of last year we took a nice hiatus and just focused solely on creation, Which is exactly what you need to be able to make sure you are hundred percent in, you know?
HM: To give it your all, I guess.
JC: Yeah, I think you need to kind of go into things with a clean slate. If you still singing songs from the previous project it's kind of hard to get that out of your mind, so you have to take a break from things in order to just give yourself a completely fresh start.
HM: I guess it's about creating the headspace, isn't it?
JC: Exactly. That's it, that's the best way of doing it.
HM: So how did it end of being split between London and Nashville?
JC: Yeah well I decided to start working with some writers in the UK on this album.
HM: Anybody we know?
JC: Yeah, you know Shelley from Red Sky July?
HM: I love how you say their name! Yes.
JC: (Laughs) thanks. She and I, along with Ben Adams, who was in the group A1 and also wrote Guilty Flowers with Ward Thomas and Shelley, we wrote three songs on the new album, together.
HM: Were they the only co-writes on the album or were there other co-writes too?
JC: Oh no, there's quite a few co writes on the album but those are the ones from the UK.
HM: How was it writing with UK writers rather than American writers?
JC: it was great, I mean, you know, it's nice to get a slightly different feel but I think at the end of the day, music is music. Especially working with someone like Shelley, who has a really good sense of both markets,I think she's a great one and she is an absolutely stunning writer, So she was a complete joy to work with.
HM: Who did you end up writing with in the States?
JC:I wrote with quite a few people. I wrote with the producer, her name is Fencott vitamers. She is actually based in Nashville, but she's from Holland, so she produces the album really trying to give it a very different feel, a nice international feel. Being from Holland, being from Europe, but living in Nashville, she really gets a sense of both sides of the spectrum. Then of course Emily Shackleton, who I've written with quite a bit, then there is Phil Banks, Victoria Barton, honestly there's quite a few, I can get you the entire list if you like!
HM: it sounds like you could just about fit a book with co-writers!
JC: that's pretty much right (laughs) I mean, you know, that's definitely the Nashville way. Co- writing, I love it.
HM: do you prefer it to writing on your own?
JC: Oh, absolutely, because there's a lot of times when you can write something by yourself. And you get someone else in there to give you a different viewpoint and that's how you turn a song from good into great.
HM: that's a very philosophical approach isn't it?
JC: (laughs) yes, I think so. You know, it's important to think of things that way, you want to make sure you can get the best project possible. For me, it's about bringing incredible writers in, altogether we have our strengths and those strengths complement each others' weaknesses and that's what you want.
HM: That could be a philosophy for life…
JC: (Laughs) yeah pretty much.
HM: so, do you have a favourite on the new album?
JC: Oh, that's a really…that's tough… obviously when you make a project they all kind of feel like your babies, but one of the songs on the album is probably the most, I'd say different, from the others. It's a song called Sister. Sister has taken on quite a gospel feel to it which I love. This album has strong gospel undertones to it, which is exactly what I wanted, I didn't want to make an album of the exact same kind of music. You know, if you're going to do that what's the point in making a new album? So this time around, I decided to tap into a different side of myself as a writer, artist and… I grew up singing gospel.
JC: Yeah, in church and all of that, so it's just part of who I have always been but you know I haven't touched on that yet. My last album was very country rock and we do have touches of that on the new album, but this go around, I wanted to give listeners a different side of myself. So on Sister, it definitely does that, it is a song- after we wrote it-it was just myself and Fanta- driving home I was just in a state of shock because first of all I couldn't believe that I wrote a song like this and I just felt incredibly proud of it. It had a different feel-I had a very different feel after writing it, so that one has become probably one of my favourites.
HM: I'm excited that the album is going to be different.
JC: yeah yeah I really hope people like this one. I love it, it's about women and the strength that we can draw from each other. Sometimes, songs like that can become cheesy, so we went in a different direction and it feels like you're standing in the congregation of a gospel church which is exactly what we wanted.
HM: (laughs) You're making me wish the next gig was in a church, not at the Sage!
JC: (laughs) Right!
HM: Can we just pretend we're in a church? I suppose it's a church for music!
JC: Exactly! And the Sage is amazing!
HM: Was there one on the album that was harder to write from the others?
JC: Yeah, there is a song on the album which from all of the songs this one would be my baby. This one is called The Bullet. This song is actually about my fiance, prior to allowing myself to admit but I wanted more with him, I was just scared of the future I suppose and it's scary getting into a relationship and wondering where it could go. I went ahead and went into the writing room with this idea of not wanting to dodge a bullet, that you're always dodging bullets, but maybe you don't want to dodge a bullet for once in your life, so we wrote this song The Bullet. I think it was a difficult song to write just because it was so emotional…
HM: It was personal.
JC: Yeah, exactly. It's one of those you know people are going to listen to and you think "This is so close to my heart, please like it. " (Laughs) but I think people will.
HM: It sounds like it's quite relatable.
JC: I think so, I mean, I think for anyone who has experienced the fear of what could be or couldn't be. You know, the minute you let your guard down is the minute you could get hurt but sometimes it's also the minute that could change your life and make you happiest.
HM: You really are philosophical today (laughs)
JC: (Laughs) Right? I don't know what's going on.
HM: (laughs) Is it because it's Monday?
JC: (laughs) I think this is just how I am on very little sleep! (Laughs)
HM: You actually jumped the gun there. I was going to wait until later to say congratulations, so congratulations!
JC: Thank you.
HM: So, how did he propose?
JC: He took me to a beautiful bed-and-breakfast in this area of Texas called the hill country. it's so beautiful, a town called Fredricksburg.
HM: I've actually been there.
JC: Really? So the B&B had a courtyard and I had no idea that he was going to do it. He had a whole plan, telling me I had to help him with something, and then I walked through and had lighting everywhere and a table all set up. He was shaking and had a photographer hiding in the bushes and that's when he brought me over to the table and got down on one knee and proposed.
HM: Awww, that's so sweet!
JC: Yeah, it was amazing.
HM: It sounds absolutely perfect.
JC: It was. It was. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
HM: did you say yes straight away?
JC: Oh yeah! (Laughs) it was all such a blur. I was really glad he had a photographer there!
HM: Is he American or is he British-your fiance, not the photographer?
JC: (laughs) no he is American. He is a photographer, so he thinks of all those little things that other people wouldn't.
HM: I think that could be a really interesting creative combination.
JC: Yeah I think we compliment each other really well.
HM: Exciting times!
JC: Yeah, it's gonna be an exciting year!
HM: What's more exciting? Releasing an album or being proposed to?
JC: (Without hesitation) (laughs) being proposed to! (Laughs) go-ahead I can release an album every two years but I only get proposed to once, well I hope… usually. (Laughs)
HM: So have you been back to Houston much?
JC: You know, I'm having to make… because of the newfound fiance… I'm having to make a lot more trips back home.
HM: That's a song title, is it not?
JC: (laughs) Yeah, the newfound fiance! That's country! Yeah i'm making a lot more trips back home, but that's okay, it's worth it. And a lot of airline miles! Yeah exactly I think of me going over there but I'm going to change that soon.
HM: So has much change to Houston?
JC: No, it's still the same, still hot!
HM: You could've brought it back with you!
JC: I see what I can do, but you guys had a cup had a heat wave a couple of weekends ago, I'm still hearing about it!
HM: All 48 hours of it!
JC: I've got to admit, I'm glad I missed it! Yeah, no I live in a heatwave.
HM: How's the little niece doing?
JC: Oh, she is adorable. My niece and nephew a good, a handful but they are great. My nephew is five and my nieces are year and a half.
HM: Do you think either of them will be musical?
JC: I think they'll be musical. I definitely think my nephew will be, he loves music and my niece is starting to show an interest in music too. I think it's in the genes!
HM: I guess They've got a good teacher there!
JC: (laughs) yeah, I'll try!
HM: So, anyway, how did you pick the single from the album?
JC: Basically, as usual, you work with everyone in your team, you take everyone's opinions into consideration, then throw it all out the window and decide yourself. No, not really. (Laughs) a lot of it comes down to my radio team because they know what radio is looking for. Radio, especially radio two, it's harder than it's ever been in years, so you really have to go with all guns blazing and got to get the best product, Best song, best everything.
HM: Why do you think it's so hard now, is it because there are so many independent artists out there?
JC: You know I couldn't tell you, I wish I could, I don't understand it, I think radio a lot of times plays the same exact songs over and over again and there's a ton of great artists out there that could be played but they don't, so clearly there is a formula behind it but none of us understand.
HM: Maybe you need to revolutionise it!
JC: That's the hope!
HM: Speaking of music, what have you been listening to recently?
JC: The new lady antebellum CD I think is great, of course Ed Sheeran, gosh there is so many great artists right now, honestly,I listen to just about anything you know and Shania's got a new song out now. It's a good time in music, There's lots of great stuff coming out.
HM: I don't know if it's come from Americana, but I feel like there's more sing a song writers in the charts them is ever been?
JC: Yeah I think different genres influence each other.
HM: and what can we expect from your two?
JC: Well, as usual, I will goal is to put on a great show, definitely play the new songs, we wanna play the new music, But will also play everyone's favourite for the first album, will even have a few new covers in there. You know us, we want to make sure that we put on a great show that that has everyone ready for the next one! (Laughs)
HM: Ready before they've left.
JC: Exactly! That's the goal.
HM: This might be a strange question, but looking at the state the world in at the moment, do you was an artist, find that music is almost finding its place within that?
JC: absolutely. I Think, it's interesting, if you look back in stories about the great depression, something that people would always going to, they didn't have a lot of money, they had Russians, they struggled, but there was always music. People would either play the role of the radio was on or they would go dancing. When you go and look at any of…
HM: Slaves and the cotton fields…
JC: Yeah, exactly, music has always been a way to uplift, think about churches, or church services with music, You know, because it sets the mood for what's to come and I think that's what music does for everyone, it's at the mood and creates a peace within you and that's why I think people are starting to turn to it. Look at the events that happened in Manchester, all of that, it was music that became such a huge part of the healing process.
HM: Do you feel like that gives you, as an artist, more of a sense of responsibility?
JC: I think the sense of responsibility is always there because whether it be something horrific like that or or the girl who just got a heart broke are the guy or whatever, or someone's he's got an eating disorder-I've experienced that with fans-the nitty-gritty helped them through that - so it's important, as a songwriter, as an artist, to remember that you're not just having fun, you actually helping to change someone's life and that's the whole point of it.
HM: I guess that must be an amazing feeling for you to know that when something happened someone would reach for your CD to make them feel better.
JC: Oh yeah, of course, it makes everything worth it.
HM: I nearly forgot, when can we see the video?
JC: The video for Kings of summer in less than a week, and then we're shooting the video for I'm Not Going Home tomorrow, so that should be out by mid July.
HM: So there's lots to look out for.
JC: Oh yeah! Just head to jessandthebandits.com and of course the Facebook page and all that.
HM: Brilliant! Thanks so much for your time Jess, it was so lovely to talk to you and catch up with all your news!
JC: Thanks Helen, it was great to talk to you, I'll look forward to seeing you at The Sage in September!
HM: Can't wait! See you soon.
JS: Take care, bye.