"Nashville is a great place to lose yourself... and it’s a great place to find yourself" We chat with Jess Jocoy
Nashville native Jess Jocoy is a singer-songwriter who's talent and way with a song is evident on her debut EP New Heart/Old Soul. Jess took some time out to answer our questions about her EP, living in Nashville, and what's next.
Hey Jess, hope you’re well! An easy question first; what have you been up to today?
Today just so happens to be my birthday, so I’m drinking a cup of coffee, lounging on my couch; and tonight, I’m playing the Sunday Spotlight set at The Bluebird Cafe here in Nashville.
Introduce yourself to our lovely readers, in case they don’t know you.
Hello, lovely readers! My name is Jess Jocoy - I’m an Americana/alt-country singer-songwriter living in beautiful Music City; Nashville, TN.
Tell us a bit about you, what’s your first memory of playing music?
Since I was little, I’ve been singing. My family - always supportive - used to drive me all around my homestate of Washington to singing competitions. If we weren’t driving to a competition, we were hitting the local karaoke joints (If I may say, I was a karaoke queen).
What’s the best thing that happened to you so far in your career?
I always tell folks: Nashville is a great place to lose yourself...and it’s a great place to find yourself. Living in a town where [quite literally] everyone is working towards the same goals as you, it’s easy to get lost in the noise. I was playing a set at The Cobra, a bar in East Nashville, a couple of weeks ago. Later that night, I got a message from a stranger who I’d not even seen at the gig. He told me how he was waiting to pick up food from the bar when he caught the tail end of my set. I guess he’d been going through a tough time over the last few weeks but that hearing my song made him stop and get his mind right for the first time in too long. He told how he was so moved that he couldn’t even bare to approach me afterwards. I’d never had someone express those sort of feelings before, with sincere and raw honesty. He ended his message saying keep playing, keep telling your story - people are listening. Living in a city of music and noise, that means more to me than I’ll ever be able to say.
Your EP New Heart / Old Soul came out a year ago, what can you tell us about it?
New Heart/Old Soul is officially one year old...wow, time flies! This EP is somewhat of a snapshot of myself over the last five years. I lost my dad to cancer about a year before moving to Nashville. Attending Belmont University was my ticket to move, where I would pursue my degree in Songwriting. I was grieving, and overwhelmed by the culture shock of moving to a new city - a city where everyone wants exactly what you want. I got lost and started questioning my purpose as an artist. New Heart/Old Soul is a snapshot of that time in my life: it’s my observation of Nashville as Music City; my first real heartbreak; nostalgia for the past; and my ode to [traditional] country music.
What song are you most proud of?
This question is harder to answer than I want it to be. There’s so much of my truth in each of them. I think “The Time Between (Pilgrimage)” is one that I’m most proud of. It’s one of the most personal, but I feel like the chorus is the most relevant: “life is hard and love is mean / but only if you let it be” - that line gets me every time. It hits home because sometimes, I do let life get the best of me. It’s a song about looking at where you’ve come from and where you are now and the weathering on the soul that living brings. But in the end, as the saying goes, it’s that time in between the start and finish that makes up a lifetime - we’re all on a pilgrimage. How you choose to spend that time is entirely up to you.
And has that changed in the year you’ve had the music out in the wild?
While “The Time Between (Pilgrimage)” is still one of my favorites, I love playing “Easy” and “If My Heart’s Going to Break”. I get a lot of folks who are drawn to those songs as well, so knowing that they’re sitting well with people makes them a joy to play.
What have you been up to in the year since?
This year has been wild! 2018 was my first year of taking music seriously - coming to the realization that it was time to make a real go at turning this “music thing” into a career from the side of artistry and as a business.
It’s a wonderful EP, what can you tell us about ‘If My Heart’s Going To Break’?
Thank you! “If My Heart’s Going To Break” is a fun song - I love playing it live. I was starting to gather all the songs that were going to go on the EP and I realized I needed a happier song, which were hard to come by at the time, so I challenged myself to write one. As if a gift from the ether, I was sitting around [yet again on my couch] and the tagline of the chorus just found me: “if my heart’s going to break for true love’s sake / it better get broke by you”. In the verses, you have this narrator who denotes the distance of their love to this “wild as the wind” lover, while the chorus is that narrator surrendering: I don’t want my heart to be broken by anyone other than you, even if that means I end up heartbroken.
What was your approach to writing (and choosing) songs to record?
I’d been writing these songs over the last few years prior to making the record. They were songs I needed to get off my chest. Releasing them felt like lifting an anchor from my chest so that I could make room for new songs, new observations of the world.
What’s on the horizon for you? An album? Another EP?
I’m going into the studio the first week in May to record my first full-length album, and I cannot wait! We’re recording at Skinny Elephant Studios here in Nashville, and we’re bringing in some of the best players in town! From there, playing out as much as possible, sharing the music with whomever wants to listen.
You’ve lived in Nashville for five years now, how has living there affected your life?
Nashville is a crazy town! I moved here thinking I was going to be a singer and get a record deal, without really understanding what a record deal even was. This town showed me that I needed to recalibrate my intentions. I’ve since become more focused on developing my songwriting and my artistry.
Pretend I’ve never heard of Music City, explain it to me.
Music City is a gathering place for dreamers. We come from all corners of the country - of the world - to make our dreams of being musicians come true. It’s a melting pot of music now. Before there was the idea that Nashville was just country music, but now, country is taking on a new sound and that’s opening up avenues for a broader scope of musical diversity whether it be jazz, rock, indie, you name it. There’s something for everyone here.
Where’s the best place to hear live music?
My favorite spot for emerging acts is The Basement East. It’s a club spot in East Nashville that hosts a broad scope of acts from rock to throwback nights to (my favorite) the Americana/Folk scene. But, the mecca of venues for me is the Ryman Auditorium.
What else is coming up for you in 2019?
I’ll be putting a lot of my focus into setting up the release of my new record. I feel like I have a better idea of how to do that now, whereas before I released my EP without really knowing what I was doing. Other than that, playing more gigs. I’m hoping to make it across the pond by the end of the year and see where the road takes me.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
I personally feel like the best way to prove your worth is to show your worth. If being a woman in music means I have to work harder then let me do so and prove that I can. Is it right? No. But, I was raised to believe that work ethic speaks volumes.
Have you felt a change at all over the last couple of years?
I feel like I’ve become more comfortable in my skin over the last few years. When I first moved to town, I experienced a culture shock: I had this preconceived notion of Nashville and quickly came to find this city is ever-changing, just like her people. I was at war with myself, thinking that I’d made a huge mistake, but I could never really bring myself to believe that. It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I’d had enough. I figured I could either go back to my hometown or buckle down and pursue what I love. Four years later and I’m still here, living for what I love, even in the struggle.
Who inspires you?
If I had a dollar for every person who inspired me, I could pay off my college debt! I find inspiration in my family, who’ve supported me since the beginning. I find inspiration in my peers - my fellow music makers. The inspiration is never ending.
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
I’m (on the fringes of obsessed) with Jason Isbell. He is in another class of his own when it comes to storytelling. I could go on and on, but Jason Isbell is one artist everyone should be listening to this week...and next week...and next year.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
You should ask me where you can find my music :) I’m so glad you asked! You can find my music anywhere music can be found (likely both legally and to my chagrin, illegally) as well as my website jessjocoy.com.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
If I’m at home, the real question is: how do I take my creamer? I take that with a splash of coffee. Breakfast blend, french vanilla creamer. If I’m out, usually a white chocolate mocha.
Photo by NeonLeaf Media