"Steven Van Zandt worked with me on which songs should come first so I could best set the tone of the record" We chat with Jessie Wagner
If you've seen the documentary '20 Feet From Stardom' you'll have some idea of the background of Jessie Wagner. Moving from her hugely successful role as a touring singer with the likes of Chic, Lenny Kravitz and Duran Duran - as well as frontwoman for Army Of The Underdog - into the spotlight with her debut solo album, Shoe Droppin', we spoke to Jessie about the making of the album and her mix of genres.
Hey Jessie, how the heck are you?
[laughs] I’m hanging in there. It’s been a very interesting year, but I’m trying to stay positive and keep my head up.
Where are you right now? And what have you been up to today?
I’m in New York right now. I’ve been writing music and doing sessions, and of course - promoting Shoes Droppin!
Your debut album, Shoes Droppin just came out, what can you tell us about it in two sentences?
It’s a personal journey, where I’m trying to navigate the world of tragedy, doubt, and fear. In the end, I find humor, understanding, and acceptance.
OK, we can give you a little more time, what would you say is the overarching theme, or sound, of the album?
The sound is a little bit of soul, country, pop, and blues, all wrapped in a singer/songwriter package. [laughs] There’s something for everyone.
What was the most interesting thing that happened during its recording?
The whole process was interesting. I was trying to finish it while I was touring. So, whenever I was home, I’d pop into the studio, and then fly out to the next city or country. It was exhausting and fun at the same time. And I was so honored to have my fellow Disciples of Soul be featured on it. It wouldn’t have been anywhere as good without their contributions.
You’re released a couple of singles from the album, how do you decide what’s the first thing that people hear from it?
Those decisions were made with the help of my record label, Wicked Cool. Steven Van Zandt worked with me on which ones should come first so I could best set up the tone of the record.
I’m a big fan of ‘Caretaker’; What can you tell me about that song?
That happens to be my favorite song on the record, as well as the most difficult to put together and to write. This came out of a lot of frustration and pain. I was uncertain as to how my career was going - or if it could even survive while I was in this strange position of being everything to one person. I was grappling with guilt and sorrow and so much confusion. This song is a confession of sorts. It wasn’t easy to write, because I didn’t want to seem selfish, but I was really struggling to keep it together at the time and there wasn’t anyone around who could really step in and help. But it was also very liberating writing it. The structure was also hard to construct. I wasn’t sure of the direction Dave, my producer, was going in with it. And then I wrote this odd cadence which if I didn’t deliver right, the song wouldn’t flow. But when I heard it in the end, I cried. I was so pleased with how it came out.
And what can you tell me about the writing of ‘Lovers Lullaby’, another of my favourites from the album.
Thank you! I was in a situation where the person I was with was severely agitated. His emotions were uncontrollable. I just wanted something that was soothing and hopeful. I would sing it to him and I think on some levels it helped. I think it helped both of us.
What was the first song you wrote for the album?
'Shoes Droppin'! I guess it was the impetus for the album. I wasn’t planning on doing a Jessie Wagner project. Life was so overwhelming at the time and I was sinking. This is another song where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wrote this at my lowest, when I was giving up on my faith, and I think this song saved my faith. After this came 'Caretaker', and 'Lover’s Lullaby'. I had these songs and I thought, I should put together an album.
And at what point did you realise you were making a record?
I realized it after I had 'Shoes Droppin', 'Caretaker', and 'Lover’s Lullaby' done. I felt like these songs needed to be heard.
Who’s your most famous friend? And how did you meet?
[laughs] I don’t know if I have any famous friends. I know the people I’ve worked for. But we’re not flying to Nice together! I grew close to the band members, and they’re all well known in their respective circles.
I’ve been a huge Duran Duran fan for years, I know you’ve toured with them, what are they like?
They are like a reality show waiting to happen. Seriously, I wish they would get one! They each have these wonderfully British personalities - each unique and equally delightful. Simon is cheeky, JT is outspoken, Roger is as sweet as a lamb, and Nick is like the wise owl. I loved talking to them and watching them. Definitely worth a TV show!!
What’s your favourite Duran song to perform live?
'Rio' was a lot of fun, but I’d have to say 'Dancephobia'. It was off of their Paper Gods album, the tour that I was a part of. I got to dress up as a sexy doctor and talk to the audience. It was a lot of fun.
We normally ask about playing live but there’s not been much of that. So, a topical question instead, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve done/learnt during the pandemic?
Patience. Wait - did I learn that? Jury’s out.
If you could recommend one song to hear this week, what would it be?
'I Didn’t Know The Time' by Stone Temple Pilots. It’s been on repeat this whole year.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
What do you hope to achieve from this record? I hope I can actually tour on my own name when this pandemic loosens its grip on the world.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
I’m not a real coffee drinker. If I get anything, it has to be mostly sugar and maybe a 10th coffee. So, I usually get a peppermint white mocha - sugar overload!