After being bowled over by her debut EP There’s An Old Saying, I recently caught up with Jess Roberts and found out a bit more behind this exciting young singer/songwriter.
Could you tell us a bit about your beginnings with music and when it became something you pursue full time?
I have always sang ever since I can remember, I used to sit with a Dolly Parton tape and a tape player when I was about 6 years old and would keep pausing the songs every couple of seconds so that I could write out the lyrics and learn them. I always knew this is what I wanted to do as a career but for a long time never thought it would be possible and kind of gave up on it and just saw it as a dream. It wasn’t until I was 18 and started studying music at college, learning about the industry that I realised I could do it.
What led to you going down the route of a country/roots/blues style?
My Dad is a huge lover of Western swing and Rockabilly music so I’ve grown up listening to the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline etc. so that influenced me a lot and I still love it. I never really thought about genre too much when I started to write, I just let it happen and that’s what came out.
While a lot of country music seems to be heading in the more contemporary direction, it’s clear from your music that you have a big appreciation of the classic artists. Which artists, past and present, do you feel have influenced your own work?
Yeah.. I love contemporary country too, but there’s still a huge fanbase for roots music and I want to be a part not letting that style grow old, it would be a shame if that happened because it’s so beautiful. I wouldn’t really say there is one particular artist that influences me, it’s more a sound in general.. I love the feel of bluegrass and the instruments such as banjo, mandolin, double bass and fiddle and I love the simplicity of the melodies in roots music. I think the likes of Ashley Monroe, Lindi Ortega, Andrew Combs & Della Mae use this style particularly well within modern country music.
You’ve just put out your debut EP, There’s An Old Saying, but how long did the whole process take from conception to release?
It took quite a while to bring this EP out. When we first started recording the EP I was writing a lot and still trying to find my ‘Sound’ and so I was changing my mind every week on what songs should go on it, right up until a couple of weeks before the launch when I realised I had to come to a final decision otherwise it wasn’t going to get finished in time.
You wrote all the songs on your EP yourself – how is the writing process for you?
Yeah I did, What You Never Had was the first real song I wrote and I co-wrote this with a friend Sadie Burgin on piano as I didn’t play an instrument at that point in 2012 and then I didn’t really write for a while after that. I started playing guitar at the end of last year and since then I pick it up and write every single day. A lot of it is really rubbish and will never be heard by anyone but it’s become a really helpful way of getting my emotions out. I’d like to start co-writing more though, I have a lot of ideas that I’m unable to get out because I’m not that great at playing guitar and it can become quite frustrating.
There are some pretty deep issues covered, especially in songs such as What You Never Had. Are they inspired by events in your own life?
Yeah, all of my songs are really personal. Sometimes I really worry about letting people hear them because they are so personal and I get scared of what people are going to think and if anyone is going to be able to relate to them. It’s always really nice to hear that people do like them and have been in similar situations.
The EP has live / acoustic feel to it, which suits your music perfectly – was that always the plan?
Yeah I always wanted my first EP to be quite stripped back so that it gives me room to grow and for people to see me grow not only in songwriting and performance but in production too. I think my next EP is going to be really quite different, but I’m not giving anything away just yet!
What’s the story behind your Dad being on the front cover of the EP?
The photos were taken at Hemsby Rock n Roll weekender which is a festival I have gone to with him since I was little and I really liked it. I wanted to keep my first EP really personal and it really mean something and he has been a huge influence to me musically that it was a way of saying thankyou for that I guess.
You had a launch party at The Castle in Manchester – how did that go and what has been the response since?
The Castle is one of my favourite venues to play, it’s a really tiny chapel like looking room and it’s dark and the audience is always so quiet, I love it! I have never headlined a show before, that was the first, I was so surprised at how many people were there and was so grateful for that. I also had Alex Johnson & Seamus Mcloughlin opening the show for me and I am a huge fan of both of their music so it was perfect.
The response to the EP has been incredible, I’ve had such lovely comments. I was very nervous about releasing it as most of those songs hadn’t been heard before so I didn’t know how people were going to react to them.
You are about to embark on a summer tour supporting Ward Thomas – how did that come about, and is recording in Nashville like they are now something you’d like to do?
I am so excited for this! I met Catherine & Lizzy when we played a show in Manchester together in January, at the castle actually! And we became great friends. We toured together throughout February so this will be our second tour together, its so much fun! We travel in a little red van and use our iPhones as a sat nav which never fails to take us to the wrong location. As for Nashville, I’d absolutely love to record there. The musicians they have there are just incredible, it’s definitely something I’m going to look into doing in the near future.
What about the whole experience do you enjoy the most, and do you get nervous before you go on stage?
I get SO nervous before going on stage, but I think I’d be worried if I didn’t. I enjoy the writing process and being on stage performing the most. Any moments where i can just get lost in the music are perfect.
You have recently been announced as playing at the inaugural Yee Haw Festival in September – how does it feel to be performing in a venue like Rockingham Castle?
I actually didn’t know it was in a castle, I have just looked it up.. It’s incredible! I’m looking forward to it even more now, I bet the acoustics are great!
Tell us a bit about the San Antone Festival that takes place in October, and your involvement in that?
The Fort San Antone Country Music Festival is run by myself and the company director Wayne Hadlow. My involvement is booking the bands, designing the posters, putting tickets on sale, social media.. Basically putting the festival together. I wanted to create a festival that gives UK Country artists the exposure they deserve. Fingers crossed it will be a success!
The UK country music scene appears from the outside to be a very friendly and supportive community – is this the case and how does that help?
The UK country music scene is so friendly and supportive, some of my best friends are within this scene and I would never have met them if it wasn’t for us all coming together to play shows and put on events and write together. There’s a lot of jealousy that goes on with a lot of music scenes but that just doesn’t seem to be the case with us, it’s great.
What’s next for Jess Roberts and what can we expect in the future?
Well, I’m touring with Ward Thomas in the Summer. I’m moving to London at the moment too so hopefully some more shows in the city, I’ve only ever played there once! The rest is a bit of a secret right now, hopefully I can share it with you soon!
You can see more of Jess Roberts here: