INTRODUCING : Jessye DeSilva

Jessye DeSilva’s (they/them/theirs) brand of indie folk music centers around a philosophy of radical openness and specificity in storytelling. They believe in the idea that empathy is an artist’s greatest tool in nurturing a sense of community with their listeners. Armed with a piano and a voice which is both fierce and fragile, Jessye “… evokes a chest-ripping emotion that hovers inches above the ground, pouring forth the kind of wellspring folk music rarely witnesses” (Jason Scott, B-Sides and Badlands). Their upcoming EP Hover deals with the dilemma of remaining emotionally present through mental health struggles, grief, and political unrest all while showcasing Jessye’s trademark confessional lyrics and a sound which is both ethereal and firmly rooted in Americana.

When did you know you needed to pursue music?

I think I “knew” this at various points in my life. I had the sense very early, playing piano and singing in church and school, that music was a space in which I could experience and channel my emotions and that it fed my soul in a way which was unlike anything else I’d experienced. There was a point, after my first year of college, where I began to question whether music (and specifically at that point, classical singing) was what I wanted to do. I spent a couple of years exploring other things, and found that I kept coming back to music. And then, most recently, a few years back I was working primarily as a voice teacher – teaching college students who want to pursue musical theatre – when I realized that for me, to teach these young artists, I had to re establish my own identity as an artist and what that meant for me. I realized that for me, I really wanted to explore ideas of radical openness and empathy and how music can build and connect with community.

Why do you gravitate towards the Americana genre?

I think I’ve always been drawn to artists for whom text/lyrics are at the core of their writing. When I was a pretty young teenager, I was introduced to the music of Joni Mitchell, and I also grew up with artists my parents had loved from the late sixties and early seventies. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to realize that the common stylistic thread of most of the music I loved most was that Americana and Country ran through all of these styles. Storytelling is really at the heart of Americana, whether it’s straightforward or abstract and poetic. I also feel like the sonic palate is so organic. Even when you take Americana and “plug it in,” with electric instruments, it really feels like there is flesh, blood, and bones to the music, and I love that.

Your new music seems like it will be straight from the heart. What’s your writing process like?

I wish I were a disciplined enough writer to really feel like I have a process! Haha! For me, most of my songs begin with a lyrical seed – whether that’s a rhyme scheme, an image or metaphor, or an overarching concept. Some of my favorite songs really felt like they just “arrived” almost fully formed. I sat down and wrote a poem in one sitting and moved to the piano to put it to music. But these songs are REALLY rare. Usually, I find that ideas come to me when I’m out and about and moving – either on a long walk or a run. So my notes app on my phone has really become my best friend. I have hundreds of little notes that might be a couple of words each, and sometimes I’ll go home and try to tease them out right away. Other times, I sort of forget about them until I go through and start to see a theme emerging from all of the little seeds. If a lyric idea comes to me, there’s often a melody or a rhythm that goes with it, and I try to record that in a voice memo before I forget it.

What makes “Drifter” so special to you? How do you think other people will relate to the single?

Like a lot of people I live with an anxiety disorder that can sometimes make it difficult to focus and be present. While I’m often anxious about something specific, a lot of other times I just find my thoughts sort of spiraling out and taking me away from my present moment. These anxious thoughts sort of tugging at my attention can make sitting down to write a really daunting task, so one day, I had the idea to write ABOUT the random thoughts and to use that as a way to center myself. “Drifter” is really about that struggle to stay in the now. For me, my spouse has really been a source of grounding for me when things start to seem out of control, and so the song sort of ends with the idea of coming home to him and finally being able to feel the earth beneath my feet. I think that right now we as a society are really talking about anxiety and mental health issues perhaps more than ever before, and despite all that’s swirling around us, we are all just trying to stay present and handle our day-to-day as best as we can not just for ourselves but for our communities.

How do you feel you stand out from other Folk/Americana artists?

I think that as long as we are telling our own stories and sharing our perspectives, we can’t help but stand out in some way. There’s always someone who can play or sing as well or better than you, but at the end of the day, the one thing no one really has is your perspective and your life experience. I think that lyrically that’s what I really bring, but musically, I also think I’m drawing from a lot of really diverse influences – Joni Mitchell, Hozier, Brandi Carlile, Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks – gosh, even the Bach, Handel, and Schubert I studied in college and the musical theatre composers like Stephen Sondheim I teach to students now probably show up in ways I’m less conscious of! I spent a lot of time studying and working on how to “paint” with as many colors in my own voice, and now I’m really honing in on what it means to use all of those vocal “effects” to really serve the story I’m trying to tell.

Where do you see music heading in 2021 with the changed landscape of events? Do you hope to play any shows?

Gosh, you know I’m not quite sure. I think I’ve been really grateful for social media and the outlets I’ve found to connect musically with fans through a computer screen, but I really do miss playing WITH other musicians for folks who are in the same room! Earlier in the Fall I had just 2 chances to play outside in a socially distant setting and it was amazing to me how much those shows meant to me. Just the chance to connect and FEEL the energy in the space is different from being alone in my little music room, playing for a screen. But I think that, much like other professional and educational environments have adapted to remote settings, this will continue to just be another medium for musical connection even in a post-pandemic world. I’m living in Boston right now, but I grew up in New Jersey and lived most of my early adult years in Philadelphia, so I’ve been able to sing for a lot of folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make it to a local show, and I hope to continue to do that from time to time in 2021.

Thank you for your time today! What can readers look forward to from you in 2021?
Thank you! It’s been great thinking on these questions and what they mean to me! I’m releasing my full EP “Hover” on January 22, 2021 so definitely keep an eye (ear?) out for that! I’m super proud of the work we’ve done on this record and I can’t wait for folks to hear it. I also have some collaborations lined up with some other musician friends of mine throughout the year! One of the great things with all of this remote music-making and technology has been the opportunity to collaborate with people who aren’t necessarily local, so I can’t wait to explore more of that in 2021!

You can find more information about Jessye DeSilva at...

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