Jessie Frye describes her music as “Oscar Wilde climbing into a piano and drinking lots of espresso,” whereas I would describe the Texas native’s music as a refreshing addition to today’s music scene that is reminiscent of The Cranberries mixed in with PJ Harvey and Liz Phair, along with a dash of Sara Bareilles for good measure.
Frye’s first step into the musical world was when she was eight years old and started taking voice lessons. At around the age of 11 or 12, she began piano lessons. For Frye, it was right after she started playing piano that she realized that she was meant to be a creator and make music.
While growing up in Dallas, Texas, Frye listened to the music that that would shape her as an artist, including acts such as The Cure, Tori Amos, Michael Jackson and the pre-rapping days of Madonna. Also, as a huge fan of literature, she counts Oscar Wilde as a huge creative influence. She credits him, saying, “His outlook and his passion and his philosophy really inspired the core beliefs that I have about art.”
In 2008, Frye released her debut EP, The Delve, which she describes as having that “DIY charm,” and that “it’s very innocent, it’s very organic and raw.”
At age 22, the now Denton-based Frye is fresh off her third turn of performing at SXSW and is gearing up to release her second EP, Fireworks Child, this week.
Last month, I spoke with Frye over the phone to talk about performing live, her new EP, Fireworks Child, and her goals for the future. So, without further ado, meet Jessie Frye.
Around what age did you start writing music?
Well, like 11 years old. But, they were horrible, obviously. I feel like you have to feel things out and write some really private bad stuff before you start writing the good stuff. I know good is relative, but when you’re 11, your songwriting probably isn’t as polished as when you’re 20 or something like that.
As you progressed into writing songs that you would go on to perform, where was the inspiration coming from?
Experiences. I always try to think when I’m writing songs, I think a lot of people think, well, this is about love or this is about a relationship, but for me I try to describe it. Not so much that it’s storytelling, but it’s abstract at the same time, so you take whatever you want from it; like using metaphors, not using blatant sentences in your lyrics. To me, lyrics are a really, really important thing, and no matter how good the music is, I can’t listen to it if your lyrics are dumb. You know, I just can’t do it. I spend a lot more time on lyric writing than I spend on actually arranging the music.
I was going to ask you about that. So do you usually start with the lyrics before working on the melody and the arrangement?
To be perfectly honest with you, for me personally, there is no set way of how I write. I really feel like if I push a song or if I try to write a song, then it’s going to be horrible. And that’s what’s hard to do, because you want to write all the time. Some people have a set process for songwriting. I don’t. I kind of view it as a journey and I let it take me where I think it’s going to take me.
When did you first start performing onstage?
I guess two years ago this month (March 2011). We’re a young band. The whole reason I got my band started was because when I released my first EP in 2008, I applied for SXSW 2009. When I got the invitation, it was based off the CD itself, because I didn’t have a band and I didn’t have any press. I was like, holy shit, I better get a band together, you know? You’ve got SXSW to play. So, I got my band together in January, and we played two shows in Dallas. And then our first show as a band was SXSW 2009.
And now you’ve played SXSW three times?
Three years in a row officially, yes ma’am.
How did it go this last time, because SXSW just wrapped up recently, right?
Yes. It went great, but it kicks my ass every year. It’s five days of walking of around, music, and sweating. It’s so much fun. But it can be pretty stressful. We had a blast, though. I always do. We had a showcase. We performed the first day of the festival on Wednesday, and we got to share a bill with Tracy Bonham. That was pretty cool. But we got to play the first day, so we had the rest of the weekend to just have fun, which I really liked that.
Going back to last year, how did opening for Pat Benatar come about?
What happened was, December of 2009 I opened up for Eric Hutchinson at the House of Blues. It went really, really well. And they were like, “Hey, you know we’ll keep you on a list of local artists for touring acts to choose from if they want a local opener.” I was like, yeah, okay sure. And sure enough in August of 2010, I get an email at nine in the morning, one week to the day before the show. I didn’t even know she was coming into town. [The email] said, “Pat Benatar chose you from the list of local musicians; would you like to open for her?”
Yeah. I think I went outside and freaked out for a little bit. I hadn’t even had my coffee yet.
You wouldn’t really need it at that point.
I know. So, that’s how it happened. Besides my new EP being finished and almost ready to be released, that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of is opening for her.
How did the gig go?
It went well. On a personal level, I felt like it was an accomplishment, because it had to be an acoustic duo. It couldn’t be me and my full band. It was me on piano and my boyfriend on acoustic guitar. Just us in front of 1,600 people. For me, that was my largest audience to date that I’ve played.
And it went over really well. To be honest, I don’t really remember the set, because my adrenaline was so high. I was so nervous. It just zoomed by. I’m told it was good.
I know you mentioned that you’ve only been performing for a short time, but what’s your favorite part about performing?
I think my favorite part about performing live is when you can feel the energy from the audience, and you just get lost in this wonderful atmosphere of music and connection and expression. I think when the audience is very receptive, that makes me feel like what we’re doing has a purpose.
What do you want to audience to take away from your songs?
There’s a lot of crap you have to go through just to have those experiences of joy with the audience. There’s a lot of logistics you have to go through to connect with people, and it’s hard to remind yourself with all the scheduling and the money just for…just for music. Just to spread love and connection to people.
I think, having said that, we’re not the kind of band that just go get drunk and have a good time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but what I would like for people to take away from this music is a combination of things, which is what I hope to accomplish with our style of music. Whatever people think our style is, is that it’s serious, it’s intimate, but it’s pop, it’s accessible. The lyrical content is deep, yet at the same time anyone can relate to it. I want it to be a combination of something that is sexy and accessible, but also something that touches your heart. Cause that’s how I kind of feel like my personality is. I feel like I’m a huge goofball, a very honest person, but at the same time I feel like this deep, serious artist.
Alright, lets talk about your new music, starting with how did you come up with the title of your EP?
I was having a lot of difficulty creating a name that I felt did justice to the sonic mood of the EP. I had the feeling and the concept, but was being way too hard on myself about getting it right. So I just let it go and stopped thinking about it. Then one day I was watching a documentary on Koko the gorilla and learned that Koko in Japanese translates to “fireworks child.” And as soon as I heard that, it hit me. I just knew it was exactly what I wanted the album to be called. The name Fireworks Child feels like an alter-ego for me, like a healthy one. Or maybe it is how I identify myself inside.
Fireworks Child took two years to make, whereas The Delve only took two weeks to record. Was it more writing or recording that lengthened the process?
It was all recording and financial stuff. I say that and people go, “Oh my God, two years for five songs?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know. It sucks.” That’s a long time. There were some things like financial reasons and studio recording issues and stuff like that. But honestly, I’m really kind of glad that it took that long, ’cause it gave me a lot of time to think about what I was doing. Granted two years is almost too long, but it really allowed me to make sure that every little thing I was doing — everything from the song track-listing to the cover art. It really helped me to feel like it’s perfect. I guess it’s a blessing in disguise.
What’s the difference between your two EPs as far as the type of music and style?
Obviously the electric guitar was brought in for the new stuff. I think we have grown a lot more. There’s more attitude; it’s not as organic, it’s electric. Sonically, I think it’s two different sides of the spectrum. The first EP was very organic and acoustic. However, what I try to maintain, whatever genre it could be pegged as or whatever it is stylistically or what instruments there are, my goal is to always maintain a level of intimacy.
How did the audience respond to the new material at SXSW this year?
Well, people dig it. People always tell me that I’m a very sensual performer. They always say that they like the dichotomy of the piano-based stuff with the dark and the light and the mixture of the two. The responses are always good. I’ve never had someone say, “I hate it.”
Alright, so your first single off the new EP is “Prepared.” I was wondering what inspired this track?
I wrote it on acoustic guitar first. It sounded like a folk song, which I didn’t like. Not that there’s anything wrong with folk, but it’s just not where right now I want to be sonically. I brought it to the band, and my guitar player started playing it on electric guitar. And it started to have this attitude that it didn’t have before. With the songwriting process, I write everything, and then I bring it to the band, and then we have a collaborative input on the arrangements.
With “Prepared,” I started two years ago to really get into the local music scene and play shows and all that kind of stuff. Even to this day, I’m not jaded. You come across a lot of people who are jaded. You just have to realize how hard it is to get your music heard now. There’s million of bands working their asses off that never get heard of. In short, it’s pretty much dealing with the reality and saying it sucks.
What are your thoughts on shows like American Idol, X Factor, and now The Voice that’s coming out soon? And do you think these types of shows are cop-outs for singers?
To be perfectly honest with you, I just don’t even take those shows seriously. I don’t view music as a competition. Like, we’re all doing our own thing. What’s meant to be will happen. I feel like if you go on one of those shows, you’re reality of what it’s like to be a creator is so skewed.
There are so many people that have beautiful voices. And not to disregard any of the talent that are on those reality TV shows, but it’s almost like they’re so eager to be famous and that’s it. And I think if you ask any indie artist, they’re probably going to agree.
Since making it in the music industry isn’t one of the easiest things to do, what drives you to keep going?
What drives me is my purpose. And for me personally, my purpose — granted it would be wonderful to make an honest living off of my art — is definitely not to make money. I look at it kind of in a weird way. I really believe that the spirit of music is so powerful. It heals. It connects. It helps us understand and experience life. It’s where people come together. [You] can express yourself and find who you are. It’s complete freedom.
Unfortunately, you have to do all the logistic stuff that it takes just to reach people. So, it’s weird. What keeps me going is that I understand the separation and how to remain sincere about what I’m doing. Does that make sense?
It does, and I kind of feel that it makes you more well-rounded as a person and an artist, because you understand all aspects about what’s going on.
Right, exactly. It’s just so funny when you hear about musicians being big-headed or egotistical. I can never imagine being like that, because we all do the same thing. We’re all in it for the same reasons, but are you? If [they're] fame-hungry or making videos with stupid crap, you can pretty much tell that that person is not necessarily trying to change your life with their song.
I agree with that sentiment. And as a music fan, when I listened to your songs, I just found them refreshing in comparison to what is being played on the radio today.
Thank you. And for me what that means when people like my music — or they appreciate it, at least; it doesn’t mean that we’ll be best of friends necessarily — is that we possibly have an understanding of each other. If you connect with my music, then there’s part of our personality that might be on the same level. And that’s why I like music. I may not even know the artist; or you don’t even know me, but there’s something about what I created that you like. And I just think that’s magic. It’s so cool.
Awesome. Down the line, who is someone that you would love to collaborate with?
Probably Ryan Adams. That would be killer, I think. I would definitely like to do something with him. I’ve admired everything he’s ever done.
Where do you see yourself musically in the next few years?
Well, I would like to have a full-length [record] out. I would like to get involved with an indie label that feel like they understand my music and would help develop us. You know, what band doesn’t want to go on tour and all that kind of stuff? In a few years, I would love to be completely on our feet as a band.
What is next for you as far as an immediate goal?
Even though it’s a five-song EP, I want it to reach the highest of heights that it can reach, you know? I think, we’re in 2011 and the way that we look at music and the way that we buy music is so different. You’re seeing a lot more EPs being released by artists, which I can understand for many reasons, because they’re cheaper. With this EP, I want people to accept it and think it’s so good that they don’t think, oh, it’s an EP, it’s not a full-length. Because, what does it matter if it’s five songs or 10 songs? It’s still a musical thought. It’s still a musical experience. Take it for what it is. So, hopefully this EP aids in the acceptance and the transition and the change of an artist doing whatever they want and not having to follow convention.