British singer/songwriter Jessica Sweetman just released her debut album, Let Me Be Honest and it is a must listen. I got the chance to talk with Jessica about how she got started making music, what it means to her for Let Me Be Honest to finally be out, her obsession with David Brent [played by Ricky Gervais on The Office UK] and so much more! Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell me first a little bit about how you got into making and performing music.
I’m from London so the first show that I ever did was when I was 16 years old. In England, we have a place called Pizza Express, which was like a Pizza Hut, and I was in there having dinner with my mom and I asked the restaurant if I could sing a song there and I sang “Let There Be Love”, which is a Nat King Cole song. They booked me every Wednesday night and I used to get a free pizza and like 50 quid. So I started doing these gigs, but then started getting a lot more and was doing like five gigs a week at 16 years old. Then I gave up college to do that. So that was kind of how it started.
Was there though a moment that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally? Or was it when you started getting more and more gigs that you were like, “You know, I guess I could make this work as a full time job?”
Yeah. At 16, it became my full time job, but I was going to college and trying do the academic thing and I did that twice. I went to college and I gave it [up] to do the gigs cause I was doing a lot. I was going to college during the day and then doing the gigs. Then I went back to college and then I gave it up again and I was like, “This is what I really want to do.” I was going to college for a backup, but I didn’t want the backup in the end because it’s easier to not, you know what I mean? I think when you just dedicate yourself to one thing, you work harder in a way without having a backup. So I had no backup plan. I still don’t [laughs].
When you were in college, what was your backup plan, studying business, studying music entertainment?
I was really kind of lost in college. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. My results came back at one point not good because I was gigging so much. I was doing five nights a week and the head teacher at the school, I remember when I was 16, was like, “You’re going to have to make a decision. You either choose the music or you choose college.” And I was like, “I choose music.”
But it’s worked out for you so…
Yeah. I hope so [laughs].
Something I’m always genuinely curious about is what artists want to convey to listeners with their music. So if you had to describe the music that you are making without using genre names, how would you describe it?
It’s honest, it’s raw at times. I think I tap into, sometimes, a darker side of things that people can relate to but they don’t always talk about… it’s vulnerable and it’s hopefully empowering.
Kind of going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
I would say is Stevie Nicks. Amy Winehouse; I love Amy.
So I want to talk about your debut album, Let Me Be Honest. What does it mean to you for this album to be coming out soon?
It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been writing these songs, and getting them to be where they are today so I can share them, for awhile and I’m so excited. I’m just so happy to finally be able to share my music with the world cause I came over to America and I’ve literally just been in the studio for a while, just making this record. So I’m just so happy.
Speaking of that, I’m curious, what was the recording process like for this album? How long did it take for this to come together from start to finish?
It took awhile. These songs have gone from literally four different places. I started in New York City, which is where I started making the album, and then I went to Nashville and then I spent a lot of time in LA and also London. So between the four places, London, LA, New York and Nashville, the whole album has kind of gone everywhere really. Now that I finally have it, I think it’s just taken the time. I’ve been in the studio till 4 or 5 AM most nights, especially last year. I write better in the night and most of my creating is in the night, so I used to just go to the studio at 8 PM and then spend the whole night till the morning. It was a lot of nights like that.
Wow. I know you just mentioned that you really started recording this album and stuff when you got to the states, so how long have you been in the states?
Gotcha. So going back to the album, I know the album is led by two singles, “Love and Diamond Rings” and then “Dancer” and they’re two very different singles. Why did you choose a) to have two singles lead the album and then b) why those two for the singles?
I think they’re honest about my story. I think the truth with me is that, in this business when I was frustrated, it was hard to know how to be taken seriously. I’ve learned that. It’s taken a lot of time and “Dancer” is an important part of my story because it was written in frustration and just wanting people to listen to me for my art and for my work. “Love and Diamond Rings” is a much more fun song. It also tells my story as well. They both go well together. But I wanted a bit of lightheartedness because “Dancer” is a bit more serious [laughs]. So I think it was important to bring the lighthearted side and the darker side.
What is your songwriting process like?
I always write either in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. And if I’m honest, I couldn’t even explain it. I feel in a way that when I write it’s often out of my control and if it takes me longer than a certain amount of time to write it, I will usually discard the song. If it takes me longer than 15 minutes, I know that it’s not a good song. If it’s literally written itself, then my head goes into a different process and I know it’s a good one to keep and to take to the studio the next day. It was like that with “Dancer”. For “Dancer,” I actually was asleep and I remember I woke up at 3 in the morning with the line, “I’m just a dancer, I’m just a dancer on your table,” so I literally got out of bed and went to the piano and I wrote it that night because I knew I had to, once that lyric was in my head. I recorded the demos the next morning.
Do you tend to write by yourself? Are you someone who likes to collaborate with other writers and artists in co-writes?
Mainly by myself. I have started collaborating more, especially when I go to Nashville. I really enjoy it and learn a lot from doing that because it’s good for to get out my own head as well. But with these two particular songs, they were both written by myself.
Were there any major changes made to those two particular songs that happened once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically, or were they pretty close to the demos?
They were really close. It’s funny because with “Dancer”, after I wrote it at 3 AM, I went straight to the studio at like 9 AM to get it down. I called up my piano player and said, “We need to do this”. I was actually going on a flight to England that day because it was just before Christmas. I said, “I have to get this down before I leave”. Then we decided that it was going to be part of my release and we tried to re-record it and we couldn’t better it, so the actual recording is the demo that I recorded that morning that I wrote it.
Oh wow. Has that ever happened to you before or is that the first time you’ve ever used one of your actual demos as the official recording?
That was pretty much the first time. It was just one of those things that was like first take, raw. And the piano player only had 15 minutes that day because he had a meeting. He was like, “Jess, I’m going to come in and do this, but I haven’t really got [a lot] time.” So everything was just one take but it was bizarre how that song just… I don’t know. I guess we just captured it in the moment.
That’s awesome. You’re still relatively new to the music game, so I’m curious: what are some music-related goals or benchmarks that you’re hoping to hit in your career in the next couple of years?
Well, I’m just very happy to be putting new music out. I want to tour; I definitely want to get my songs out on the road now. I have been doing some shows, but I think now it’s time to put a tour together and start performing these songs live.
Last question — our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd, so what is something that you are currently nerding out about?
Oh, that’s cool. You know David Brent [played by Ricky Gervais] from The Office?
I’m obsessed with him. Like I watch him every single morning when I wake up because it puts my head in a good positive space [laughs]. I send my mom a clip of him as well every morning because I believe that it helps; somehow he makes me just feel better about everything [laughs].
That’s so funny. Is there a particular reason you fell in love with him?
I’ve always in my head thought I was going to marry him. I think he lives in New York, so I’m always like thinking if I meet him, I want him marry him. There’s just something about him [laughs].