Photo by Patrick Sheehan
High on top of my Nashville new release pile is “Such a Long Way,” the debut record from Country/Americana singer-songwriter Jess Jocoy. Watch and listen to “Aching to Be Alive” from the record. Her voice is soft and warming; a melodious set up for her introspective lyrics. While someone else described her music as “Jason Isbell meets Emmylou Harris,” she reminds me of those great Roseanne Cash records I loved back in the 80s.
Jess has also written a great piece for “American Songwriter” about what it’s like to be a touring artist during the COVID-19 crisis. You can read it here. Thanks Jess, for also putting down some words for us. Looking forward to your new record getting a proper live release show sometime soon.
Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?
I hail from Washington State, about two hours south of Seattle. I drifted between a few different towns growing up, but all under the blue hue of a Northwestern raincloud. I’ve known I wanted to move to Nashville since I was young, 13 or so. I’ve always been a singer, and country music holds a special place in my heart. Since I was young, my parents and I would spend our summer vacations in Nashville, and I knew one day it would be where I called home. Of course, I was under the naïve impression I was going to move to Music City, get a record deal right off the bat, and sell out stadiums. As I came to understand what it meant to “get into the music business,” country music was undergoing a change. When it came time for me to go to college, my only real options for studying music in Washington were to be either a choir teacher or a classically trained instrumentalist. I’d taken piano lessons for a while, but singing was my first love, though neither of those options sounded like me. Then I came across Belmont University, which offered a major in Songwriting, though I was warned that it was nearly impossible to get into on the first try. Around that time, in 2013, my dad passed away from lung cancer. I was reeling, and for a while, I was afraid the music had died with him. But someone was looking out for me, because I got the call that I’d not only been accepted to Belmont but also to the Songwriting program. So, I moved, and I studied music, I graduated, and I’ve been living here about six years now without any plans to leave.
What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?
The first record I bought was Alan Jackson’s Drive album. My dad and I wore that CD out. He was a good sport because I made him listen to that record every single day on the way to school. The last record I bought was… well I preordered Jason Isbell’s Reunions album on vinyl coming out soon. Does that count? If not, I think the last record I bought was Linda Ronstadt’s Prisoner of Disguise from an antique store (where, who can say?).
First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?
Oh gosh… I know my first concert was Alan Jackson and Joe Nichols. After that, it all gets a little hazy, there’s been so many. The last five? Brandi Carlile, Tyler Childers, Jason Isbell. Are these big shows? If not, I’ve gone to a few friends’ shows around town.
Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?
I’m actually really surprised that artists and writers like Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall aren’t included in the Walk of Fame. Wow, as I keep re-reading the list, I can think of a few folks I’d like to see added (e.g. Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Ken Burns for his Country Music documentary). Heck, you’ve got Tom Ryman on there, but the Ryman wouldn’t even have her name if it weren’t for Reverend Sam Jones. We should definitely add the Reverend.
Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?
So, I recently went out to breakfast with a local friend and a friend from out of town, and I quickly came to realize I haven’t even scratched the surface of coffee shops in Nashville. I’m a sucker for anything with a cozy atmosphere, so my go-to since college has been Frothy Monkey on 12th Ave. South, but I also dig Ugly Mugs in East. I don’t eat as much pizza as I should, but I’m really not picky. I’m a simple gal and can always go for a good old pepperoni.
What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?
How do I answer this? One of my favorite records ever is Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, which was recorded at Falling Rock Studios here in Nashville. My life changed after I discovered that record and Isbell’s ability for songwriting in a way that’s both poetic and conversational. A true storyteller.
Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?
This will make me sound kind of lame, but in my ever-struggle to be healthier, I usually try to eat before a show. My go-to has become The Pharmacy in East. I love their black bean burger with Pico de Gallo and garlic aioli (kind of with all my heart). I’d eat there before a show and again after the show if someone would be willing to go with me!
The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.
I have been really blessed to play The Bluebird a few times now. If I could curate my own round, I would love to have my friends Ellie Turner and Jon Cavendish. Both of them are fantastic songwriters and storytellers, and while sonically, they’re different, I think that lineup would be really great. Or my friend Kristen Large who has one of the coolest voices in Nashville!
What are your favorite music venues to play in town?
My favorite venue in town is the Bowery Vault in East Nashville. Vero and Emily (the owners) are both amazing humans and they’ve got the sound dialed in to perfection! While intimate, you get to shop badass vintage clothing while listening to the salt of Nashville’s underground songwriter scene. I always tell people they need to see a show at Bowery. Alternatively, and by strange circumstance, I have unofficially played the Ryman Auditorium twice, which is Mecca. I used to work at the Ryman, and they host a really amazing event each year that allows the employees to perform on stage, and in all basic terms: it’s magical. When I’m playing a show, I’ll sometimes close my eyes, and pretend I’m playing a sold-out show at the Ryman.
Name a musician who you’d like to see move here?
As music and the ability for artists to be DIY musicians evolves, I’m starting to wonder if it matters where you’re based out of? I love Gregory Alan Isakov’s music and he’s Colorado-based. Same with artists like Andrea von Kampen. She’s a really fantastic indie-folk singer based in Michigan. But, with distribution and streaming being accessible to nearly everyone, in conjunction with the power and reach of social media, sometimes it feels like the need to make the pilgrimage to a music-hub (Nashville, New York, or LA), doesn’t seem so necessary. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d love to see Gregory Alan Isakov play a set at Bowery Vault. I feel like he would do something like that, ha ha.
Finally, what’s in your musical future?
I am anxiously readying the release of my debut full-length album Such A Long Way, which came out April 10th. I have a number of dates lined up to tour the record, which I’ll be taking as far as Washington State, with more dates being added. It’s my greatest hope that this record will capture people’s attention; I want folks to know that I’m here, and that I have something to say. I’m working to build a long-lasting career as a great singer and songwriter, because I want to be making music and traveling with it for many years to come – at least long enough to sell out multiple dates at the Ryman!