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Jessie DeFranco On Working With Her Parents To Make Her Eponymous Debut EP

Written by on October 30, 2020

Jessie DeFranco spent two months at her parent’s home in Texas during quarantine recording her debut EP.

She spoke to Vocalo about how she worked with her father as an  engineer, and her mother as a photographer, to craft a deeply personal project. 

Listen and read more below …

You’ve been in rotation with us before for some singles, but this is your debut EP. It’s an eponymous EP, and you did much of the writing and recording back at your parents’ house in Texas.

Did that impact the EP? What was different as a result of the circumstances?

I wasn’t even planning on writing an EP this year. It was a goal of mine, but me and my manager discussed that if whatever I was writing didn’t sound cohesive or feel collective, then we weren’t going to force it to be a project. But I kind of secretly hoped I would write an EP. When COVID hit, I thought, “well, that’s not going to happen.” But then my roommate ended up leaving town to their family, and I’m very extroverted, so I was like, “I am not going to stay here.” So, I drove 17 hours to Texas.

While I was there, I got some beats from my manager Mike Luna and Quinn Cochran who produced “Little Glass.” And I just wrote like three songs in one night. Talking to my manager and talking to my dad, we thought, “well, this is a time we have to work with what we’ve been given and what we have.” And my dad — he was in a rock band out of high school for five years before he decided he wanted to do engineering. And ever since he’s been doing engineering: he’s recorded friends, and he recorded a Christmas album for my sisters when we were children. So, we just decided we were going to do the best that we could.

I think the biggest thing that changed the writing and creative process for me was having to trust my instincts in recording with my dad, because previously, I was at Classik Studios in Chicago, with someone there to say, “Oh, layer it this many times, and maybe we’ll try this.” But this is the first time I had to call all the shots, which is really intimidating as a new artist, but I knew that it was just something I needed to grow in and do. So, me and my dad were just spit-balling ideas and recording whatever we thought could sound good; erasing everything that sounded bad. But other than that, we had good equipment, and Bryan [Schwaller] mixed and mastered it. Everything turned out great.

Obviously, this pandemic shook up all our lives. What is something that COVID-19 has taught you, about yourself, or about how you interact with society?

I think the biggest thing that COVID has reminded me of is how important relationships are to me. I’m a very relational person, so one of the most difficult things to work through has been thinking of everyone else and limit my social activities and limit the amount of time I’m going to different places. And that can create a lot of loneliness. But that has also, on the positive side, shown me how important the most intimate relationships in my life are. I realized how people have different tiers of friends: there are the casual friends, the closer friends, then your intimate circle. And I realized in COVID, that you only really reach out to the most intimate, closest people in your life, because the casual friends are the ones you go to the bar with or go dancing with or grab a coffee with, but you don’t necessarily reach out with them just to chat.

Part of what I also think I learned even after I was done writing the EP was that every single song is relational. Everything is about facing whatever issues or complexities those relationships give you, whether it’s a fight, whether it’s your own spirituality, whether it’s your romantic relationships. You’re just kind of forced to deal with them. But then it’s a gift to have them at the same time, too.

Do you plan on coming back to Chicago to continue your music career? Or have you become a strictly Texas artist now?

So I went to Texas for two months, but I’ve lived in Chicago for five or six years. And I enjoyed my time in Texas, but Chicago’s more “me” as a city.

What would you want people to feel when they listen to this EP?

Well, in the last year and a half, two years of starting to work on music, it’s been a process and a journey to figure out what I want that to be for people, what I want it to be for me, what I want to communicate what I want to engage my audience in. And I think because I am a very introspective human being, it’s not that I’m constantly negative, but I like to explore and think about the nuances of life and relationships. My goal this project would be for people to be able to connect to any element of relational lyricism that’s happening in the project and whether it draws them deeper into those feelings or allows them to feel validated and less alone in something that they’re going through. I just want people to be able to dive deeper into their feelings.

Do you have a favorite song on the project?

I think for the first time I realize what other artists have said when they put together a work and everything means something to them in a different way. I have a really hard time answering that question, because they’re all special and evoke either different thoughts or different feelings. I don’t even know if I can! Maybe it’s because it’s my first project, so it’s like my baby, but I don’t necessarily have one that jumps out.

What are three artists that you’re just most influenced by in your own sound?

It’s interesting, because a lot of the music I listened to is R&B and soul. But I’d say as I’ve been discovering my sound, I wouldn’t say that I necessarily nailed on the head the people that I listen to. I think the way I’ve learned to discuss my inspiration is paying attention to what I listen to, and then in different ways there are certain things that I kind of grab and take from different artists.

For example, mentality wise, part of the reason I love Mac Ayres so much is because he doesn’t care what people think. And he does things his own way. I feel like he allows his audience to really connect with him as a person. And I just love how soulful his voice is, and his lyricism, and just everything honestly!

Vocally, two people that I love so much would be Nick Hakim and Moonchild. I love how there’s this airy, almost ethereal sense in their vocals. And then with Moonchild, their main vocalist, her voice is just enchanting. I think that is something I kind of share with them is the tone in a different sense. But then I also want to take it on the way where I’m not trying to say like, “I’m the face of R&B,” because I know I’m not. Combine all those elements of focusing on my lyricism, focusing on the etherealness of my voice, but then also doing it in a way that’s me, and not just what I listen to. That’s the goal, I think.

Do you have any words to live by?

My biggest thing is discerning and discovering who you are, enjoying and celebrating that. I think that as an artist, and as a person, you must figure out what makes you happy, and the people that add to your life, and the things that create joy and happiness and hope.

Growing up in Texas, the education system, at least in high school, is very much so clique-y. You do things a certain way and you talk a certain way and you look a certain way you think a certain way. I just didn’t like it, but I never really understood why until I came Chicago. And being in that journey of fully exploring and discovering who I am has made me more grounded as a human being and content.

Follow Jessie DeFranco on Twitter and Instagram!

Interview edited for length and clarity by Luis Mejia Ahrens 

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