Releasing a debut album is an exciting and hectic time for any artist, but singer-songwriter Jess Jocoy has even more special circumstances. Jess released her first full-length record Such A Long Way on April 10, after the success of her New Heart/Old Soul EP two years ago.
But not only is she making her first impression on country and Americana listeners, she’s trying to introduce herself during a time when much of the entertainment industry has ground to a halt. I connected with Jess prior to the album’s release to discuss what it’s like to drop a record during the pandemic, everything that went into making Such A Long Way a reality, and what she wants to see in her future.
Brittany Frederick: What’s it like for you personally to not only know the album is done and people are going to hear it, but also try to get it out there during current events? What effect has the present situation had on you?
Jess Jocoy: I was kind of bummed out at first when all this started going on, because I worked so hard. It was my first real attempt at booking a tour, and I had a few-month span where we’d do week-long runs starting in Nashville as home base and then kind of spreading out Southeast towards the coast, up North, out West. And it had worked out so well. I’m from Washington state, and I had booked a release show the day before at this really awesome venue here in town. So it was just going to work out perfectly. I was going to fly out to Washington and do a few dates in Washington state and Seattle and then come back and just start going out and hitting Georgia, Florida, Missouri, etc.
And then, all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, we’re closing everything.” And I just thought, “Oh no, all this hard work and hours and hours.” I even wrote a little thing about it, which American Songwriter published, which was really cool. Just my personal viewpoint from the indie artist’s standpoint of, “This was a lot of work and now it’s kind of like having to do it all over again.” I mean, on my pessimistic days, I’m like, “Oh God, what if this is our future? Are musicians just going to have to spend their time doing livestreams all the time instead of shows?” That’s scary. But I have faith that it’s not going to be like this forever, and I am definitely ready to have this be over so we can go back to sharing music as a community together.
BF: Pandemic aside, you only have one chance to make a first impression, and Such A Long Way is it. Did you have to consider specific aspects or approach it differently given that this is your first album?
JJ: Yeah. I put together and released an EP in 2018, and those songs were something I had to get off my chest. Super-personal songs. I had lost my dad to cancer a couple of years before, so it was just kind of all that pent-up emotion. And this record, Such a Long Way, was really the songs that I want to write going forward. Trying to find my sound and figuring out what I wanted to say, in a way that was both personal but also could be more universal than the songs that I before. And I feel, sonically, it found [that] sweet spot. That was really exciting.
This is the first step of letting people know that I’m here. I put out my EP and didn’t really know what to do, marketing-wise, so nothing really got done and nothing really happened with it. But this time I enlisted the help of a publicist and had been working in a consultant space with an artist manager, just [for them] to offer direction. It’s been so monumental. And I worked at a record label for a couple of years as a project manager, so that definitely offered some insight on here’s what you need to do, now go do it.
One thing I’ve really started to understand is being a songwriter and trying to put an album out there is like starting a business. Being an entrepreneur. Because you have a product that you want people to latch onto, and you hope that they will dig it enough to buy it and listen to it over and over again. But you’re starting from the ground up. You’re starting a business.
BF: For audiences who haven’t heard you before, are there particular songs on Such A Long Way that you want them to start with? What’s the best introduction to your sound or your storytelling?
JJ: One that I always gravitate toward is, not just because it’s the title track, is called “Hope (Such A Long Way),” It’s the last track on the record, and that’s really where the whole idea for this project came about, because the song came before the record was even a thought. And it’s really in the title. It’s about hope. I’d written the first line: “You’re never going to get to the top of the world if you keep swearing that you’re not a bird.” I feel like more than ever that song is relevant, just because reality is what you tell yourself. You can speak it into existence and make it be, and it’s not so much just from a passion standpoint or specifically from a music standpoint, just in an everyday sense.
I didn’t realize how far hope could take me. Then you stop and you take stock of where you’ve been and where you are and where you need to be. And that’s scary; that’s a really hard thing to do. Maybe you’re not where you want to be, but it’s really exciting to see what the days are going to bring. And I think even in this crazy time, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You never know if there’s going to be a tomorrow. I always gravitate toward that song.
And then just a couple of others. I love the opening track, “Existential Crossroads,” which I haven’t really talked about a lot. It’s about asking yourself where you stand. And that’s what this whole record is about: what do you believe in, what do you believe is right and wrong when you find yourself at that existential crossroads of doing what’s right.
“Castles Made of Sand” is probably one of my favorite songs on the record, and it has nothing to do with me. It’s actually me singing in the perspective of a son to a father. Kind of switching up gender roles there. It’s sung from the son’s perspective, but he’s not necessarily the good guy in the story, which kind of gives it a fun little twist, I think, for a heavy song.
BF: The most exciting thing about this album is that it’s the start of what will hopefully be a long and successful career for you. Have you thought about what you want to come next? What’s your definition of success?
JJ: I actually think about this a lot. When I moved here to Nashville, I thought I wanted to be the next Miranda Lambert and fill stadiums with lots of screaming fans. I’ve just never had that personality. I think it takes a special kind of personality to take on that life goal. I used to work at the Ryman Auditorium here in town, which is one of my Holy Grail places that I would love to play. That’s kind of really when my dreams started to become sophisticated. Because it started to take shape – me recognizing that there are artists that you’ve never heard of that have, thousands of people following them, tens of thousands people following them. Just because they’re not a superstar doesn’t mean that they’re not living their life goals. And that really changed it for me.
I want to first and foremost be known as a person who’s built a legacy being a great storyteller, a great songwriter. And I would love to continue singing my own songs. If somebody else wants to sing them, then go for it. I’d love to do a Lori McKenna thing where I can still sing my own songs. I just want to spend the next however many – 20, 30, 40, 50 – years just taking music on the road, and not just traveling across the U.S. but also taking it across the pond. I love traveling, and I love music.
I have heard a lot of people say that they go on tour and it burns them out really quickly. But I’d like to think that I have a long career ahead of doing that, and just filling up your big theaters – your Ryman Auditorium, your Fonda Theater, et cetera – And playing for people who really want to listen and really appreciate music in a listening sense. If I can spend years and years writing better songs and doing that and having people come up and go, “Wow, that was awesome,” hat means everything.
BF: Is there something that you want to leave listeners with once they’ve heard the album? What do you want them to know about Jess Jocoy?
JJ: I want people to listen to it, first of all. I think the hardest thing about starting as a new artist is letting people know that you’re here, and not only here, but here to stay. That’s what I’ve really tried to express. That’s really what I’m working towards here and especially with this album. This is my first big hurrah of like, “Welcome. This is Jess. She’s here to stay.” With this record, I would hope that people listen, and my goal is to have good enough songs to make people put down their phones for the three or four minutes that the songs last.
Article content is (c)2020 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr.