Q&A: Jess Kent Defies Societal and Artistic Expectations

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Jess Kent is an artist on a mission to subvert expectations. The England-born, Australia-raised artist first made her mark with an aptly titled introductory EP, 2016’s My Name Is Jess Kent, as well as supporting the likes of Coldplay, Troye Sivan, and Years & Years on tour. 

For Kent, the past two years have seen her move to Los Angeles and hone her sound. Returning with a double-sided release, “Bass Bumps” and the Wes Period-assisted “No Love Songs,” Kent sways between the sounds of Australia’s and England’s vivid club scenes to a smoldering and vulnerable R&B number with ease. Yet, it’s her most recent release “Girl” that speaks volumes towards her skill as an artist.

A veritable pop anthem that tackles the expectations society at large places on women from birth, “Girl” is an earworm for a woke audience. Currently working towards a long-awaited debut album with enthralling single after single, the hype surrounding the future of Kent is very much real. We sat down with the artist on the rise to get to know the person behind some of our recent favorite tracks.

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OTW: How long have you been in Los Angeles for?

Jess: I actually didn’t realize that I have been gone from home-home for like a year and a half now, which is crazy.

OTW: How does it feel being in sunny Los Angeles?

Jess: Some of that has been touring, so I haven’t realized that time going. I have been in and out of here and we dipped in to make a whole record. So, it’s gone by fast.

OTW: What can you tell us about the upcoming record? Is there are overarching narrative?

Jess: Yeah, there is in a sense that they are all stories. It’s kind of been like a process of figuring out how to keep all the stuff that was in the first EP or my first demos that are just like me and figuring out how to make it the next incarnation of that. So, it is not the same, because then that would mean I haven’t grown or learned anything new. It is just an evolution from that.

OTW: How do you go from busking to basically opening up for Coldplay?

Jess: *laughter* Just like that! I guess I was playing because I loved it genuinely, and busking for me was the quickest and easiest way of plating, especially when I was underage and couldn’t get into clubs, or I didn’t know producers to make demos. I could just go on the street and connect to hundreds and hundreds of people all in just one day and kind of construct my own show without needing a venue or anything like that. When we started putting out original music, it made it almost easier to be like, I’m used to performing when people don’t have to stop and listen if they don’t want to. They don’t give a shit really. In comparison, it just seemed easier, well not easier but it was just exciting because these people actually love music and are here to see that and have a good time, so let’s go and have a good time.

OTW: You were born in England then later moved to Australia. How did that shift influence you as an artist? 

Jess: I was born in England, and I moved to Australia, going to Adelaide. So, that’s where I started busking. There wasn’t really a music scene there. A lot of my early influences were English kind of bands like Blondie, The Beatles, Oasis, that kind of thing. Then I moved to Sydney just ‘cause that’s where I had one or two friends. To me, it just seemed like there was such a cool music scene, and I just wanted to know what it was about. People are just like DJing and producing and playing guitar and like Tame Impala is playing in a band. Flume is doing all of these sets and then there’s Alice in Wonderland with all these crazy people. So I just packed a suitcase, a guitar, $200 and found somewhere to live. That’s how I started actually.

OTW: Your music delves mostly into pop, but also soul and R&B. The duality of your double release “Bass Bumps” and “ No Love Songs” was a superb showing of that versatility. The former sounds like a straight Mura Masa produced south UK vibe, while the latter is a very moving R&B number.

 Jess: Aw, thank you. Yeah, I think the record is sort of delving more deeply into those aspects, which is kind of why we chose them as the first two singles. Like with “Bass Bumps,” I basically wrote it about Sydney—when we used to go the raves and listen to Mura Masa and Danny Brown. Shout out Danny Brown! Just like straight up techno and acid house. Just having a good time basically. And what also kind of weaved into that commentary is also a bit of this underlying… I guess it’s just that this subculture is all so fun. Like the opening line is, “Hype’s a beast that we all feed,” and I still want it to have that element of being a social commentary and to still have smart lyrics that I would happily discuss and start a conversation about, and I would hope other people would too.

And “No Love Songs;” I don’t think I really delved into that in the EP—like just being super vulnerable and being open with my fans it that way. So that’s probably one of the biggest things in this record that wasn’t in the EP, is that it’s super honest. Literally whatever was going down was what I was writing about, and there was a lot of crazy shit happening this past year. Everything from traveling, the stadium run, and going into the studio. Then like the transition from the current administration, going from Australia to here, and all these cultural differences and like four of those months I was in Asia. It was just a whirlwind of stuff.

OTW: Going through all of that and being in Asia for four months. What was that sense of disconnection like?

Jess: I think it kind of opened a different chapter of writing from an observational perspective. But like, it sounds dramatic, writing a lot on planes and what I want to get out of it. There are a lot of people in the world, and there’s a lot of good stuff and bad stuff going on. What do I really want to say that is going to matter? What can I do as a person with a microphone and feelings, and it spurred a lot of that on for me.

OTW: So, do you think that artists have a certain responsibility to speak out when they have a platform?

Jess: I think people with public profiles can choose to use it however they want. I think some people are more outspoken about things, different things in the world or they want to get political or whatever. I don’t think there should be a pressure to be like that, because like at the end of the day I write songs, and that’s what my job is. But at the same time as a songwriter, I do think it is important to speak my truth and to be honest ‘cause that’s just the type of connection I want with fans. So, yeah, I feel that pressure, like sometimes I don’t want to admit how I am feeling today in the studio, and I just want to write a party song, but deep down I am burning about something. Hopefully, in the lyrics, there are more direct on-the-nose meanings and then some read between the lines lyrics.

OTW: As a semi-recent Los Angeles convert, is the party scene way better in Australia? Be honest.

Jess: I mean I had a good run of the festivals, playing my shows around that, and sideshows. I think there is definitely a culture around music and art and making that fun. The time I was there it was really exciting because everyone was doing the fashion and like the parties. Like everything would coexist together and all these subcultures would overlap, and all these genres would overlap. Yeah so, it’s pretty fun. I also have a super chill element as well. I actually don’t party that much. There is definitely that scene, but a lot of what I listen to is either like rap or hip hop or something more chill. I am definitely an introverted nerd at times, like get some really good headphones and sit and put on an album from start to finish and be like drawing and shit. I am like that as well.

OTW: Oh, so you draw as well?

Jess: Not well. I have piles and piles of notebooks, and I just write down little lyrics and poems and just like sketches. Or like Pinterest. I am just a Pinterest hoarder of subphotos and subphotos.

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OTW: What is your Pinterest aesthetic?

Jess: That would be giving away some album tea. It is funny because all the songs have different photos and stuff. But then overall they all look like they are from the same album which is crazy. I am like a color freak as well.

OTW: What color is it right now?

Jess: Right now, it’s yellow. Yeah but then the overall thing is like a palette. As soon as the love heart emoji changes color, then it is time for a different phase.

OTW: What is the backstory for your latest single, “Girl”?

Jess: I think it kind of sums up what I have been trying to articulate for a really long time. And I never thought I’d be the one to write this particular song, but it is a song I had always wish existed. And that is all I’ll say.

OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch?

Jess: I think it is a really exciting time for pop in general and obviously hip hop. The new Robyn song I fuck with really hard. New artists: Sasha Sloan, Charlotte Lawrence. Pink Sweats literally has two songs out right now, and I’m obsessed with them.

OTW: Last question: If you could say something directly to your fans, what would it be?

Jess: Thank you for believing in songwriters and female songwriters. And being a “day one.” I welcome you to my world!

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