10 Questions with Jess Royer
-written by Nat Richmond
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while writing and performing as an artist, is that authenticity is the currency that outweighs almost anything else. When an artist is completely okay and present with themselves, the byproduct is irrefutably felt and sensed. Whether the medium is music, paint, ceramic…an artist whom is un-afraid to seek their core truth is an artist that confidently bares their flaws, which makes them more relatable. It’s not a “safe” journey, and it requires the utmost vulnerability. Luckily, if we’re willing to go on this journey with an artist, sometimes we’re able to find truths about ourselves that wouldn’t have experienced prior. I was blessed to be able to sit and ponder the many avenues that music takes us on with one of Erie’s most versatile, vulnerable, and soulful singer-songwriters by the name of Jess Royer. An Erie native, Jess first learned to sing at age 5, and play guitar at 12. Performing in and around the Erie area for a decade, Jess is not on a journey of artistic self-realization, digging deep into the trenches of her enigmatic soul to being forth the most raw music she’s ever produced. In this interview, we discussed her beginning, her inspirations, and her overarching ambitions. By the end of it all, I found myself desiring to bring forth a more a vulnerable Self to my works. Ladies and Gentlemen…Jess Royer:
What is Art to you?
Something that induces a feeling or multiple feelings. Something that inspires and invokes emotion. Something that fills you with purpose.
Do you believe Art to be trans-mutable? And if so, can you name a piece of art in another medium that you feel is the equivalent of your music?
That's difficult because it also depends on the feeling in the moment, too. And see, I feel conflicted about this because this is also another perspective thing. Say, I'm playing a song and there's an artist there and they're drawing what they feel while I'm playing that , which happened to me recently at a show. And, what if I look at that and I'm like, "That's not really relatable to me. I think it's amazing that you did that, but at the same time like that, I'm honored and I think it's beautiful that we are here in this experience together". But, I could look at that and be like, "That doesn't really resonate with me". However, that's their soul and what they felt because of what I created. So this is all perspective. So I think that maybe it is trans-mutable, but it doesn't mean that you'll necessarily agree with it like that. It could just be perspective, everything. And I can't think of a thing like a piece of art that I would. Or, at least I haven't seen it yet.
In what mood have you created your best music?
Absolute sorrow. Like lowest of lows. Like deep, deep darkness. And, like this is what will lift me up as to release these feelings. It's an energy thing for me. I use this as my outlet. I use this as my therapy. Yes, I will notice that I feel very heavy until I write and I sing and I release whatever darkness is in me. And, then it's like a black cloud. That is the place where I create the most authentic. It's very cathartic for me. And so part of the reason why I started writing music and why I write the kind of music that I write is because I want to, again, induce these feelings in people. I want people to feel their feelings. So I will write things that make people think, that put you in an introspective space and tug on those heartstrings to be like these are all vulnerable feelings that we all have but we all avoid simultaneously. And, I want to make people feel things and know that it's okay to feel things.
I love that you talked about why you write. At what age did you discover Art and what emotion did it introduce you to?
I remember being very little. My dad was always in bands. He played Blues bass. So, I would always like walk back to the garage and see him playing with his friends and these bands and just watch. Then it was actually when I was like maybe five years old when I wrote my first song and my dad put music to it, and then I sang it in front of my church. Oh, but it was a cappella. I will never forget that moment. I have a really bad memory for a lot of things. But I remember standing there and the pastor was holding the microphone in front of me and I was just singing this song a cappella in front of the church. And I could like, like barely, barely walk and talk. Well, obviously, by five I could, but yeah. It's like.. that was like one of my first memories, too. So that was what seeing my dad, being around that, being encouraged to be around that and watching him play music while we were down at my camp when I was little and just being like, "I want to do this".
This is a very common question, but I still think it needs to be asked. What other what musician? Living or dead, if you could only have one pick, who would you see and why?
Yeah, dude. So. You know what? The first person that came into my mind was Ella Fitzgerald. I have this feeling deep in my soul that. If there were past lives I existed in.. that time frame between the twenties to forties era. I have this soul connection to that time frame that I can't explain. I feel like I was there. So, hearing that music pulls on something in me that I can't explain. It's more of..it's almost like reminiscent. I feel like I miss it. So, that was one of the reasons why that brought up a cool memory. I remember being in high school when I hadn't fully found my voice yet. It was more like that head voice. So, I remember listening to Ella Fitzgerald and saying to my dad, "I wish I could sing like this". He's like, "You can". And, I was like, "What the fuck are you talking about?" I listen to jazz. I listened to Billie Holiday, like all that powerhouse women, you know. And, something one day shifted in me. That was why being inspired by them and being like, "this is how I want to express". I could feel it again deep in my soul that there's something there, some connection. I don't know what it is. I can't explain it. Ella Fitzgerald, something so, so magical about her.
Speaking of Ella, you know, and the wonderful artists of that time who I'm sure they might have known or maybe they didn't know, but their voice embodies something very specific. Do you feel like you've reached a point of your artistry where you embody something specific? If not, what do you think it will take?
Yeah, I say no. So I know that there is a lot of soul. There's a lot of soul that like sometimes when I'm performing, I kind of like blackout because it just comes out and takes over me. However, I think that the next step for me is, as much as I love playing guitar, I need to just sing and not be distracted by that, not have to think about that. For me, it would be like full band, full experience. Fully engulfed by just like the experience of just singing and being able to pour that out. Also, having people create music for me and I don't mean having people write my music.. I mean have musicians play this music, then I put my vision to it. Collaboration is big for me and, we've already experienced improv. I love that. Like, I love sitting in with, jazz bands and just singing whatever happens. That is what really, really inspires me and fuels me creatively is just throwing myself out of my comfort zone. So, I need to do more of that. And, I think that I will find a whole different level of myself when I allow myself to just.. explode.
Visualize for me... you with a band of any size. Who would be the band members and where would you be performing?
I have this vision of being in a very swingy, New Orleans style band. Very, like, upbeat and dance-y, but..sexy and soulful. Also, like, gritty to make people feel like you could walk away laughing or you walk away crying. Being like, "What the fuck just happened to me?" Like cabaret.
Do you feel that Erie has found its artistic voice? The way, as we just said, like Louisiana?
No. F***, no. I'm almost certain I can put that in the interview. I'm gonna just put it there. Like, next question. Next! (laughs)
If not, why? What do you think is keeping this area from finding its own thing, its voice?
I think that. I don't know how to say this without sounding like a d***. I don't know. I think that Erie has kind of remained in this, like, Classic Rock. People will go to big shows if it's like a cover band. People are so much more standoffish when they don't know someone already. If they see a band is playing somewhere, they're like, "Oh, I don't know that music or those people". Like people will not go, they will not care. They will not participate. People are very shallow. But, I think also over time, I will give credit where it's due. People have been way more open to receiving and have branched out and there are more opportunities, more venues to play. People are trying to make it happen, but it is about the pre-existing culture and attitude for sure. There's always room for improvement and it has gotten better over the years. Even in the amount of years that I've played around here, it's shifted and people are more appreciative of original music and not cover bands.
Should music be completely raw and honest to the point that it can create drastic social change?
I think I'd say absolutely yes! Go for it. I think that it's important. And, I think if you have a creative outlet and you have all of these feelings, that's one of the healthiest ways to release it. It is a very nonviolent way of communicating the need for change. I think that's very important. And I think it is your outlet, your creativity. You can do whatever you want with it. I support that. Personally, me with my own music, it's more of an emotional revolution kind of feeling.. like I want people to be connected to themselves. I want people to know that it's okay to express. I want people to know that it's okay to be vulnerable and open and to feel things and that you don't have to always be up. Like, it's okay to ride the wave and sometimes you're down and out and that is what sometimes you have to really, really feel into that. And, I want people to be comfortable with themselves. That's what I want to communicate. I want to communicate about connection and honesty and vulnerability for sure.
If you're an artist who makes your best music based on pain...does it make you fearful to experience joy? That might actually make you gravitate away from that pain..
I actually think about this a lot.Yeah, I do find myself.. when I'm very when I'm very happy...I go through periods of time where I don't really write. But then I also will do stuff like that open mic, like improv, and then that stirs something. So it's like, sure, I may write more when I'm in a lower point, but at the same time it forces me to get creative and to realize what provokes me to write, what provokes me to still be creative, even when I'm not in my darkness. So, I don't know, just working with different people. Collaborating with people, singing on other people's stuff. Finding things to do that are stimulating, but at the same time, like trying not to get in my head too much about it or beat myself up for not creating for a period of time.
Do you create your Art or does your Art create you?
I create my art... I feel like it's both. It depends on the moment, because I feel like sometimes, like I said, I'll be performing, and all of a sudden I just blackout. It takes over. So I feel like it is a spiritual force that exists in me that takes over my being. So I feel like it is. It's.. I don't know how to explain it. It's just like it takes over. So, I don't know...
Okay, last question. Is music the highest expression of yourself? And if so, what do you plan to do to take the expression higher?
I think so. Nobody knows what life has to hold, so who knows what I may get into in the future. I have high hopes for myself and creating, and I think that that's really what it is.. it's creating. That is my highest form of expression in general. Connectedness with myself. Awareness of myself. I think by singing. That is when those are the moments when I feel the most.. the most myself. And, I think that that definitely counts for something. I know my vision right now is to continue collaborating with people to get inspiration. I want to branch out and do different genres, do more of that R&B Soul thing. I'll start out, feel that out, see what that brings up in me. And then eventually when I'm ready, move into the full band idea. Obviously very, very calculated with who I want to be in that. But, I just want to expand on my craft, create as much as possible and connect with people as much as possible, because I think that makes it the most authentic, most meaningful experiences when you're connected to people.