Austin-based Jess Williamson‘s sophomore album, Heart Song, is about to be unleashed unto the world. Today, in fact, is the day we’ve been waiting for. The woman herself seems like an enigma, a talented writer and incredible musician wrapped in one with just a small amount of background to give you a glimpse into who she is on her website. But even if they were to detail her every move, it still feels as though she transcends our ideals of a modern singer-songwriter, and that’s a large part of her appeal.
In anticipation of her record release, we spent a few minutes with her to talk about the record, life, and – what else? – Choco Tacos.
At what point in your life did you begin to create your own music?
I was always singing, but I didn’t start writing songs until I was in college and started learning to play the banjo.
Some people never take the leap to unleash their creative spirit into the world- why did you take that leap?
Well the readers digest version is I had an existential crisis in Union Square when I was 21 and on the phone with my mom. Looking back it’s funny to me but at the time it was all too real. I was on a pretty traditional academic path that was going to put me in a ton of debt and I would be forced to get a salary type job to pay it all back. I felt in this visceral way that it was a now or never thing. If I was ever going to try to do music I had to do it in my twenties or it would never happen. I refer to this as my YOLO moment.
Personal enlightenment is one way to describe your path following a return home to reconsider life. Where were you before this, and what set of events brought you back?
“Personal enlightenment” is a very generous way to put it! Honestly, I was crippling insecure and needed to ground myself and figure out how to be okay being alone. Up until my early twenties I was overly concerned with the external world, with validation from other people, social markers, whatever. I lived in New York for a little over a year, and mentally I was in a terrible place. There’s this New York mindset that it’s the best city on earth and you couldn’t possibly be happy anywhere else, and I bought into that even though I was miserable. I was bartending and had about a month where I was nocturnal. It was interesting but not so good for my mental health. I moved back to Texas and reconnected with the natural world and mostly spent a lot of time on my own. Just the freedom of being able to get in my car and drive through the country would bring me to tears. I was very thin skinned for a bit there, which is a creatively fertile place to be, and I finished writing Native State at that time. I also made friends with some incredible women that helped me learn and grow and they are still my best friends.
Your 2nd album, Heart Song, comes out on 11/4, and you’re having a record release show in Austin. Is that experience even more special, happening in your native Texas?
Yes! This year has been unique because I’ve been mostly in Los Angeles and on tour and also in Marfa. I’ve really only spent a couple months in Austin this year because I needed to explore and shake things up a little. I’m a Sagittarius. We have to move around or we start to feel stagnant. So I’m really excited to have the release show in Austin, and especially at my favorite bar Cheer Up Charlie’s. I first moved to Austin ten years ago this Fall, and even though I’m freaked out by a lot of the changes going on in Austin, there is no where else in the world where I feel so at home.
What has been your biggest source of energy in creating a whole new other work of art?
The desire to keep moving forward.
Your debut album came out in 2014 to a wealth of praise- how did you utilize that experience and feedback, in putting together Heart Song?
It made me really happy that people connected with Native State. I just knew I wanted to keep going, keep exploring, and keep learning how to navigate music as an art form, a job, on my own, or in collaboration. It’s a totally different practice to write a song, to play a song live, to record a song. There are so many aspects to making music that are each wildly different from each other. There’s a lot to learn.
What’s your dream collaboration?
This is a great question. I’m fascinated by Kacey Musgraves right now, ever since I saw her perform at Trans-Pecos in September out in Marfa. I’d love to write a song with her. But also, just yesterday I heard the song “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave for the first time. It was on the radio while I was in my car and I almost had to stop driving because it pretty much pulled my heart out of my chest. So maybe it’s a tie between Kacey Musgraves and Nick Cave at the moment.
What’s your policy on Christmas music: allowed before or after Thanksgiving?
After, no question.
Which track off Heart Song are you most excited to share with the world?
The title track, “Heart Song”.
Choco-Tacos or Drumsticks?
I had to google this to figure out what you meant so I guess neither?
Heart Song is available November 4th in limited quantities. Scoop yours up before they’re gone!