A Conversation with Jessie Frye, Sweeping You Up in a Synthpop Romance
God, I love retrowave (also known as synthwave). There’s something about the way it completely steals me away, making me nostalgic for an era I never lived in. Retrowave is based in the sounds of the 1980s, particularly the distinctive sounds of the movie soundtracks and video games. The music swirls with synthesizers and whimsical lyrics that long for lost loves, lost days, or the vibrancy of a sunset. If I were to describe retrowave as a scene, well, let me set it for you. It is South Beach at sunset; The neon lights from the art deco buildings are lighting up around you. The convertible top is down, and the rumble of ocean waves breaking and caressing the shore is in the distance. The smells of salt and sand and Cuban food is wafting into your nose, and the ocean breeze is tousling your hair in the dwindling heat of the day.
But that’s me. Your experience and accompanying imagery may differ, especially since the world of synthwave and synthpop are changing with every artist who enters into the increasingly-popular scene, artists like Jessie Frye.
Actually, no. Jessie did not merely enter into synthpop. She came in like a hydrogen bomb and took command of the microphone, captivating listeners who hardly knew what hit them. Although not a new performer, this Dallas-based (yeah, sorry, not local!) synthpop queen only emerged onto the scene circa 2017 or so, and she is rightfully carving her own place. She is staking her claim not only by collaborating with some of the other core players, but by releasing her own enthralling hits. Recently signed to NewRetroWave Records (NRW), Jessie is making waves by achieving the highest iTunes charting debut on NRW Records (Debuted at #7 and Peaked at #5), and having the first album on NRW Records to chart for 7 days in iTunes USA Electronic Charts with her album Kiss Me in The Rain (KMITR).
KMITR is the ebb and flow of a romance unfolding in real time, and it feels like you are swaddled tightly, warmly, deeply in a lucid dream. You are whisked away to the places where a new love is settled deep in your chest, where the edges of life are always shimmering and effervescent. KMITR is a place of whimsy, of those insistent butterflies tickling your insides—where lust and romance become entwined.
Follow me as I chat with Jessie about her album, film photography, performing for Bernie Sanders, and everything in between.
Elissa Ebersold: Bit of an ice breaker to start. What song do you hear and every time you wish you had written?
Jessie Frye: Sheesh…That’s a big one. I hate these questions, because if they’re written in an interview and I get to write down my responses, I’ll actually say that I won’t answer that.
EE: I’m off to a great start then!
JF: [LAUGHS] You’re fine, I just can’t get away from it now! […] I realize why I’m struggling with this question so much. It’s because I don’t wish I had written anyone else’s song. However, I do feel deeply connected to certain songs. I feel like I could have written them in another life, or like they are a part of me.
EE: I get it. You feel them so deep. They are a part of you, and integral to your being in some kind of way. Speaking of, when and how did you get started in music?
JF: My mom, when I was a toddler, she would put on these VHS tapes that she had made of different interviews and performances of The Cure. So my first vivid childhood memory is Robert Smith’s face from “The Caterpillar” video. The Cure became this obsession of mine as a child, where my mom said I would sit in front of the TV or listen to their music for hours and hours on end. I would be totally lost in The Cure. I would even hold talent shows with my neighbors and sing “Let’s Go To Bed” and stuff like that. No one got it, because I don’t really think anyone knew that music.
My love of music really started with The Cure. They’re still my favorite band in the entire world to this day. And then my mom showed me some of Madonna’s tour footage, and Michael Jackson’s tour footage from the Dangerous tour. These three figures became childhood staples. And Tori Amos was played in the house a lot. I got this mixture of obscure goth music with pop stars, and then add in Tori Amos who was this confessional songstress at the piano. Type O Negative and Nine Inch Nails came a little bit later. My mom was really cool. That’s where the listening began. She heard that there was something there. She put me in voice lessons at eight years old. From eight to eleven, I was in and out of voice lessons. At eleven, I saw a performance of Tori Amos on VHS for the first time. Watching her play the piano was a wake up call. I knew I wanted to sing, but finally seeing a woman play an instrument like that made me realize that I needed to take up an instrument. So I started taking classical piano lessons.
EE: And you’ve been studying classical piano ever since?
JF: I studied it seriously from eleven until I was about eighteen. At sixteen I got a job at a local music store and started selling pianos and sheet music. It was then I started getting immersed in the world of meeting other musicians. I actually started teaching music privately at eighteen years old. Shortly after that, I started playing with friends. Jamming, and basically what any artist is doing at that age: cultivating their identity with music. I really seriously started writing my own songs around that time […] I got invited to SXSW to play. I didn’t have a band at the time, so because of that invitation, I formed my band and started rehearsing. I booked a show in Dallas to have a rehearsal gig, and then we were off to South By. South By is the reason I started getting a band together to play shows.
EE: Are there any influences you listen to that would just come out of left field and surprise us?
JF: Type O Negative. I get more fans hooked onto them because they see [my tattoo] in a video. They’re icons, but it’s understandable that people don’t know who they are. They’re this goth metal band.
EE: So the polar opposite of your image.
JF: That’s actually been a struggle for me. I love heavy music. I grew up listening to music like Pantera as well. I’m a rock and roller at heart, especially if you see my live shows. There’s a rock energy there.
EE: Did you have an existential crisis when you were putting together a band, and writing music, and trying to find a style that suited you?
JF: Yeah! How do you think I felt when everyone wanted me to start doing synthwave! [LAUGHS] I already had this struggle! These two other parts of me, and now we’re bringing in a third?!
This year, I really came to terms with the fact that I am a songwriter. I refuse to be put in a box, and I will grow. I want my fans to fall in love with Jessie Frye as an artist with her music, not because she’s pop, or because she’s synthwave. That’s a genre, and that’s okay. I know we need to put labels on stuff to make sense out of things, to an extent. I feel like that beauty and the impact of a song is more enduring than a genre. That’s where my focus [on songwriting] is. I understand that synthwave is my direction, for sure, but I still don’t consider myself that. I can’t.
EE: What motivates you to make music regardless of the genre you’re presenting it in?
JF: That’s an interesting question. It’s a little hocus-pocus-y. I don’t feel like it’s a choice. It’s my personal feeling about my musical journey and my identity. I never decided to sing. I never decided that I wanted to pursue music. It’s always been a part of my blood. I feel compelled to create. I’ve been journaling since I was eleven, and I still journal to this day. I feel like that’s what I was put on this earth to do. It doesn’t make me special or anything, it just means I know what I’m here to do while I’m here.
EE: I completely understand. You don’t know why it is, it just is. So let’s take a step back again. How would you describe your sound?
JF: My album Kiss Me In The Rain—I really don’t describe it, actually. I hate trying to make sense of it myself […] I would say KMITR, sonically and emotionally, is a combination of a little bit of darkness, a little bit of vulnerability. A little bit of brightness in all the right moments. Hopefully a cohesive theme of romanticism and seeing with an open heart. I’m such an energy person on an intention front. My main goal with this album and with my producer Matt Aslanian was crafting an experience so that if you listen to it from start to finish, you are impacted by very specific emotions.
EE: Listening to it as a whole, as the sum of its parts, is a tool that you use to get these specific emotions. What other tools did you utilize to get that specific sound?
JF: What Matt and I wanted to do, outside of the emotions we were honing in on and expressing, we wanted to do something diverse. If I am a diverse songwriter, let’s make a diverse synthwave record. Let’s try to do a little nod to every subgenre on this record. In a more basic sense, you’ve got some early Madonna sounds on “Angel” and “Wild in My Arms.” You’ve got the darkwave sound on “No Sleep,” and the vaporwave sound on “Eighteen.” I work with different artists like the ones that are featured. I said that we should put our own spin on this, so that hopefully instead of hitting the nail on the head in a comfort zone, we hit the nail on the head in a trailblazing sense. We want people to say, “Oh my God, this is this. And this is that. And it’s that too! What is this? I’ve never heard someone do this before.” That was part of our hope—to expand, and push that limit on that box, and send listeners to a new world.
EE: To me, it’s interesting you say that. I feel, especially earlier in their careers, artists don’t try to jump out of their comfort zones and try new things. They stick to what they know, and what they believe is going to be successful. That extreme experimentation and playfulness is not something I’ve encountered a ton in conversing with artists.
JF: I can understand that. For me it’s a flip situation. I struggled between rock and pop for a long time. My first demo was a more Tori Amos folk record with a little bit of country on it. I’ve grown, but the core theme or the common denominator has always been me as the songwriter. I write a lot, so I don’t ever put a judgement on myself when I’m writing. I don’t tell myself that something has to sound a certain way when I sit at my guitar. It just comes out. I was conflicted for so long about which way to go for my audience. At one point I just said, “Fuck it,” and just did me. For years I built up a career, touring, and releasing, and just doing my thing. I tried to create something that fans can latch on to, but maybe they can just fall in love with what I’m doing.
It’s an interesting situation of how I got into the retrowave genre. My song “Faded Memory” came out in 2018, which was after I’ve been doing music for ten years. I was ten years into it, and now I’m finally being told what to do by a large audience.
EE: How’d that make you feel?
JF: It was a shock in a good way. I had no idea what “Faded Memory” was going to do. It was almost a relief that, maybe in a beautiful way, my fans found a way to connect with me in a way I wasn’t aware I could do. It was super awesome and weird.
EE: So you were sort of thrust, or at least encouraged, into this retrowave genre. What is your favorite part of being in this genre or this aesthetic?
JF: I’m so focused on serving the song and what the songs mean to me on a creative level. I’m hyper focused on that. In a more life sense, the best part has been the friends I’ve made.
Just the story of how “Faded Memory” came to be and where that took me.
EE: That’s approaching 1.5 million views on YouTube.
JF: Really!? I keep thinking that maybe if I stop looking it’ll hit two million.
EE: Your collective views are just about two million. That’s impressive.
JF: I’m almost at 10,000 subscribers, so that’s pretty exciting!
There’s been three defining moments in my career. You know, the places I can look back at and say that, “This changed me. And this changed me. And this changed me.” The fact that I can say “Faded Memory” is one of them is super special because I had no idea what that song was going to do. Considering how much blood, sweat, and tears I put into everything that I’ve ever done, and “Faded Memory” came from less of a place of work, and more for a place of fun. It wasn’t me slaving over a record.
So yeah, that’s my favorite thing about this genre. The friends I’ve made and what it’s helped me learn about myself as an artist.
EE: Do you want to talk about how “Faded Memory” came into fruition?
JF: Do you want to talk about how “Faded Memory” came into fruition? [LAUGHS]
EE: [LAUGHS] I mean I know the answer but I can’t tell the story for you!
JF: Well I was on tour with my guitarist, and he said to me, “Have you heard of this artist called Timecop1983?”
[Timecop1983 is the stage name of Dutch producer Jordy Leenaerts, and is one of the larger artists to occupy the synthwave genre.]
I told him that I hadn’t and he put it on in the car. It was the song “Let’s Talk” with Josh Dally. I instantly became a fan, and saw that he had featured artists on his tracks. A couple weeks later I sent out an email and I sent [Timecop] my track “Honey.” I told him that I was a big fan and told him to let me know if he was interested in having me sing on a track of his. At the time, he was working on his album Night Drive, and I guess he loved what I was doing. We instantly hit it off as artists and friends. He sent me some tracks to choose from. One in particular stood out to me. I locked myself in my bedroom for like two days—I went into this creative suckhole for two days. I felt such an insane connection with what was happening on this beat and progression that Timecop had created. I came up with the vocalizations and the lyrics and the melodies. A couple of weeks later I went into the studio with it.
Matt Aslanian mixed that track. My producer actually mixed that. Timecop said, “Hey, this was going to go on Night Drive but I think it would be better as a single. What should we do with it? What do you want to do with it?”
We discussed it over, and we agreed that we should just put it out under Jessie Frye. So it became Jessie Frye featuring Timecop1983. Not on purpose, that’s just how it happened. I had not been involved in the feature world at this point, so I was happy to have a chance for me to write in a way that I had never written before. For me it was a great opportunity. The whole process of “Faded Memory” was natural. And innocent. And it was different for me, and I thought, “I hope people like it.”
EE: How did your experience with Timecop1983 differentiate from writing with Wayfloe, or specifically with fellow NewRetroWave Records artist Ollie Wride?
JF: Ollie Wride is one of my very best friends. We’re super close. And so writing with him was different because of that. We share songs a lot. We are there for each other a lot and help each other out with the music business ups and downs. Writing with Ollie felt less like a feature and more like I’m writing a song with my best friend. That was honestly the coolest thing about that.
I had written the chords and the piano and the lyrics [for “Malibu Broken”], and I said I had this idea but I thought it really sucked. He told me to send it to him, and I pushed back a little saying it was really stupid. But I sent him the voice memo. The next day, I shit you not, he had this whole demo production with the drum programming, and extra ideas. And he’s singing on it! I said, “This is really cool!”
EE: Wait, so you thought that “Malibu Broken,” one of my favorite songs on the album….sucked when you first wrote it?
EE: No seriously, I don’t believe you. That is the song that I turn the volume up, put the windows down, and drive around town blasting like an obnoxious asshole.
JF: I thought my initial idea on the piano was dramatic and dorky. I really did. It is thanks to Ollie it ended up happening. He took my pianos and vocals and all that, and came back with this amazing demo idea, and showed me what we could do with it if we chose to continue on into the studio with it. I loved all of his ideas. He contributed so much to the track.
We brought it to my producer Matt who took both me and Ollie’s ideas, and added his own ideas, and just elevated it. It was three people involved in making that track what it is now.
So yeah, that’s how it was different. With Ollie it was more actively collaborative. With Timecop and Wayfloe, it wasn’t a bad thing or anything, they would send beats and ask me what I thought. That’s cool. That’s one way to do it, for sure. With Ollie it was a little more proactive. A little more real time as opposed to chains of emails. It was actually Ollie’s idea to make it a duet […] Ollie really believed in the track and wanted it to be our duet. People had been asking us to do a duet, and this kinda just happened. A natural flow.
Ollie also helped me write the chorus for “Angel,” so it’s really nice to have these sprinklings of friends and collaborators on that album that have made their own amazing accomplishments.
Everything about the record and how it came together. From the story to the way it came together to the collaborators…It really freaks me out how it started to feel really meant to be. It’s cool. It even rained a whole lot during the making.
EE: You just signed with NewRetroWave records. Can you explain how that connection happened and how you felt when you finally signed on the proverbial, or literal, dotted line?
JF: Yeah, literal! This is another cool story. DJ Ten is another one of my favorite synthwave artists. I love his work, and I did another feature with him about a year or so ago called “We Are The Night.” I’m a huge fan of Ten, and he basically is NewRetroWave Records, and we just formed a great professional relationship. It made sense to ask him if he was interested in releasing a record with me on NewRetroWave. Before I approached him, I was on the fence on what I was going to do—was I going to make a record or just keep releasing singles?
I believe I asked him right around the time I was writing “No Sleep.” We were working on “No Sleep” in the studio. I feel this could be something if we keep diving. If I get the confidence from a label to push me forward, maybe I should just do a fucking record. And he said that he was definitely interested in working with me on a release. In that sense, it was pretty simple in that I had the support there and a great relationship there beforehand. They were the deciding factor in doing the record. I was like, if they’re on board, then I’m going to go on ahead and keep on writing and release a record with them.
EE: What was the inspiration behind KMITR?
JF: Some songs were obviously written much earlier. In fact, I started writing “The One” a few years ago. We demoed it, but didn’t know what the fuck to do with it. It wasn’t working, so we put it away for a while. I believe that if you can’t finish a song, it’s because you’re not ready yet. You haven’t experienced the emotion you need to finish it. KMITR became, in almost real time, the story and experience of falling in love. And of a romance. And my way of making sense of it. The track listing is chronological for me and the way that I experienced all of this. I think that’s why it’s so personal for people. It’s not written in hindsight. The songs were written as I was going through the actual experience. It was less about overthinking, and more about keeping what came out […] the two reflection tracks were “Faded Memory” and “Eighteen.” I wanted to include them because you’re going through my process. I think that any time someone is falling in love or having a romantic experience, you begin to reflect on your past. You’re crawling inside of my brain a little bit and experiencing things from my perspective.
EE: So where does the title come from, and how does that reveal anything about the album’s impact and motifs?
JF: Great question […] I kept writing “Kiss Me In The Rain.” It kept coming up. I kept asking myself if it was cheesy, if it was dorky. I really loved it. It kept calling to me. I said, “Fuck it, I’m calling the album this.” I realize what it meant to me was it’s dramatic and a little whimsical. It’s also telling you what to do which I think is kind of sexy. It’s something beautiful happening amongst pain and chaos. “Kiss Me in The Rain” means letting your guard down and believing in love, if even for a split second. Even through hardship and heartache and letdowns. There’s still beauty to be found in that. It’s my statement of being proud of my vulnerability, and of my passion and my romanticism at the same time. It’s bold, I feel. I wanted listeners to very definitively escape into a world with this album, and I think the title helps with that.
EE: So there’s this chaotic romanticism, rainfall imagery—These almost larger-than-life feelings of romance that you have. What other key images which incentivized or inspired your songwriting?
JF: Self reflection, and not being afraid to write about your flaws or your beliefs or your struggles. It is such a release to say, “Yeah I am this way.” There’s a beauty in accepting that and having a relationship with someone that evens you out. That was hard for me. I’m such a…a tough cookie, and kind of hard to crack. [My song] “High” was an example of a more playful Jessie that you might not see very often. Even though it’s a fun song, it was hard for me to write those lyrics.
“No Sleep” is my favorite. For my producer Matt, that song is really an achievement for him because that song was really hard to mix. It’s literally outrageous. That’s the word we chose for this song. We committed to that though. That song, for me, is different from anything I’ve written because it’s about the struggles of tour life. And how crazy you have to be to chase a music dream and to chase it for so long. And the toll it takes on your mind and body. That song is the sound of my own experience with hardship and struggle in the music industry.
EE: You need to stop reading my mind, because my next question was “why is ‘No Sleep’ your favorite track? Knocked that one out.
JF: I crafted the vocalisations to showcase my range. I’m a vocal coach, I’m a nerd. I’m not the most perfect singer. I don’t want to be. But I really enjoyed being able to craft a song that showcased my ability. That’s a tough song to sing.
EE: I mean you reach for the, what is it, a D5?
JF: E5. Yeah.
EE: And you do it relatively effortlessly. Especially for me, as an alto, getting anything higher than a C5 is an achievement.
JF: I’m an alto too! […] “No Sleep” is the kind of song where you really have to prepare to sing it because it made use of my full range. I tend to write music a little higher than where my natural range falls […] I’m proud of it. We released it live first because we wanted people to see me doing it in the studio, form a connection that way, so they can focus on the song. As much as I love doing music videos, if you release a music video with the song, you don’t let the listener have their own connection with it.
EE: How have other contemporary synthwave and synthpop artists influenced your music-crafting in one way or the other?
JF: The influences were more like Taylor Swift, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails specifically on “No Sleep.” Taking my own personal influences and twisting them to what we’re doing. I also don’t listen to music when I’m writing. Is that a bad answer? […] I’m a weird bird. I’m a huge fan of Gunship, and The Midnight, obviously. On a more direct front personally, we crafted some of the sounds after some of the not-so-synthwave-y bands. We wanted to take what I do listen to and [put it in a blender]. There’s a part of me that’s like, “Hey, everyone. You do realize this is a pop record, right?” [LAUGHS]
I write pop structures, which is weird to me that “No Sleep” is starting to take off, because it’s not so Top 40 structurally. It’s my favorite one, so I’m not going to complain.
EE: KMITR is the first NRW album to chart on the iTunes Electronic chart for 7 days….
JF: And the highest charting! The highest charting debut.
EE: Did you celebrate this awesome achievement in a particular way?
JF: I ordered a cake from Whole Foods, and I ordered champagne. The cake was really messed up when it came to my door. It had no icing on it, because they fucked up my cake. But that’s okay! Because we had champagne and sparkly candles. Kinda celebrated for three days straight. There were three celebrations: There was the initial release. There was the highest charting one. Then after seven days, when I broke that record, we did another celebration […] This is probably one of the more Top 40 popish records that NRW has released. I think it’s awesome that it’s doing what it’s doing because it’s pushing the limits and opening up doors for new artists.
EE: I like to think that good music defies genre limitations. Look at Taylor Swift!
JF: I love that more artists like her are coming and saying, “This is me! This is what I’ve been doing. Here it is!” There’s time for fanfare and big glitzy stages. There’s time for you to chill with me with a cup of coffee. I love these different barriers that are coming down. These more realistic aspects of artists are being shown.
EE: My next question ties into that in the sense that I think music has drastically changed since the advent of social media and streaming music. How do you feel about how social media and streaming music helps or hurts up-and-coming artists?
JF: I have a very specific view about social media. I think it can be a very productive tool for artists, and I also believe that for [everyone] it can be a very dangerous place. I think it’s a fantastic way to reach new audiences, strictly speaking on an artistic level. It does help you reach fans in a way that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. On the other side, the negative sides are that you can get easily sucked into focusing on the wrong thing like putting too much stock into your image. Putting too much focus onto, I don’t know, what time of day you post or how many likes you get. It can get a little extreme with how much importance you give it.
For just human beings…I think it’s not awesome. I think it makes people act crazy. I have a very hard-line relationship with it. I do not discuss or post about my personal life, or my emotions. I’m very protective. Especially with gaining a little more popularity lately. I’ve been more guarded and seeing what limitations I need to place from here on out […] I’m strictly interested in sharing my music and my art. I think it’s amazing that people connect to my music and with what I have to say. I’m so grateful and that’s what I want. But you have to be human and have a cutoff.
EE: Most of your absolutely stunning promo photos were taken using 35mm and medium format film cameras with photographer Jamie Maldonado? What is it about film photography that made you decide, as the creative director of your look, that this is the direction you wanted to take when so many things can arguably be made to look imperceptibly identical in Photoshop?
JF: [WHISPERS] I disagree about that.
EE: [WHISPERS] Me too. So I’m a photographer, right—
JF: I know! So you know what I mean.
EE: Nothing will ever compare to the tonality and the depth of a black and white film photo printed in a darkroom. Digital does not compare in that regard.
EE: Color film? Sure, fine. You can skip that with digital. Black and white photography is so important to learn.
JF: I had a really great experience. I think it’s a really poignant experience, and I don’t get to share very often. I’m glad you asked. Jamie and I tried to bring a lot of attention to our work. I am the creative director of everything that happens, and I think it’s important for everyone to know that.
All my career, I shot digital. Digital is great. But I started dating somebody who is a brilliant artist, who is a brilliant film photographer and cinematographer. I’d never been shot on film before. We did a shoot before. He has so much amazing film in his fridge and access to vintage cameras…he’s that guy.
EE: I totally get it. You should see my downstairs. Vintage cameras are all over my living room.
JF: You do get it! I LOVE IT! So we did a shoot together on Portra 800 and Cinestill 35mm and 120mm. We had dinner and it was this big thing, and he got the film developed, and showed them to me during dinner. It was the most poignant experience to have them in the package and have this dinner with someone I loved. Having this experience of seeing myself on film through his eyes. It was so impactful. I was grieving really hard for my father at that time, and I had this sadness that I couldn’t understand. I saw that in these photos. It was such a healing moment to have that experience with someone that I was close to, that I trusted. I really saw the human aspect of my pain in that format. It taught me the beauty of letting go. It taught me to stop worrying about things, and just take a photograph. That’s where the love of film came from, that wonderful experience. He taught me a lot about the best ways to shoot film, and the advantages of it. It was so cool. It was immersive. From that experience, I fell in love with Cinestill in particular. And Jaime shares that love of film, and Cinestill. He’s wonderful at developing Cinestill.
The whole reason I use it for my aesthetic right now is I got so fucking tired [HOLDS UP PHONE] of this! And screens. You know? And film makes me feel connected to my heart, to the world, to the human experience. I love that CineStill, motion picture film for still photography, is magic in and of itself. The grain allows you to be a little imperfect. It is forgiving in that sense. There’s a beauty in that. Most of the photos you see are hardly edited at all. That’s why I love Jaime, because he knows to what extent we need to edit them.
EE: So the whimsical, shimmery look…
JF: I honestly think it’s his lighting! Sometimes I have to ask him if he’s edited them because I can’t tell. He’ll do some touch ups [on my skin] or whatnot, but on a lighting front I have trouble discerning what’s edited […] He did add a little bit of the dreaminess, but even the unedited version is fucking baller. He’s so amazing. We do not want to sit and edit something to death. That’s why we shoot Cinestill together. Because it does create that dreamy look for you.
EE: How do you foresee your music evolving as time goes on?
JF: I’m still soaking in KMITR, but you’re always working on the next thing. I’m in the moment right now, but I’m starting to peek over. I’m already writing again. Matt and I are in the early stages of writing the next record […] If you want to keep the momentum going, you have to keep producing. I already know some sounds I want to play with. We’re gonna stay focused on another track listing. No dead fillers. Matt has a way of making a hit with everything he produces. There’s some topics I feel myself wanting to write about, or expand upon KMITR. We’ll see.
EE: How has the pandemic affected that creativity?
JF: It’s been really awesome and really hard. It’s reminding you what is important and what you need to focus on. I do miss shows so much, but I think the hardest thing is that there’s a little more free time than normal. You get into this every-day-starts-to-blend thing, and it’s a little tougher to motivate yourself in the creative sense sometimes. But I busted my ass for KMITR and the videos, so I gave myself this month off. I haven’t left my house in a month.
EE: Do you have anybody that you want to collaborate with on the next album?
JF: If The Midnight wants to collaborate, that’d be great. Obviously that’s out of my control. I get so many emails about that—If I could I would! There’s some interesting similarities between our two [new] records. They have a [new] song called “Seventeen,” and I have a song called “Eighteen,” and if you listen to them back to back they kind of work. It’s weird. I’d love to do more writing with Ollie. Hell, I’d love to make a record with Ollie. Lock him, me, and Matt in the studio for a week and let us kill each other! [LAUGHS] Duke it out creatively. It would be an amazing record.
I think I’m passionate about staking my claim as my own. I feel if you do too many collaborations—you have to keep it special.
EE: What is a question you wish interviewers would ask but never do?
JF: That is a weird question. I’d like to talk about my vocals more. Being a vocal coach is such a big part of my life, and I know it’s not the most exciting thing to talk about, but there is so much work and technique that I put behind my voice. I wish I got more questions about that. Being a vocal coach, it’s very common to think that singing is very easy. As any singer knows, it’s a craft. I’d like to talk more about vocal technique but that’s nerrrrrdyyyyy.
EE: I was looking at your “No Sleep” Live at Aslan Audio video. I actually thought that your breath control was outrageous. Again, you’re reaching those notes that are on the farther edges of your range. You appear effortless, but I know you’re putting so much breath support under them.
JF: Totally. I will jog and sing. Or do jumping jacks and sing. Or run in place and sing. That’s one of the ways, on an extreme end, to get breath support. There’s exercises that are specifically for lung capacity and breaths support. Over time, that kind of mechanism becomes second nature to you. You have to keep up with it. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
Sorry, when you asked about collaborations, did you mean in the genre or anyone?
JF: Trent Reznor. From Nine Inch Nails. If I could get into a studio with him and collaborate with him, I would probably die afterwards from happiness.
EE: I thought of another question, actually. You performed at the Bernie Sanders rally.
JF: Three times. Two he was present at.
EE: How did that happen?
JF: I was on tour. All these good things happen when I’m on tour. In February 2016, I was on my way to Austin and I got an email from the campaign. It was simple. It said there was going to be a rally in Denton, Texas. “Bernie won’t be there, but we’d love for you to be the entertainment.” So I did this rally without Bernie there. There were like 500 people there. It was so awesome and positive, and fun. Bernie’s Deputy Director of State, David Sanchez, was there and he told me that Bernie might be coming to Dallas in a couple weeks. “If he’s there, would you sing for him?”
Two weeks later I was on the treadmill at the gym. It’s like 9:00 at night and David Sanchez is calling me. So long story short, they asked if I could perform for Bernie. Of course I said yes! […] The next thing I know [my guitarist and I] are at the Verizon Theater at 8am with secret service getting all of our stuff checked out. I performed for about 10,000 people, and every news camera. Just me and an acoustic guitar. It changed my life. It changed my career. It really elevated me, at least on a Texas level, because I was asked to do it. I was proud of it because I love to perform so much; that’s my favorite thing to do. I felt validated in terms of professionalism and the ability to perform and own a crowd. At the time, sure I had already been gigging for a couple years, and I had won a couple of local awards—but for a good year and a half, I couldn’t go anywhere without people recognizing me as “The Bernie Artist.” It was pretty cool. I was grateful for that. It created a sense of respect towards me […] and then again in April of 2019, he asked me to come back and sing for him in Fort Worth. It was an honor all around. And life changing. It helped me with my nerves too. Performing in front of that many people, when it’s not your show and you are being asked to represent a presidential candidate…Don’t fuck it up! Well if I can do that and it be successful, [and I’d never been so nervous in my life], I can perform anywhere.
EE: How can the readers and potential new listeners, however far away, help you out moving forward?
JF: By sharing music with your friends and family. Word of mouth is still so powerful, so share it with people that you know. Social media is a given. If you enjoy it, please share it. Buying the record from NewRetroWave’s Bandcamp certainly helps. It doesn’t have to be financial support. Just sharing who I am by saying, “Hey, you might like this artist.” Spread the word. Like me on Instagram! Come to a show when you can.
[And of course, streaming music on places like Spotify and subscribing on YouTube]
EE: Finally, what gear do you use?
JF: We record at Aslan Audio in Dallas. For synths on the album we used mostly Omnisphere and Native Instruments. The notable microphones used were the Neumann U67 and U47.
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