Jessica Hernandez on the verge
Working on her major label debut, anticipating the national scene ... can you blame her if she's a little nervous?
Published: July 18, 2012
Conventional wisdom says that the days of the big major label contracts are over, that the only way to "make it" (whatever that means) nowadays is to "do it yourself" — to spend hours talking to potential fans on Facebook, to be your own manager, booking agent, secretary, janitor and bus driver. The labels just aren't swooping down and snatching artists from obscurity like they used to do. Or are they?
The truth, or at least the truth for Jessica Hernandez, is a little less black-and-white. Hernandez paid all of the aforementioned dues. She even went so far as to create her own venue in a space above her family's bakery. She built a stage, designed the interior, all of that. Nobody could argue that she hadn't worked at her craft by the time Blue Note Records, a jazz-themed subsidiary of Capitol (and, in turn, EMI), formed in 1939 and now home to Norah Jones among others, came calling.
Still, Hernandez isn't one to make life easy for herself and, after agreeing to fly to New York to meet with and perform for the president of the label, she promptly canceled on him. Unthinkable? Hernandez picks up the story.
"I was literally in my apartment making dinner for myself and hanging out," she says. "My cell phone rings, and it's the label's president, Ian Ralfini. We ended up getting along great. We talked about music and life. He was excited and wanted to fly me to New York to meet me. I agreed. I had met my current manager at Rust Belt Studios in Royal Oak and he was interested in working with me. I said that he could be my manager and told him about the meeting with Blue Note. He was thinking like a manager would, asking me what was I gonna do? Negotiate a record deal by myself? I was like, 'I dunno.' They told me to cancel the flight, have the label come here, we'll do it at the loft in a couple of months, they'll see me in my own environment. But to cancel a meeting with a label like that? I was crapping my pants."
A little back-story: Jessica Hernandez, 24, grew up in West Bloomfield, the first-generation American daughter of a Mexican mother and Cuban father. She lived above her family's restaurant from an early age, and worked in the family bakery from third grade. She says that she was a total band geek at school.
"I was in choirs growing up since grade school, professional choirs when I was young, and I did a lot of theater in high school," Hernandez says. "I started singing and dance and stuff in college. I was definitely a band geek in high school. Choir kid, theater kid, I'd start singing in rock bands in college when I was living in Chicago."
Being surrounded by Mexican and Cuban family members, the music of both of those cultures naturally had a big impact on a young Hernandez. "A lot of my influences come from my upbringing and the music that I was surrounded by," she says. "I'm first-generation American, my father came from Havana. There was a lot of Latin music around the house growing up. Michigan's weird, because every Cuban knows every other Cuban. If a new Cuban moved into the area, my grandma's the lady that finds them, brings them to the house and throws parties for them, just because they're Cuban. It's pretty ridiculous. She's always inviting everybody to everything. So I was definitely surrounded by that culture."
In 2008, Hernandez started taking music seriously, still not daring to dream that a major label would be calling her up in a few short years. She settled on the band name of the "Deltas," not because of any association with Delta blues, but because of an old car.
"I actually picked it at the last minute," she says. "We played our first show at Dally in the Alley, and at that time I didn't have a band name. I intended to do that one show, then take some time to get comfortable, write more songs. After that show though, we kept getting offers and I kept wanting to play. I decided that we had to come up with a band name, and we decided on Jessica Hernandez and the 'somethings.' We spent a whole weekend texting each other, and it ended up just being a joke between us, like somebody would say 'Jessica Hernandez & the Dildos.' Finally, my drummer at the time had an '87 Delta car, this green car that was sitting in his front yard. He suggested Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas. Everybody liked it because it had an old-school vibe to it. I liked how it sounds, so it stuck."
The band — completed by the core lineup of Ben Sturley (bass), Taylor Pierson (keys), Steve Stetson (drums) and Gordon Smith (guitar) — is now Hernandez's full-time concern, as she looks to put all of her energy into ensuring that the first album comes out exactly as she wants it to.
"I was working pretty much until the day I got signed, but then I decided to focus on the music," Hernandez says. "It's like an energy shift. Right before I signed the deal, everything was leading up to that point. There was a weird middle point where I was anxious to get going and I was still working. Doing stuff at home, working for my dad. Right after I signed the deal, I stopped doing everything and started making sure the songs were where I wanted them. I started doing my research with producers, traveling and meeting different people, really figuring out what I wanted the record to sound like."
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