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
As to her inclusion in the roster of a label often thought of as a bastion of jazz, it's also the label of Norah Jones, and Was' signings since taking over have included Van Morrison and Aaron Neville, as well as jazz icon Wayne Shorter.
"Overall, it would be a mistake to keep remaking 1960s jazz. All that stuff is available and it's the greatest catalog I think any record company has ever amassed, you know, but there's no point in remaking it over and over again," Was told Metro Times recently.
"We found the original mission statement that Alfred Lion wrote when he started the company [in 1939] and he was concerned with producing authentic music and presenting it in a non-sensationalized way. ... So we're really just looking for authentic, heartfelt music that's got integrity and we hope will be around 50 years from now."
Hernandez knows she doesn't literally fit with the traditional jazz vibe of the Blue Note.
"I was actually surprised that they were interested in having me sign to the label, only because of their roster," she says. "We're so different to anything else that they had put out. They have like Norah Jones, of the more current, bigger artists on the label. She has some contemporary aspects, but she's still soft and quiet. That's definitely not what I have happening, and that actually made me nervous.
"I felt a huge pressure to be something that I'm not. Is there going to be this huge rush of fans of the label that are going to be against me because I'm not jazzy enough? There are die-hard fans of that label because of how long it's been around. I was reading comments fans were writing about Norah Jones because of her new album, which is very pop. All these Blue Note fans were writing, 'What is this rubbish, this is not jazz.' It's still a great record, but they're not excited because it's not what they were expecting."
Hernandez has made it clear that she doesn't want to change her style and sound to suit anybody.
"The label liked some of my poppier, easier listening songs," she says. "I warned them that don't want to shift too much. I don't want to put out a straight pop record. At least, if I'm not going to do jazz, I want to do something a little experimental. Challenging for the ears. I'd rather they say, 'What the hell is that?' than just say, 'This is just not jazz.' I'd rather they be intrigued and confused than just angry that it's some straightforward rock record or whatever. It's cool having Milo Froideval in the mix. He's a classical composer, so he's talking about string arrangements, horn arrangements, all these amazing elements that we're going to incorporate. They might not be strictly jazz, but they should have elements that those fans can attach to and connect with."
Going from a local Detroit artist to a national act (while, of course, holding onto her Detroit edge) comes with its own set of new pressures.
How do you go from deciding between playing at the Lager House or Small's to taking the whole of the United States (and perhaps beyond) into account?
"It's very intimidating," she says. "I was freaking out, actually. I spent all of last week in California, trying to clear my head a little. A little calm before the storm. I'm putting the pressure on myself. My management is calm and trying to prepare me in every aspect. They've been trying to toughen me up. My label has been so amazing. I've been taken aback by how accommodating they've been. They came out here a couple of weeks ago to hang out and get to know me. To make me feel comfortable and understand what they're trying to push.
"The biggest pressure is really figuring out exactly who I want to be. How do I want people perceive me? I was stressing about it a ton at first. Finally, a lot of my friends told me that I don't need to figure anything out because the reason these people like me is that I'm myself. Being myself has gotten me a record deal and where I am now. Detroit's a great place to be for that because we've got a good support team here. Everyone is rooting for me and helping me out however they can."
If anyone can handle that sort of pressure, it's this grounded, likable young woman. She seems extremely smart, and she has surrounded herself with good people. She'll do just fine. "I'm trying not to overwhelm myself right now," she says. "I want to stay grounded and super-positive. Every day, I remind myself that this is music. I'm not performing brain surgery. This is something I love and I'm so blessed to be able to do it. I get in the moments where I do get overwhelmed and I have to give myself a pep talk. I love this, it's fun. So right now, I'm focusing on the record, doing pre-production with Milo, and then rehearsing for the show on the 20th.
That show is at the Magic Bag rather than at Hernandez's own space — a mark of progress; she'll need the extra capacity for events such as these going forward. The Ferndale venue has a cool ambience that should suit her. Hernandez says that she will be playing some of the songs from the forthcoming album at the Bag and, following the show, "We'll record for a month-and-a-half in Texas. After that, I'm sure it will be a completely different thing. But for now I want to make sure that the record is amazing."
She takes a deep breath and says, "Once I have a good record, I can move forward and do all the things that I want to accomplish."
Brett Callwood writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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