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Jessie James interview

September 7, 2010   by  

Is she a country star? Is she a pop star? As it turns out, Jessie James is a little of both. As the “Wanted” and “Boys In The Summer” singer prepares to release her second album, she talks with Beatweek about success, rejection, perception, the creation of a southern summer anthem, and how landing on Maxim’s hot list hasn’t exactly made her personal life any easier…

You’ve always managed to straddle the line between the pop and country genres. Everything you’ve released until now were in “pop” in iTunes. Boys In The Summer is listed under country. Should we read anything into that?

I didn’t really think too much about it. I just wrote what came out of me. I have such a great label. The first record they kind of wanted to put me where they wanted to put me, but this time they were just like “Do your thing” and so I came back with the record and it was definitely way more country than the first one. So I guess they kind of took matters into their own hands and they just realized I’m definitely a country girl at heart. That’s just what I’ve been doing my whole life. I definitely have many pop influences. Christina Aguilera was, like, my world. But so is Shania, and she’s very pop country. They’re kind of testing things out a little bit. They put it in the country part on iTunes, and it’s done really well so far.

Is it tricky to make music that can be perceived as being both pop and country? Those are not genres that are considered compatible in a lot of people’s minds?

I think so. But I think the way everything’s happening right now, you look at Taylor Swift, she’s on both, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum has a song on pop radio right now. I just think it’s kind of good music is good music, and I really hope there isn’t too much of a fine line. Especially for someone like me, I do tend to go both ways, as far as music goes. If I had to pick just one, I would be more country because it’s what I’ve done my whole life. I’ve won yodeling contests growing up. It’s just something I’m really familiar with.

I would not have thought to ask this, but in your bio there’s a reference to California Gurls. And I’m thinking, Katy Perry wrote that song in reference to an Alicia Keys song about New York, and now you’ve got a song that’s about the South. I know you guys are all friendly and everything, but are we seeing the rise of a friendly east coast – west coast pop star rivalry?

I haven’t looked at it that way. You know what’s funny too, is I was a little, not frustrated, but I don’t know when Katy wrote that song. My song was finished and hers came out a couple months after I had written Boys In The Summer, and I really wish my song would have come out a little bit earlier. But being more of a new artist you have to build it a little bit more at radio, you can’t just throw it out there. She’s a superstar. She can throw it out there and people are going to love it. We have to take a little bit more of time and have a little bit more of a plan before we put it out. But my song was finished same time hers was, so I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to put mine out sooner, because it is a summer song.

I guess it is more of a south kind of vibe, but I hope it doesn’t leave out anybody. I think anyone can sing “Boys In The Summer” instead of just one west coast kind of song.

You co-wrote Wanted with Kara Dioguardi and Mitch Allen, and that was a huge hit for you. You’ve gone back and co-written when them again for a song on this record. Did you find that it was different or easier the second time you sat down with these guys because you had done it with them before?

Yes, it was much easier. For me, whenever I write with somebody, I can’t just do it on the first write. It takes a couple days for me to get to know them, because it’s like I’m pretty much pouring out my diary for you. I’m not gonna just go sit with somebody and just tell them everything that’s going on with me if I don’t know them. That’s just a natural instinct. Because I’ve already worked with Kara and Mitch, it was like we were old friends. I walked in and I was like “Hey everybody, how’s everyone doing?” We were talking about Idol and everything that’s going on. We spit it out, we wrote it in like two hours and it was so easy because we all knew each other. Of course I knew Mitch a little than I do Kara, because he and I have worked together on many things. It was just like a little reunion and we all had a really good time.

You’ve been named one of Maxim’s hottest women, and yet you say that you’re a homebody, you don’t go out and party. Are people surprised when they find that out about you?

I think so, probably, because even when I’ve gone on things, like I’ll be honest, I’ve been dating a lot recently because I’m single and I’m a young girl so I’m gonna go have fun. But even when I go on dates, these guys have misconceptions about me. Because of course they’ve googled me and they’ve seen a little bit of rumors and they’ve seen the Maxim interviews. Even one of the guy’s mothers was like “I don’t want you going out with her, she’s bad for your image.” If she only knew I go to church every Sunday when I’m home, and I bake cookies at midnight, and I don’t go out and I don’t party. You rarely find me drinking. I don’t even cuss. So it’s interesting, because I have this sort of image because I like to dress a little sexy and I think a woman should be comfortable with her sexuality. But I’m definitely not a bad girl. I’m just a good girl with a big mouth.

You’re finding a good measure of success here that’ll probably get even bigger with this record. And yet early on, you got turned down by every label in town. Do you feel like you want to go back and say hey, you guessed wrong on me after all?

Honestly, I almost want to thank them because I feel like if I would have came out at that time, I wouldn’t have really known myself and I don’t think I would have put out something that I would have been as proud of. And I wouldn’t have been as in control. No, I don’t think there’s any sort of revenge or any sort of let me show you. Of course there’s a couple of presidents of labels I’ll see around Nashville that turned me down and were actually mean about it rather than helpful. There was one president who I adore and who I get to work with now, because were on the Nashville scene a little bit now too, he was the only president that offered me a developmental deal, who wanted to work with me and develop me into a great artist. Everyone else said no. And so I do see these people, and one of them recently came up to my friends in the business and said “What’s Jessie doing? How’s her record doing? I’d love to maybe produce one of her songs.” And so that was kind of cool.

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Bill Palmer is Editor in Chief of Beatweek Magazine. His editorial contributions include interviews with musicians and iPhone industry coverage.

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