4th May 2017
Jessica Lynn: The New Queen Of Country Rock
Ramblin’ Man’s Malcolm Dome meets the AC/DC-loving successor to Shania Twain…
Although Jessica Lynn will be a new name for many, she has already crammed a lot into her 27 years. Born in Brooklyn, not only is she a graduate in education studies (and has a masters degree as well), but began playing live in her teens after starting her first band.
She was signed in 2014 to Round Hill Music, one of Nashville’s pre-eminent publishing companies. And last year the single Not Your Woman and a self-titled EP were both released.
On the live front, Jessica has played with the likes of Trace Adkins, Shenandoah and Loretta Lynn (no relation, while she has appeared in two TV specials so far, 2014’s Jessica Lynn: This Much Fun – Live From The Winery At St. George and the following year’s Jessica Lynn – Takin’ Over Live At The Paramount.
Now she and her band – lead guitarist Steve Sterlacci (her husband), rhythm guitarist Steven Wright-Mark, pedal steel guitarist Bob Riedel, bassist Peter Calamera (her father), vocalist Victoria Calamera (her mother), drummer Joshua Carruthers and percussionist Matthew Bauer – are coming over to play on the Outlaw Country Stage at Ramblin’ Man. So, what can expect from one of America’s most potent new musical forces? The delightful lady herself tells us.
You are a self-taught musician on the guitar and drums, aren’t you? How tough was it to learn these instruments?
Well, I started out playing piano, and even had some lessons when was very young. But my parents stopped sending me to the teacher, because all this person wanted to do was play me songs they had written, and my father and mother felt I wasn’t learning anything. So, I picked up on the guitar and drums. What I wanted to do was learn as many instruments as I possibly could, because I thought it would help be as a songwriter, and it has also made it a lot easier to communicate about music with my band.
I actually learnt the drums by playing along to Green Day’s American Idiot album; I got a great grounding on drumming from there. But I am also lucky that I seem to have this natural ability to pick up an instrument and play it. I can also play the harmonica and the recorder; I can play the theme from the movie Titanic on the recorder. My band are always teasing me about this. But I have never done it live… at least not yet.
Who are your biggest influences as a songwriter?
There are so many, from all sorts of areas of music. Not just from country. These would include the Beach Boys, Richard Marx, Barry Manilow, No Doubt, Neil Diamond, AC/DC, The Beatles and Shania Twain. It’s because I draw from such a wide variety of people that I have my own style. I don’t think I sound like anyone else.
What about as a musician?
My influences tend to be from songwriters, rather than musicians themselves. My band members all have their own heroes, of course. But I go for the lyrics and the melodies before anything else.
I tend to like older music as well. That’s why I have Beach Boys CDs and also records from someone like Frankie Valli. I don’t think artists today have the same impact as those from the past. One reason is because when you listen to, say, a Neil Diamond album, you can hear everything he’s singing, because it is so real. Now, you can manipulate things in the studio so much what you hear isn’t accurately representing the talent of the person concerned.
You have two education-related degrees. Did you ever consider a career as a teacher or lecturer?
“Well, I had to teach as part of my course, and I have also some substitute teaching. But I am so busy now there just isn’t the time to do something like that. But I love working with kids. They are so full of life. My degree is related to mathematics, which surprises people, because they immediately think I must be a geek, ha, ha!
You wrote a song in your teens called Your Favorite Stranger about Alzheimer’s Disease. What made you write about such a difficult subject at such a young age?
I wrote that song when I was 16 years old. It came from a personal experience. My family knew a couple, and the husband had it. But the wife never stopped caring for him, or loving him. And seeing the love they had for each other, even though he was being robbed of his memories by the disease, inspired the song. After I had written this, I played it for my dad, and he sobbed, so I knew I had really tapped into what he was feeling. I have never done that live as Jessica Lynn. But I am thinking of putting it into my repertoire. Who know, maybe I will do it at Ramblin’ Man.
You’ve done a couple of TV specials. How did these happen for you at such a young age?
Well, I don’t come from a rich background. Nor do I have an uncle who runs a major record label. So, I didn’t have any help in my early days. My dad, before he joined my band and also became my manager, was a new age composer and got his big break by having his own PBS show.
Now, we had no money, but had to rely on just ourselves and our talent. So, my dad suggested that we should film a special for PBS and send it in. What’s the worst that could happen? They just wouldn’t air it.
At the time, there was a new venue opening up near us, in a converted church. As PBS are always on the lookout for locations with interesting backdrops and a different atmosphere, we thought it would be a good move to film there (The Winery). So, we filmed the first special there before the venue was even open. At it worked. I put together the band, and then we went in there to do it.
To be honest, we were flying by the seat of our pants. But it got me the attention to kickstart everything. Before long, I was getting offers to appear at different major country music festivals. The amusing thing is that, because of the specials people see me as an overnight sensation. But I have been singing since I was a little girl. So, you could say that it took me two decades to become an overnight sensation!
You have an EP out, but no album as yet. Is there one in the works?
The music business is very strange these days. And we feel there’s no point in an independent artist like me putting out an album. It’s tough enough for musicians who already have a reputation to sell albums these days, so what chance have I got? So, I will wait until I get a record deal before doing an album.
But I do have a new three-track EP ready for release before the summer tour starts. I recorded this in Belgium with a producer called Patrick Hamilton, who has worked with the opera singer Katharine Jenkins in the past. I have done a production deal with Patrick, and really enjoyed working with him. The EP is to be called Look At Me That Way. Each song is different. The title track is a party song, very anthemic, while another one is more mellow pop. I will put out a single as well, but right now I am not sure which song it will be.
You have been called Shania Twain’s natural successor. Do you see yourself more of a country performer than a rock one?
I feel I am a mixture of things. There’s obviously country, but also pop, rock and blues. As you say, I have been compared to Shania Twain, and she is also hard to pigeon hole, because of the way she draws from so many different areas of music.
You have your parents involved in your band. Is that a little weird?
Actually, it makes things easier. The music business is full of people who don’t care about artists, and are just out to make money from you. Of course, there are some great people as well, but we all know the other type exist everywhere in the business. So, for me having my family so close is very comforting. You know you can count of them, whatever happens. They’ll always be there for you.
The other thing is that it’s great to share experiences with them when we are on tour. You can imagine, for instance, driving along and seeing an amazing sunset, and then going back home and attempting to explain to, say, my husband how you were feeling when you saw this. Even if you have a photo of the sunset to show them, it can never be the same as having that person right there, to go through the same emotions as you are. When you have your family with you like this, it’s very special. You have a unique bond. That means a lot to me.
Mind you, it is a little confusing, because we have two Steves in the band. My husband and Steven Wright-Mark. We even auditioned a drummer whose name was Steve, but we had to turn him down, because having three Steves would have been impossible!
You’re playing the Outlaw Country Stage at Ramblin’ Man. What can fans expect from seeing you live?
We have a lot of energy, and move around quite a bit. For me, a live show shouldn’t be just about playing the songs as you hear them on record. If that’s all you want, then stay at home and listen to CD. What we try to do is engage the audience, and make sure the emotion in the music comes through.
I must admit to feeling a little anxious about playing at Ramblin’ Man. Because I am a little different to everyone else on the bill. So many others seem to have tattoos, and I don’t. Maybe I should get a few, ha! That’s typical of me, though. I always do things in a strange way, and never go through the obvious routes!
But so far I have to say my experience of meeting English people has been just fantastic. You all seem so lively and ready to party. When I was in Bruges working on the new EP, we went out for a drink one night in a local bar. A group of English people came in, and just decided to sit with us. And we had a superb night with them. They were really in the mood to have a good time. And that’s what I am expecting to happen at Ramblin’ Man. I know a lot of people there won’t know who I am. But if they are coming along to have a fine time, then I will ensure that they get that sort of performance from me. I can’t wait!
Jessica Lynn plays the Outlaw Country Stage on July 29. Buy your tickets to see her here