There is a lot to unpack with Jesse Jo Stark, but immediately you know that it is something special. The LA-based songstress is a total badass, grabbing our attention once again with her latest single ‘tornado’, another taste of her forthcoming debut album ‘DOOMED’
Photography by Crista Simiriglia & Veronica Lechuga
Written by Oli Spencer
“I know rock n’ roll is supposed to be dirty, but sometimes it’s not. I love family and I love that feeling that comes from it, and I feel that on this record…” Jesse Jo Stark tells me, as glistening patches of light dance across her face from the collection of disco balls hanging outside. “I feel like I’m in touch with little me on this album and that’s important to me.” Growing up, she was fascinated by the vibrant and rich texture of classic horror movie posters and her dad’s trove of comic books. She’s a fanatic for the more macabre art and pop-culture - conjuring those influences into her own gritty blend of rock, blues, punk and pop. On DOOMED, Jesse’s vision is clearer than ever.
The latest taste of the album comes as ‘tornado’ a self-described fucked up love story about meeting people at the wrong time in your life - being presented with a button that says ‘don’t push’ but you push it anyway. It builds on the foundations of the previously released raucous thrasher ‘modern love’ and the twangy duet ‘so bad’ featuring pal and collaborator Jesse, of the Neighbourhood.
Created organically and full of passion, everything about this album has us excited. The iconic cover art captures the feel of the record perfectly, portraying the two sides of Jesse Jo Stark. Painted by Greg Hilderbrant (the artist behind the original Star Wars poster) it explores the concept of duality and angels and demons, all while hinting at the emotional nakedness she displays on the record. In the foreground, she bares all - knelt over stone surrounded by the sinister glow of lava. Behind her, the angel shines through the dark clouds with a bright and frankly, quite epic halo forming a crown around her head.
We sat down with Jesse Jo Stark for a fun and insightful conversation, where we spoke about connecting with her younger self on the record, the process behind the painted cover art, and what kind of texture ‘DOOMED’ would be.
What was the first artist you sort of claimed as your own - without anyone else's influence
Oh my god, I don’t know… I mean I’m really temperamental and territorial about The Cramps. But as a little girl I’d say Brittney Spears.
Do you feel like a rockstar at all?
I think when I feel like that is when I put my boots on and walk on stage, that would be the most in my body I feel. I think I obtain that surreal feeling, but I’m still just flattered when someone knows my music. Like this girl came up to me the other day and mentioned a song called 'silver kiss' that was only on YouTube and never formally released, and I was just so in awe. I was like that’s so cool. You never know who's listening, who knows and respects your art and that’s what I would say is the coolest feeling.
‘DOOMED’ is on the horizon - how are you feeling right now?
I’m so excited! I just released my DOOMED filter on Instagram today and everyone has been using it and that kinda shit is when it starts to feel real. I know it just sounds like a filter, but we worked on it for months because filters are completely difficult, at least for me because I’m not techy. It felt fun today, everyone is getting excited and I just released another song from the album called ‘Modern Love’ and it’s just all coming together. I’m buzzing, you know.
If ‘DOOMED’ was a texture, what texture would it be?
I have to think about this…I don’t know! I’ve never been asked that before. That question is so fun to me I don’t even know what to say. Sticky oil! I think one side is maybe a wet oily kind of texture… like it’s so black that it's reflecting light in your eyes… glossy oil… slick oil.
"I feel like I’m about to be unleashed"
I’d love to hear how the cover art came about?
I’ve just been obsessed with comics and old Italian painters and horror and things like that my whole life. I’m really fascinated with art because I really can’t draw… I can sketch, but you know I’m not good at it. So I’ve always collected my friends’ art and so on. I’ve stalked the internet and tried to find… honestly, I know this is fucked up, but who’s alive because a lot of these iconic painters are a lot older. I came across Gregg and he followed a friend of mine, and it just unraveled from there. I got on the phone with his wife who is a total badass, and I explained what I was about and I played her a song and said if you like this album please fit me in.... I’ve gotta turn around the artwork so fast. He’s so busy because he’s such an icon and we really resonated with each other, everything we talked about we were on the same page - from the first call, to the first sketch. We were talking about things like lava or no lava? Should there be a tail around me? These conversations were so cool, and there were a lot of them. It was just so cool to hear him speak about lighting, and I had to get photos taken for him… because he works off of light so I had to light myself properly. It’s an acrylic painting, and it’s about to be hung up in my house. The whole process was so sick and important and very satisfying, it was all around organic.
What does ‘tornado’ mean to you?
I think ‘tornado’ is kind of about meeting people at the wrong time. I explain it like pushing a button that says don’t push and then you just push it anyway because you think there’s going to be this different outcome and it’s just not. I think the whole album kinda has this like nod to angels and demons, light and dark and the duality of who we are as people. I think I have two sides to me, so I meet this guy at the beach but I’m kind of… it’s like I’m not of this world. I think we both know it’s not gonna end well but we do it anyway. It’s a fucked up love story, I think of natural born killers or something like that.
And Jesse is also featured on the record, what was it like working alongside him?
He’s amazing, you know we were friends at first and then we started writing a lot at my house during Covid with my guitar player, and we all had this strong bond. I think he’s pushed me lyrically and I feel like I’ve gotten to know myself through him because when I write all my songs I always collaborate, but I am really stubborn and I write from a very cryptic-like place. He really pulled a lot out of me and I got to know me more because he said things to me that I wasn’t willing to say. I’m really naked on this album emotionally, it’s just fascinating to work with him as well because he experiments with different things on this album. So it was a different kind of art project for me. It felt like a family, we were all on the same page, we ate candy, we laughed and it was just a vibe, a really safe place and I like that when I create. He’s just cool and now I have a friend and collaborator, I love it. I know rock n’ roll is supposed to be dirty, but sometimes it’s not. I love family and I love that feeling that comes from it, and I feel that on this record, I feel like I’m in touch with little me on this album and that’s important to me.
Does it feel full circle in a way?
Yeah for sure, one of these songs I wrote seven years ago with my drummer, and obviously we re-produced it but I had never recorded it. One song has me as a little girl on it. I really got to know myself again through my different ages, through these lyrics. Even the video I just did – my family and my friends were in it. It just feels like this really cool life project.
You’re also very creative in the fashion world too - does that influence your music at all?
Of course, we’ve been frantic today – well I have been with my best friend Mark. I’m just like, I don’t know what I’m gonna wear because I haven’t played on stage in a while… that’s why I made those boots, I call them the Sugar Jones because that was my ‘stage name’ when I was a little girl… I ate a lot of candy, and I called them that because I was like I wanna feel the way I wanna feel when I'm on stage. I created it with my friend Chris, we spent a lot of time on this boot and I’m actually making and selling them. They allow me to take on this feeling of walking on stage and feeling like its my time, I feel empowered by my fucking shoes. So I think they do go hand in hand, they do cross over. They’re just forms of expression really, and it’s important to me to have that individuality - so I try to bring that into whatever I’m doing, whether that’s fashion or my music.
What are you obsessed with right now outside of music?
My dog. I think just like…I don’t really have a lot of time. I’m really immersed in my work, so to be honest I’ve just been obsessed with music because of Covid. I feel like I’m about to be unleashed. Like I’ve just been inside this body and I’m about to be thrown into the world again. Everything’s lead up to getting on stage. I obsess over the people I love, like I muse out hard on my friends. I’ve been creative directing for my boyfriend, and I love inspiring so to get out of my own project and to focus on other people as well is great, I really love it. Creating constantly.