Jess Best on Using Music to Grow and Connect

Over the past year Jess Best has released a steady stream of music, some short snippets straight off her phone, and other more polished tracks like More, which is quickly approaching 2 million streams on Spotify. This summer, Jess released her third full length project Saturday and we got a chance to sit down with her and talk about the process of creation leading up to the release.

In December of 2016 Jess and Conner, her producer and collaborator, walked into a Barnes and Nobel, picked up a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Moved by what, if you haven’t read it, is a considerably profound book, they decided to write an album based off the story. That night, they found out that their friend and fellow musician Claire had passed, and quickly a new meaning behind Giving Tree project developed. They took some time to escape NYC where they are both based, and wrote and recorded the whole project in one week. It was a pure expression of the moment they were both in, a product of them processing their grief. In a statement she wrote and posted her site she writes that she had “never felt so physically reactive to music...when I sing I feel closest to her and I’m not going to run away from that feeling even though it hurts in every way. Here marks the beginning of the process of sitting in a room and working through this.”

When we spoke to Jess she recalled feeling uncomfortable about releasing and promoting something so personal and fresh. But she and Connor realized Giving Tree had become “a way to be close to the people we we love... it seemed like the most obvious way to connect with them.” Not only was Giving Tree a distillation of their own healing process, but also a tool the people in their life could deal with Claire’s loss, or loss more generally.

They quickly jumped into their next project Anonymous which felt like an extension of Giving Tree but taken outside of the safety of their bedroom and infused with very literal aspects of real life — honking horns, car blinkers, the rhythmic clicks of boots hitting the pavement. As Jess describes it “the sounds of the world, with a layer of music underneath.” Anonymous feels like an expression of the next the step in the healing process — taking an experience that really shakes you, knocks you down and integrating that experience into real life.

As soon as they wrapped up Anonymous, Jess and Connor were ready to work on something that involved a bit more intention and thought. So with the release of Saturday, they were faced with distinguishing between projects that were really about the moment (Giving Tree and Anonymous), where, as Jess describes, “the distinction between writing and recording is almost nonexistent,” and a project that is more polished.

But in true Jess Best style she still found a way to let people into her world. Against the recommendation of music industry professionals, she released tidbits, notes, bedroom recordings and demos as she wrote and recorded Saturday. She didn’t end up recording more polished versions of all the tracks she put out leading up to the release, but Jess told us “if I want people to be a part of the art Connor and I are making, it seems only fitting to open up the world of it to them, and not just the shiny end product.” It made the most sense to get their audience excited about the music they were releasing by actually showing them their art. Jess also added that opening the door to their process took pressure off of them to be “perfect,” something a lot of artists struggle with.

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She released this note days before Saturday graced our ears which so elegantly summarizes what this albums really means. Its a reflection of a journey, of a process that took a full year. And it was the product of constantly opening up, writing and expressing, and then watching those little moments take shape, and mold into a cohesive thought.

“I always feel so blessed to have a medium that takes me places I wouldn’t necessarily go on my own, and forces me to ask myself questions and grow,” said Jess. “It has the potential to transform your day, and all it takes is just a willingness to open up.”

Listen to Jess Best’s music on Spotify and check out her website for a chance to journey into her world. 

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Pam Soffer