WORDS: Nicole Stanton
IMAGES: Sydney Lowe
Jess Best is living in Brooklyn, working three jobs, and making her art. She may be a superwoman.The Loam ladies fell in love with Jess when listening to her debut album Gone Baby, released last year. It’s a music rich in jazz and R&B sounds, with scatterings of electronic influence that hint at more experimental tunes to come. Refinery 29 recently named her one of the “8 New York Artists Who Could Be the Next Madonna.” Well, there you have it.
We have always been in deep admiration of her pursuing her music in the hubbub of New York life. What we didn’t realize, until having the privilege of catching up with her, is that she is also creating spaces for other people’s art. She’s a gem of a woman, and an absolute inspiration to all of us trying to be friends, lovers, employees, and makers.
Could you walk us through a normal day with you? We’re just trying to get a feel for how your job, music, booking, being a human, all fits into one.
I’m in a bit of a crazy place, where I just have a bunch of jobs. My main job is working at Madison Square Park Conservancy. We’re in the midst of planning this huge kids art festival happening the week after next, but this next week I’ll be on tour with Honey and the Sting. This job is four days a week, and one day a week I work food service at 61 Local in Brooklyn.
Isn’t that where you do Sunday Sounds?
Yes! Exactly. The bar is this community space type venue, and the owner has taken me on as the music person. He’s paying me to make playlists, and I’m trying to get a music scene going with Sunday Sounds. Sunday Sounds has been awesome, just so relaxed. It’s so great to be playing in New York, while also having the power to create a musical space that’s exactly what I want. I can give my friends, or new artists I find, a space that has a great vibe, a good turn out, but that’s also a sit down venue. I get to present the music in the way that I feel most aptly represents my friends’ music. You go to a lot of these gigs for up and coming bands where people are talking, or uninterested. People really get to know the artists that play Sunday Sounds. Honestly, I low key want to make this a full time job. I’m busting my ass to make it really work.
I know you’ve played Sunday Sounds, but what’s it been like performing around New York?
When I first got to New York I was booking myself a lot. I was dragging my band around to shows that just didn’t feel good. I got burnt out of that so quickly. Since that point, I’ve had to be a lot more discerning about shows I play. I’m in a place where I want to be more intentional.
How has your music found a home in New York City?
I really think you can hear the city in the new music I’m making. A lot of it is being made really late at night. The new shit I write is so different. I’ll be meeting up with someone from 11:30 to 2:30 at night, or sometimes really early in the morning before work. I’m usually so protective over those hours. They are usually my alone time, and where I find my solace. Recently they’ve been exploited.
How important is place to your art? Do you feel as though you could make music anywhere?
What’s keeping me in New York is my extreme attachment to the people that are in my immediate vicinity. For me, right now, my sense of place is really defined by the people in it. It feels as though I do need to be in New York, but that is very fear based. No matter where I am I’ll be making music -- but there’s also a part of me that feels really fulfilled in New York by my musical life. I’ve met a lot of new people that I’ve connected with really well, and it’s constantly evolving. I have dreams of moving to New Orleans which would be a completely different experience. It’s not New York or die, but I’m not done here yet.
What have been your biggest challenges (maybe failures) since pursuing your music full time?
I guess I could think of my musical life as a mountain. I started in New York in a deep valley, but now am maye on a hillside. I have a bit more perspective after being here for a year. The thing that I thought were failures aren’t really any more. Like, for example, this past Monday I played a secret show with these three awesome musicians. Leading up to the show we hadn’t practiced at all, we hadn’t even thought of the gig. Our group name was so stupid I’m not even going to say it. In my head I was just like, what’s even the point of doing this gig? I was so down about it. Then we got there, and it was all improvisation. We made up songs the whole time, and had a dang blast. And I just realized, isn’t this what it’s all about? That moment totally encompassed how I’ve changed since I’ve gotten here. The goal isn’t somewhere in the future -- it’s happening now. I’m trying really hard to let moments like this past gig on Monday, to take up the space of what success feels like.
Who do you look for for career inspiration?
Sia -- she’s the first person who came to mind because I just seriously admire her career path. I love that she doesn’t give a fuck, really. Her old stuff is so weird. She let’s her personality fly, even when she writes a hit for Rihanna. Her work is always creative and honest. I look to her in terms of somebody who keeps growing and pushing her own boundaries. My other inspirations come from my community of intensely creative people. They’re all working so hard -- and they’re so good. I feel like having a musical community that is full of people who love to keep learning has been so valuable. They’re all craving growth and change, and we recognize that in this moment our creative friends are vital.