Interview: Jess Kent
Sydney based singer Jess Kent has hit Singapore shores to open for one of the biggest British acts playing at our National Stadium: the one and only Coldplay! Prior to the show, we managed to get a chance to talk to the 22-year old starlet, whose megahit Get Down has received plenty of airplay on Australian radio and even got featured on the 2016 film Nerve. Her wave of success hasn’t stopped there though, and the Derby, England-born Kent has just released her first EP My Name Is Jess Kent, along with lead single and music video The Sweet Spot. Check out our interview below:
Hi Jess! So we read through your biography, and you’ve basically been playing guitar and busking with your brother since you were a kid and moved to Adelaide. What’s the busking process like?
Jess: I was born in the middle of England, and I grew up with a lot of music in my life. My dad was a musician, and I learnt t o play music through both him and my family’s friends. We played our first show when i was 10, I have no idea if it was a good show or not, but we were really enthusiastic about it! When we moved to Australia it was a big change, the language was very different and when you’re 11, the cultural difference of the food and everything, despite having similarities, still has a lot of little differences that take getting used to. For me, playing music was a great way to connect with everybody, and we’d play for visitors from overseas, whether Asia, America or Australia. We’d mostly play covers of songs that everyone knew and everyone would have a really good time, dancing and clapping along. We weren’t trying to be cool or anything, we were kids and just wanted to have fun. A lot of the time it was half being professional and half being silly. I remember once, we tried to get everyone to do a Mexican wave!
How have your days of busking changed compared to now?
J: Well, I’m still not very cool, so not a lot has changed! A lot of my mantra is still to have fun doing the things I do.
Is it hard to be a young aspiring musician in the world today?
J: I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love doing every single day, and in a lot of ways I feel like I don’t work a day of my life. But at the same time, starting out was quite daunting. I made the decision to go into music when I was in my hometown and give up school. I was already halfway through college and had a job. It was tough at first to move to Sydney, a new city where I had no money and didn’t know anybody. There’s definitely not as many women as men in the industry either, so trying to put a band together and do business and learning on the job and have people take you seriously can be a bit of a challenge.
From your previous interviews and biography, you don’t really care what others think, you worry less and just want to spread the right message to the people. What kind of image do you want to portray?
J: In high school, like everyone else, I spent a lot of time growing up. Half the time you’re so self conscious and worry about where you’re going to fit in and what you’re going to do with your life. I always knew I wanted to play music, so it was very liberating for me to just go ahead and do it. Especially in this industry, where you get a lot of criticisms and comments on whether you’re good or bad, it’s important to just filter some of them out, otherwise you just freeze up and can’t do anything. I try to remember doing that, and if that’s the image that is portrayed of me then yeah it’s true. I do have days when I still feel insecure or have doubts, but I use my music to counter that and want people to feel that it’s ok to be real when they hear my songs and lyrics.
Social media has had a huge impact on your career; you basically got into the industry through Instagram, uploading short clips of yourself before getting noticed. Could you walk us through how it all came together?
J: My current manager Andrew actually first noticed me when he saw a clip of my song Get Down. I wrote that song in South Australia when I was younger and hadn’t really finished it off. I met up with Andrew over coffee, me wearing this same jacket I have on now, with my backpack and guitar and laptop and a CD I recorded and printed a front cover for from my computer. I told Andrew these were all my songs and he went ‘This is cool, let’s go into a studio and do it properly”, I was introduced to my producer Nicky Night Time, and we worked together to make a sound that was cool and fun. Being summertime in Sydney, Get Down kind of became a summertime hit!
It’s quite amazing that a song you wrote so long ago has now made it so big, even appearing in a movie from America (Nerve)!
J: It’s quite surreal to see the song featured in a film. Both Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are amazing and it’s cool to see a song that’s translating and spreading overseas as well.
So back to Coldplay. How did they actually find out about you?
J: Before I had a label or any funding, I worked on the music video for Get Down with my creative guy, who makes my logos and visuals, especially for my bigger shows in Australia. We were trying to figure out how we could make a video we could afford, and we thought about how everyone was using emojis and were going to do an emoji lyric video for the song. My guy spent so long making the emoji video that he was practically going insane by the time he finished, and I’m really grateful to him for pursuing it. We thought about how emojis were a kind of universal language already, so we decided not to insert lyrics and when we put it out online, it blew up on the internet and Coldplay found it through the grapevine, tweeted about it, and asked me if i wanted to open and we well, we made time for it!
We read that your favourite song is actually Fix You by Coldplay!
J: Yes, I still cry everytime they play it at their concerts.
How did you react to them asking you to open for them?
J: You’ll have to ask the band why they picked me, but for me, I honestly had no idea how to react. How do I even begin to think about this? When we did the Australian tour, we had to wait for about two weeks after and then me and my drummer was just ‘wow we just did that!’ It’s like busking, but on a much bigger scale.
It’s interesting that you still manage to connect it back to your days of busking.
J: That’s my way of thinking. I try to think like oh these crowds? They’re just people. I started playing to nobody, and now, I’m so happy that people come along and still have fun with the music we’re playing.
How does your family support you in the music career?
J: They’re very supportive! When I told them I was going to Sydney, they just went sure, go for it! While i was away the first few months I kept writing to them to send more clothes and guitar strings. Eventually, they came down for my first Australia show and my dad in particular, as a musician, was of course, very proud.
You currently have a few tracks available online which have received quite a lot of plays and downloads. As a young artist, you’ve heard of the one hit wonder, how do you prevent it and how do you bring your music to the next level?
J: It’s interesting you ask a question like that because it doesn’t tend to worry me much. I feel that songs we put out will take however long they need to come out, and in that time I play so much music and do so much writing and keep learning new skills so that I can make new, fresh music. As a songwriter, my entire job is to continue to play music and expand my musical vocabulary. If anything, the biggest issue I’m having is that I’m currently putting together a record and I’m pulling material from so many different places. I wonder how I’m going to focus and create a cohesive album!
I’m curious about whether your songs have a kind of inspiration or theme running through them.
J: As far as the meaning of the songs go, yes there’s a common thread. Initially, I wanted to stay in Australia and write them, but now I’m travelling, writing songs on the back of a tour bus and on planes. I’m having a lot of experiences, and end up writing songs straight from my diary.
Thanks so much Jess, we’re definitely looking forward to more from you. Your music is really something, and all the best for you today and tomorrow.
J: Thanks! Hopefully I get the chance to try some Singapore food while i’m here!
Jess Kent opens for Coldplay on their A Head Full of Dreams Tour in Singapore at the National Stadium on 31 March and 4 April, as well as Manila, Taipei, Bangkok and Seoul in the weeks following.