Jessica Riddle

Jessica Riddle

By Alex Teitz

Jessica Riddle is a young singer-songwriter. Her song “Even Angels Fall” was part of the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack. Her debut CD Key of Minor on Hollywood Records has a surprising amount of depth and insight. This interview reveals only a small amount of it.

FEMMUSIC: Describe your songwriting technique.

JR: Oh technique huh. Let’s see. I like to use a lack of technique. First of all you can’t write if there’s no emotion. There has to be like an overwhelming emotion in order for me to write. So I take that emotion and I go over to the piano and I find a key, just like one single key that seems to fit my emotion. I don’t know how it does or doesn’t. Then I start in that key and simultaneously write the lyrics, and the music. That’s how I do it. And then if I don’t finish the whole song, it will never be finished. So I have to not get out of the…I have to not step away from the piano until the entire song is finished.

FEMMUSIC: How long does that take you?

JR: It depends on the song. I can pop ’em out in twenty minutes or sometimes they take me an hour and a half.

FEMMUSIC: Who have been your biggest influences?

JR: One would probably be my father. He’s a singer-songwriter. Not famous but he is a singer-songwriter. The other ones would probably be Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Carole King those kind of…..Al Green. I love Al Green.

FEMMUSIC: What was your best experience making Key of Minor?

JR: (thinking) Gosh. There are so many fun things but….the best experience making the CD. That is a darn good question.

I would say hearing it all finished for the first time. Like probably in mastering when it was all finished and sounded like a record because I’d never had any music sound like a record before which is really cool. (Nervous laugh) Thank god it sounded like a record!!

FEMMUSIC: What was your biggest challenge making Key of Minor?

JR: Learning how to work with others concerning my music. Considering my whole life I had always been whatever I said I did. Working with a producer and an engineer having an A & R guy. What’s best for the whole record. Working together was probably the hardest thing to learn.

FEMMUSIC: I saw that you were also working with a band. Had you done that before?

JR: No. I hadn’t. It was really funny because when we first got the band together they got the CD, and I think they even had one rehearsal because they knew each other, so they had rehearsed before I showed up one time. I had never sung live, at all. Let alone used a microphone that wasn’t in a studio with a spitcover. All this stuff like…

I had a very hard time. It was like embarassing how bad I was. So we definitely worked non-stop for about four months until it was good.

It’s kinda like a trick. First you have to learn how to sing in the studio. Then you have to learn how to sing live, and they’re two completely different things. So completely different.

FEMMUSIC: And you enjoy one more than another?

JR: No actually. I thought I would always enjoy studio singing better because you can hear yourself perfectly. It’s really fun with the headphones and the whole vibe you can set-up but singing live is like another thing in itself with people watching and you kind of feed off of their energy. I would say I love them both in very completely opposite ways.

FEMMUSIC: Tell me about the song, “I’m Sorry.”

JR: I started writing it as a satirically funny song and it turned out that hit like a nerve by the time I got to the third or fourth verse. So it’s kinda like a funny “Ha-ha” making fun of the differences between men and women and a really serious, “That’s not funny AT ALL” kind of male chauvanistic view about the world. I guess in a way it was meant to be light but ended up being like a really heavy, powerful song.

FEMMUSIC: Tell me about the song, “Symphony.”

JR: Um “Symphony.” I actually wrote that entire song and then went in with my A & R guy and my producer. And my A & R guy, just in the middle of the song went, “Ohhh yeahhh (imitating).” And we went, “Oh my god that’s it.” For weeks I wanted to do a cover of “Mr. Big Stuff.” I wanted to do it so bad but you can’t cover that song because it’s so absolutely, perfectly done. I would make a fool of myself covering that song. So I was like thrilled for even the idea to use it as a sample. So we like threw it in there and were like, “Oh my god this is rad.” I had written it in the same key as the song. It was really bizarre. It was just this weird coincidence.

FEMMUSIC: How being a woman in the music industry affected you in any way?

JR: In every way. First off I would like to say it’s not an easy thing. (nervous laugh) It’s probably not easy being a man or a woman but it definitely doesn’t make it any easier being a woman especially being a young woman. Where you really need to make certain calls and you have to, in a sense, put forty or fifty year old men in their place. Which is not very comfortable for a man to feel like he’s being pushed around by a woman. So you have to find that happy medium between friendly business relationship and getting the crap done. You know what I mean. (Nervous laugh)

That was really hard for me because a lot of people feel threatened by somebody who knows what they want. Especially if they know what they want when they’re a lot younger than you are.

FEMMUSIC: What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

JR: Never, ever sign a production deal. (laugh) Never sign your publishing away. That’s all I say. If you’re good enough the record company will take you by yourself, and nobody. You don’t need anybody to do it except for you. If you want it bad enough, you know.

FEMMUSIC: What are your plans for the future?

JR: Right now since I’ve been setting goals and reaching them in small steps. So I’ve been setting really small goals. So I didn’t have any long term goals right now except, “To try to not sell out.” Stay as true to who I am right now in case anything big does happen. Right now it’s kinda like speculation. Probably for me to stay most like I am right now no matter what happens. Fail or succeed.

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