Jesse Palter has had a long evolution for someone so young. Originally from Detroit, Palter is now an LA artist. She comes from jazz roots and is expanding to new frontiers quickly. She has worked with her Jesse Palter and the Palter Ego, and also had a previous release. She recently released The Paper Trail EP, which will be released as a full album at a later time. One stunning track from the album is “Heavy Is the Crown”
FEMMUSIC spoke to her about the release, LA and things to come. For info visit http://www.jessepalter.com/
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making The Paper Trail EP?
JP: The biggest challenge was actually getting the record deal, which made the entire project possible. Although the label had been following my career for a long time, we only began serious conversations about becoming an artist on their roster in early 2015. At that time, I had just completed a record of my original compositions with my jazz quartet and I intended to release that record. But then the label approached me with the idea of writing a solo singer/songwriter record, and it was something I always hoped I’d do so I saw it as a huge opportunity. I had the label’s ear, but they didn’t want to sign anything until they heard the music. I made a promise to myself that I was going to write music every day and I wasn’t going to stop until they offered me a deal, but I don’t have a recording rig, so I had to find a way to get this music recorded on a shoestring budget. At first, I was paying friends to record demos, but I hit a prolific stride and the label kept wanting to hear more. So in an effort to keep funneling them music, I began to do more co-writes with friends who had studios so I could record the demos. I wrote so many songs and recorded so many demos over the course of that year, that they finally they offered the deal in 2016. Once signatures were on the paper, they were very supportive of my vision, it just took a lot of proving to get to that place. We recorded a full album (12 songs) but the label decided to start off by releasing an EP (so there’s more where that came from!).
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about Doug Petty. How did you meet? What made you decide to have him produce the EP? How was he to work with?
JP: An A&R at the label had mentioned Doug’s name as a producer he thought I might collaborate well. I took it upon myself to do my research and reached out to see if he would take a meeting with me. I actually found out he was playing a gig at a venue close by and I showed up to introduce myself. After a nice chat, he offered to listen to my music and give some feedback and I went to his studio the next day. I think halfway into the first song he said “I’m in!”. So he was a part of the picture before the deal was even on the table, and I think having a producer in place helped the label actualize the vision. Doug is very much a scientist with his approach to production. He brought a lot of sonic ideas to the table and he helped elevate my ideas. My concepts are definitely steeped in my love of songwriting – the story of the song, the intention behind the song, what it’s supposed to feel like in my bones and soul when I sing it and when I listen to it. It took us a second to find our collaborative groove, but we got there and it was great. I learned a lot from watching him in the studio, he’s very cool, calm and collected. I now try to carry some of that energy with me when I’m in sessions. When we were making the record, it helped with morale and putting everybody involved in the project at ease.
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about Artisty Music and Mack Avenue Records. What made you decide to sign with them? How are they to work with?
JP: I have strong jazz roots and a good chunk of my professional career as a performer has been in a straight-ahead jazz setting, and they are a jazz label in the process of expanding their roster to other genres. It made sense to me to sign with a label that understands all facets of me as a musician and a writer, and they do. They place a strong emphasis on being artist friendly and that was very appealing to me too.
FEMMUSIC: How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist from your prior works with Palter Ego, and from Beginning to See the Light? Is there anything you wish you’d learned earlier?
JP: I’m always working on learning and getting better at all aspects of this craft. I’ve done a lot of growing since the days of Palter Ego, though that band is also a huge part of my story and I wouldn’t be the musician or person I am today if Sam Barsh and I hadn’t worked so closely together on both that music and the business side of the hustle as well. He continues to be a big source of inspiration for me and we still write and perform music together, which I’m grateful for. Beginning To See The Light was actually sort of a glorified demo. We went into the studio to record some music to send to venues to book gigs, and we ended up keeping the tape rolling and ultimately played enough songs to make an album. I didn’t know at the time of recording we were going to release it (and that it was going to live on the internet for eternity). I would’ve done things differently if I would’ve known that, but I’m thankful that people relate to that record and that I got to document a moment with those musicians who are also my dear friends. It opened up a lot of doors for me. As far as what I wish I learned earlier, there’s no real rulebook to being successful in this industry. I think the people that learn that early on, and aren’t afraid to think outside the box, ask for help and guidance and put themselves out there are the ones who are killing it. Nobody wants it more than you, you are your best advocate. Find your lane and go go go.
FEMMUSIC: You’ve been in LA for coming on a decade. How has the scene changed you and your music?
JP: Whoa, that’s crazy! I didn’t realize until now it has been almost a decade! I remember moving out here like it was yesterday. I was super young, I had never lived so far from home and I came out here on a mission. I remember right when I got here I went to see The Belle Brigade (Ethan and Barbara Gruska’s band at the time) at Satellite. There was a line wrapped around the venue to get in and I thought “holy crap! People are REALLY doing it out here!” People are making art at a very high level, and anything goes. The music I was hearing in my head expanded when I got out here, genre lines blurred, scenes melded together – there’s no ceiling. No gigs are throwaways. Even playing background music in dark lit corners, you don’t know who’s listening because it’s Los Angeles! If you make one good connection a night, you’re moving the needle.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
JP: I can’t say I have one technique, though maybe it’d make my job easier if I did. Whatever it takes to get the song out really. I have tricks if I feel stuck in a rut. I’ll go for a run or go hiking to be in nature. I like to sit at coffee shops in LA and do a bit of people watching (errrrr, eavesdropping). It’s different if I’m writing by myself or in a collaborative setting. If I’m cowriting, I try to be open-minded and check my ego at the door for the sake of making the best song possible. I’ve learned not to be afraid to share my ideas out loud, even when I feel like they might be bad (I’ve also learned there’s really no such thing as a bad idea, just a better one). That can be a very vulnerable aspect of cowriting. When I’m writing by myself, anything goes. The piano is my tool to help me get it out, but sometimes I need to step away from the piano so my fingers don’t go to a place of comfort. The only common denominator every time I write, which is both daunting and thrilling, is that it starts with a blank page. That’s really all I’m certain of after all this time of doing it! And that’s partly what keeps me coming back, is this element of magic, a mysterious blend of hard work and muse and quite frankly I’m addicted to the feeling when it’s finished. The feeling of: “I just did that! This thing that started out as an idea, or a thought, or a feeling turned into a melody and a chord structure, and it all works in tandem to make me feel things at a far more heightened sense than if melody, harmony and lyric weren’t all firing off at the same time to tell this story. And how did that even happen?” I think the lyric is just as important as the melody, and the melody is just as important as the groove, and so on and so forth and it doesn’t come to me in any particular order. It feels most natural to me when I’m not overthinking it, so I actually guess the technique is getting out of my own way and allowing the music to do the talking.
FEMMUSIC: What song (not your own) has had the biggest influence on you and why?
JP: I don’t think I could pick one. I can tell you I felt destroyed the first time I heard “Blue” by Joni Mitchell. I had a boyfriend at the time who was sick with cancer and I was having a difficult time processing all of my feelings. I must’ve been 15 and it felt like too much real life stuff for a teenager. And then his mom actually played me “Blue” and I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. I felt like I wasn’t alone for the first time in a while and I remember thinking “okay, how can I do THAT?”. I wore that CD out that summer. I also felt that same feeling when I was in middle school and heard “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis for the first time. My band instructor let me borrow his trumpet and I spent the summer learning to play so I could be in the jazz band. Similar thing when I heard “Songs In The Key Of Life” and “Abbey Road”. Different songs make me think of different markers in my life and at this point it is clearly impossible for me to pick one.
FEMMUSIC: What challenges, if any, have you faced as a woman in the music industry? And how did you overcome them?
JP: I have had my share of powerful male types flexing their egos, making inappropriate comments and gestures, mansplaining, etc. When I was coming up in the scene, I would often reach out to other musicians to network and sometimes that drive would be misconstrued. It wasn’t always easy and I still come across it. Just the other day, I reached out to someone I thought I was establishing a professional relationship with, and the conversation went south because I wasn’t willing to get to know him outside of music. But screw that, we can’t let that get in our way and we all know now more than ever the future is female!
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to collaborate with, or tour with? Why?
JP: I think about this all of the time and again, it’s hard to pick just one. Jon Brion, Greg Kurstin, Blake Mills, Linda Perry – I love all of their writing and production. I think my music would work really well opening for an artist like John Mayer, and I just think he’s a phenomenal writer and rad guitarist. Like if John Mayer co-wrote and played some rhythm guitar on a song with me! Wew! That’d be fire.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
JP: I’d like to see more people being kind to each other, lifting each other up, being honest with one another about the challenges we face as creative professionals, and being genuinely happy for one another for our accomplishments. We’re all in this together and our greatest power is in community!