Maxim Meyer-Horn

5 Feb 2021

Jesse Jo Stark: “I Don’t Write Music, I Write Poetry”

Jesse Jo Stark grew up in a creative household, which influenced her life path. It comes as no surprise that the American singer and designer established herself within the music and fashion industry within no time. We interviewed the “Die Young” singer about the launch of her merchandise collection Deadly Doll and her upcoming debut album.

The music feels quite intimate and honest. What’s the key to a good song for you?

I think it’s the feeling overall. It’s so interesting for me to see how a song can start because a demo is always so much different compared to the result. It’s so beautiful that you can transform something into anything you want. I like a song that shakes me, so I always try to end with something that generates that feeling.

You seem to have admired strings in your music. What’s the power of these classical instruments?

Instrumentation is my favorite overall and just want people to feel that there are live players on any record. Strings make me feel super powerful and nostalgic and give me the feeling that I’m in a dream state. Dreaming is super important to me, and I try to bring that into my music by using these instruments that embody the mood.

In what way do you think that your upbringing and environment shaped the sound of your music?

In every way. I grew up around people with strong opinions and great taste. They loved turning me on to things I hadn’t heard. I grew up on country, punk, metal, soul, pop, rock ‘n’ roll … whatever. I didn’t know the names of the genres back then — it was all just music to me, and I loved it all.

Your songs have something nostalgic. Are you a melancholic soul?

It isn’t really nostalgia for me because I am just inspired by the things I see and hear. I listen to The Cramps just as much now with the same genuine love as I always have. I watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s as if it were made in 2021, so the songs I write aren’t really a dive into the past for me. I just write what I feel. Sometimes it comes out sounding like it was made in the middle of the century, and sometimes it sounds like it was made yesterday. That’s the beauty of music. You can do it any way you want. I think we can all learn a lot about life from music.

You always explore different moods in your music. Do you learn a lot about yourself by writing music?

Writing is a form of therapy for me. At the end of a song, I always feel like I got to say how I really felt about something or someone. There are many different moods depending on the mood I’m in when I’m writing.

Is writing very confrontational or is it more like a relief?

It’s definitely hard to admit to anything. Some of my songs are about confrontational experiences or other peoples. It’s always hard to repeat yourself in words, but it’s too therapeutic. It’s a way to honestly confront things that you probably wouldn’t before. I don’t write music, I write poetry because it’s important for me to put things on paper.

In what kind of environment are you most productive?

Silence and peace are probably the most intimidating, and I grew to love that over the past year. I love being cozy when I write and like more quiet places during my creative process. Before that, I’ve written in completely loud places as well, but that changed last year.

Do you like to accentuate the meaning of the song with your visuals, or do you prefer to give the song a whole new meaning with a music video?

It depends on the video, but I’m quite literal in general. For me, visuals are the most important things, and I sometimes even visualize a music video in my head before I’ve written the song. When I get the opportunity to actually put imagery behind my songs, that’s the most fascinating part for me and gives me the opportunity to tell my story in a different dimension. “Die Young” was, for example, a very important song for me, and that video is one of my favorites. It’s nice to be in situations you wouldn’t normally be in, so I like to expand my art.

Besides being a gifted musician, you’re very much into fashion and already designed some beautiful pieces. Who’s your biggest fashion inspiration?

My parents are obviously my biggest influences. My dad was a huge source of inspiration when I grew up, and I’ve always worn weird things to school like heels, platforms, pants with stains on the leg … I’ve always been kind of made fun of, but my dad always taught me to be myself. Some of my biggest influences style-wise are Cher, The Cramps, Iggy Pop, and a lot of my friends now. My friends are so inspiring to me, and we make things for each other.

Your merch line Deadly Doll has quite a rock ‘n’ roll vibe. Was there a specific fashion era that inspired the illustrations on the clothes?

Old horror movie posters and erotic comic book art like fumetti from the ’60s and ’70s.

Why do you think that Deadly Doll represents you as an artist/person?

Deadly Doll is a community. The best part of making things, for me, has always been seeing it on someone. The song “Deadly Doll” was one of the first songs I ever wrote that felt like I was being myself, fearlessly. I want everyone to feel that way. I want to make a place where there are no rules. Everyone is welcome. That’s why I put my lyrics on everything because writing music is when I feel the most free.

The definition of music consumption has changed over the past few years. How did you witness the evolution?

In a way, I think that it has its advantages and disadvantages. We’ve all been at home, and I was able to share my art on my socials and website. It’s somehow beautiful that you’re able to connect with people when we can’t really see people. There’s also a dark side to it because it’s so immediate and people don’t have the same attention span. It’s beautiful not to rush even though things are so immediate.

Will 2021 be the year where you release your first album?

Yes, I’m so excited to release my debut album this year. I’m so glad that I’ve been waiting this long to share it with everybody. Some of the songs were written a while ago, while others were written during quarantine, but they all mean the most to me. I hope everyone will like them.

Styling credits:
Full look by Deadly Doll

Photography by Dana Trippe
Styling by Jesse Jo Stark
Makeup by Sydney Szramowski
Hair by Iggy Rosales
Interview by Maxim Meyer-Horn

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