Home Music Music Features

JessB Is Just Warming Up

She's collaborated with big names, played the biggest festivals, and earned headlines for her fashion and music. But with a debut album dropping next month, JessB is at the start of something special.

If you’re a music artist who’s been firing on all cylinders for several years now, and you see a Rolling Stone AU/NZ headline that insists you’re just “just warming up,” you’d have every right to be alarmed.

If you’re JessB, in particular, you’d wonder how someone could say you’re just getting started when you’ve shared stages with Gold Fang, Genesis Owusu, Stormzy, and Kehlani; when you’ve appeared at Listen Out, Laneway, and SXSW; when you’ve worked with international names like Doja Cat, Sweetie, and G Flip; when you’ve co-founded a vital queer-friendly club space in your hometown. As far back as 2019, the New Zealand Herald was covering JessB, as much for her distinct style as for her music.

And yet, in a very real way, JessB is, as our headline proclaims, “just warming up”: the Aotearoa artist is about to release her debut album, Feels Like Home, on July 5th, and it feels like her peak – even though she’s been releasing bangers like they’re going out of fashion year upon year – is excitingly still to come.

Feels Like Home is a marker in my journey that has been and is still evolving,” JessB says. “Navigating a career in music, whilst also navigating finding identity and self simultaneously. One could not have expanded without the other.

“For me, the music that has been created over the last four years for this album is a direct reflection of the changing sounds of my life. It has been a process of finding a home in how I see myself and how I choose to show up in the world.”

JessB released another taste of Feels Like Home today, the short, sharp, and light “Commando”, and it’s really just the tip of the iceberg for her debut album.

“During the week I was there in the studio, the writing that I was doing all felt like it was more ‘serious’ in terms of lyrical content, so this was just a chance for me to have some fun,” she says.

Before Feels Like Home finally drops next month, read our conversation with JessB below, in which we chat about her new label, New Zealand festivals, Gold Fang, the sounds of her debut album, and much more.

JessB’s “Commando” is out now. Feels Like Home is out July 5th via Say Less & Warner Music Australia (pre-save/pre-order here). 

Rolling Stone AU/NZ: How are you feeling about your debut album?

JessB: It’s been a long time coming. Patience has been my biggest challenge, getting it out of my laptop and into the world. I’m really excited. 

Feels Like Home will be your first album released through Say Less. Are you excited about that?

I’ve always been an independent artist, and my manager and I have been the team for a really long time. We’ve kind of done things together. I think it just felt like the right time to take the next step and see where things can go. So yeah, definitely the right decision. I’m excited about working with a whole new group of people who can add to my world as JessB.

It’s important when you’re taking that step to see what the roster’s like, and it’s so strong on Say Less. You’ll fit right in!

Yes, definitely. I like all the artists that are already signed, so it’s easy, you know?

Being a proud independent artist, though, how do you maintain that spirit?

I definitely thought long and hard about it. I made the decision that it was time to have that team support, rather than doing everything by myself and funding my own stuff. It’s fun and great, but there have been times where I wished I had more support, especially on the back end. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive, but I feel like I’ve made the right decision.

Sometimes the jump to a label is important, especially if you want to make moves outside of New Zealand.

For sure. It just feels like the right progression – you have to take risks here and there. So I would say this is a calculated risk that I was willing to take at this point in my career.

Speaking of Australia, how did your shows with Gold Fang go over there?

They were really fun! It was cool to get back into doing those sorts of shows. I feel like I hadn’t really done a tour for a while with COVID and everything. So it was really cool, especially the Sydney and Melbourne shows. 

What were the crowds like in Sydney and Melbourne? 

We just did a small room so the vibe inside felt really intimate. It was cool.

I feel like it’s always better when it’s a small room compared to an arena anyway. 

Yeah, I feel like you can connect more with people and then everybody’s holding a vibe.

Did it take a bit to get back into the touring routine? 

I guess it’s about rebuilding momentum on the ground. Performing at festivals, I haven’t really stopped doing that for the last few years, but it’s a different way of connecting with people. I think the standalone headline shows allow you to perform to people who have specially paid to be there. So it’s just a different feeling in the room. Yeah, it was really cool.

Gold Fang’s been doing great things too!

I’m a big fan of Gold Fang. I love him, he’s great. 

So when you’re doing a festival, do you change your set at all, because you don’t know if there are going to be fans of yours in the crowd?

When I do a headline show, it’s definitely a little bit more wide-reaching in terms of the songs that I’ll do. Like, I’ll do some of the real downtempo songs, the slow songs, the old songs. It’s a lot more all-encompassing because that’s what people have come to see.

But I think festivals are very much about performing and providing a show, and usually the environment wants that. But I love performing at festivals. I feel like my music works perfectly a lot of the time [at festivals], even if people don’t know me. The actual beats are enough to catch people..

Honestly, I feel that’s why a lot of people go to festivals – it’s not to see their favourite artists, it’s to see someone new.

I like to think that people are open to discovering new artists they’ve never even heard of before as well. Yeah, I think that’s the beauty of festivals. You can go for your favourite artists or whatever, but then there’s another 100 people on the lineup that you might not have ever heard of.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by JESSB (@ogjessb)

When you were growing up, did you have a favourite New Zealand festival that you always wanted to perform at?

It’s pretty crazy when I think about it. Before I started performing, I went to nearly all of them. I love festivals. Even before performing at them, I loved them. I used to go to R&V and I’ve been to Northern Bass as a punter. So it’s pretty crazy when I think about that, you know, going from being at one to performing. 

Festivals are like a rite of passage, especially in New Zealand…

Absolutely. It’s definitely the rite of passage, especially after leaving school. 

Let’s talk about “Hold Me Down”. It’s such a standout track. What was the thinking behind that one?

I was actually talking to my friend about it, saying I remember when I was feeling single. I just thought, you write a song that’s manifesting this type of love, but I want to [write about] the kind of relationship that I would want to have.

That was kind of the bones for what the song was about. Then I wrote the hook on another beat that I just had on my laptop, but then I got in the studio with dera meelan, who’s the producer, and fleshed it out and obviously worked on the arrangements and stuff. And then it kind of all came together pretty easily.

I was going to ask about dera. How did you first link up? 

I first met dera because he was the main producer for a rap duo from Auckland called Church & AP, so I guess he was just a peer of mine from way back. I’ve known him for years, actually. We’ve been in the studio together a lot. We’ve had a few sessions and we have a few songs together, so it was cool to get this one across the line and out because I really liked him as a person and as a producer.

Were you going for a summer anthem kind of vibe? Did you think it could be something like that? 

I think it definitely has that warm, summery vibe to it, so it kind of just made sense as the last release of the year. It was definitely a conscious thought. Not that it’s a low-tempo song, but it’s definitely got like a laid-back vibe to it. So I think that’s a nice break from the heavier stuff that I’ve been releasing.

Is that a sign of where your sound is going in the future?

I’m someone who definitely doesn’t want to box myself in. I always make what I like. It’s a sound that I have continued to explore, and I’m interested in doing more of it. So this was a starting point for that sonic world. I’m trying to keep it in line with everything else I’m doing because I want everything to sound cohesive, even if there are different sounds and vibes going on. I want it to exist in the same universe.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine