Singer talks to Gigwise about her debut album 'Who You Are...
Holly Frith
11:07 28th February 2011

In less than six months Jessie J has become one of music’s favourite new talents. Scooping the prestigious BBC’s Sound of 2011 and The BRIT’s Critics' Choice award it has already been a hectic few weeks and her debut album 'Who You Are' has only just been released this week.

To celebrate its arrival, Gigwise caught up with Jessie J about her recent success and what we can expect from her in 2011.

How have things been this year so far?

Yeah really good, very busy at the moment. It's something you have to get used to but I adjust to the whole hectic-ness of it. You can't complain though, I’d rather be busy living my dream than busy doing a 9-5 job.

When did it all start for you?

I was signed on an independent record label in the UK first as a songwriter to Sony, and I’d been writing for like 2 years and I did about seven support tours here and then I flew to America. I tried to get signed in the UK but there were so many other girls so I flew over to America, not to disappear from the UK, it was just so I could do some writing. Whilst I was over there I did a showcase then got spotted by American labels. Basically I thought that this kind of opportunity doesn't come along very often in the industry so I decided to sign to the US label but on a worldwide deal. So I had a UK label as well, so I just begged them to let me release my first single here first.

How was it being over in America?

I was never based over there, which is what a lot of people think. I've stayed there for long periods of time, I was there for nearly three months in LA when I first got signed but I’ve never lived there. I know now that I will probably have to but that's part of what comes with the job I do.

How do you find writing for other people?

Most of the time I write for myself and then it ends up sounding like it should be for someone else. It was only in the last couple of months that I have actually sat down and written a song for Britney and written a song for Willow Smith and actually had them in mind. Most of the time it's songs that haven’t been right for me and I’ve pitched them to other people.

When did you decided to start releasing your own material?

I was in a girl group for two years and as soon as I got signed at seventeen I started writing. I know there is a confusion that people think that I was a songwriter and then I did this but it was always for myself first. I always wanted to be an artist straight off the cuff. I wrote my first song 'Big White Room' when I was seventeen.

You've been in a lot polls this year – how did you find that?

It's like a really odd competition. For me I feel like I may have won the BBC Sound Of 2011 and I’ve won the Critics' Choice, but that doesn't mean that everyone else who didn't get the award won't be as successful than me. I would be non-human if I was like no I love it, of course there is expectation and I’m young. I think people think I’m this kind of non-human robot that thinks I’m brilliant. That is not the case at all. I get upset and have bad days like everyone else but I love being under pressure. I don't think I would still be here doing what I'm doing if I didn't love a struggle and a challenge. The last years haven’t been all hunky dory.

Jessie J - 'Do It Like A Dude':

Jessie J - 'Price Tag' (featuring B.o.B)

Have you met all the other nominees in the polls?

I've met Clare Maguire, The Vaccines, Wretch-32 but I haven’t met James Blake or Mona yet.

How was it when you found out about the Critic’s Choice at the BRIT Awards?

It was amazing. My friends were all like 'where are we going to be sitting?' and 'will we be able to talk to you?'. I was like calm down and chill out. They managed to spend most of the night with me which was great. It was one of the best days/nights of my life. When you get up on that stage to except the award you can't really see anything. Obviously I’m used to big crowds so it was more that I was doing something I have never done before. If I was up there singing I would be nervous but fine as I thrive on the adrenaline, but it was the fact that I had dreamt of winning a BRIT, I have dreamt of collecting the award and to have that moment so early on in my career and be number one was crazy. We went to the Universal after party and I was the only one wearing colour, I was in these amazing Versace pants and everyone else was in black suits, I looked like a right one. The whole night was brilliant and what was best was that I had my friends with me, it was nice just to celebrate with them.

When did music start to have a real impact on you?

My first words were 'Jam Hot'. My sisters used to sing 'this is the boys from the big bad city, this is jam hot'. And my mum was like 'mamma' and I used to reply 'Jam Hot'. My whole life was very music orientated. My whole family are very creative, my mum used to be a ballet dancer when she was younger and my dad is a social worker. My sisters were both part of the school choir but I wasn't allowed to join as I was too loud. My mum and dad would always have music playing, some funk and soul, thank god they had good taste in music.

I grew up listening to the funkadelics, the gap band, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Michael Jackson and James Brown. I think that's why I perform the way I do on stage because I like artists that have a lot of funk and soul style. As soon as I was four or five I started going to dance school and then I did drama and private singing lessons. When I was around eight I realised that my voice was strong and was the thing that I was actually good at. I was sixteen all of a sudden, through high school I tried to blend into the background just to get through it. When I went to the BRITS school that is where it all changed for me; I blossomed into a performer.

When did you start work on your debut?

My first song was written at seventeen, so it's been around six years in the making. I went half way around the room to come back to five songs I had already written. People said 'Mamma Knows Best' and 'Big White Room' are good but we need hits like 'I Kissed A Girl'. The other thing was I had put all my songs into practice ages age; I had done a lot of live gigs and people were warming to them. That's what I have loved about how I have got where I have got; it was so organic and purely by word of mouth. I've found out today I’m number 88 in the US chart and I haven’t done one day of promo there.

Jessie J - 'Do It Like A Dude'

What did you set out to do with this album?

I always wanted it to be true to myself and my morals. I wanted it to carry a message of inspiration; I didn't want it to be 'I'm in the club shaking my booty' style. I wanted it to be inspirational, I remember when I was younger and the first album that did that for me was 'The Defamation Of Lauryn Hill'. I remember thinking I want to write a version of that album which is my version and life story that people can relate to. And still whenever I play that album of Lauryn Hill's it is still so current and that's what I want 'Who You Are' to be. I wanted it to be timeless, that's why I went for a real classic cover; all black and gold. I just wanted it to be true to me but too much so that other people couldn't relate to it. I'm really proud of it and I hope people like it.

Do you have a particular writing process?

I have my own personal one but I'm not obsessed with it. Purely because when you go half the way around the world you have to adapt to how different people write. You can't be like sorry Dr Luke this is how I write the songs can you adapt to me. It's not like that, I’m new to this game so I learn to write melody and lyric at the same time, which is how I prefer to write.

What do you use as inspiration when writing?

Life. Not really other songs, it's more situations that I go through. I'll pick up little things that people say and elaborate on it to make it a song.

Your latest single 'Price Tag' features B.o.B – how did that come about?

I remember when we first did 'Price Tag' I was like 'I really want to get somebody on this record and I think B.o.B would be perfect'. I spoke to my record label about the idea and they said I’ll try my best. I was thinking at the time he's just going to turn around to my label and say 'Who the hell is Jessie J?' I did five plane journeys in four days just so I could be with him whilst we recorded it in the studio. I was there with him, so it wasn’t just like 'my people will holla at your people'. It was really nice that he was there and then he made the effort to come over to the UK for the video. It was a really nice mutual collaboration and he is such a lovely guy.

Is there anybody else at the moment you would like to collaborate with?

There are thousands of people that I want to work with. Prince and Beyonce would be the big ones.

Is there any truth in you and the Justin Bieber rumour?

I went to his premier. I don't think people realise how talented he is, if you think about what he has achieved and he isn’t eighteen yet it’s crazy. Could you imagine going through school and being a worldwide superstar, trying to do your exams. He's a massive inspiration and whether people hate or love his music they can't deny the fact that he's inspiring thousands of young people to live their dream. I'm a supporter of hard work and I watched his film and I really enjoyed it. I'm a Bieber diva. I have made a note to myself never to spell Bieber wrong on your Twitter, I got rather a lot of hate mail.

What have you got planned for the rest of the year?

Just touring, album release hopefully that will do all right. I just found out that I went Gold on pre-orders already which is amazing. Having fun and hopefully a holiday somewhere. The festivals should be amazing; some Glastonbury. I love playing live, that's why I do what I do.



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