With Gavin Brown
Jessie Wagner has had a storied and varied career in music so far, having worked with the likes of a Little Steven & The Disciples, Chic & Nile Rogers, Lenny Kravitz and Duran Duran, and toured the world with these megastars. The time is now for her to release her own music though and this comes in the shape of her debut album Shoes Droppin. We caught up with Jessie to talk about the album and her music and what it feels like to bring her own music out now as well as hearing about her work with other musicians, her other band Army Of Underdogs and her biggest influence as a vocalist.
Your new album Shoes Droppin is out very soon. Can you tell us a a bit about the album and it’s creation?
I had a very traumatic situation occur a few years ago and I was struggling to deal with it in many ways. I was also questioning my worth in the music industry. Some of the things that helped me get through it was writing. I decided that I wanted to put those songs out. A couple years back I started recording in between tours. The album is a collection of those songs that came out of tragedy and some others that I had been holding on to for the right time. This album was the right time for those songs. It’s a ride of emotions from despair to acceptance; but ultimately, it’s about hope and faith.
As it is your debut album, how excited are you to let the world hear your music?
I’ve put music out before with my rock band, Army of the Underdog but this is the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. It’s all about Jessie. I laid it all out on the table. It’s a little frightening, but very exciting and fulfilling as well. I’m encouraged by the response the singles have gotten. I’m proud of the songs and I hope people will be able to connect with them.
What are the biggest influence on the sound of Shoes Droppin?
I pull from all types of music. I can’t say there was one thing or the other that really drove the sound. I guess, I was most inspired by artists that don’t let a particular sound define them. Fortunately, the artists I’ve worked with are a lot like that. Little Steven refuses to let himself be boxed in musically. Summer of Sorcery is a fun ride through many different genres, and it works! Lenny Kravitz may be a Rock God, but his music varies from soul, singer/songwriter, to rock. It encompasses many different things. I draw from diversity I suppose.
What does the title of the album refer to?
Shoes Droppin was one of the first songs I had written when I had gone through the darkest period of my life. It refers to the saying, “Waiting for the other shoe to drop.” At that time in my life, it felt like I was being rained upon by shoes. It was sort of a catalyst for this album. I started writing more songs during that period and they were like a catharsis for me. Shoes Droppin, the song, got me started on this journey. I thought it would be appropriate to call the album that.
What has the reaction to the album been like so far?
I’ve been floored by all the positivity I’ve received from people. They love the variety. That was a concern because the industry only allows for artists to be presented one way. I have many sides and sounds. So the fact that people get that and want to hear more really warmed my heart and encouraged me to keep being true to my writing. Let the song be whatever it’s going to be.
Shoes Droppin is being released on Wicked Cool Records. How is life on the label?
Wicked Cool has really had my back through this whole experience. They check in on their artists. They provide encouragement and advice. I’m glad that I’ve had this kind of label experience. I’m proud to be a part of the Wicked Cool family.
Wicked Cool is the label of Little Steven Van Zandt, who you have worked with in the past, how was that experience and how did you start working with him?
I really enjoyed working with Little Steven. He will make you work hard, but he is always cracking jokes and he’s gentle with you. When you hear the final product, you understand it was all worth it. He’s a master craftsman when it comes to his songs. He knows exactly what he wants and knows how to pull it from you. His shows are colorful, energetic, and full of musical surprises. He sets a grueling pace, but the reward is seeing all the devoted fans come out to the shows and their appreciation written all over their faces. It was a tough tour, but very rewarding and I’d do it again in a heart beat. I started singing with him in 2017, right when I needed some work the most. I was still touring a bit with Lenny, but he wasn’t doing many shows. I was referred by Jack Daley, Little Steven’s bass player, and Little Steven’s musical director Marc Ribler called one day to see if I was interested and available. The rest, as they say, is history!
Can you tell us a bit about working with the following and the memories you have?
Chic and Nile Rodgers–
I got my start with Nile. I wouldn’t be anywhere without him taking a chance on me. I was completely green, but he saw something special in me. Chic was my training ground. I learned so much from everyone in the band, especially Sylver Logan Sharp. She taught me how to really work the stage. I will always be grateful to Nile for allowing me to be a part of that experience.
Lenny is another one who really knows what he wants out of a performance and you have to deliver. He doesn’t pull any punches. You know if he’s not happy. I think on this tour, I really learned that I need to continually hone my craft. Take lessons, strive to be better. The band was so funky and the jams were out of this world. The look fit my esthetic and I always loved his music. It was a dream come true to be able to work with him. He was also a lot of fun. Especially when we had cheat days and we’d go out and get foot wide pancakes or eat the finest Caribbean food in all of Paris. He is elegant, stylish, but pure rock and roll at the same time. I think I wanted to be most like him as an artist. But I’ll never be that cool!
Duran Duran reminded me of being in this wonderful reality show. Each member has such fun quirky personalities. I laughed a lot on this tour. And the fans are die hards! It was a whirlwind of cities, and very fast paced. The songs were so full of life and energy. It was also a long show – just like Little Steven. But it seemed to fly by each night. The band was very easy going. I would happily tour with them again.
I think this was the group where I really learned what it was like to live a rock n roll lifestyle. Kid Rock is unapologetically himself. You take it or leave it. He could be a bit rough around the edges with you, but then he’d be sweet as pie. He would hold parties at his house and invite the whole crew. He could be cantankerous, and he could be lovable. But in the end, I always felt like he had my back. I still do. I can go to him and ask for help, and he’d freely give it. It was also my first real long bus tour. I experienced so much living like that. You are constantly surrounded by your bandmates. You learn to love everyone’s quirks, or you won’t survive. I miss those guys. I feel like every band I’ve worked with was my family. But this group holds a special place in my heart.
Will you be doing any live shows once they start happening again?
I sure do hope so. I was planning on touring before Covid hit. That’s been my ultimate dream – to be able to tour on my own name.
What has been the most memorable gig that you have ever played?
I had 20,000 people sing happy birthday to me while I was performing at the Night of Proms in Belgium. That’s something you never forget!
How else have you been keeping busy during this quarantine period?
I do a lot of session work. And I’ve been writing as well. I write a lot of dance music on the side. It’s keeping me sane.
How is life in New York City during this crazy time?
New York is like a shell of it’s former self. When I go into the city, it reminds me of a post apocalyptic movie set. I see signs of life here and there, but nothing like it used to be. Oddly enough, there’s still traffic. Go figure…
Will you be doing anything with your band Army Of Underdogs in the near future?
I plan on releasing another E.P. when we all can get together. I’ve just been focusing on my solo project for now. I have to see where it takes me. But AOU still has something to say.
What have been some of the highlights from Army Of Underdogs so far?
I got to play some really crazy festivals, but I think doing the Kid Rock cruise was the highlight. The fans were rabid and they bombarded the stage. It was exciting, exhausting, and pure lovable madness.
Who are your biggest influences as a singer?
When I was young, my mom had Nancy Wilson on repeat. I think her vibe and tone comes out in my more mellow tunes. I’m a big Sheryl Crow fan. I like her folky, laid back rock vibe. I love how Stevie Wonder can tell a story through his lyrics and his melodies are so clever. Tina Turner is the GOAT! I can’t imagine any female singer of a certain age that doesn’t want to emulate some part of her style.
What was your musical upbringing like?
Schizophrenic! We listened to everything from The Carpenters to George Clinton. Gospel on Saturdays, because I was raised Seventh Day Adventist, but anything from jazz to country during the week. I think that’s why my music takes on so many flavors.
When push comes to shove, what is your favourite album of all time and what makes it so special?
That is a very difficult question. I don’t know if I can honestly answer that. Jagged Little Pill comes to mind, but so does Under The Table and Dreaming. Ugh, but then there’s Room For Squares. But you can’t forget Talking Book. That’s an impossible question to answer.
You also work as an actor, can you tell us a bit about your acting career and what you have coming up?
I was working on a series based on Covid 19 lock down experiences. One of the stories documents my life for a few weeks as an artist trying to muddle through these times. I’m also part of one of the fictional stories based on supernatural events. It’s hilarious. But that’s all I can say about it. I can’t wait till it comes out though.
What have been the greatest moments in your career so far?
Getting to travel the world and experience different cultures has been a highlight of my career. And getting to work with people that I am genuine fans of is something I’ll always treasure. I got to sing a Michael Jackson Tribute in Detroit, the home of Motown; I did the bump with Jon Bon Jovi on stage; I’ve danced all night long with celebrities I admire. All and all, I’ve lived an interesting and rewarding life and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Words: Gavin Brown
Shoes Droppin is set for release October 9th. Pre-order your copy: https://jessiewagnerwcr.bandcamp.com/album/shoes-droppin