Jesse Jo Stark | "More Experience, More Heartbreak, and a More Potent Version of Me"
I’ve just opened Garageband on my computer, preparing to record. Although it’s a beautiful spring morning in Los Angeles, I’m dismayed—outside, hauling tons of rubbish, a loud garbage truck interferes with the mic on my laptop. I pray the truck will move. Suddenly, the phone starts to ring. I realize I haven’t used Garageband in years.
The next second, I’m speaking with the inimitable Jesse Jo Stark, a sultry serenader who details heartbreak and payback for listeners lucky enough to be cast under her woozy spell. On Jesse’s end of the phone, dogs are yapping, but this doesn’t bother one bit. She soldiers on with a poise that would prove fruitful to disarm any contention between a fractured band. This magnetic aura most likely explains Jesse’s litany of cohorts and contemporaries, old and new, who orbit her creative sphere.
First, the pedigree. Her godmother is none other than the iconic Cher. Her parents? Founders of Chrome Hearts, the celebrated fashion house designing furniture, jewelry, and other rock-inflected chic and shiny accessories. Friends include it-model Bella Hadid and rising filmmaker Chuck Grant, the sister of Hollywood’s gatekeeper to glamour-avec-grit, Lana Del Rey. Don’t let these heavyweights dominate the picture here, though. Jesse is where Jesse is because Jesse pulls her weight. A few years ago, Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan recognized her star, calling her a “musical tastemaker,” and had her open for the band. Last year, she was opening for indie rock outfit Sunflower Bean in the States and the UK. Her comings and goings are all catalogued on her Instagram, which serves as a kaleidoscopic lookbook of the good life, performances onstage and mischievous antics back-stage.
But, as we continue to learn in the digital age, appearances aren’t often what they seem, and what people post online should often be taken with a healthy shake of salt. “Social media is an alternate universe and not a reality. I do my best to be myself and don’t want my image to ever be as if I lived this perfect lifestyle. No one does!” she says, adding “I posted a video on Twitter yesterday and said, ‘Just letting you know I‘m uploading the best part of my day right now, it’s been a fucking shitty day.’” While candor can often come off as cold, Jesse’s is refreshing and considerate. “Make sure whatever you’re doing— public or private—isn’t hurting you or giving you some sort of fake pleasure.”
Typecasting Jesse as some influencer-adjacent figure who happens to have a penchant for music would be foolish. “Writing has been harder for me than it’s ever been,” she confides. “I’m still young, but as times goes on, the more you experience, the more heartbreak you go through, and the more people you lose.” Music has been on her mind for years. Playing gigs since 16, and releasing oodles of intoxicating ballads—singles like 2017’s “Driftwood” and 2018’s Dandelion EP—Stark wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s in my blood,” she reaffirms. And next month will see Jesse kick off a West Coast tour up to Vancouver, with additional dates on the East Coast and the U.K.
Stark’s confidence manifests itself through a unique stylistic output. Self-referenced as horrific hillbilly, to me it screams Bettie Page pulp zine pinup, evident in the luscious album art for “Wish I Was Dead,” the throbbing hard-rock tune released last November. When asked to choose which artist she would resurrect for a collaboration, Elvis is the obvious winner. She reveres the classics like Merle Haggard and Fleetwood Mac but also loves Beach House, her style seamlessly forming a country, folk, and pop triumvirate.
“Writing is so vulnerable,” she says. “That’s when you discover a gnarlier part of yourself and have to get through that bumpy road just to make something great after.” In 2017’s “Deadly Doll,” Stark pens, Deadly She was / Young Little Ghoul / Falling in Love / Lead By a Fool. Here is an echoing anthem looking back on failed relationships, channeling the hurt and the pain through haunting guitars and moving orchestral strings.
Somewhere between alluring and brooding, or femme and even masc, one could shortsightedly think Stark feigned an on-screen persona. “I don’t think it’s a mask. I don’t think that it’s necessarily an alter-ego. I’m pulling from a deep place inside of myself.” The music she’s released, and the tour on which she’s about to embark, are evidence of her industriousness, and there’s more on the horizon. “I am writing an album now and hope its out within the year,” she shares. “I’ve been putting out singles because that’s what I want to do. Now, I am ready emotionally to put out a full length.”