Jess and the Bandits crashed onto the UK scene 2 years ago with the release of their excellent ‘Here We Go Again’ album and an intriguing backstory of how a Texan girl came to be saddled (see what we did there?) with some English blokes as a backing band. Now it’s time for album number 2 and a whole fresh approach. No more stories about how they met, it’s time to focus on the music. ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is released mid September just as the band embarks on a UK tour so we caught up with Jess recently to talk all things Bandits.
How was Buckle and Boots this year?
It was fantastic! It’s always interesting to get out there and perform new songs for an audience. We managed to play about 5 new songs interspersed throughout the set. Everything from ‘Kings of Summer’ through to the new single, ‘I’m Not Going Home’ which is out in July. Loads of the audience already knew the words to the new songs, I don’t know how that happened! I think they must have been listening to the iTunes previews quite a bit!
You guys always have a great energy and charisma on stage, whether it’s at a festival or in a club.
Thank you, that’s very kind. My goal is always to make sure the audience has an amazing time. I want them planning to come see us again while they’re watching us!
Debut album, ‘Here We Go Again’ opened up a lot of doors for you. What are your thoughts on it two years on?
You know, I’m really, really proud of that album. We tried to make the best product, the best album that we could at the time. I knew when writing the next album (‘Smoke and Mirrors’, out September) that I wanted to grow a bit from the sound of the first album. ‘Here We Go Again’ was definitely very ‘Country Rock’. It was a lot of fun but I now want to experiment with some other sides of myself, musically. One of the things we didn’t get to do on the first album was touch on my history with gospel music. We’ve been able to do that with the new album. That’s what you want, when making music, you want to grow as you go along.
Were you surprised at the success of ‘Wichita Lineman’ on the debut album?
That song was very special to us. That was one of those songs that just happened to come about and has become a firm favourite. We get everyone from little kids, you know at Buckle and Boots we got so many children coming up and telling us they loved our music, through to the older demographic who say that they love ‘Wichita Lineman’. That’s really cool. I don’t think there’s any other genre that is like that, the spread of age and experience.
What can we expect from ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ then? Clearly not ‘Here We Go Again’ Part II.
Definitely not. There are a few songs that have touches of Country Rock to them because, you know, I love that sound but a lot of the songs have great storytelling aspects and I love that about Country music. A number of songs have quite a gospel undertone to them. I wanted to take the listener on much more of a journey, both musically and lyrically, this time that shows them much deeper musical aspects. There’s a song called ‘Gone Girl’ where I channelled my inner Dolly Parton. I don’t know what it was about that song but I even used a different tone in my voice but it’s become one of my favourites. It’s going to be one of the instant grabs that we give away on Spotify between now and the album release, so keep an eye out for it.
What does the songwriting look like for ‘Smoke and Mirrors’?
So, basically, I was really fortunate to work with the team over at Liz Rose for some of the songs. (Liz Rose is the writer who co-wrote many of Taylor Swift’s early hits. She released her own album, ‘Swimming Alone’ this year.) I also wrote with Emily Shackleton again, this album, just like the last, has some of the most talented writers in Nashville on it. I’m just thankful they let me sit in a room with them!
The branding of the singles and the album cover itself is a lot different this time around, more serious, less pictures of the band?
What it is, is that just like music changes, so does all of the other things around it. Right now, the graphics that you use is a really interesting way of showing who you are. This time around we went with graphics rather than pictures of faces and we really like it. It feels a bit cooler to do something different, a slightly more serious approach this time around.
How’s ‘Kings of Summer’ doing? It’s a perfect summer song. I love the ‘fearless pirates of the night’ line and image.
Yeah! It’s going really well, like surprisingly well. We’re still in the phase of getting it out there and everyone hearing it, but it’s gone really well. I love that song, it’s the perfect summer song, which is why we wanted to get it out there while the sun was still sort of shining! It was cold at Buckle and Boots, you never know with the English summer, it can be lovely in the morning and then freezing by night!
The UK Country scene is a lot fuller, a lot more competitive than back in 2015 when you released ‘Here We Go Again’. Does that excite or intimidate you?
I think it’s really exciting. It’s a great thing, that’s what you want to see, the genre getting more popular. For us, that’s partly why we decided to veer away a little from what everyone else is doing in the UK is doing with Country music and why are going for slightly more of that gospel feel. We’re hoping to introduce a new facet of Country to the UK. A slightly different genre if you will. It’s a bit worrying incase some people don’t come along with you but we wanted to make sure we grew as artists and we’ve got to hope our fanbase feel the same.
Do you ever get fed up with the Trans-Atlantic flights? Wouldn’t it be easier just to move here?
(Laughing). I would have a very angry niece and nephew if I did that! So, no, I’m going to have to stick to the long flights, but it works ok really. That way, I get the best of both worlds.
Do the boys ever come over to you and you play in the States as Jess and the Bandits?
No, we are a purely UK band. We’re over here. Some people think Jess and the Bandits are a UK, homegrown band and then others say we’re not but we are really, we don’t play anywhere else. I may be the American but I am in the minority! I’m here so much that the focus of my music is here too.
You are out on tour in September. Excited?
It’s a decent size tour and it’s growing as we speak. We are pretty much out across the whole country, Glasgow, Manchester, Cambridge. The London show is on the day that the album comes out, which is pretty cool. It’s gonna be a great tour. We are preparing for that right now. We are working on some new dates too because we know that there is a gap in the Midlands but it all comes down to venue availability. It’s looking likely we might add one or two dates there. Our agent is trying to make something happen right now. We’ve also talked about the support slot and try and help bring up some artists or bands to people’s attention. That way, the audience can discover new talent. We can maybe have a main support and have some local support at each show too.
Thanks ever so much for your time, fingers crossed for that Midlands date!