Between putting out his debut record, Time To Get Right, extending his U.S. tour, and being featured by NASCAR at the Brickyard 400, Jessta James is one busy guy. The Montana based country/hip-hop/rock artist will be performing in Atlanta, GA this Sunday, September 1st at Turner Field, just before the start of the Atlanta Braves game, and again on September 11th at Vinyl.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Jessta during his layover at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport before his big show this weekend!
What was the recording process like for your debut record, Time to Get Right?
It started with me meeting a producer [sic: Dan Hannon], in Atlanta and at that time I was out doing some recording in California. I’m originally from Montana so when I started recording professionally I ended up over in California.
Long story short, I met him in Atlanta and when I wrote my first song with him, we “demoed” it and it was immediately apparent to me that that was the song I had been looking for. Right away I knew that I wanted to pursue this newfound sound with him. We decided to cut a whole record.
At that time I was living in California with my wife, and I would fly back and forth and crash at the studio. We wrote about 26 songs in a matter of a couple of months. Then we narrowed those down to 13 songs that would fit best on the album, took it to Nashville, and recorded it there at Blackbird Studio.
How did you and Hannon meet?
It was through mutual friends, somebody actually that he grew up with that I met while I was out in California. I call it “fate” that we were introduced to this guy.
The funny story behind it was that Dan was visiting his home in Virginia, showing his kids and his wife the neighborhood he grew up in, and pointed out his best-friend Terrence’s old house. As odds would have it, out walks Terrence as he’s showing them the house. He ended up stopping and going to talk to him, for the first time in about fifteen years. He mentioned me because he thought that Dan and I needed to link up and work together.
So Dan and I got to talking on the phone, but I was living in California and I didn’t think I’d make it out to the East coast. A few months later I was flying out for a TV show appearance in Florida and drive up to Atlanta to see him. That’s when we cut that first track.
What works best for you when it comes to writing songs?
Writing songs is my favorite thing to do. That creative energy is my favorite part of the whole process. Dan and I would wake up in the morning, come down to the studio, grab a guitar and just start running through some chord progressions and messing around with some guitar riffs. Once we found something that peaked our interest we’d write the chorus, or I would write it solo, in a matter of minutes.
As soon as we had the overall gist of the sound I’d come to him and say, “I want these elements, these instruments, and I want it to have this kind of a vibe.” I’d give him the blueprint of what I envisioned for it and he would start building the track in the studio with me there. By the time he had a beat for me to get into I would already have the first verse done and then the rest of the song maybe fifteen minutes after that.
It was a very quick process once we got into that mode. It was a really blessed experience because a lot of these songs that we ended up putting on the album, they just seemed to fall out of the sky. It was a life changing experience for me. When you find that relationship with a producer where it just clicks you know it right away and you gravitate towards making music with that person.
Your video for “Back in the Day” was recently featured by NASCAR at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis, can you tell me how that came together?
To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how that came together. I have an amazing team of people. It was kind of ironic for me, even though it isn’t finished yet, because Dan and I specifically wrote an amazing song for NASCAR.
The Brickyard thing just seemed to happen, we made the video for my first single “Back in the Day” and people really seemed to love it. Left and right it was getting picked up on different TV channels. I was playing shows on the road so I wasn’t able to see it at Brickyard. But that sure would’ve been cool to see it up on those big screens.
How about the show at Tuner Field? Have you played something of that size before?
No, this is a first for me. It’s funny, this is actually going to be the first professional baseball game I’ve ever attended. I’m well traveled, but in Montana we don’t have any professional baseball teams to get behind, we’d have to drive to Seattle or Denver, which isn’t that easy to do. So for one I’m excited to be at a ball game.
The size of the venue is definitely a step up for me. With our live show, the more people you put in front of us the crazier it gets, so I’m really excited.
What’s your favorite part of playing for a live audience?
Honestly, there’s two things that really stand out for me as a performer. One, the connection with the audience. I mean just to be able to have them hanging on every breath and in the palm of your hand, so to speak, being able to dictate whether they move or how they feel.
To tell you the truth some of my music is big, rocking tunes that get you up and moving. But a lot of it is really heartfelt. I have a lot of personal songs on the album. I’ll perform the song I wrote for my brother who passed away, “Time to Get Right,” and there’s a part where I explain what happened to him. I see it connect with people, it really strikes a chord. People will be moved to tears and completely consumed by the music. That’s really really powerful for me.
I’m getting to the point know where we’re touring all over the place and we’ll go to a town/venue that I’ve never been to, ever, and people will be at the show singing every single word to every single song. That’s humbling but also mind-blowing to me that I wrote this song in a studio in a basement somewhere and it’s come full circle to where people are singing it back to me at the top of their lungs. That’s a special thing.
Do you have any pre-show rituals or tactics for enduring such a long-haul tour?
We’ve got an eight-piece band of the most talented musicians and the most incredible people. You can imagine there’s never a dull moment on the road.
Before every single show, even before our rehearsals I’ll lead the band in prayer. We’ll gather around and find that moment of peace together of why we’re here and what a blessing it is to be doing what we’re doing and give thanks for that.
We acknowledge what our goal is as far as making people feel something that’s real. We try to give them a little vacation from everyday life even if it’s just for that hour and a half that we’re up there on stage. So that’s a really big part of what we do.
Who are some musicians that you would love to collaborate with?
Wow. There’s a lot of people, it’s a big list. I always tell people that I’m just a huge fan of music. My particular sound is a true blend of country/rock/alternative rock/hip hop, so there’s something for everybody in there.
As far as collaborations go it kind of keeps the door wide open for who we could work with. On the country side of things I’d love to work with some of my heroes like Hank Williams Jr. or some of the new artists like Eric Church or Brantley Gilbert. In terms of hip-hop I’d love to work with Outkast or even Ludacris on some different kinds of collaborations.
There’s all kinds of people that I’d like to worth with.
Purchase TIX for his show September 11 @ Vinyl below!