Today, new artists often try to flood fans with music, trying to gain an audience through sheer saturation. But singer-songwriter Jesse Jo Stark has taken the opposite approach, delivering one EP and a slow stream of singles over the past five years with the will and precision of someone watering a desert.
It helps that the 31-year-old artist has something else to occupy his time. Stark is part of the Chrome Hearts fashion family and has designed for the brand, as well as running her own clothing line called Deadly Doll and trying her hand at acting. All the while, he has created a perfectly eerie musical image that stands apart from the bleakness that has permeated recent pop music.
doomed, this week sees the release of his first official album, full of noir imagery and alluring shadowiness. Standouts like “So Bad,” featuring Stark’s close friend and collaborator Jesse Rutherford of The Neighborhood, and “Tornado” sweep guitar chords like weeds across a dusty road, and Stark’s reverb-drenched vocals are a masterclass in respectable restraint. But he’s also branching out into new territory, offering up the album’s 11 tracks of anthemic country tunes (“Lipstick”) and dark disco (“Pussycat”).
In front Doomed release, GQ spoke with Stark about releasing his debut LP, working with Jesse Rutherford, and drawing inspiration from Italian illustrators, Audrey Hepburn and the dictionary.
GQ: How does it feel to be releasing an album that took so long?
Jesse Jo Stark: It’s so random. I feel like time just flew by. I’ve always been that person that if I get a show or something like that, I don’t think I’m going to play it until I’m on stage. I don’t really know how I feel and I’m really nervous, but I’m excited. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.
You’ve been releasing music for a while, but the album should reach people who weren’t previously familiar with your discography. How do you balance songs that you personally like with songs that would make a good impression on potential new fans?
I explain each song like it’s a different mood for my day. I feel like we wake up in one mood and end in another. Musically, I’m so inspired by a million different things and I’ve never felt like I’m part of one particular genre. I think it’s really irritating for people because they really want to categorize you and make sure they understand what they’re listening to, but that’s never been the goal with my music. When I play the album live, I want to fill every kind of niche that I have, whether I want to dance or want to cry or scream. The couple of songs I have here are from six years ago. We added the last song “Trippin” literally two weeks before the album was finished. I remembered this demo I had and I was like, “This is to be the end,” we then added an outro to round off the whole record. It came down to not taking it too seriously and just saying, “These feel right. That’s what I want to play when I’m on stage. It’s really me, at least for now.”