With her influence already spread far and wide among some of the best new acts in the country, and her own music kicking up a deserved fuss, Jessica Winter is a future star in waiting.
Words: Jessica Goodman.
Photos: Patrick Gunning.
“I think if you’ve ever written even one song, you should be able to go into Abbey Road and have a full orchestra play one of your songs.” It’s an overcast day in Hoxton, and Jessica Winter is contemplating the future. More specifically, she’s contemplating what she’d like to do with it. Even more specifically, she’s contemplating how to get an orchestra involved. “I just love orchestras,” she laughs, open and enthusiastic. “I would love to experience an orchestra playing a song I wrote at some point.”
Listen to her music, and you get the very real sense that she’s capable of bringing to life anything she puts her mind to. Over the past few years, she’s not only found a dedicated following through the release of her celebrated ‘Sad Music’ and ‘More Sad Music’ EPs, all while cementing herself as one of the best new live performers on the planet. She’s also written and produced with the likes of The Big Moon, Phoebe Green, Sundara Karma, and Walt Disco.
Jessica Winter is your favourite artist’s favourite artist. Even Robert Smith has voiced his approval. It’s taken her a long time to get here, time spent trying on a variety of styles in a variety of bands. Now she’s striving for success on her own terms, under her own name, as the musician she’s always wanted to be, and the music she’s making is nothing short of magical.
The magic she possesses is never more apparent than when she performs. Dancing under the stage lights at her live shows, singing and spinning in the rain in the music video for ‘Choreograph’, pulling shapes against a stormy sky in the music video for ‘Clutter’, it’s when she’s breathing fresh life into her songs that Jessica shines the brightest.
“I just live for that, actually,” she enthuses of performing. Forging the unique kind of catharsis that comes from dancing away your demons in the dark, her live shows are an exploration of gleefully freewheeling abandon. “It’s a craft, for sure,” she describes. “I feel like I’m at a point now where I’ve felt the audience change with me.”
Having spent more than half a decade cutting her teeth in bands – from the punk stylings of Rotten Luck when she was 16, through turns as Hall Of Mirrors, Glass, and Pregoblin – before starting out as a solo artist, her live show is something she’s reinvented several times over. “You’re always trying to get people’s attention,” she contemplates. “That’s what you’re doing. You’re going out, and you’re going ‘these are my songs! Listen!’”
Her innate understanding of who she is as an artist and how to express that to an audience has been hard-won. “I remember looking around just thinking, ‘I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore’,” she recalls of a band she was in back in 2017. “I remember just thinking, ‘do I even like doing this? Do I even like music?’” While she was fronting her own project at the time, writing and performing her own music, she felt disillusioned with where she found herself. More particularly, she felt disillusioned with the industry she found herself in. “It’s like the Wild West,” she describes. It was a moment like this one that prompted the decision to release and perform music under her own name. “What you realise is that you just don’t like the industry,” she clarifies. “Music is healing.”
Music has been a force of healing for Jessica for a very long time. Diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia at an early age, the consequent surgeries and corrective brace she wore while recovering from them meant that one of the only places in her home she could sit comfortably was a piano bench. Spending time with the instrument started out as a practical choice – “that way, I wouldn’t be able to get into trouble,” she recalls, grinning – but it became so much more than a means of entertainment or escape.
Initially a way to keep her comfortable and out of mischief, the piano turned out to be an introduction to a passion that’s lasted her whole life. “It was this magical device that gave me a lot of joy,” she describes. Some of her earliest memories are of spending time with the instrument. A gateway into a world of possibilities, it kick-started a love of music that’s seen her experiment with punk, synth-pop, indie, self-termed ‘crance’ (that’s music you can both cry and dance to), and more besides.
“The common denominator through all of that was that I was writing songs,” she says of her previous projects. “So why not try and just write them as me?” Natural though the progression felt, it wasn’t without its difficulties. “Once you’re you, you can’t go back on it,” she states. The decision to create and perform as a solo artist brought with it no uncertain amount of soul-searching questions.
“Who am I, actually?” Jessica asks. “After all of those outfits and different names and bands, who am I? What do I like? What people do I want to surround myself with? What sounds am I into?” If those questions sound daunting, it’s because they are. The answers, ever-evolving as they are, don’t come easily. “You can get so lost,” she continues. “One day, you can wake up and go, ‘I’m going to be a goth’. The next day you can wake up and say something else.”
Her third EP, ‘Limerence’, bears no crisis of confidence on its sleeve. This is the sound of an artist who knows exactly who they are and what they’re doing, a collection of shimmering pop bangers purpose-built for dancing in dark rooms while strobe lights make the rest of the world look like it’s in slow motion.
“I’m obsessed with the juxtaposition of light and dark,” Jessica enthuses of her songwriting. It’s something you can hear in every song she makes. Take recent single ‘Funk This Up’, for example: with its sledgehammer of a beat and glimmering chorus cry of “we can be different,” the track takes the guise of a rallying call to the dancefloor, while the lyrics tell a tale of bad habits and addiction. “That’s what the beauty of pop music is, for me. It’s having the boundary and then trying to push as far as you can go within the boundary.”
Playing with elements of light and dark, of directness and poetry, one thing Jessica’s committed to is not holding back. “I’m always trying to find the perfect balance between saying something as directly as possible in the most poetic way,” she describes of her writing process. For her, making music is less about pinning down the direction you’re going in, and more about understanding where you’re creating from. “I think it’s about going back to why you do it in the first place, and not thinking about what you need to do to get somewhere,” she conveys. “It’s trying to find out why you love music and what makes you want to make music and what makes you want to write songs. Once you get focused on that, everything else falls into place.”
And fall into place it has done. ‘Limerence’ has just been released, she’s just wrapped up a UK tour with Rebecca Black, she’s got her first US performances ahead of her at SXSW, and she refuses to slow down any time soon. “This is the beginning now, and I’m not gonna stop putting stuff out for a long time,” Jessica enthuses, “hopefully.” With promises of “a larger body of work” in progress (*cough* debut album *cough*), the alt-pop world is hers for the taking.
“I’m still writing everything at the moment. I haven’t gone into the production stage yet,” she details, before continuing with the magic words, “but I really feel quite confident with a few bangers that I’ve got now.” This, dear reader, is exactly what we’re here for. As for how the new music’s shaping up, it’s early days yet, but her goals are simple ones. “I’m singing from the heart. And hopefully, people will feel that.” ■
Taken from the March 2023 edition of Dork. Jessica Winter’s new EP ‘Limerence’ is out now.
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