We discuss the album which I had the pleasure of listening to before its release. Jess admits it's hard to follow that first album and she says, "What do I have to say when you don't have anything left after the first album? However, so much has happened and we have so much material. We were pitched so many songs from the best writers in Nashville and London so it's nice to not only have plenty of my own songs, but a lot from other writers and that made us build a really strong album." She continues, "I am not too proud to put on something that someone else has written. Sometimes a Song shows up that says everything you wanted to say, but couldn't."
We discuss the theme of 'Smoke & Mirrors', "The theme, in the end, came down to strength and songs like the new single 'I'm Not Going Home', that statement is a song that speaks to everyone who thinks they are not good enough from the size of their clothes to the colour of their skin to their religion. It says I am going to stay right here and keep pushing." Continuing this theme, "'Start A War' is about female empowerment between sisters, a comradery that women should have with each other, but don't. It's a song that says, 'I'm not going to be your lady, step in line and be nice, I'm not going to be that little girl that doesn't have their own opinion, I have to a lot to say.'" Another song which means a lot to Jess is 'The Bullet'. "It's about my fiancé, strength and letting yourself have the freedom to love, to experience and feel. That makes a really good story."
The new 'Kings Of Summer' music video is visually stunning and really captures the idea of youth and long, humid, carefree summer days. There is a noted absence of the band themselves, but it still works really well. Jess says, "Unfortunately we were all so busy to get together to film it, but we like to have a very hands on approach with our music videos whether we are in them or not. We had a fantastic video director who is based in Germany and we wanted to convey what the song is about; summertime, freedom and fun. When you are young and summer actually means something. We wanted to transport the viewer back to a time to where there were no cell phones and you could relax and enjoy what summer is actually about. There is nothing complicated, it's just simple and sometimes you need a song that makes you smile. The video does a great job of that, putting a nice bow on it and tying together the theme of the song. We used drones to shoot the music video and it made for a beautiful video."
Jess is involved in so much from songwriting to performing and this is all done with a trans-Atlantic lifestyle so I ask what her favourite aspect of the whole business is. She replies firmly, "Performing. That's where it all comes together and is the pay off for the hard work. It sounds a glamorous lifestyle but is very exhausting so standing on the stage and watching the reaction of the audience is the payoff for everything."
Jess & The Bandits are very excited for their UK tour, in particular, Jess who is from Texas. She says, "Our music has a country, gospel and rock sound, but under a country umbrella. It's quite a new genre for many people in the UK, so there is an appreciation you don't find in other places such as in America as we take it for granted. You come out of the womb and you're singing country music. With the new album, we are introducing a lot of gospel elements which is not that common in the UK but it is in America. So it's really exciting to introduce a bit of a new sub genre to the UK audience. There is a storytelling aspect of the songs which you don't find in other genres. With the gospel feel, we're kind of getting outside of the box of country music in its traditional sense. Contemporary country if you like. We've never been a fan of staying boxed into a certain sound and feel and that certainly comes across in this album, it's nice to be able to touch on other aspects."
I ask if it's too soon to be thinking about their next album and Jess says thoughtfully, "We might delve more into that gospel feel for the next album. If you listen to Rag' n' Bone man's song 'Human', there is a RnB feel and some serious gospel undertones there. We are on the verge in the UK of breaking into that sound. We're ahead of that kerb right now in experimenting with the country gospel sound."
Jess is so bubbly and professional I have to wonder how she maintains her vibrant personality when she has so much going on. She says, "I love being on the road. For the UK tour, we added on the Midlands and are travelling all the way up from Glasgow, Southampton, Cambridge, Bristol and more. I love being able to interact and meet the fans."
Even the band's social media is done personally, but Jess admits, "I cannot remember the last time I switched off and I am in desperate need of a vacation. When I'm in the UK I'm working and I'm pulled every which way in every continent I'm on. I try to give myself one day a week to try to switch my phone off and spend time with my niece and nephew."
We discuss what influenced the band for 'Smoke & Mirrors' and Jess mentions American country music group Little Big Town. She says, "they did a great song last year called 'Girl Crush' and their new album has a very eclectic feel to it. It's different country to what they've done before and for me and us as a band that was very inspiring to get outside of the box. In terms of instrumentation and production, we wanted to be more raw with the production rather than perfectly polished."
Jess says of 'Smoke & Mirrors', "We are really proud of this album and it deserves to be heard."
And what an album. It's as meaty and filling as a huge platter of surf n' turf from your favourite restaurant and it won't give you heartburn but will burn your heart with sounds and feeling. It exudes positivity from the jubilant 'I'm Not Going Home' to winding harmonies from The Bandits (Ricci Riccardi, Louis Riccardi, Dave Troke, Steven Reid Williams) in 'World Still Round'. 'Sister' has many textures from the uplifting hand clapping to the punchy gospel. Jess's powerful voice soars over the album like a big, beautiful kite in the wind and her delivery is so honest and pure. The narrative within each track is so real, you often feel you are there in the midst of it. The songs, which are full of depth, are given a bold and experimental platform with a strong rock country edge and bright sparks of gospel. There is something for everyone in 'Smoke & Mirrors' from power anthems to songs which softly shimmer. Jess & The Bandits are having the time of their lives and their zest for life and their music is infectious.
'Smoke & Mirrors' will be released on 15th September and you can pre-order it here
24 June - Buckle and Boots
28 June - FSA Festival
19 August - Nashville Nights
27 August - Cottingham Folk Festival
12 Sep – Glasgow, King Tuts
13 Sep – Gateshead, Sage 2
14 Sep – Cambridge, The Junction
15 Sep – London, The Borderline
20 Sep - Norwich, Waterfront Studio
21 Sep – Bristol, The Tunnels
22 Sep – Manchester, Gullivers
24 Sep – Southampton, Talking Heads
Tickets are on sale here