Updated: Apr 2
"Big hair, big voice - that's what they say about me," Jess Fitz says as she waltzes onstage at one of recent t'ARTopia events. Jess is a London-based queer pop artist and a regular performer at our queer-curated performance nights, where she has sung about heartbreak, bad dates and pretending to be fine. From the soulful to the pop anthem, her tracks have you got you covered whether you're getting ready for your Saturday night out and are already covered in glitter or you're in the bath crying because they haven't called you back.
Since releasing her debut single in 2020 Jess has had support from BBC Radio 6Music and BBC Introducing; surpassed 100,000 Spotify streams on a string of independent releases, and has performed at iconic London venues including The Jazz Café and Ronnie Scott's.
Most recently she dropped Opposite of Chill, which is about a Hinge date gone wrong.
We interviewed Jess about the power music has to connect people, late night inspiration and dating for songwriting purposes only.
What does music mean to you? What does making music mean to you?
I can't really imagine my life without music. My flatmates can confirm I am never not listening to music - luckily they have now all become fans of Radio 1's Chillest Show. I go to gigs as much as I can, present a monthly radio show on Voices Radio and also work in music PR for my day job, so music is quite simply my entire life. Reading that back I probably need to find a hobby that isn't music related... maybe I'll start knitting? I do feel so lucky to be able to make music. It's not an easy career to be pursuing and definitely comes with a lot of stress and anxiety, but ultimately I'm very blessed to be able to do what I love, and create something that other people connect with. Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far? Did you always know you wanted to sing? When and how did you start performing, and then recording, your music?
I was one of those obnoxious children who would put on shows for family members, make up dances, act out the entirety of Les Miserables with my siblings etc, so I've performed for as long as I can remember really! I first started singing properly with my school swing band, my signature tune was Nina Simone's Feeling Good and I've loved singing with a big band ever since. At uni I started an all-female funk band, and sang Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan... I also sang in an a cappella group but I usually try and hide that one. It was during uni that I decided I really wanted to pursue music as a career - I moved to London after graduating in 2018 and that's when I really started to write and record my music properly.
Is there a part of being a musician you love the most - from performing to writing to recording, and so on?
For me nothing beats the feeling of performing a song in front of an audience, watching them bop along or sing the lyrics back to me. I think in the age of social media that real life connection between artist and audience can sometimes be lost, so I love playing to people and feeling that spark. The writing and recording side of things is great too, especially when collaborating with other people. I sometimes take for granted that I can write songs but it's pretty amazing to go into a recording studio with nothing and come out a few hours later with a brand new bop. Recording wise my favourite part is doing ad-libs - belting into a mic for a bit really gets my stress levels down.
Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting process? What comes first, for example, the music or the lyrics? Do you ever work collaboratively during the songwriting process?
Usually lyrics and melody will just pop into my head at the same time. Often the best ones are when I'm falling asleep and I have to scramble for my phone and record a voice note before it disappears (some of these sound absolutely terrible in the light of day though). Lyrics are probably the most important element to me; all my biggest idols are amazing storytellers - I used to sit and religiously read Taylor Swift album lyric booklets, and then Amy Winehouse when I got a bit older. The English Literature degree probably helps too. I used to be quite precious about the songwriting process and preferred to write alone, but recently I've been writing with lots of different people and it's been so much fun. I think it can be easy at times to view other artists and musicians as competitors but it's way more enjoyable to have collaborators. At the moment I'm actually planning a writing retreat with some of my closest songwriting pals which is going to be amazing - a weekend in the countryside with a piano, a guitar, some songs and some wine - perfection.
You write a lot of songs that focus on personal experience of heartbreak and bad dates. How does it feel to write so much from your own lived experience? Is there a cathartic element to it?
Extremely cathartic yes! Songwriting really is my therapy and I struggle to write about something I haven't experienced. I think a lot of people relate to my lyrics too which is great - I love when someone messages me to say they connect to a song as it makes me feel less tragic. I also find it funny that random people I went on a single date with years ago are immortalised in a catchy pop song and may never even know about it. At this point I date for songwriting purposes only.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
Be authentically you, because nobody else can do that. Write the music you want to write, and if it feels right to you then that's the most important thing. I've been doing this for a couple of years now and the songs I am most proud of are the ones I feel like are truly authentic to me, rather than trying to sound like anyone else. Also, try not to focus on social media or Spotify numbers too much - they don't define you and are not a measure of your talent. Oh also - always be nice, people remember it!
Find out more about Jess Fitz, and check out her music on whatever your favourite platform is, here.