We call up the LA singer-songwriter to talk about working with Yungblud, challenging music industry toxicity and the hidden meaning behind new track “Tangerine”.
When you think the words “indie rock” what comes to mind? If it’s exclusively scruffy Brits (guilty as charged!) then broaden your horizons with Jesse Jo Stark. The godchild of Cher and daughter of Richard and Laurie Stark, the duo behind rock n’ roll outfitters Chrome Hearts, she’s been steeped in art, music and fashion from a young age – and it shows.
Now, she’s all grown-up and a bonafide Malibu dream girl penning introspective, seventies-tinged songs of longing and loss that you can’t help but sing along to. A Stevie Nicks for the iPhone Generation, she’s honed a femme fatale persona for both the stage and IG, where she enjoys a 300,000 strong following of fans who eagerly hang on to every one of her cryptic captions.
Curious to get to know the woman behind the mystique, we call Jesse up to talk all about her musical origins, working with Youngblud and latest track “Tangerine”.
Lovely to meet you Jesse! Let’s talk about your beginnings as a musician: when did you first start making music?
I used to think that songs just came into existence and spilled through the radio speakers like magic. as soon as I realised that someone actually wrote them and made an idea into something real, I’ve been making records. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing or writing words or playing guitar.
And who are your main musical inspirations?
The Cramps, Linda Ronstadt, Merle Haggard, The Clash… I also love when artists that I respect make playlists introducing me to new types of music. I’ve recently fallen in love with Sharon Van Etten, Blood Orange, Big Thief, and The National. I’m an obsessive person with the things I love so when I like a song I listen to every song by that artist and that always leads me to another.
So how would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
I never know how to answer this question but I love how my band describes it: “it’s like romance, ‘70s AM radio with your lover’s head on your shoulder, but it’s also eerie like the Devil’s wind.”
What’s been the biggest moment of your career so far?
Touring. I love playing every night and looking into different people’s eyeballs while I sing to them. I miss visiting new cities and meeting new people. When I walk on stage and my band starts playing and I see a room full of people take their time to fall into me. When they start to dance and wrap themselves around each other it makes me believe in magic again. It feels like we are all under the same spell.
And outside of music, what are you passionate about?
My family and friends, my clothing line Deadly Doll, driving, cooking, arts and crafts, my dog Billie, reading, writing and the beach… I’m a little bit Cali.
Yeah, I hear you’re LA born and bred, which must have been great! How has living in the city impacted your sound?
It’s impossible to know what a city does to a person’s taste, but the people I’ve had around me have had everything to do with it: music is God in my family… Plus, I’m sure being dipped in sunshine does something to a girl’s voice.
I’m sure! What’s something you wished people knew about you?
That I’ve been playing and writing music my entire life! I don’t think people really realise that writing songs and making records is the main thing that I do and something I have always done.
Your parents are well known as the founders of legendary brand Chrome Hearts — have they influenced your decision to pursue a creative career?
My parents are my favourite legends. I’ve watched them work tirelessly my entire life and build and support the other people in their community. It’s all about connection with them, making honest pieces that add to the world. That’s what I want to carry on.
Coming from such a fashion-conscious background, is style an important form of self-expression for you?
I have an anxious reaction to style and art that manifests in endless strings of ideas on how to make it more interesting to me. The reinventing and refining process is what creativity is to me. I never like to follow another mood board: it’s all about making your own.
Here’s one for the Yungblud stans out there. What was working with Dom on the “Strawberry Lipstick” video like?
It was just a really fun day! I was stoked to be a part of it, aesthetically it felt right at home for me. I fully understand the Dom craze now and I’m into it
I hear you’ve also been busy with an exciting music project of your own: tell me about your new track “Tangerine”.
“Tangerine” is a transformation about a complex character living with different moods and shedding layers. Once you peel back that skin you get the sweetness.
Love that metaphor! I’m also loving the video that’s coming out for it too, what were you trying to express there?
This video is so important to me because it was filmed in Malibu, where I grew up. I was so embarrassed about that for so long because everyone has such a weird vibe about the westside and LA. But I grew up here, my friends and family are from here. I was a misfit by the beach and just like the tune being about what’s underneath the face, this video highlights where I grew up. It’s me, just lipstick, denim and my Camino, driving past places I used to smoke, make out, swim and fall over and over again to learn about myself.
On a heavier note, there’s recently been a round of high-profile sexual misconduct allegations about men in the rock and indie scenes. What steps do you think the music industry needs to take to make it a safer and less toxic environment for women, people of colour and queer people?
Hearing allegations about sexual misconduct is always disappointing. The toxic masculinity women have to endure on a day to day basis is unsettling, but it doesn’t end there, because we are also dealing with diversity issues as well. People are being judged for their unique differences — be it race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities or religious beliefs. We are obviously not doing enough to educate people.
I think the best thing we can do is to talk about it and keep talking about it until bolder solutions are being presented. Personally, I’m trying to do my best to be a strong woman and give my fans a safe place to express themselves.
Education is definitely an important one, I don’t think we can ever overstate that. So what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in 2020?
Being grounded, love, patience and letting go. The world is so silly sometimes and we forget to inspire each other. Nothing really matters except those moments when you feel the life you’re living. We need to slow down, clean up, live true and lead with love.
Finally, what are your hopes for the next year?
I hope for love and continued change. I hope, in the US, that we find ourselves in the hands of a real leader that leads with kindness and empathy. I hope we all can reflect on the current conditions and act gracefully by supporting each other, hearing each other and respecting each other.
Jesse’s latest single, “Tangerine”, is out now.
21 August 2020