Photo courtesy of Colleen Bilzing Photography
We are excited to welcome Kansas City's Jessica Paige to Listen Local. Paige is an established performer and songwriter whose new Nashville-born album Sweet;Nothings showcases the growth of a versatile talent. Grounded in classic pop-soul and a voice that sounds wise beyond her years, Paige's music has a wide appeal that never compromises her uniqueness. For this edition of Listen Local, Paige was kind enough to delve into her songwriting and recording processes, with some valuable lessons learned from the road and studio, some personal picks from the Johnson County Library catalog and some samples from Sweet Nothings.
Tell us about yourself. How long have you been a musician and songwriter?
I feel like the answer to this question is, my whole life. Even when I was a tiny kid, I would run around our farm making up songs, and singing incessantly! I was in second grade the first time I sang by myself on a stage. I always knew what I wanted to be. Which, feels like a rare gift to be given; direction.
Describe your songwriting process. Who or what inspires you? How do you break through creative blocks?
I tend to write from my own experience, or stories I can connect to from people around me. I do these, what I would call, songwriting "exercises" when I am driving, or I could be doing anything, really... I try and come up with as many different ways to communicate what I am thinking, feeling or observing, lyrically. So through use of imagery, metaphor, or a very simple literal description. Exercising that muscle in your brain makes it so much more effortless to actually create the song when you finally you have something you want to write about. I am also writing all the time, or playing with chord progressions and melodies. You will come up with a lot of junk but you never know which one is going to be magic and wonderful.
You have traveled throughout the United States and have chosen Kansas City as your musical home. What did touring teach you about songwriting and performing?
The best performances and touring experiences are the least expected. You might be super excited for this great venue in some big city that you booked on a wing and a prayer, and then the night turns out to be a complete wash... Then, next day at noon on a Sunday, you roll into a tiny town in Iowa, population 150, and EVERYONE comes to the one bar that's next door to the one church, super excited to have you and appreciate your music. You walk away from those experiences feeling intensely connected with people. That is a gift of touring or traveling in general. The connection with perfect strangers where you get to share with them and they get to share with you. It transcends any superficial difference that might exist in other circumstances. It's absolutely beautiful.
Where is your favorite place to perform and why?
My home! When it smells like incense and coffee, Hah. I think that's why I prefer to perform in places that feel less contrived and more natural. It isn't a particular place as much as a particular feeling. I love performing in space that people are truly comfortable and the music feels more like a conversation than a concert. That might be a back porch or it could be next to a campfire or concert hall. Those shows are rare and certainly the best.
Where and how do you record your music? What advice do you have for others who want to do the same?
I recorded my album "Sweet Nothings" in Nashville at Ocean Way Studios and Beech Creek Studios. But, I record a lot of songs (for memory sake, when I write them) using my Zoom H4 recorder or Iphone. I have a compressor mic and great headphones for mixing, if I feel like getting super involved, but I like to leave the recording to the professionals.
If I could go back and do things differently, here is what I would tell myself; stop trying to DIY. The money is worth the investment, if you have worked on your songs enough, to go have someone who knows the art of recording to record you. Expect for it to cost twice what you think and take twice as long. HIRE STUDIO MUSICIANS. There is an art to playing music live and an art to playing for a record, they are not the same skills. Shop around! I started recording in KC and found out that for the same amount of money I could record in a better studio, with better musicians in Nashville. You also have to speak out about your creative direction and know when to collaborate ideas. This is tough because it is incredibly difficult to communicate creative notions effectively. Most importantly, enjoy the ride. Your first recordings are not going to be your best, so just appreciate your growth as an artist and the journey that comes with being a musician.