By Harriet Kaplan
Jessica Meuse is a gypsy soul in her heart. The vibrant and energetic Meuse has endless wanderlust and admits she can’t stay in one place very long. Calling her to follow dreams and passion, the road beckons Meuse. That road has been full of rich life experiences, both personal and professional, tinged with some disappointment, setbacks and despair along with resounding triumphs and success along the way in her journey. The independent singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, whose music is blend of southern rock with alternative and rock and roll, is now in Los Angeles, CA to perform several live shows, host a women’s music festival in Corona and make various entertainment-related appearances while she is in town. Blackonthecanvas spoke with Meuse about her earliest memories discovering music and how that set her on a career path. Meuse was a contestant on The Voice in 2012 where she made it to the blind auctions, and in 2013-14, she became an American Idol contestant (Season 13) finishing fourth place and became one of the first people in the history of the show to perform an original song, “Blue-Eyed Lie.” In the Summer of 2014, Meuse went on tour with the Idols Live, visiting 40 different cities in the U.S. And Canada.
Jessica Meuse will be performing at Upstairs at Vitello’s Jazz & Supper Club, 4349 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, CA 91604 on Tuesday, September 22. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. For more information, call at (818) 769-0905 or visit www.vitellosrestaurant.com.
Where are you from originally and how did you become an artist?
Jessica: I was born in Texas. I knew I wanted to do music since I was 6 living in Texas. I moved to New Hampshire. Moved to Massachusetts. I moved to Florida and then to Rhode Island. Then Alabama and Oregon back to Alabama. My dad built a big addition to the back of the house and there was a rocking horse back there. I was a weird little kid. I was sitting on the rocking horse and belting out “Home on the Range.” I was thinking – I want to sing. That’s how I knew that music is a calling. I’m blessed to have a family that supports it and help me grow with it. I learned violin when I was middle school and living in Rhode Island. My mom supported me enough when I impulsively wanted a violin she was like sure you can have it but you better practice. I kind of took off playing. I still sung and still recorded stuff on my little tapes. I was a 90s kid all the way. I learned every song that I could and started playing in symphony and getting into all the orchestras. Usually they make you wait until high school, but I got into the orchestra in 7th grade. I worked my way from the back to the front. I was the first chair of my section. I played second violin. I played the Carnival Overture by Dvorak. It was the fastest song I ever played. I didn’t let that stop me or quit. I couldn’t played it at first but eventually I did. You memorize and practice the compositions. I worked with a jazz band for a while and I was singing Nate King Cole material for the concerts when I was in middle school. When I moved to Alabama, I started to do some gigging. I was really focused on the violin.
I was 10 years old when I did my first public performance. It was a talent show at a Catholic school. I’m not Catholic and it was a private school and I had a lot of issues with bullying growing up. My parents put me in a private school and thought it would help the bullying situation. I sang at the annual talent show. I had so much stage fright! I was upset, shaking, and crying! I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment. It was just karaoke but it was such a big deal to me. I cried and covered my face. Then I laughed like a crazy person. I got over my stage fright and finished the song and everything was fine. Ever since that performance, I just got over it. The more I sang, the more nothing fazed me anymore.
When I started going to college in Alabama, I began going all out with my music. Before, I only practiced in my room. I taught myself how to play guitar through cover songs. I played Coldplay-styled material. I played a lot of pop and mainstream music because it was the most familiar and easiest to learn at the time. I always played (and still do play) music that meant something to me. If I doesn’t, it won’t be convincing. I also played a coffeehouse on the campus. I was asked to perform. I sang out on the green a lot. I lived on campus for a year. I played out. People called the cops on me. It was funny how they would walk up and say, “You sound amazing!…but we keep getting these complaints, and you have to stop. Sorry.” I didn’t care what anyone thought. I would move to a new location and start playing again. If I rehearsed in my dorm, I would definitely get in trouble, so I had to stick to the outdoors. One time, I played in a laundry room and I was wearing a Spiderman onesie. I ran out of clothes. I was washing my clothes and playing my guitar, waiting for the spin cycle! I couldn’t practice during the day, because I took a ton of classes.
I knew I was going to do music as a career while I was attending college, but I majored in business. I thought it would help me with the management side of things as well as some of the jargon of the industry. It did to an extent, but business came naturally to me. I knew a lot of things the instructors taught in the classes and I usually just took the textbook and read it on my own. I didn’t really need to go to class for that. I quit college for a while. I returned later. Then I transferred to a different college. I moved to Oregon briefly and was planning to attend college for music there, but things fell through. My mom had a job transfer and I wanted to go with her. I played for money almost daily at a well-known park, and people would give me tips. I wanted to travel and see the world – I still do. Music is a perfect tool to do that! I started gigging a lot. I always networked and played acoustic events. I moved back to Alabama from Oregon after approximately six months out west. I started to perform acoustic sets everywhere. I started getting serious about my bookings. I would reach out to places and play three and four hour shows for $100. I had my own P.A. system and I would lug it around and set it all up. I played really weird places. I played places that appreciated my music and several that didn’t. It was hard on me. I starred playing just about every single day. I started playing regional shows, sometimes even as far southeast as Florida. I would drive out to perform and get back home at four in the morning and wake up and go to class at 7 a.m. I was so tired all the time, and I even fell asleep with my head on the table during one of my sculpture/art classes. I couldn’t balance my dream and school anymore. That’s how I knew I had to make a choice, and I chose music. I thought what am I going to do: I do want a degree and that piece of paper. Then I was thinking: I can’t play. So I couldn’t sacrifice my dream solely because I want a degree. It was a very serious decision.
At this point you said you had a very serious decision to make it seemed the stars aligned for you and shortly therefore you wound up being a a contestant on The Voice making it to the blind auctions and that experience lead you to audition and become and American Idol contestant. How did that all come about?
Jessica: In 2012, The Voice reached out to me. It was Season Three. The band I was working with ended up working with someone else while I was out in Burbank, CA. I was gone for one month for the blind auctions. My band decided not to tell me they were working with someone else, so I fired them based on the principles of their actions. The Voice reached out to me. It was so weird. The Voice wanted to schedule a private auction for me in New Orleans. I said to my mom: you want to go on a New Orleans trip? My manager actually resigned that day. He quit and told me he didn’t want to work with me anymore. He didn’t like my mom. The Voice found me through social media. I’m very active on there. I live in the middle of nowhere, and because of that, I realized the necessity to have a strong web presence. I had a ReverbNation page and old school MySpace page. Then The Voice called me, and I made it through the initial arranged private audition, and I was freaked out. I had never been to California and never been out of the region before! I was thinking: this is Hollywood: the real deal. I said to myself: I’m going to make it. I’m so excited! It turned out Hollywood is a lot more complicated than I thought it was. As an artist, I learned a lot about camera work from The Voice. The experience taught me how to talk to a camera. It caught me how to do interviews even though I didn’t make it through the blind auditions. It taught me about the inner workings of reality television. Getting eliminated from that show cut deeply, but it was a blessing in disguise. They never showed me, which is really good. If they did, I don’t think I could have been on American Idol the next year. When I first got cut and sent home, and no one turned around, I was hurt. I’m a big baby and I cried. It meant so much to me. I thought, I got this and I gave it my all. The whole experience was so big for me that, when I got cut, it broke my heart. It was a punch in the face, but I didn’t let it stop me.
What happened next? How did the experience on The Voice affect you?
Jessica: I went home and continued playing in insane amounts. I booked more and more shows. I went back to school. I told my brother my soul was getting tired. There comes a time where you love what you do and it’s not about fame or money. I just want to travel and see the world. Play music and love what I do. Meet amazing people, my fans. I thought this sucks because I can’t do it all. My equipment was breaking. One of my PA speakers wasn’t even working anymore. I couldn’t afford to get it fixed. I’d ask my mom, “Hey, can you get me gas in your truck that you let me drive every day so could go to school and go to my gig?” Again, there is the support from my family. I told my brother Cody, “Something has to got to happen. I really feel it. I’m so ready.” And then The American Idol stuff starts happening. The Voice didn’t have a reality hold on me because they cut me and didn’t show anything. I had a friend who knew someone that said: Jess you got to audition for American Idol. I actually played the Warped Tour stop in Atlanta the day before, so I was already in Atlanta. I’m not really a poppy artist or mainstream. I like Southern soul. I like Howlin Wolf. I love bluesy stuff and old-school rock and roll. I didn’t have to camp outside, waiting for the Idol auditions. It was a breeze, despite my nervousness. I went through the initial auditions as a raw nerve. There were a lot of amazing singers there. Sometimes you’d hear someone completely belt out an amazing song with an amazing voice, and you think they are going to make it and then…they don’t. I made it and I went home, waiting to see what was next! Then the whole journey really started. It snowballed. I sang my original song because i didn’t know what else to sing. I figured if they sent me home, I wanted it to be because I sang my own original song – “Blue-Eyed Lie.” If I went out, I went out being myself. I think it’s great to take a song that’s been already done (a cover) and you make it your own, so I enjoyed the stages of the show with covers I felt in my heart. I always embraced the fact I could go home any time. Amazing people got cut left and right. It could be anyone. It doesn’t matter how good you are or what you look like. American Idol knows what they want and they are looking for. I was happy I got through it. After my time on Idol, I did a Randy Jackson workshop. Looking back, some of the show were somewhat cruel – specifically Hollywood week. The overall experience, good times and trials, made me stronger, and I believe I can handle anything now.
Can you tell about what material you have released? Either EPs or singles? What is next for Jessica Meuse?
Jessica: I independently released my song “Done” in April 2015. It was mixed and mastered in Studio City, CA. I’m currently working on another single. I don’t want to release the whole product yet because I want some kind of push behind it. I’m an indie artist and I work with a limited amount of people. Because I don’t have huge connections, there is a certain amount of people I can reach and get my product out to. I’m trying to make more of those relationships so I can push my product further and more powerfully and get it out to even more fans. My current material is perfect for showing people what my music is made of and some of my musical journey. I can say, “This is me.” I have a lot of songs already written. I will probably perform a brand new, never-performed song at Vitello’s when I play there this month! I’m really proud of it. I think everything I have been through in the last year alone has totally transformed my songwriting. I have grown musically, spiritually and as a human being. American Idol was way bigger than a T.V. show. It was a life experience. After the show, I’ve been doing well. I’m been playing a lot of bigger venues and festivals. Now I’m working on getting a band together and scheduling a tour. I’m going to voice things, positive affirmations, saying “It’s going to happen.” Because it will, and believing in yourself means you’re already halfway there. I’m slowly taking over the world…and I’m going to run against Kayne in 2020 (laughs).