INTERVIEW: Jess & Matt
We were first introduced to Jess & Matt in 2015 when they became finalists on The X Factor and impressed the country with their beautiful harmonies. The wholesome-pop duo are back with a new record that hears them rediscovering their roots. Stripping it completely back ‘Songs From The Village’ sees Jess & Matt reimagining twelve classic folk tracks that defined a generation in the 1960’s. They have chosen to cover some very iconic songs so it’s actually a testament to their raw talent that they have been able to pull this off so beautifully. I recently chatted to both of them about the process they went through to choose these songs, where their love for folk music came from and how they’ve dealt with the stigma of reality TV shows in the music industry. Check it out here;
TB: Your new album ‘Songs From The Village’ is out now and hears you putting your own unique spin on some folk classics from the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. With so many incredible songs how did you decide what tracks to re-imagine?
M: Picking the track listing for a period of music like this is difficult. It’s the 1960’s and the folk revolution so you’re talking about artists like Boy Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Simon And Garfunkel and Peter, Paul & Mary. I think we had a list of about 60 songs when we started this record which I think is just reflective of how much music was coming out at that time. We kept coming back to the tagline “12 songs that changed the world” so we narrowed it down finally. It only took about 2 months to finally narrow it down to 12 songs but we did it *laughs*.
TB: Growing up with these songs and these incredible artists what is one distinct memory you have with these tracks or this genre in particular?
J: Both of our parents played these records to us at a very young age and my dad particularly used to sing ‘The Boxer’ to me and my sister in this silly little voice *laughs*. So they are all quite special to us but now as adults we never really knew what a huge influence these vocals harmonies would have on us particularly Peter, Paul & Mary and Simon And Garfunkel. It’s the reason I started writing, it’s the reason Matt started writing and the reason we became artists really.
M: I think ‘The Sound Of Silence’ was a big one for me because that was the first time I heard vocal harmonies which has obviously become such a big thing for us as a duo and our whole sound. So to go on and record that song with Chris Issak was just ridiculous as he’s someone we’ve looked up to for years.
TB: What I personally love about folk music is the unique storytelling and the raw vulnerability the songs embody. So what do you guys love most about folk music?
M: Yeah definitely! Especially with folk music in the 1960’s the difference with these songs was that the artists were writing the songs. When you looked previously in the 50’s with artists like Elvis it was very much the idea that you had songs written for you. Where as all these big artists in the 60’s had something to say and there was a real sense of change. Folk music allowed artists to embrace that change and not just be singers but also be songwriters too. And that’s something that is really close to our hearts because when we perform our music we want to be telling a story. And reflecting on it folk music is a merge of storytelling with music really, so it is really special.
TB: What was the most challenging song to record on this collection for you guys and why?
J: I think “Like A Rolling Stone” was quite difficult because you listen to Bob Dylan’s versions and every version is so so different and he has that iconic voice. So I guess that was the one which was the least folky for us and was a big difference for us.
M: I think the whole thing with a lot of the Bob Dylan tracks is because he’s also a poet his songs can come across as poetry and he sometimes talk sings the melody. So you really have to interpret it in your own way because no one can do what he does. It made us embody the song more which was great.
TB: Did you guys find yourselves comparing your versions to the originals a lot?
M: Recording such iconic songs is always a challenge because there is a little bit of an unwritten law that you cant change them too much because they are so iconic. So we took that on board a little and didn’t want to twist them up too much but it was important for us to put our own original stamp on them and embody the messages of the songs. Most of the songs weren’t written as duets so we were able to re-write the vocal harmonies and have a little bit of room to play around with them musically which was cool. But I think we still stayed true to the originals and honoured them.
TB: You were first introduced to Australia in 2015 when you were finalists on X Factor. How have you found people have embraced you musically since the show because there is quite a stigma in the folk and alternative world surrounding talent shows
M: Yeah, totally! Coming from X Factor we had done things in the pop world and released pop singles but our roots are really engrained in acoustic and folk music and songwriting. So this album was a really good opportunity for us to come back to our roots. We travelled back to New York which was call our “musical pilgrimage” because that’s where artists like Bob Dylan came from. So we were able to experience that and refined ourselves. So this record isn’t just a covers record, it’s a platform for us to come back to our roots as well as reintroduce our fanbase to all of our influences. When we were in Nashville recording this album we were also writing original music that we’re hoping to bring out later in the year so we’ve been really lucky that our fans have embraced this concept and these songs. It just really goes to show how timeless this music is.
TB: I was actually just about to ask you guys if you had been working on original music! Have you found your songwriting has changed or adapted since working on this record?
J: Yeah, definitely. I mean this record hears us going back to our roots so it was incredible to have this inspiration and experience to influence our writing. We actually drove from Nashville to New York which is about a 16 hour drive and it was so inspiring. We actually wrote a couple of songs on the road and I think this sound is a perfect direction for us as it comes back to where we both started. It’s always us and acoustic guitars. So we can’t wait to head back to Nashville before the end of the year so we can finish some of these original songs and release them.
TB: You are very well known for your smooth harmonies, so I want to know really randomly how do you guys work on them? Do you just hit random notes until something seems right, or..?
M: *Laughs* There’s a little bit of that believe it or not *laughs*. We were both solo artists before we were a duo and following very different artistic directions. Jess was kinda indie and I was more influenced by rock and blues. So when we came together we had to narrow down two genres together so vocal harmonies are a great way to do that. We both studied music so there was a little theory involved but it was more of what you hear and just filing in the gaps. It’s been a really great way to build melodies and its been a process but it’s something we’ve come to love and has become an integral part of our sound.
TB: Another little exciting thing that is happening this year is that you guys are getting married, Congratulations. Do you guys find it easier or harder to work with your partner so creatively and passionately?
J & M: Thank you!
J: you know, it actually comes really naturally to us now as we’ve been together for 8 years and we’ve literally spent 4 days apart that whole time *laughs*. So we’re really good at communicating.
M: A lot of people said when we first started dating that we needed to keep work and music seperate to our relationship but we didn’t listen *laughs*. When we first started writing music together we did butt heads a little but we’ve spent nearly every day together and we’re really good at communicating with each other so it’s been good.
TB: Lets play a little game when you answer these questions with the first thing that comes to mind.
J & M: Okay!
TB: Most mornings we…
J: Check our phones *laughs*
M: That’s what I was gonna say too *laughs*. The modern world, what a time to be alive *laughs*
TB: Our pre-show pump up song is…
M: Daryl Braithwaite – The Horses. You cannot not feel good when listening to The Horses!
TB: The emoji that best describes us is…
J: Maybe the upside down face *laughs*, its a little silly like us.
TB: If we could form a supergroup with any other band or artist it would be…
J: STOP! Fleetwood Mac. But I feel lie they’ve done that already so we’ve probably missed our opportunity.
TB: The strangest place we’ve heard one of ours songs is…
M: I didn’t hear it but my sister heard one of our songs in the toilet of a shopping centre. Which is always a weird place to hear your brother singing *laughs*.
You can purchase a SIGNED Jess & Matt’s new album ‘Songs From The Village’ from Sanity now https://www.sanity.com.au/products/2356238/Songs_From_The_Village_SIGNED_COPY__BONUS_PEN