Jess Kent is reintroducing herself to the world with her strongest and most defined body of work yet. ‘Parking Karma’ is an impressive collection of tracks that hears the Sydney based singer-songwriter returning to her guitar roots as she lays down the foundations for a cohesively chilled-out pop sound.
From the playful vibes of ‘No One Else’ and ‘Cloud 9’, to the chilled out experimental layers of ‘Life Happens’ and ‘Mood Ring’, she steers away from the straight up pop-dance music she was making on her bold debut EP ‘My Name Is Jess Kent’. While that collection may have been filled with radio ready bangers, this EP has a lot more heart and soul behind it. She finds a way to capture the universal connection of what we are all going through during lockdown, as we are all forced into a place of self reflection, whether we want to or not.
Closing track ‘Hi, It Me’ immediately stands out with its heartfelt message of confusion and feeling alone in isolation as she finds herself separated from her family, and incredibly missing her sister, and struggling to adapt to the new “normal” way of communicating with them which is oh-so relatable and a great time capsule type moment.
I recently chatted to Jess Kent about the freedom she needed to have to create this new music authentically, as well as explored the creative process behind tracks like ‘Cloud 9’ and Hi, It Me’, and discussed her ideology behind everyday parking karma. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your new EP ‘Parking Karma’ is out on Friday and it’s being described as your most authentic body of work yet, and it honestly does feel like that. So what are you hoping listeners will walk away thinking or feeling from it, and particularly knowing about you and who you are now?
JESS KENT: It means so much to hear you say that, because it does feel like it’s my most authentic writing to me, as it does come from a very honest place. I’m very lucky to be given the space to do that.
Being one of only two writers on the whole project, that means that all the lyrics and stories are mine. it’s very autobiographical, and follows a time of the unknown as we started working on it when lockdown began.
Wherever you are in the world, we’ve all experienced this thing together that has never happened before. A lot of the stuff I talk about on the record is quite universal right now. There’s a song called ‘Hi, It Me’ which is about being separated from my family, missing my sister, not being able to get a flight out, experiencing those extreme feeling of isolation and just processing everything. I feel like we’ve all been forced to really work through some stuff internally, and look at ourselves and how we are living and really evaluate those things which is something we haven’t been forced to do collectively before. So I hope people relate to these songs and realise that we are all in this together.
TB: With ‘No One Else’ opening the EP and then ‘Hi, It Me’ closing it, how would you describe these two vibes and why they felt like the perfect openers and closers?
JK: ‘No One Else’ is the first song Dave and I wrote together, ever. So I feel like energetically it has that fun vibe intact as we immediately clicked, and we were getting to know each other musically through it. Sonically it felt right as the first single even thought the topic is self-deprecating and dark, as it looks as my relationships but set to the backdrop of a happy bop. We basically just love to have a dance and cry at the same time *laughs*!
So yeah, ‘No One Else’ felt like it perfectly set the tone for the whole EP, while then ‘Hi, It Me’ wrapped up the journey lyrically. And then the ukulele and stripped down nature of the production felt like it was really getting back to me as a singer-songwriter and learning to own that space. It felt like it was a really honest and personal way to end the EP.
TB: ’Cloud 9’ is a song that immediately stood out to me. So can you explain how this track creatively came together?
JK: That was by far the most fun to write! I was jumping on the couches in the studio going “let’s do this” and “let’s do that” *laughs*. It’s funny that you asked before about the first and last songs on the EP, because I nearly wanted ‘Cloud 9’ to be the big confetti parade moment at the end. It almost felt like a fun and the right way to do it, but we’ve actually been doing that in the recent live shows, and we felt like we would keep it as the finale there.
Things can get really heavy, especially at the moment, and that’s something that is great to write and talk about it, and it’s important to acknowledge it all. But sometimes you just need 3 minutes to dance around the kitchen and forget what is going on.
It turned into such a fanfare. We were like “we need a horn section” and were questioning if it would be too extra, but we just decided to go ahead and do it. But the biggest issue with that idea was that we weren’t allowed to do sessions at the time over a certain amount of people. So we ended up doing a virtual session with Lime Cordiale because they are amazing horn players. They sent the parts over on the same day, and it just worked so perfectly.
TB: ’Cloud 9’ and ‘Mood Ring’ gave me a bit of a nostalgic Lily Allen vibe. Who or what was sonically inspiring you with these two songs?
JK: I dig that! I love Lily Allen a lot, I’m a huge fan of hers, and it’s probably the comparison I get the most. But it’s funny because I’ve never consciously referenced her in a session, but I would say that a lot of my stuff is inspired by her. I wonder if it’s something I don’t think about and just do without realising it.
I was referencing a lot of Lo-Fi bedroom pop. I wanted to capture that idea that I could’ve almost made this EP in my bedroom, and give it that effortless feel to it. I was listening to a lot of Dominic Fike, Rex Orange County and Clairo. I also spent a lot of time rediscovering my love for layering guitars over different beats.
‘Mood Ring’ was the only song I wrote before I met Dave, and it was just on guitar at that stage. I was like “hey, I have this song. What do you think we could do with it”. I played him some references, and then he came back to me the next morning with a demo and it was genuinely perfect. It was so easy *laughs*.
TB: Why did the title ‘Parking Karma’ feel like the right and cohesive title for this new project?
JK: *Laughs* It’s something I say a lot with my friends and my team when we’re driving around, especially in the city and we’re approaching the destination and need to park. I’m a strong believer in parking karma, and there’s certain people that when I’m with them I’m just like “there’s something about you, you have the best karma when it comes to getting a rock star park right out front”. So it’s become a running joke with us that if you don’t get a good park, then it means you have bad parking karma.
It’s also a lyric in ‘Life Happens’ during the pre-chorus, so I thought it would be really fun title to name the EP after it.
TB: Well hopefully naming your EP after it will make you have good parking karma for life. That’s how it works, right?
JK: Exactly! I’m manifesting those parks *laughs*.
TB: Sonically your debut EP ‘My Name Is Jess Kent’ is completely different. So what did you learn about yourself as an artist through releasing and touring that EP that impacted the drastic shift for you?
JK: It feels like a whole other era now. I was still learning what my “thing” was in the studio, and how I liked to write, how I liked to work, and who I liked to work with. I would always write my own songs on my guitar, but then I’d go into the studio with the producer, and I didn’t necessarily have the experience to know how to explain every little detail. I would know if I would like the production, but now I feel like I’m so much more hands on with everything.
With ‘Parking Karma’ I had the luxury to spend the time setting up the guitars, pedals, vocal mics and really focus on getting the sounds we wanted so when we recorded the whole thing it was cohesive. You are hearing the same guitar and the same vocal production throughout the whole thing. Whereas the first EP was very much more about writing a bunch of songs, and mashing things together, and going like “okay, there’s an EP”.
I had also never toured before prior to my first EP, whereas now that I’ve toured quite extensively I’m envisioning how my live show would look and feel. So I feel like that played a massive impact, because I genuinely want to play the guitar more in the show and have more of a cohesive flow.
TB: You then worked with the likes of Justin Tranter in Los Angeles for a bit, and you worked on the standalone track ‘Girl’ and ‘Bass Bumps’ with him. As one of current pop’s biggest songwriter visionaries, what was something you learnt or observed from him with his songwriting techniques?
JK: He is incredible! He is actually a songwriting wizard! I don’t know how he does it half the time, but I was definitely taking notes, and trying to add a few little tools to the tool kit. I just feel so lucky to have had so many incredible mentors like that throughout my journey so far. To be in the room with people that you’re genuinely a fan of is still so crazy to me.
Justin and I would have a lot real, human to human, talks about life and how we felt, and we definitely just connected on that level first, and then wrote the song. He definitely really cares about writing about things that he thinks is important, and that’s something that I took away from working with him. I feel like I’ve always done that, but I also know that I’ve never been really consciously aware of that. You have to realise that the words you speak hold power, and that’s amazing. Music is this universal language that connects people, and that is how you tell stories. So I definitely took that away from working with him.
TB: Following the release of those singles you toured with Jack River in Australia where you got to shift your sound in the live-realm, but ‘Parking Karma’ hears you evolving again. So how are you imagining and planning to grow your live show with the upcoming ‘Factory Summer’ dates.
JK: Yasss! I hope everyone is bloody wearing their masks so we can make these shows happen! So I started playing guitar more on the Jack River tour, and from there onwards every time I went into the studio I was like “we need to start the song on guitar, and actively add guitar parts because I want to be able to play it live, and have fun with a band on stage”.
This new show for Factory Festival is the first time we’re performing with a three piece band as opposed to just a drummer or a DJ. It’s basically half live instrumentation at this point, which is very different to what you would’ve seen in the past from me. So I’m really looking forward to it!
‘Parking Karma’ is out now!