INTERVIEW: Jesse Jo Stark

There’s a darkness and mystery that surrounds Jesse Jo Stark’s debut album ‘DOOMED’. With a raw vulnerability shining through, she captures the listeners attention and brings them into this dark world where she pours her heart to them. But there is an overhanging light of hope that represents where she is in her life right now, and where her future is heading towards. Finding love and a healthy outlook, ‘DOOMED’ is a fully realised representation of herself as an artist and a woman.

If you haven’t been acquainted with Jesse Jo Stark and her music yet, then ‘DOOMED’ is a strong beginning point. As the god-daughter of pop royalty Cher some might expect her to head in a similar sonical path, but instead Jesse is unapologetically herself. Inspired by horror films, country music, and 808’s, she brings all of these references together for a unique fusion that is intoxicating from start to finish.

I chatted with Jesse Jo Stark about the cinematic approach to her debut album ‘DOOMED’, explored the processes behind songs like ‘pussycat’, ‘trippin’ and ‘so bad’, and discussed the two distinct sides of her personality that this album and its artwork represents. Check it out BELOW; 

THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut album ‘DOOMED’ welcomes the listener into this dark, dramatic, cinematic, and cohesive body of work. Reflecting back on your last EP ‘A Pretty Place To Fall Apart’, what did that teach you about your artistry that influenced the direction you headed in for this record? 

JESSE JO STARK: I started trying a few new things like sampling, 808’s, and all of that on ‘Not Your Little Baby Anymore’, but I think the intent of ‘A Pretty Place To Fall Apart’ was with a show in mind that I was scoring. It was personal, but I was writing with something in mind. Whereas ‘DOOMED’ feels like my life’s work, which feels silly to say, but there’s so many bits of me, and so many moods that it is very personal. So I think these two bodies of work are very different, but show two different sides of me. 

TB: The opening song is ‘666 in the subs’ and it feels like the prologue to this cinematic affair. Where in the writing process did this song come about and slot into the opening spot?

JJS: It just feels like an opener. It’s very; “here we begin. This is me. Take everything. And if you don’t like it, I don’t mind”. I wrote it towards the end of the project. It was a happy accident, and one of those “are you fucking kidding me” moments. Jesse Rutherford brought the initial idea, and we vamped it from there and held on for dear life as we thought it was so rad. 

TB: “Every guy needs a bad bitch” is a lyric in that track that made me go – uh-huh yes! Tell me a bit about that lyric in association to this track and the idealogy to you? 

JJS: I think it’s just poking fun at myself and really owning up to my femininity, who I am, what I bring to the table, as well as my masculine side. It’s just about being effortlessly in my body, and being aware of who I am for the first time. There are all of those cheeky nods like “you may be a dog but I’m a pussycat” on ‘pussycat”. We pulled sounds from wolves, cats, horror references, and just had fun introducing all of those little sounds.

TB: What are some of your favourite horror films?

JJS: Probably the classics like The Bride Of Frankenstein and The invisible Man. I also love Rob Zombie films, but that’s a different style of horror as it’s very gruesome. But I love both. 

TB: ‘pussycat’ is the song that stood out the most to me on the record with its playful delivery and sirens. Can you explain the creative process behind this track?

JJS: ‘pussycat’ was another one that came later. I’ve always said I wanted a song people can actually dance to as I feel like people are sedated at my concerts in a dreamstate. So with this album, I wanted listeners to be able to dance. Some called ‘pussycat’ disco goth and that made me so happy. I don’t even like the word goth, but I love that description. 

There are definitely some Blondie references on there, and whilst it sounds nothing like Cher I hope there are some Cher elements on there. It just feels like a groovy, drivey, peaceful, fun tune. 

TB: Talking about funny descriptions of songs, I’m going to call the album closer ‘Trippin’ a western banger *laughs*. 

JJO: Oh my god, I love that! Honestly, I’m on my way to make a country album at some point, so I’m obsessed with that. 

TB: What a way to close the album. Did this last track close the chapter for you, or did it more tease what is to come sonically from Jesse Jo Stark?

JJS: It feels like a nod, as well as symbolically the opposite of what the album is called. I don’t feel like ‘DOOMED’ has a negative connotation even though the name is quite negative. But it feels hopeful and accepting. That’s why I end on this happy song, even though lyrically I feel like the words are quite vulnerable and displaced. I end it on this uplifting note as I want you to feel hopeful. So the tracklisting was vital. I spent a lot of time deciding how the songs were going to go, and that song does feel like the future to me. 

TB: In ‘so bad’ you sing “Baby, if I’m being honest, you’ve been runnin’ through my mind all day. We were meant to be iconic, and I still want it, I still want it so bad” and it depicts the intoxication that power play can have on you where you still want it so bad even though you know it’s bad for you. For your own personal journey, how cathartic was writing this song?

JJS: I mean, very. It’s so amazing being able to admit these kinds of things to yourself. You see the cookie jar, you know how you are going to feel after, but you still eat the cookie, and you eat 10 after too. I accept that, and I really live for love, and I love, love. Of course it’s cathartic, it’s super emotional, and it’s amazing what songs can do as you can revisit those feelings in a place of empowerment. 

TB: ‘love is a dream’ feels like your Lana Del Rey moment vocally and sonically. What were your creative references for this particular track?

JJS: This was another one we recorded just before Covid in Hollywood and we had live strings on it. It’s interesting hearing the song now as I’m in a very different place now compared to when I wrote it, and it still really resonates with me. I get referred to Lana a lot, and I love her as an artist, but I didn’t reference her for this song. I actually don’t know what I referenced for this song as I wrote it very quickly in an apartment. A lot of the guitars in the song are influenced by different country melodies and riffs. We had a bunch of gang vocals and live strings, and it was one of the most amazing days. 

TB: ‘sugar high’ and ‘666 in the subs’ are both 1:58 min tracks. Do you see these more as interludes or full songs?

JJS: I think they are interlude-y. I treat ‘666 in the subs’ as an intro, and I think of ‘Sugar High’ as a little thought bubble. We did that one backwards; I said things into a voice memo, and my guitarist transcribed it and wrote to it. 

TB: ‘patterns’ gives me a real 90’s grunge energy with the guitars and slightly distorted vocals. And this record actually brought me into a 90’s movie. If you could insert ‘patterns’ into any movie, what movie would you choose? 

JJS: Ok weirdly I think it could work in Mean Girls in the scene where she just goes so savage and they slow it down and she’s attacking her. I feel like I could see it there. 

TB: The album cover depicts two versions of yourself with a heaven and hell ideology. Do you see the songs on the album as particularly one of these versions?

JJS: I would say ‘patterns’ falls more into the devil/darker side, whereas ‘love is a dream’ is definitely the more angelic side. But I don’t know where a song like ‘pussycat’ lands as it’s a bit of a mesh. 

TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions about ‘DOOMED’. Are you ready?

JJS: Yes! 

TB: The emoji that best describes my debut album DOOMED is…

JJS: The heart on fire!

TB: The song I’m most looking forward to performing live would be…

JJS: ‘pussycat’

TB: The song that went through the most versions to get it to where it is now was…

JJS: ‘slayer’! Lyrically I re-wrote that so many times. 

TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was…

JJS: ‘trippin’ as that was an old demo. 

TB: The lyric that hurts my heart to hear back is…

JJS: “I don’t wanna be here anymore. I’m dead lying on the floor” from ‘lipstick’. 

TB: If you were introducing my music to your friends, the song I’d want you to play first from the album would be…

JJS: ‘so bad’. 

‘DOOMED’ is out now!