Singer-songwriter Jessie Baylin is just a normal gal. Really.
“I just saw a movie, and now I’m at this place called Dave and Busters,” she tells me with a laugh, on the phone from Nashville. “I’m gonna go win some tickets at this arcade and buy like a giant Whoopee cushion or something. See, these are the things I do when I’m off the road – very simple! I drink margaritas at Dave and Busters. I can’t wait to figure out what to buy, I’m so excited. They have an Elmo basketball, I think I really want that!”
All fun aside, Baylin, originally a Jersey girl, is also a rising talent. Her Verve Records debut, Firesight, has garnered attention across the nation, making her a musician to watch over the coming years. Calling it a “collection of a bunch of moments in my life,” Firesight is really more than that – songs like “See How I Run,” “Leave Your Mark,” and “Was I on Your Mind?” reveal a blossoming songwriter just scratching the surface of what the 24-year-old can offer.
Now living in Nashville with her fiancé, Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill, Baylin is currently touring across the nation with Matt Nathanson. Glide recently had a chance to talk with Baylin about her experiences in L.A., Bonnaroo, and the recording of Firesight.
How do you like living in Nashville?
Well, it’s still pretty new for me. With touring and everything, I’ve only probably spent two months here. It’s different. I grew up in the tri-state area, and I went to high school in New York City, and then at 18 moved to Los Angeles. So I’ve kind of been a city girl for most of my life. This is definitely a bit lower of lifestyle than I’m used to, but it’s really the only place I’ve ever been where, when you turn the “off” switch off, it’s… off. You can really just hang and see movies and doing random things that I don’t think I’d normally do in a bigger city. It’s definitely a simpler, and I’m starting to appreciate that.
You’ve definitely been independent in your decisions in how you’ve carved out your career path.
Yeah, it’s definitely been about me for a really long time. But this has been a decision where I’m thinking about someone else, and also, just about my state of mind and my own spirit. The reason why I left New York and moved to L.A. was because I just so comfortable there, my life would have been so easy with my friends there and family. And then I moved to L.A. and I was terribly uncomfortable, and in such a beautiful place as well. I could hug a palm tree if I wanted to; for a girl from New Jersey, that was wild. I had a palm tree outside of my front door, and it was just amazing. But now I’m in Nashville, and it’s just different.
You were talking about your experiences in L.A. Who sort of helped you get comfortable?
Well, I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I started writing songs and just kind of exploring that. I realized that I could get out of the house and write anywhere…restaurants, cafes. I just started writing about anything. I would have my iPod on, and just try to get inspired. That opened me up a lot, and it allowed me to let people in to my life. I met the right people and that time, and I was ready to make friends. When I first moved there, I met all the vampires of Los Angeles, and I couldn’t give myself away to those kinds of people. I chose to be lonely instead of having a group of vampires hanging around me all the time. It was the best thing I ever did, to wait.
My friends there are so solid and amazing, they all get me. When I moved to L.A., it was the first time in my life that I actually felt like I was standing in my own body. But, I bought a house here in Nashville with my fiancé (Nathan Followill) and it’s beautiful and we’re making it a home, slowly. And we have a neighborhood – it’s really something to come back to. It’s the kind of place where there’s nothing else to do than to sit on your porch and write songs. I kind of need that right now.
What do you think is your best way to get your music out there for people?
I would have to say, looking at the business of it is today, I really think T.V. and film. I don’t know how long that will last, but for right now, that’s the way. Ultimately, word of mouth will be the best and coolest way, but…
Yeah, I agree. I got the chance to talk with Ingrid Michaelson, and that’s sort of helped her out, too.
Yeah, I love her.
Take me back a bit to Bonnaroo. You performed there – how was it?
It was magic. Being at Bonnaroo, and having been there before as a fan, just living within the world that is Bonnaroo, it’s just this world where people are just there to absorb as much music as they possibly can, and as much life as they possibly can. So, it allows you as an artist to just feed off that. I really love just the whole festival world, and to be part of that was just such a gift. I definitely got more out of that performance than anybody in the crowd possibly could have; there were girls that were singing every word of mine, girls that I have never seen in my whole life. And after the show, I ran up to them and said, “You know me!” What is this? It was just the sweetest moment. My parents were there, Nathan was there. And it was weird that I drove my car there, like it was my local festival. It was so easy for me! I had my cooler in my car, and a whole wardrobe change for later in the night. Usually when you go to a festival, it’s difficult.
So did you stick around at Bonnaroo?
I did, I got there the day before and stayed the whole day of my performance. We saw Pearl Jam — Nathan’s good friends with Eddie Vedder. We got be side stage for them. It was just a great year at Bonnaroo; I really had a great time.
And it’s got to be cool enjoying this success with Nathan now. Do you get a sense this is fun for him, watching your career grow?
Oh yeah, he’s so proud. He’s always talking about me, like, “My girl, you have to buy her record!” He’s just so supportive and so respectful. It took him a moment to get there, though. I think for him, watching all his friends in bands and stuff, who have girlfriends and are there at every moment, it’s a bit difficult, because for him, I’m not there – I’m in St. Louis staying at a Motel 6, opening for someone. But, he gets it now. He wants me to have my moment for myself. He’s really excited for the future. And we’re excited about the life we’re building together.
Do you see maybe you two collaborating and making music someday?
I think, maybe. Once we get our house together and set up – we’re doing a big addition right now. If ever there was a worse time to do an addition, it would be now…and of course, they’re about to break down the walls, and our house is about to be a total disaster! But, I think once we set up a music room, we want to make an old country record, lo-fi, kinda June Carter, Johnny Cash love songs, you know? Nathan can sing; he can carry a tune really well!
And your instrument is your voice. You sound so authentic.
(laughs) That’s awesome. When I started singing, I was just singing cover songs at parties and stuff, and I could imitate anybody’s voice. But when I found my own voice, there was nothing that felt more natural and more effortless. I don’t think I sound like anyone else. I really looked for my own voice, and I’ll always continue to discover. You listen to Joni Mitchell’s voice – it’s so deep, but she’s still discovering.
I know you’re a fan of Stevie Nicks…
Totally. Oh man, she’s amazing. She one of those people as well – they never stop exploring. I like how Stevie and Joni, they never give up, they never stop growing. And I love that.
I think your newest album really shows off your songwriting and singing talent. How do songs come to you?
I’ve nearly got in many head-on collisions while a song has come to me driving down a freeway or something. I have to carry something with me all the time; in the car I have something. It’s there and in the shower where most of my songs come to me! Really! It’s kind of random. When you feel it, you know something is supposed to happen, and you can’t deny it. I wish it happened everyday.
My favorite track on the album is “Was I on Your Mind.” How did that track sort of evolve and come to be final?
Well, that’s another one where I was in the car, and I was with my Mom. And I just had it in my head, and I just pulled over. I just heard this melody, and the first couple lines of the song. And this is a song, emotionally, that I tried to write for almost a year, and I kind of healed all those wounds, and then I was ready to write the song because I had a clear head to write it. And then I knew the next day I was going to co-write with Mike Daly, who I never met before, knew nothing about, besides the fact he was in Whiskeytown. And at that moment, I had nothing to bring to the table, so I just kind of came up with this melody, brought it in to him, these lyrics, and I asked him, “What do you think?” And he said, “I think it’s great, let’s finish it.” And I said to him, “Man, why can’t a song like this be a single?” And he’s like, “Well, it can be!” And it is.
That song means a lot to me, and I’m so happy it came out the way it did. I’m very attached to the demo, because we recorded it right after we finished writing it. And those are always my favorite recordings, because they are so fresh and so raw. Putting electric guitars on it was very hard for me, because it was all about me and an acoustic guitar, originally. But then, the way Roger (Moutenot) mixed it, it’s still all about me; it just has more emotion in the track in a different way.
Glide Senior Writer Jason Gonulsen lives in the St. Louis, MO area with his wife, Kelly, and dogs, Maggie and Tucker. You can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.