“The biggest truth in this record is my journey,” singer/songwriter Jess Jocoy says of her refined yet rootsy debut album, Such a Long Way, which is due out this Friday, April 10th. Such a Long Way showcases a thoroughly literate young songwriter finding her voice and staking her claim with equal parts grit, grace, and gravitas. In an Americana music community brimming with talent, Such a Long Way is an impressive effort for someone who only just a couple years ago committed to pursuing music full-time, after a lifetime of dreaming that dream.
Having grown up south of Seattle, hitting every karaoke night and singing competition her parents would drive her to, Jocoy kept her eye ever on the prize: Nashville. “I’d had this dream that I was going to move to Nashville and be a country singer like Miranda Lambert or Faith Hill, and get a record deal, and sell out stadiums,” she says. With a twang in her voice, an edge to her sound, and a fire in her belly, Jocoy might just do it.
Her parents weren’t musical, but they loved music. From her mom, she got an appreciation for classic rock and, from her dad, a passion for country music. “We listened to Shania Twain’s Up! and Alan Jackson’s Drive albums every single day on the way to school for three years straight,” Jocoy recounts. But her parents’ support didn’t stop with album introductions and chauffeuring duties. “My dad would stay up all night learning how to use ProTools so that he could try and teach me, so we could record my music at home. He would make graphics in Photoshop that would read: ‘Jessica Jocoy, the New Queen of Country Music.’ He believed.”
Before he could see their shared dreams become reality, though, Jocoy’s father passed away from lung cancer in 2013, six months after his diagnosis. “That’s when I really started to learn how to write sad songs,” Jocoy explains. “Grief was strange, because I couldn’t allow myself to express that pain to other people or in public, but it was very evident in my writing that I was lost.”
Further overwhelmed by the culture shock of relocating to Nashville the following year, Jocoy attended Belmont University to dive deeper into songwriting. She emerged and released her New Heart/Old Soul EP in 2018. “My EP was a collection of songs that really meant something only to me; I consider them songs I had to get off my chest,” she says. “But for all that questioning and doubting and hitting what felt like emotional rock bottom, I found that, at the end of the day, I love words and I love stories and I love the feeling I get when someone comes up to me after a show and says, ‘Wow, that song… I can’t believe you said that.’”
This sentiment can be heard in song after song on Jocoy’s new album, and today Glide is offering an exclusive early listen. With its rootsy and heartfelt blend of Americana, folk and country, the album finds Jocoy using music to explore what it means to find your place and purpose in the world. We hear this in the earthy stride of “Somebody Somewhere,” the vibey shuffle of “Long Way Home,” and the quiet testament of “Hope (Such a Long Way).” Reflecting on the loss of her father and her own personal journey, the album deals with reoccurring themes such as grief and gratitude and living and learning. With a powerful voice and an old soul that can be heard in her lyrics, Jocoy lets her own life experiences transpire to the music, which itself can veer from sparse and twangy rock (“Ballad of Two Lovers”) to quiet folk (“Love Her Wild”), to big sweeping soul (“She Won’t Be Sad Anymore”) and bluesy, poignant roots music (“Numb”). Throughout the album we hear an artist who balances serious songwriting chops with a commanding, confident voice. Jocoy may draw from her own life experiences for much of her material, but the lyrics and songs tap into universal feelings we all share. Such a Long Way is an exciting collection of songs from an artist we will undoubtedly be hearing more from in the future.
Listen to the album and read out interview with Jess Jocoy below…
How does it feel to be releasing this album? What emotions are you experiencing?
I think by now, I’ve felt every emotion a person is capable of feeling: anxiety, joy, elation, more anxiety, etc. But overall, I always come back and settle on joy, and once it’s released, I believe joy will resolve into relief. I’m not a parent, but I have to wonder if this is how a parent feels sending their child off to kindergarten for the first time? Or giving a 16-year-old the keys to their first car. You nurture something for so long, and when the time comes to release it into the world, you just hope and pray people will like it; be kind to it; hope that it makes them feel something. So much has gone into creating this body of work: from writing the songs, to the recording process, to the preparation for release itself. And really, choosing to anchor the theme of Such A Long Way in self-awareness and hope was hard work, but not unwelcome work. I’ve come to learn that it’s necessary to stop and assess where you’re at in life, and ask yourself: am I where I want to be? No? How do I get there? What still needs to be done? Sometimes those questions (and their answers) are really hard to face. Sometimes it’s easier to settle for the easier route because there’s still such a long way to go. But, there’s hope in that – another emotion. I am hopeful that Such A Long Way will live a purposeful life.
Tell us a little bit about the recording process. How did it go? How was the vibe in the studio?
I was so nervous going into the studio! My first EP was recorded by one person (Daniel Dennis), who masterfully played each instrument, recorded it, the whole nine yards. Working with one person was unique because it was just he and I, and he was able to present whatever sound, vibe, etc. I wanted. With Such A Long Way, first of all, the musicians I had were the all-star crew made up of Mike Rinne (who co-produced the album) on bass, Will Kimbrough on acoustic and electric guitars, Juan Solorzano playing acoustic and electric guitar, as well as lap steel, Rob Crowell on drums and percussion, and my friend Kristen Large singing backing vocals. On top of that, recording at Skinny Elephant Recordings with Dylan Alldredge (who’s worked with Mary Gauthier and OurVinyl, to name few) was unbelievable. Those guys, with their caliber of musicianship and professionalism, made the whole experience a dream. They’ve all worked together before in some capacity or another, so the atmosphere was very laid-back; very comfortable. Having a group of musicians together, I was eager to leave the interpretations regarding instrumentation open-ended. I knew I could give direction if need-be, but I wanted to let them go and hear how they experienced these songs. They gave each of the eleven songs on the record their own life. It was amazing!
Any funny/crazy stories from the studio while you were working on the record?
We recorded Such A Long Way in three days last May, so the whole experience was just sort of a whirlwind. I was working a 9-to-5 job at the time, and those three days were really stretching out my vacation time, and I think the guys understood that. Looking back, it’s all kind of a blur. Initially, I wasn’t going to play any instruments on the record: if I had access to these great musicians, I was going to use them. To be honest, I wanted to play guitar on the record but was nervous at the thought (I’ve always been more confident in singing and writing than playing instruments). Mike [Rinne] brought up a good point though, reminding me that my playing on the songs would connect me that much more to them. And it did. It seems like a little feat, but I’m proud of it. Sitting in Dylan’s studio listening back to each track was euphoric – the actualization of a dream.
Please pick three songs from the album that you think represent the album best overall. Which songs are they, and why do you think they showcase what the album is all about?
The album is centralized around the idea that you’ve come such a long way, but there’s still such a long way to go, and that idea is essentially rooted in the title track “Hope (Such A Long Way).” Written as a letter to myself, the song basically says: if you hold onto hope, you can do anything. If you work hard and work diligently, your dreams – the wildest figments of your imagination – will come to fruition. But, if you keep telling yourself you’re not a bird, you’re never going to touch the top of the world; you’re not going to get to where you need to go. Hope will carry you that far. Some days, I really need that reminder.
Another song that characterizes the album is “Aching to Feel Alive.” It’s for those people who, like me, maybe haven’t encountered real love yet. It sounds like it’s one of the most powerful experiences a person can have – powerful enough to make you think you’ve gone from merely existing to living. There are days I want to know that power more than anything; I want to feel alive in love. But, in my time of waiting, I just have to believe there will be a day when I won’t feel that ache anymore.
Finally, the last song that best characterizes the concept of Such A Long Way is “Existential Crossroads.” It’s a song about growing up and treading the muddy waters of youth rolling into adulthood. The idea came from another song I’d written, which was a little too gritty for my style. In my mind, though, it was an experiment at being more edgy; in the moment, I was stoked about it. I’d shown that song to my confidant, if you will. the one person I show all of my newborn songs to, and she asked me: is this really what you mean to say? Is this really how you want to say it? Reading between the lines, she was reminding me of my morals, and asking me if I was willing to sacrifice even the smallest of them for the sake of a song. Defeated, and a little ashamed, I retreated and ended up writing “Existential Crossroads” within the next hour or so. It’s basically about that question of morality and how it relates to growing up: coming to the age when worry and faith find themselves at war with one another. Allowing yourself to get stuck in one place – maybe one mindset – for so long that you start to confuse right and wrong. You forget that the devil was once a beautiful creature before the fall. I learned that day that not every song is right. That it’s good to have someone who’s willing to question you, to challenge you, and make you really think hard about what you’re wanting to say. I learned a small lesson of writing intentionally. And really, I just like the title “Existential Crossroads.”
What do you have coming up for the next few months?
Before the global pandemic that is coronavirus struck, I had dates lined up to tour the record, mostly regionally. Right now, everything is kind of in limbo, so I’m just hoping that, even at the time of this releasing, all will be calming, or will have calmed down. I really just want to get Such A Long Way to as many people as possible. I’ll be touring solo, going anywhere from Florida to Arkansas and Missouri, up to Kentucky as of now. More dates are being added all the time. Or, I’ll just be hosting a lot of Facebook Live concerts, hah!
Photo credit: Patrick Sheehan