I say this in the nicest possible way. An awful lot of the new music we listen to, even the cream of the crop, is fairly similar unto itself. That’s what genres acknowledge I suppose, and to a large extent this always going to happen for as long as we play the same chord structures with the same instruments. Which makes Jess Bryant‘s first full length album release ‘Silvern’ all the more remarkable in its singularity, following a unique path.
It’s been a long time in the coming this record, a true labour of love like so many first albums, and in this case, is proving to be more than worth the wait. The album was all but finished late in 2011, but Jess was determined to make sure she released it via someone that cared. Luckily, she and the well-respected Red Deer Club label from Manchester found each other. Tweaks were made, notably entirely dropping a cover of Chris Isaaks’ ‘Wicked Game’ that had originally been included, a good move as it was a distraction, and not really in keeping with the rest of the record, which is otherwise very much ‘of a piece’.
Londoner Jess is classically trained in voice, piano and violin but taught herself guitar when, as a teenager, she realised that she needed to break free from classical convention if she was to find fulfilment. A couple of years ago, she had the appearance of yet another folk singer, until that is she opened her mouth and let her mesmeric voice fill the room, toffee-smooth. The musical development of the album though has taken her in fascinating directions. As I tried to get to grips with it over many listenings, I found myself leaving pencil notes around the house – “folk-jazz-madrigal” or “medieval choir in Swiss music box”. It certainly seems in moments as though lead model soldiers have escaped from the toy box with their miniature tin drums at full tilt. Percussion is everywhere on the record; like a mosquito bite it is both intrusive and yet at the same time fades hypnotically into the static only for you to realise it was there all the time. Woodwinds weave and snake around Jess’s voice, while the occasional steam-punk special effects add an other-worldly air.
Not content to take it at face value, I asked Jess for some help and guidance. For a start, it struck me as steeped in quietude. What was her take on that? “Yes you’re right. It has a certain mood. Maybe it’s melancholy – not necessarily a negative state but melancholic reverie. I think that comes out. Whatever it is it’s the predominant state I’m usually in. I felt like I poured myself into this album.”
The back-drop of rhthmic snare drum is almost constant. According to Jess, it didn’t set out in this vein “Although drums hadn’t entered my head when I started in the studio they became very much part of the album. I wrote some songs before recording started. But quite a few were written in there and that allowed for new ways of songwriting i.e. being inspired by a drum beat. Also the producer Daniel Lea and drummer, Paul Cook experimented with layered rhythms a la Moondog and it really worked. Daniel’s influence definitely enhanced the rhythmic element.”
And she told us that it was a labour of love “It has taken 2 years to make the album. I work full time so it was a case of recording in the evenings, on weekends, booking holiday. It takes time when you have a day job. I’d already recorded an EP, Dusk, with my producer Daniel Lea at his studio in Stoke Newington, Golden Hum. It had been a great experience and I really like his style. He emailed and suggested doing an album and it spurred me on. He had a belief in my music and I’m really glad I took that leap. Daniel’s soundscapes and arrangements really make the album what it is. He encouraged me to try new things and as a composer and musician himself he had so much to contribute. Golden Hum happened to have a vibraphone there at the time so I used it a lot for the album. It was a very organic process ‘let’s try this’/’have you ever thought of this?’ etc. On top of this I was lucky to have some amazing musicians collaborate on the album. Dom Garwood on clarinet, Jamie McCarthy on violin, Paul Cook on drums and Matthew Cousins on bass.” We asked her to elaborate about how much it had been either all her own work or a collaboration? “Some of each. The arrangements were collaborations with Daniel and the musicians and Daniel’s production adds so much. It could not have sounded as it does if it had been produced in any other studio. It’s very much a Golden Hum record. It has the golden seal!”
And finally we asked her how close she was to the record, whether it was something she would continue to nurture like a baby, or whether she was the kind of girl to move swiftly on? “It’s deeply personal. I put everything into this album. It’s incredibly important to me what people think of it because it’s part of me. I think most musicians would feel that about their music. You’re laying yourself bare when you release something or play live. It’s your creative output and you really hope someone will ‘get it’. I’m going to cherish this album because I had such a good experience making it. The post album process can be incredibly frustrating…sending it out and not hearing anything back or just being ignored. You can start to think ‘why am I doing this?’ But you have to remind yourself why you do it. Because you’ll make music no matter what. Because you love it.”
However long and complex the gestation, we’re just glad that it has arrived, and will be on sale, initially as a limited 12″, in a week or two via Red Deer Club
In the meantime, and as a taster of Jess’ music, here’s a live version of one of the album tracks to get your teeth into, recorded recently at London’s Union Chapel