Singer/Songwriter Jesse Lynn Madera
on her Latest Offering, “Revel”
Singer/songwriter Jesse Lynn Madera emerged from the 2020 lockdown with new insights, new recipes, and new songs! While only her family enjoys her cooking prowess, we are all the benefactors of her latest single, “Revel.” The talented songstress is a self-described, “lifetime reveler” delighting in the consistent charms the universe delivers, both big and small.
Recently she performed “Revel” to a sold-out crowd in New York City’s popular venue, The Bitter End. The crowd’s reaction was a delightful surprise for Madera at her first post-lockdown show. ‘“Revel” got a standing ovation,” she said of the infectious, uplifting anthem that reminds music lovers of happier times. The songstress recalls the rush she felt on stage when everyone in the historic venue was experiencing those positive vibes at the same time. “The synchronizing of everyone’s hearts feeling hope at the same time was powerful. It was emotional.”
Q: When did your love of music begin?
I think I must have brought it with me into this life because I don’t remember ever feeling any distance between myself and music. It’s always been a close personal relationship. I’m not a fanatic about it, I don’t obsess over it — unless I’m writing — but I think in lyrical form a lot of the time, and melodies arrive in my head. I spent my early childhood hypnotized by MTV, so I’m sure that played a part too. A lot of my family members either play, sing, or love music. It was always a major part of our gatherings and conversations. My mom has a great voice and sang me to sleep almost every night when I was little, and my brother was always playing an instrument. He’s also a rock historian. My dad plays the harmonica.
Q: Which part of being a musician do you find most meaningful? Performing live, writing, recording, making videos?
Years ago, when I was still insisting I had a studio allergy, I would have said, unequivocally, performing live and writing. But back then I’d just had the most practice doing those things. I grew up performing in front of family at big parties, in piano bars, and even sang with the late pianist Johnnie Johnson at a blues club in Houston. I also studied theatre for a decade and got comfortable with being looked at. For some reason, the studio had me petrified. I think it was the finality of it. I didn’t really understand how to work with the studio mic, or how to feel anything while singing in a tiny, musty room, completely isolated. I wasn’t as good a singer as I meant to be either, so hearing back my dry, nervous, underwhelming vocals made me long for the freedom I felt performing live — where the delivery and intention is everything, and people are buzzed and forgiving. I’m a better singer now, and I have a better understanding of the recording process, so I put less pressure on myself and in turn enjoy tracking so much more. Now I look forward to it, and love singing on other people’s albums too. Overall, writing is where I feel most at home. I wrote poetry first, sitting on my unmade bed, alone in my room.
Q: Tell us about your writing process. Do you feel you are a stronger lyricist or melody maker? Do you write using the piano or another instrument?
I’m a stronger lyricist probably. I write almost always on the piano or in my head. Sometimes I’ll write on guitar.
Q: “Revel” transports the listener to happier times or just helps them know it is possible. What is your favorite thing to revel in?
I tend to revel in general, as often as I can. Right now, at this very moment, I’m reveling in my kids, my husband, L.A. hummingbirds, and the roses being in bloom. Later I’ll revel in making a great dinner.
Q: What inspired “Revel?”
I was invited to participate in an online event for Revel Spirits and the enCourage Kids Foundation. My husband and I are investors in Revel, and Avila enthusiasts. The day before the event, I looked at my material and realized I didn’t have many happy songs. Most of my songs are pretty dramatic. I thought it would be a fun surprise to write a happy song and call it “Revel”. At the time, my mom was recovering from Covid and our dear cousins were in the throes of it. The lines about the Lite Brite basement memories and someone barely breathing on their own were written about these cousins specifically. I have a distinct memory of visiting them, and cousin Julie and I being down in the basement making a haunted house. I was just a little kid, so I was easily spooked and had a lot of fun scaring myself. We were down there in the dark making spooky signs using her Lite Brite. So that line in the song, to me, is about trying to get a handle on what’s scaring us. When you’re scared, are you maybe sometimes scaring yourself? There’s been a lot of scary stuff happening, but my anxiety brings the scary closer than it needs to be. Even as a lifelong reveler.
Q: Things are on an upward trajectory from 2020 which was so hard for so many. How did you make it through lockdown personally? Professionally?
I’ve always been good at alone time. I need a good amount of alone time, normally, so I’ve kind of known what to do with the lockdown. That’s not to say that I haven’t felt myself losing my grip every so often. I was feeling pretty crazy back when I was watching the news all the time, in particular around the election. I’m also used to feeding large groups of loved ones. I love to cook and entertain. Not being able to do that has been a jagged pill. I made lots of bread and pizza and gained the weight. I gave myself about a cover song a week, usually ones that were way out of my league to sing, and challenged myself to sing them well. Vocally, I grew a ton. Professionally, I took a chance and released my debut album, Fortunes. It actually kind of worked out, because it’s meant to be sort of ‘spaced out’ too. It’s great for laying on the couch with your eyes closed. I got to sing with the incredible pianist Matt Rollings on our holiday release, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, which was life-altering. He is such an amazing musician, and getting to step away from the keys and just sail over his playing was one of the greatest experiences of my life thus far. I loved having my boys and husband at home. Hemky and I’s marriage improved, as did our parenting. Our boys, in particular our eldest, thrived. It was hard on all of us to be cut off from socializing, but honestly, we’ve spent so much time — happily — moving around and hosting, that maybe being forced to settle down and snuggle up was exactly what we needed.
Q: Your social media teases an upcoming video where you play opposite of your actor husband. Can we get any more details?
We have a really fun song and video coming out this fall! The song is called “Hola Papi.” I wrote and recorded it many, many years ago, in the first year we were together. At the time, he’d just finished up his role on the TV show Weeds. I wrote this song with the intention of getting it placed on the show, but the timing didn’t work out. I was bummed and tucked it away. It’s an eccentric little number, and I had no idea what to do with it for the longest time. Fortunes, in its genre defiance, paved the way for “Hola Papi.” And now the song has a road to gleefully skate down. It’s going to be fun. The video was directed by the legendary Eduardo Sánchez, writer, and director of “The Blair Witch Project”. My best friend Nell Teare wrote the script and produced it along with Elizabeth Mihelich. It was a total blast getting to work with my husband and put all those years of acting training to good use. It’ll be more like a mini-movie than a music video. I’m so pumped!
Q: Your music is genre-defying. How would YOU describe your music to a first-time listener?
A smart gal on my team called it avant-pop, and I have been using that lately because it makes me seem much more organized than I am. I think of myself as an artist, with a ton of influences — both conscious and subconscious. I just like to write and sing. I figure it’s best for me to come out of the gate a bit of a wild horse. For that reason, I am not chasing any record deals. If a deal comes along one day, they’ll at least know what they’re signing up for. It would cease to be fun for me if I had someone telling me what I should or shouldn’t do. I don’t consider myself a disciplined person, so I wouldn’t be great at working on something I don’t love. I want to have as much fun as I can with the time I have on this planet.
Q: You recently played a sold-out show at the Bitter End in NYC. Was this your first show back after the Covid Lockdown? How did it feel to be back on stage?
I did play one house concert during the lockdown as part of a really neat series called Burgers and Dogs that an awesome agent in Nashville named Jordan Burger put together. But yes, the Bitter End shows were my first venue performances, and what a wonderful feeling to be back with my old NYC band, and back in one of my favorite clubs. It was reminiscent of my first full-band performance ever, also at The Bitter End. The excitement was on par. People were very emotional. I was emotional. It was unforgettable for me. I did perform ‘Revel’ and it got a standing ovation. I think it was a surprise in the context of the set, and also it’s something people want to hear right now. People want to feel good and feel hopeful. I do too. To feel those big positive feelings together, our heartbeats synchronized, was a total rush. It made me want to write more happy songs.
Stream “Revel” here https://linktr.ee/jesselynnmadera