Behind The Beat | JES talks an unreleased verse to ‘Tonight’ and battling vocal fatigue
After a bit of a break from writing, I couldn’t be more excited to dust my keyboard off with this fantastic conversation I got to have with JES before her amazing performance at Foundation Nightclub in Seattle. JES is an absolutely incredible performer and a true triple-threat: she’s a talented producer, DJ and singer. Onstage, she has that rare stage presence that really connects with her crowd and offstage she is genuine and easy to talk to.
Honestly, I felt a bit skeptical coming into this night because I’ve felt so jaded about live performances after seeing so many studio vocalists perform live at Ultra. Too many times it seems that the songs tend to lose their ‘magic’ when you take a singer out of the studio. I had no idea what to expect for this night until I sat down and talked with JES. I left the green room with a warm glow after meeting her because she is just vibrant with energy and is always ready with a warm smile, and I couldn’t wait to see this energy translated on stage.
From the moment I heard JES sing her first notes onstage, I knew this wasn’t going to be like the other performances I’d seen. JES sounded amazing. Period. In the interview we talked about the stress and the strains that a singer’s voice suffers on tour and I forgot about it all five minutes after she grabbed the microphone and started pouring her heart into the crowd through the speakers. It’s hard to believe that she lost her voice the night before in Vancouver or that she had already done a full show at Neighbors Night Club on Capitol Hill only hours before. I was overwhelmed with joy as we were swept away in the lyrics and melodies of some of my favorite songs of all time.
JES: Well the thing is it wasn’t. We had just wrote it to a riff and it was just a chorus, it was more of a rock song with guitars and everything before and then BT sat down and sort of tinkered with it and it became that but I like that everyone is really into that ‘cause it’s really a new thing for me.
OTB: You don’t have to spoil it but are you going to sing that song tonight?
JES: I actually am going to do that song, I love that song so much and I’m hoping it’s gonna be a single because it’s such a great song with great lyrics.
OTB: So how do you perform it?
JES: Well actually to get the instrumentals sometimes it takes time, there’s a couple of them I wanted and I’m like ‘C’mon guys, It’s in the agreement, you have to give it to me right away.’ [Laughs] But I actually didn’t get it yet so I’ll be doing a mashup like the one I played…
OTB: On Above and Beyond: Group Therapy??? I just listened to that – it was so cool!
JES: Yes, thank you!
OTB: So you’re a DJ as well as a producer. How has it been doing both?
JES: It’s been great! I’ve been DJing my show for the last year and it was like, here, I’m in this genre now. How can I bring my show into another phase? I also have a band, like a rock-tronica band and it took a lot of work to piece it together but it is so much fun to play with other people on stage with guitars and drums. With the radio show that I have and the mix albums I was doing and stuff it sort of was the logical step. I always DJ at home but it’s been really fun and it’s really interesting to put a show together that will hold up in a club like this and different places.
OTB: In terms of being a vocalist and collaborating with other artists – I know you’ve worked with BT, Cosmic Gate, Roger Shah and a lot of others – when you’re singing on the track, who gets to write the lyrics?
JES: Well a lot of the time I write the lyrics, you know BT and I wrote lyrics together and then we get to take it back and sort of finesse it.
OTB: You mean for ‘Every Other Way’? Since he is singing on it too, correct?
JES: Yeah, he sang on it too. Actually it was funny because you know he wrote, well he gave me a couple tracks, I wrote ‘The Light in Things’ first. It took me a really long time- I had it for probably six months, so I went up to his studio and I was so excited because it’s like I have this beautiful song and he was like ‘Okay let’s do another one!’ I keep a lot of melodies and ideas in my arsenal of my computer and so we wrote it together and then I went home and did the vocals for ‘Every Other Way’ in my studio.
OTB: It’s so cool too because when I saw BT that’s the song he closed with!
JES: I know and it’s such a great great song and I was so excited when Armin did a mix and you know we’ve toured a lot together.
OTB: You and BT or you and Armin?
JES: BT, all over the world, and it was like ‘As the Rush Comes’ it was kind of like that lucky song, you know?
OTB: So you have a new collaboration with Roger Shah as well right? On the new Sunlounger album?
JES: Yeah that too, I have one called ‘Glitter & Gold’ and we also have ‘Higher Than the Sun’ which just came out. But that’s a beautiful song, he sent me a track with just piano.
OTB: Ah, that must be easy to work with!
JES: Yeah and that’s partly why I said I wanted to do it because I love chill out music and it’s a really different mix.
OTB: So the track ‘Tonight’, the first time BT dropped that on us it was at the Electric Daisy Carnival in 2012, did you know he was going to play it then?
JES: No, [laughs] I’m always the last to know everything. Someone tells me on Twitter or…
OTB: Someone tweets you and says ‘JES, your new track, it changed my life!’?
JES: Haha yeah so that was a surprise. Also that’s a funny track because we came up with the idea of it and I came back and I did the chorus but it’s a FULL song, right? Like it has a verse and everything which is not on there and TyDi and BT were in the studio and I’m like, leaving to go far away at the time and they’re like ‘We need the verse right now! We need the verse right now! Just… sing it into the phone or whatever.’ [Laughs] And I can’t, you know, I’m out the door so it never got a verse on it but there is a beautiful verse. Well, maybe we’ll do a down tempo one? I told him I want to.
OTB: It’s still amazing as it is, you know, it’s one of those anthems just like ‘Tonight, our night, I’ll remember this forever’ and when you’re at EDC in a crowd of tens of thousands of people it’s just one of those songs where you’re like ‘Yes! This is a song I’ll sing out’
JES: Yeah sometimes it’s just simple things that say so much.
OTB: That’s so interesting that there’s like a ‘secret’ hidden verse to it!
JES: It is! Maybe we’re going to do it up. It’s funny because I was listening to ideas and things the other night, I was going through a bunch of things and then it went into ‘Tonight’ but it was playing on the guitar and I was like ‘Ah man!’
OTB: So it was originally written on the guitar?
JES: Well not exactly but BT was in this period where he was doing a lot of guitar stuff, kind of rock-y, so I just came back and started playing it on the guitar. Usually I do that just to play it a different way and then I come up with the other parts of the song, it feels more like a song that way.
OTB: I’d love to hear about the live singing aspect because lately, I mean just looking at Ultra this year, a lot of artists are starting to bring out the singer that they are featuring on their new tracks. Sometimes it sounds good and sometimes it really doesn’t. I feel like studio artists and live artists are two totally different things and some people can do both. How do you feel about it, how is it performing as a live vocalist?
JES: It’s very very challenging in dance music, we rehearse all the time because it’s hard. I am a good live singer but not always. When I can’t hear myself it’s very tough, it’s very loud up there because dance music is played at such loud levels. Normal music isn’t played that way so it’s really challenging and every night is something different. I think that is more of a challenge for people. Even when we were watching the iHeartRadio music awards, and all the big people, people like Usher, can’t really sing very well if you can’t hear yourself- so anybody can be bad, it can be really hard.
OTB: Right, because in the studio you have your headphones so you’re always going to hear yourself over the music. But a lot of times I think that some voices just sound really great once you compress them and add effects. How do you deal with the difference of true live singing compared to all of the nice tools you have in the studio.
JES: Well we bring our own setup. We have to control it because every place doesn’t really cater to the singer, especially clubs, so you have to sort of sound design it and make sure you have great control over it, as much as you can you know? At festivals, every place is different, you just really have to practice all the time, even if you’re really good- so I would say practice is key: you have to work at it.
OTB: What kinds of things do you do to battle vocal fatigue? I know you were just in Vancouver yesterday and you just did a show earlier tonight.
JES: And I lost my voice really last night, it cut out so basically I didn’t talk. At all. For six hours I had my warm blanket around my neck, I had my Throat Coat tea and lozenges. Really when that happens you just have to be quiet. It was funny because when we got here, we drove, and I was really worried but I felt [it come back] as soon as we got here, but it’s really hard.
OTB: That’s something else that a lot of people don’t think about: talking.
JES: That’s another thing, talking in the club when you’re yelling over people, so we try to watch it and not be hanging out too long. You have to tell yourself ‘Go!’, you have to be the person who is really disciplined about it.
OTB: Well it was so great to talk to you, I’m excited for the show! Thank you!
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