Jessie Reyez picks up the phone with an easy swagger. The 29-year-old singer squeezed in a conversation with us ahead of her first live performance since the world stopped in March. Jessie was chosen to be a part of Verizon Up’s all-female concert series - which includes headliners like Karol G - for a virtual multi-city tour. “I’m nervous as hell!” she exclaimed. The Colombian-Canadian songwriter, who casts a spell with her gripping lyrics, said it would be the first time she performed songs from her latest album Before Love Came to Kill Us.
She chats with us about fighting off the stage fright, being inspired by Beyoncé, the unique new songwriting process she discovered in quarantine and more.
HOLA! USA: We loved your remix of Avenue Beat’s viral hit single “F2020.” It’s so cool how you reached out to them. Do you have another dream song that you’d love to remix or cover?
Jessie Reyez: Thank you. You know what, man, I always love what they did with “Turn Your Lights Down Low” with Lauren Hill and Bob Marley. Something to the effect of that, of paying homage to someone that’s been such an influential musician to me even if we weren’t alive at the same time.
You’re performing in the Verizon Up concert series, which celebrates diverse women’s voices. What does it mean for you to be a part of that?
It means a lot, man. Any opportunity that I get where my peers are strong young women who have fought to get where they are, similar to myself, it makes me feel almost, like, affirmed that I’m on the right path and sh*t’s changing for the better. In terms of equality and representation. It’s a good omen when I get opportunities like this.
Definitely. Is this your first live performance in a while?
It’s my first live performance in what seems like eternity. I think it’s my first legitimate live performance since March. I’m nervous as hell! It’s the first time I’m performing stuff from the album, too. It’s not how I expected the first time to be, but I’m nervous.
That’s so exciting! You’re gonna kill it. Do you have any pre-show rituals to shake off those nerves?
I pray with my team. I used to do shots before I started singing ‘cause the nerves would get the best of me, but this year was the first year that I was actually on tour and not having to do that and we only got a couple shows in. So, we’ll see how today goes! We’ll see if I need the liquid courage or an anesthetic [laughs].
It makes sense to us that you’re being celebrated not only for your talent, but the worthwhile way you use your platform. You’re especially an inspiration in the Latinx community. What’s something your most passionate about advocating for right now?
Thank you. In 2020, there’s an abundance to choose from that’s gone a mess. I feel like the silver lining to 2020 is that people that weren’t affected by racism and being marginalized kind of woke up to what a large chunk of the population has been going through for a long time. Just this year, because the world stopped, it was almost like people had no choice, but to accept that this was a reality for people that needs to change.
I’m almost happy that it happened that way because people are paying more attention to representation and who’s getting employed, discrimination... etc.
Because you’re asking me right now: everything being shutdown, but large corporations not being shutdown is kind of a joke. There’s got to be a different way to cope with it. Anybody that’s still doing Christmas shopping, I hope people are shopping locally to help communities. Community is everything. As much as these big corporations supply, if all the money goes there and everyone goes out of business, where is that gonna leave us?
It’s so true. You’re deservedly being recognized as an activist at the upcoming Billboard Women in Music awards. Throughout your career, who are some women you’ve looked up to in the industry?
When I first started going to industry parties, one of the people that I first hung out with was Kehlani. She was just mad authentic and cool. I really respect her opinion.
Beyoncé from a distance. I appreciate so much the way she moves, the way she gets better as a musician every year. We literally think ‘you can’t get better than this’ and then the next year, somehow, she elevates.
In terms of the business side, Michelle Anthony [Executive Vice President] from Universal. I’ve honestly looked up to her for years now. Any time that we have a meeting or get together, I feel like I always leave the meeting smarter. I’m thankful and honored to know those women that teach me directly and indirectly.
And now you’re in a position to inspire people. From where you are now, what do you say to those looking up to you?
Fail faster. Don’t be scared to try sh*t and if it fails it’s fine. You just gotta make sure you’re not wasting time crying over spilled milk. Get back up and try again.
You have to master every fail, every loss. I think that’s the secret to endurance. Nothing’s gonna come easy and there’s gonna be failures, falls, obstacles, but if you can maintain that inner gasoline - I think you’re good.
And, lastly, learn how to critique yourself objectively. When you do that, you almost advance yourself. A lot of people have this ego and they don’t know how to get better from where they are because they refuse to accept that they might need help. It might be in terms of talent, like maybe your pitch sucks, maybe your songwriting sucks, maybe your team sucks... it can be a lot of different things as to why things aren’t working, but it takes a skill to be able to step back and look at yourself and not feel threatened by other constructive criticism or you’re own constructive criticism.
That’s really helpful and it takes a strong person to do that. On another front, with everything going on this year, have you been able to keep creative?
Yeah, man, I’ve been able to keep writing songs. I’ve really desperately polished up on my engineering skills because I’ve been doing a lot at home. A lot of singing that requires basic engineering skills.
I kind of tried this new [songwriting] method, which I haven’t really ever done. I’ve been inspired by movies before in terms of, like, Quentin Tarantino and stuff and his extensive vision. Like, someone can be getting brutally murdered to like classical music and somehow it looks perfect - like it belongs together. I’ve always been a fan of that. This year, I kind of wanted to take that approach, but in reverse.
So, I’ve been watching movies, and then after the movie I’ll dedicate myself to a songwriting exercise. I’ll be like: ‘alright I’m gonna write a song based off the main character’s perspective.’ Just to kind of exercise my brain, that songwriting muscle. It’s the best!
Jessie’s album Before Love Came to Kill Us is available now.