Always a dreamer, the sultry songwriter peels back the layers of her rock and roll persona.
by Glenn Alderson
Jesse Jo Stark is a dreamer. But not the kind of dreamer who goes through life with her head in the clouds. The young songwriter grew up among the Hollywood elite, where dreaming is both a lifestyle and an elevated form of cultural currency.
Her mother, Laurie Lynn Stark, is a prestigious photographer and her father Richard is the founder of Chrome Hearts, a rock and roll fashion brand who has famously outfitted everyone from Steven Tyler and Mick Jagger to Drake and Kanye West.
Breathing in that crisp, polluted LA air that mixes the ocean’s salt with the magic of the Sunset Strip has blessed Stark with an incomparable old-soul energy. Her new single, “Tangerine,” is a sweet and saccharine indie-folk anthem that signals a new breed of Americana, which she has effortlessly plucked from the ether and unpeeled right before our ears.
Not surprisingly, Stark loves The Cramps. “When I’m confused about who I am, I always watch old videos with them,” she says. There’s an archived interview with the legendary horror-punk/rockabilly band from the 90s where founding members Lux Interior and Poison Ivy are talking to a music journalist about the difference between ‘rock and roll’ and ‘rock music,’ which captures Stark’s vibe succinctly. With his iconic jet black hair and his plastic jacket unzipped wide open, Lux—the eloquent punk rocker that he often was— suggests: “Rock music is just music, but rock and roll is much bigger than that.” He goes on to explain his theory that “rock and roll is a lifestyle, a fashion; it’s music, it’s sexual intercourse.”
If you believe in what Lux is saying, then Stark is the embodiment of rock and roll. Whether she’s singing delicately about life and love, modeling in a photoshoot, or sharing drinks with her best friend, there’s something undeniably rock and roll about Jesse Jo Stark.
When we connected with Stark she kindly shared her latest dreams with us and offered a valuable piece of advice: never play cards with her godmother Cher, unless we want to lose.
Where are you right now? Can you describe your surroundings?
I am in bed with the fan on. My dog Billy is lying next to me. The trees outside my window are dancing to the wind, and the stars aren’t being shy because everyone is locked inside. Julia Roberts is on my TV screen, and I’m thinking, what do I want to dream about?
You sing about being as “sweet as a tangerine” in your new single. What’s the sweetest thing someone has done for you recently?
My friend sent me a poem the other day that he wrote for me called “By The Neck” about my eyes. I love when someone takes the time to really look at you and truly feel what they see.
What artists are currently inspiring and influencing you the most?
Big Thief and Sharon Van Etten.
You’ve described your music as “horrific hillbilly.” Can you explain what that means to you?
My team hates this term, which makes me love it even more. But it’s something I thought up when I was on tour with my band. One of my favourite shows ever that my dad took me to was a Hank III show. He did an entire country set and half the venue spilled out when it was over, and the other half spilled back in—a whole new crowd of people. And he did an entire other set, but it was metal. I felt in that moment that I didn’t have to choose something. I felt like we have so many different parts to us and so, ‘horrific hillbilly,’ it being contradictory at times and having nothing to do with my sound, it’s something I made up and it makes me feel like I’m at home.
Have you had any cool or crazy dreams recently?
Dreaming is one of my favourite things to do. I dream every night and I write them down when I can so I remember. I wrote down my last dream, so I’m going to read it; it was about vampires and women flying around so fearlessly above the ground with Wonder Woman bodies and tight sexy bikinis, inside of this high-ceilinged house, almost like a castle. It was sort of like playing a video game, running mad through all these lit up hallways. There was sand and beaches and, just like all the [dreams] before, I was searching for home.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world for your next single, who would it be and why?
Lux Interior [of The Cramps], because not everyone gets to possess that type of magnetism. You could spend your whole life slaving over an instrument, which I feel like I still do and barely know what I’m doing. I write a million songs, but there are some people you just can’t take your eyes off of, and it’s beautiful. For me, it’s him and [Poison] Ivy. When I’m confused about who I am, I always watch old videos with them.
What have you been doing to stay positive and inspired during these confusing times?
I’ve been saying “no” less. A lot of arts and crafts, beading, writing music, listening to my friend’s stories, paying attention more, watching old films, and spending time with myself.
Can you tell us about and describe your favourite meme?
I said something to my friend the other day: “I went from baby to G in two days” and she said I should make a meme out of that. But I also love this one that says “When you’re spooky but you also love nature” with a skeleton gardening. I thought that was hilarious.
What is one item you’ve been thinking about buying that is still sitting in your shopping cart?
A monster mask that was way too expensive but it’s still sitting in my cart.
What is the best piece of advice your godmother Cher ever gave you?
Never play cards with her, she’ll win. Always be you, there’s only one.
Jesse Jo Stark’s “Tangerine” is available to stream now.