JES, the reigning queen of Rocktronica and the woman responsible for so many of your favorite trance hits, is constantly evolving. Her musicianship, often overshadowed by producer’s bass lines and synths, is where her heart beats the loudest. Not your average vocalist, JES has also begun experimenting with doing some live DJ sets as she showed during her performance at this year’s Ultra Music Festival. A multi-lingual singer/songwriter, pianist, guitarist, radio host, DJ and all-around entertainer, JES has proved that girls really run the world. And if her ever-growing resume doesn’t impress you, her beautiful soul without a doubt will.
Joonbug: How has a city like New York influenced your artistry?
JES: It’s prepared me for this career more than most places. It’s funny, you know, I actually felt naive when I went out to LA coming from New York. There’s just something about New York, the energy, the pace, the people, it really sets you in a good place to go for it. I always say I never even thought about what I was getting into because life is chaotic and crazy and dirty and you don’t even notice the things around you because there’s just so much around you. It's not until you move some place else you notice those things. I feel pretty lucky.
You’ve lived in New York and you’re currently living in LA. They’re polar opposite cities. For me, the biggest difference is that people in LA will stab you in the back and people in New York will shoot you in the face.
[laughs] They’re very different and that’s so true. It prepares for so much subconsciously and then hits you when you’re dealing with it. You learn along the way that even though you think you have thick skin you need to grow it even thicker for the music industry.
You’ve been a significant part of the dance music movement for over a decade. How has this industry changed from your perspective specifically as a vocalist?
I definitely started naively in 2001. I come from another world of songwriting, which is rock/pop genre, and even when I entered it I didn’t know how the DJs and singers worked together. I had to fight a lot for things I thought were obvious when you work with people – your equal billing, credit, etc. You have to work for it, because the DJs take precedent. They rule the dance music world. The singer/songwriters have to fight a lot to be heard. It was a lot of learning about the business back then especially with Motorcycle in 2003/2004 and there was a hole for female singers in the dance world. I thought, okay, we’re filling this space. But after that, there’s been a saturated market of vocalists. It’s really changed in a good way. It’s still developing a lot. This year will be great for dance music.
Female artists in electronic dance music are a bit more present than they used to be, but it’s still dominated by males.
It started with that male dominance, but we’re getting there. We just have to keep pushing. I’ve been DJing a little bit more. I’ve pushed as far as I can in this world so I felt like this was a natural succession. We all don’t want to harp on that, because you have to brand yourself and make your own way and make yourself strong.
It’s certainly a natural progression, but did you feel pressured to become a DJ as well?
I think in the EDM world I felt a little bit of that, but I love it. It’s a lot of fun. I was doing a lot of podcasts and I made a mix album and was sort of a home DJ. It’s a whole other ballgame DJing on stage. I also have a Rocktronica band. This is just another place I’m going and I’m really enjoying it. You have to always challenge yourself. There’s only so far you can go with a CD and yourself.
In 2003/2004 you got together with Josh Gabriel and Dave Dresden to create Motorcycle and you put out a little hit called, “As the Rush Comes” which transcended you to new international heights. What else has been a transition point in your career?
After Motorcycle, that was an incredible time. We were on a major label and touring all over the world. Josh and Dave were of course originally DJs and I was a solo artist and we had this success surprisingly together. After that settled, we had our own paths to begin with so we also went our separate ways after the Motorcycle success. It was a big transition for me to make myself a solo artist, because people only knew me as the Motorcycle girl. It’s new to some people still. Getting your voice known with your name is a big thing. I do work with so many people now and do so many different things and bringing all that music under one roof continues to be a challenge.
“It’s Too Late” is a deeply emotional track. What is the inspiration behind those lyrics?
That was a song I wrote about my last muse. I was in a relationship for a very long time and that was the last song I wrote about it. You get that feeling like you want to go back there, but you can’t go back there. There comes a time when time itself passes and it changes and you change. I like that it’s [the track] out now, because it doesn’t affect me anymore. I’ve gotten over it. And I think people understand what I’m talking about in this track. That feeling you get when a breakup is fresh and you’re still holding on and you know they don’t care about you anymore. There's an interesting contradiction with the words and melody; It’s a sad song lyrically, but it has some hope in the melody. I’m amazed how many people sing along with me when I perform it live.
You have so many collaborations going on right now with Ferry Corsten, Robbie Riveria and Cosmic Gate among others. Who else would you like to collaborate with?
There are so many people. On our show we’re playing a lot of Afrojack, Tommy Trash, Nicky Romero, Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta; People who have transcended dance music into mainstream. It’s hard to come from the EDM world and transcend to the mainstream.
You’re also collaborating with TyDi and BT. Tell me a little about that.
I wrote “Every Other Way” and the “Light in Things” with BT and then BT and I created “Tonight” and “Letting Go.” I speak to TyDi a lot, but with BT I always hear from him via Twitter (laughs). I love TyDi he did some great remixes of “Show Me the Way” and “Light in Things.” I played with him in Australia a few years ago. I‘m looking forward to that. Brian is amazingly talented. He’s one of those people I’ve been able to work with in the studio as a musician. A lot of the time now it’s all done over the Internet. I’ve always worked with Tiesto in the studio as well, but its few and far between because were all in different places. It’s amazing what you can do in real time on the Internet so it can substitute the studio but it’s nice to have that real time in the studio.
You’ve got an abundance of collaborations, you’re writing, singing, playing music and now you’ve added DJing into the mix. What else would you like to add?
We’re working on another artist album right now. I’m working on a more acoustic album, well, not necessarily acoustic, but I'm using a lot of piano and guitar. A lot of the time when I go on stage and just sing with a guitar or piano people can hear who I am and what I’m doing more so when my voice is over these crazy beats. I’m always writing. I have a lot of different collaborations in the works, but that’s a shared job between the DJs and the songwriters.
As individuals you’re used to working your own way. Sometimes it takes a while to get those two individuals on the same page.
Different collaboration brings out such different personalities. I’m really excited about the Robbie Rivera collaboration, it’s different from what people know me for. And the Ferry Corsten collaboration is very pop too, which is great. I have another song with Ronski Speed called “Can’t Stop,” which is coming out next. I have my single, “It’s Too Late,” which we just put out the video for. I’ve been singing the First State version a lot, which has been big. Having the tracks remixed gives the song a whole new life, which is cool.
You’re dabbled in rock, pop, dance music and countless other genres. Is there anything else you would like to conquer vocally?
Well, I like playing with my voice a lot. With EDM you can record and experiment so much. I’ve been singing in other languages. I sang “Awaken” in Spanish and a love song in French, which is really exciting for me because I love languages. I do tour in a lot of Spanish-speaking countries so I wanted to do something for the people I see when I tour. It [singing in a different language] is emotional too; I was singing in French on stage and I was crying. I’ve done everything except maybe jazz, but I do have element of blues, pop, rock in a lot of things I do.
It’s hard, as a songwriter, to constantly stay inspired. What is the songwriting process like for you?
I mean it’s tough. It’s moody. The more you write, the more it becomes a job, It’s bad when it comes to that. I know people who do that for a living and I don’t like to do that. I like to write a song and write it until it’s great. I’ve become a little slower at it. My ears are always open. People inspire me. I’m constantly listening to people. Interesting people in your life can become your muse. Films, books and other artists are most inspiring to watch them perform. The radio is inspiring too. When we’re riding to the studio and hear something great I immediately get ideas. I have a studio in my room and if I can get a moment by myself, I’ll close the door and play. I look for little pieces of things. You can sing 10 minutes of something and there’s one piece that’s good and you grab on to that. Some people are overly inspired. I speak to other people that write and you can go down for some months and there’s nothing and you think, “Oh it’s over.” You have to take a break and step back and then go back into it. There’s so many ways to look at it. When you’re in the writing mode, you can’t stop. Anything and everything, when you’ve been writing a long time, can be inspiration.
You mentioned muses are an important inspiration. Do you have any in particular in your life?
Love. New love. Old love. People that excite you. It’s always important to have someone like that in your life. Otherwise, I don’t know if you would feel like getting up in the morning. I’m always watching people too. New York is a great place to people watch. Not so much so in LA, but when you do meet people there’s always a story. People are the biggest inspiration.
What other artists are you/have you been inspired by?
I just love songs, anyone who writes a good song. I listen to mainstream radio a lot. Even thought Bjork’s last album wasn’t as big, I still love her. The Killers. Sia. I’ve been familiar with her music for a very long time and it’s great to see her now being integrated into this scene because everyone knows her now. My ex-drummer is in Foster the People so I’m listening to them a lot. I like anyone who just has fun with his or her music and who stay true to themselves and true to their persona. I think you see great artists and they get immersed in this industry and you think what happened to them? You want to be able to make a living at it, but you want to keep being who you are because that’s what made people like you in the first place.
It’s sometimes hard to stay true to yourself in this industry as silly as that sounds. When you started out it was just you and now there are so many different people involved. It’s not just your opinion anymore.
You don’t even have as much time either. I remember the days I was in my pajamas for a week and I would just cry and play piano. You don’t have the time or the energy to do that anymore. You’re running all over the place and you have to now find the time to write. What gets you there changes you along the way so you have to change with it, but you have to stay grounded.
What do you think is the best way to stay grounded?
I don’t know. I’ve seen people who change completely. I’ve always done it [stayed grounded]. I’ve had moments of floating in the air, but I just feel grateful and happy that I can do this. I’m very sensitive and I know you have to take the good with the bad. There are so many supportive people, but the bigger you get the more you get the negativity. I just try to promote positivity. I still hear my song on the radio and it still gets me. A lot of it has to do with the person that you are. Some people just run away with it and some people just stay who they are.
Jay-Z wrote, “Money and power don’t change you, they just further expose your true self.”
It’s true. I can see you changing a little. You’re always changing a little, but you need to have good people around you. It’s the people around you that help keep you who you are. If you have people telling you who you are then you might go in a different direction.
You’ve played in abandoned shopping malls in Mexico City and arenas around the world. What has been the most memorable performance thus far for you?
There have been so many. It’s so hard to pick one. When I first started, it was all such a crazy experience. We have played in the ancient city of Petra in Georgia. We’ve played in the desert. Another memorable performance was playing at the Olympics in Beijing. I had to sing in Mandarin. It was incredible. I had also always wanted to play Red Rocks. We were at Red Rocks one winter and we were on the stage and I said I really want to play here and I played the next year and it was so memorable. I’ve played there four or five times since. I’ve played with Tiesto at the Formula One races and that was early on in my career. I couldn’t believe I was there. Our world of music can bring you to some incredible places, because it’s so far reaching.
Traveling is such an extraordinary experience. It allows you to meet so many incredible people (speaking of being inspired).
Absolutely and everyone is so friendly in EDM. We’re out there to have fun. People just come to these shows because they want to have fun.