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Interview: JES
The legendary trance vocalist on songwriting, vocal inspiration, and future collaborations

Starchildren, rejoice! Joonbug recently had the honor of sitting down with none other than trance vocal legend JES before her set with ATB this past Saturday night at The Roseland Ballroom. JES, who has been involved in the scene for over a decade and has worked with fellow superstars such as Tiesto and Cosmic Gate, opened up to us about her musical style, influences, and more:

How do you think that being born and raised in NYC has shaped your musical style?

I think it’s affected it so much. I write so differently here, although I am embarrassed to say that I live half the time in California [laughs].  I have my apartment here and my apartment there – but I have my studio there so I tend to do a lot of work there. I feel more comfortable here, definitely, and I think it’s given it kind of an edge. That moody, emotional, brooding edge to the music, you know, that New York has, but then it’s also got so much inspiration. I still find it so gorgeous here, no matter how many times I see this place, it still inspires me.

What is your songwriting process?

I pray that I will finish the song when I start it, like, “please, let me write this song!” [laughs] No but really, I do a little bit, but it’s different. In dance music, a lot of times they send you a track, which can be hard sometimes if the track is not that good, or it’s just one note. But some are very inspiring. I recently wrote a song called Higher Than The Sun to a track, and I held onto the track and listened to it for a couple months before I finally figured something out. But it gave me space to write within it. A lot of times I just start with piano or guitar and then sing into my iPhone [laughs] So I do a lot of that, I try to just put down little ideas in hour or two spurts and see what kind of ideas come from that. There’s always a gem in, like, 20 bad ones, so when I finally find a good one, it’s great.

What are some of your biggest vocal influences?

Oh, boy! I loved a lot of bands growing up: Chaka Khan, Madonna, The Clash, The Rolling Stones. I was like, SO into Van Morrison for songwriting for one period of my life…Radiohead, even The Velvet Underground, things like that. T-Rex and David Bowie, things like that. A lot of eclectic things and just great songwriters. It was never really like I liked one style or one kind of thing, I was more attracted to the songs.

What made you decide to become a trance vocalist?

It really just picked me, you know? I didn’t really know trance music at all when I first started, I knew house music and dance music, but trance wasn’t really something that was popular in New York that I had ever heard. But then I flew out to California, and it was during the really big rave scene in like, 2001-2002, and I met someone who was really into trance and raves, so he introduced me to that. I just thought, “wow.” There’s something about the way they use melodies. They really bring out the most…I don’t want to say sappy, but just something that makes your heart skip a beat, you know? Just a combination of the melodies and recording the vocals in a certain way just made me think, “that’s so pretty,” so I decided, “yeah, I think I can do this.” So we wrote a song called Starchildren, and that kind of started people finding me, and here I am!

Most recently you’ve worked with Tiesto and Cosmic Gate. What would be your dream collaboration to knock off your bucket list?

Oh no, that’s so hard! But yeah, I’ve worked with Tiesto and BTU is really great. I like songwriters and creative people. I think in the dance world, maybe Calvin Harris or someone like that, because he’s kind of funny and quirky. I saw him when he wasn’t even famous at Ultra when he was in a band, and I didn’t know who he was, but every song that he did was really good. So I think probably him.

Have you encountered any particular challenges as a woman in the industry?

I’ve been trying not to give into the things that are hard, or the things that you think, “oh, it’s cause I’m not a man.” I mean, it is dominated by males, and so that’s definitely something that comes up, but I think you just have to do your best and be good at what you do and work really hard, and people will start to see you for who you are. And I think if I thought differently I wouldn’t keep pushing, you know? But, I mean, you do encounter things here and there, but I try not to harp on it.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’ve been working on a record which I’ve been trying to get done, but I’ve been working with so many different people that I can’t get my own things done! [laughs] But I do have it all written. I’ve also been working on an acoustic album, and I also have a new website coming which will soon be up. I’m also doing a blog, and there’s a bunch of other stuff that I like. I like yoga, which I broke my finger doing a few weeks ago, but it’s really helped me so much in my life, I just love it. I love cooking, and just lots of different things that I do, so I’m going to be working on that. I’ve been working on a cookbook, because I try to be really healthy and eat a certain way, and I find I make some really good things! So it’s been exciting to kind of create things because I’m very into health and nutrition and stuff like that. That, and just a lot of music. I have a radio show, “Unleash The Beat,” so I’m keeping up with that, we’re on our 50th show, so that’s really been a lot of work, but it’s so great, so I’m going to continue that. I’m also working on the next “Unleash The Beat 3,” mix album. So basically, I’m going to concentrate on getting the album out, but I’m really excited about the ATB songs that are coming out. One of them is very different, it’s not a dance song, it’s actually mid-tempo, I love it. It’s called Together, and I’m singing it tonight, and Hard To Cure, and then I have a couple other ones coming out, too...it never stops!