An Interview With JESSICA ROTTER On Working With Carole King, Her Grandfather’s Incredible Songwriting Experiences With Frank Sinatra, Singing to Beyonce at The Grammys and Her Upcoming Debut Album!
Posted On 01 Apr 2016
Tag: Alicia Keys, All Access, All Access Music Group, Ane Brun, Animal, Arcade Fire, Artist Interview, Baby O, Beach Boys, Beatles, Beyonce, Bon Iver, Carole King, Cazz Brindis, Chris Thile, Daft Punk, Dean Martin, Emily Colombier, Frank Sinatra, Frozen, Glee, Grammy, Harvey Mason Jr., Hypemachine, Jessica Rotter, Jim James, John Mayer, Johnny Rotella, Jose Gonzales, Just Close Your Eyes, Justin Vernon, KATY PERRY, Let Me Go, Lykke Li, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Marcus Mumford, My Morning Jacket, Nickel Creek, Nothing But The Best, Paramount Studios, Pepperdine University, Pigeons & Planes, Pitch Perfect, Plains, Pray For Rain, Sam Smith, Scott M. Smith, Sing, Sky Ferriera, Soundcloud, Stage M, Stars, Stars And Porch Song, Stay, Sufjan Stevens, The Mamas & The Papas, Whitney Houston
Jessica Rotter is able to transcend creative boundaries and defy what’s expected of a modern female musician. The songstress’ voice has been heard across multiple genres, from movies, TV shows and commercials to backing vocals and collaborations with other artists—all in addition to her original songs.
Rotter’s family roots are steeped in music, with her grandfather writing songs for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. With this background, Rotter describes herself as a “musical storyteller” with classical training from Pepperdine University in opera, musical theatre, and directing for theatre and film. She is just as comfortable using her voice in a major feature film (credits include Pitch Perfect 1 & 2 and Frozen) as she is performing one of her original songs live.
Following the success of charting #1 on HypeMachine with her mashup of Stay/Animal with Emily Colombier, Rotter is embarking on her most powerful and ambitious project to date; the full length release of “Plains.” Produced by Cazz Brindis and mixed by Scott M. Smith (Carole King, John Mayer, Katy Perry), the 11 track record is breathtakingly stunning and cinematic. Most uniquely, Plains is organically raw with the listener being able to hear breath in every track, a rarity in today’s over produced musical landscape.
In the album’s leading single “Pray for Rain”, Rotter poignantly describes wrestling with falling in love in “uncertain times, lost times and times of revelation.” On the track “Stars”, you can clearly hear Rotter’s past of free spirited travels and musical influences of early 60s folk and Americana. “Let Me Go” is a well-crafted, catchy and emotional pop tune expressing the restless moments found in relationships. Plains will be released April 22nd nationwide.
Learn more about Jessica in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! So now that we are 2 full months into 2016, how’s the year been treating you?
The year has been really great! I love the feeling of a fresh start and having an album to promote has been a nice way to kick everything off!
You come from an incredibly musical family so when did you know that you wanted to be a musician yourself? How do you think your musical upbringing influenced the kind of artist that you are today?
I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. My mom has tapes of me singing scales with her flute before I was 1. So I joined a choir at my church when I was four and got a solo and someone heard me and put me in children’s singing sessions and the rest is history! I just loved singing and there weren’t really any choices made; I have always just been doing what makes me happy. My mom plays the flute and my dad is a composer and also a music contractor and most of the people in my extended family are musically inclined. It’s a blessing and a curse to be surrounded by musicians. I have developed a great ear but I also had a couple years where I needed to take a break from it and make sure I knew who I was separate from my past and my family. But the time spent with music has all been worth it. Especially classical and film music, for me.
I read that your grandfather wrote songs for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. That’s amazing! Do have any stories from those experiences that he shared with you?
I have two good ones. My grandpa, Johnny Rotella, wrote a song called “Nothing But The Best” while he was playing sax in Frank Sinatra’s band in Las Vegas. He wrote the song in one night after a show and then played it for Frank’s manager back in LA. They recorded it the next week and did the whole thing in two takes. They had half an hour left of studio time and they just knocked it out! Both takes were virtually identical too.
And then with Dean – my grandpa was called in to pitch a couple songs to Dean Martin at Paramount Studios Stage M. He had to go in and sing the songs! Back then, that’s how it worked – no one was recording demos, I guess. My grandpa was not an excellent singer by any means but he had to stand there in front of Dean Martin and sing these songs. He got half way through the song “Baby O” and Dean said “in!” and then halfway through the song “Just Close Your Eyes” and he said “in!” and they were picked and recorded shortly after. I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking it would be to go sing an original song for someone like Dean Martin… but he did it!
You have worked with so many different kinds of musicians- from Daft Punk, Carole King, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and others. What have been a favorite experiences with other others? Which ones were you particularly excited about?
Getting to perform with Carole King was definitely a career highlight. She’s such an amazing woman and we got to sing for a charity concert tribute to her and it was just unreal. I love her music so much. And then getting to sing with Sam Smith and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the Grammy’s was also so so so much fun. I just sang right to Beyonce. Cause why wouldn’t you sing right to Beyonce if she’s sitting in the front row!? But I think my work on Pitch Perfect 1 & 2 was the most fun. I was part of the “Bellas” recordings and working with Harvey Mason Jr. is so much fun. He’s an amazing guy and his ear is so great. I loved the direction he gave us and I learned a lot. We’re working on a new animated movie now called “Sing!” It’ll be out at Christmas.
Your mashup of “Stay/Animal” with Emily Colombier saw major success. Can you talk about putting that song together and deciding to sing it?
Emily suggested we cover “Stay” (which I hadn’t heard at the time) at a show we were doing together and I remembered hearing Sky Ferriera’s cover of “Animal” and thought they sounded so similar. So we thought it might be fun to mash them up. I think this was before I even realized mashups existed outside of Glee. The crowd went crazy when they heard it so we recorded it. It was on Soundcloud for a year before a writer at Pigeons & Planes heard it and wrote about it. Every other blog picked it up after that and it’s been a huge organic success. I still get texts from friends that see the song on their suggested Spotify playlists. It was really fun. We are working on a new mashup now, actually.
In April, you will be releasing your full-length album, “Plains”. What does that feel like? What was it like putting that collection together? How long did it take to write these songs?
Everyone I have talked to has said releasing your first album is just craziness. And they are right. It feels so satisfying but you also are looking into the future trying to figure out what to create next. I have all of these other songs that aren’t on the album that I know have to evolve to make the second album. But putting Plains together was really a journey of finding my voice. I haven’t released anything else and finding the sound that makes me happy and is true to who I am has been really interesting!
I met the producer Cazz Brindis in college and we have worked together on a lot of other stuff. He used to score my film projects when I was majoring in Directing. So we had a pretty good comfort level but we still had a lot to navigate with figuring out what instrumentation was most complementary to the songs I was coming up with. It took a few months to really get things to click but once they did, everything started flowing really naturally. The songs were mostly written in the past couple years and they really speak to a time in my life where I was incredibly uncertain and really searching. I think the album tells a really beautiful story and I am so glad that time in my life gets to be frozen in time in sound.
“Plains” was mixed by Scott M. Smith who has worked with some huge names like Carole King, John Mayer and Katy Perry. What was it like having him work on your album?
Scott has been working in film more recently and I met him through my dad. They work on film scores together. I didn’t even realize how hefty his credits were until after we had created an awesome working relationship! He’s so accomplished but so down to earth and lets me explain things to him in strange metaphors like “can this sound like the Israeli plains?” or “can you infuse this with gypsy spirits?” I’m a weirdo so when people get me, I stick with them. But the album is called “Plains” because I asked him to make so many mixes invoke the “spirit of the plains.” It was kind of a joke at first but then I realized it was what tied the songs together. He also produced the song Let Me Go from my album.
What was the inspiration for the album’s lead single, “Pray For Rain”?
I was kind of singing it as a joke in my car driving through drought stricken Los Angeles and then realized it was a fun song and made it mean something. It’s about a relationship that has run dry and needs a little sprinkle of nourishment.
What’s your song-writing style?
It’s always different. Sometimes I write at the piano and come up with lyrics second, sometimes I come up with an idea and write the song acapella hearing the instruments in my head and sometimes I’ll just sit down and the song will pour out of me in close to finished form. My songs Stars and Porch Song were both like that.
Who are some of your favorite artists? What musicians do you think have been inspiring you since you started singing? Who would you love to work with one day?
Some modern artists I love are Ane Brun, Sufjan Stevens, Jose Gonzales, Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Bjork, Lykke Li, Nickel Creek, and My Morning Jacket. I listened to a lot of “oldies” growing up because my parents didn’t let me listen to most contemporary music as a child. So I grew up on mo-town and the music of the 60’s and 70’s. I was a big Whitney Houston fan as a baby diva but The Mamas & the Papas, the Beach Boys and the Beatles were also in heavy rotation.
I definitely grew up harmonizing. I would love to harmonize with Justin Vernon, Jim James, Chris Thile, and Marcus Mumford someday. I think they all have scrumptious organic voices and I would love to hear our voices together in person!
I will be playing some pop up spot dates throughout the year – TBA. If you follow me on bandsintown, I will update any live performances there.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from the songs?
I love that music can be interpreted in an incredibly personal way so I want people to take away whatever they want to take away! I really love getting emails from fans telling me how a certain song helps them or makes them feel. It reminds me that art has a glorious ability to transcend the artist and move another person in a new and different way. But still, the message is to never give up on the magic in life. Life can get so stale if we let it but there is so much beauty around us and we have to struggle through the muck to get to appreciate and strive for the radiant.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
I really enjoy hearing from fans. If you’re enjoying my music, please let me know and let me know who you are! I’m too active on social media so go like my page/follow me/whatever and tell me to get off the internet.