Name: Jessica Boudreaux
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer, engineer
Recent release: Jessica Boudreaux's I Think My Heart Loves To Break is out June 24th 2022.
Recommendations: Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader; Painting: "Almost fainting with terror she glanced back" (2021) Jesse Mockrin (or literally any painting of theirs)
If you enjoyed this interview with Jessica Boudreaux and would like to find out more about her work, visit her on Instagram, and twitter. Or check out the homepage of her band Summer Cannibals.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up playing piano (reluctantly) and then started playing guitar at around 11 and absolutely loved it. Pretty soon after that I started “writing songs” which were pretty much just rip-offs of my favourite Hillary Duff songs at the time.
In high school I started diving into bands like the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more rowdy bands like Be Your Own Pet and totally fell in love. At the time I didn’t even consider that I could be in a band like that, probably because in Louisiana I didn’t know any other women who were playing music.
[Read our Brian Chase of Yeah Yeah Yeahs interview]
It wasn’t until I had moved to Portland was in college that I started playing in bands and writing albums. I felt so inspired by the local scene-everyone was in a band! There were shows every night and I felt so excited and also completely intimidated by it all, but it was also the time that I started learning to record and slowly began honing my skills as a producer.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Dang! I’m so envious of people with that ability. It’s so interesting to me.
Unfortunately no shapes or colours when I listen to music, it’s more of an abstract response that I’m not totally sure how to describe. If I like a song, I will almost always get goose-bumps. That physical response tends to actually predate an intellectual or emotional response.
I know that I’m in a good place with a song I’m working on if I get that same response-to me, at least early on in the writing process, it should be no different than if I were listening to someone else’s work.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
As I feel most artists go through, I’ve had a lot of bouts with imposter syndrome both as a writer but more consistently as a producer and an engineer. I’m not generally a technically-minded person, I consider myself to sit squarely on the side of creativity and find dipping too far into the technical realm to be a major distraction. I haven’t ever done well with numbers and instruction, I do so much by ear or by feeling. So that’s a bit of a hurdle when it comes to doing this for work/co-writing/producing for other artists.
But as I work more and more, I find that I learn my own creative and technical language to communicate with my collaborators that seems to work well. Additionally, it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve begun co-writing with different artists and collaborating both for fun and also for work …through that I feel that my process has changed so much for the better. I think having to be transparent through your process really helps you to see where your weak points are and gives you a chance to work through those.
Lyrically and production-wise I feel I’ve grown the most in the last couple years. It makes me really excited about the music I’m making and the album I hope to record with my band (Summer Cannibals) this winter.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
But more seriously, the last couple years I was challenged by a bout with cancer. This was tough both mentally and physically in a way I’ve never experienced and in turn completely changed my sense of identity and given me an entirely different perspective. But with that I see how quickly my “identity” can be challenged and reimagined.
Overall, I have a deeper appreciation for music and its profound impacts on the world and on me as a listener but also as a means of catharsis for processing things I’m struggling to process even in therapy.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Freedom to follow ideas without hesitation, doubt or judgement. Collaboration is crucial to knowing who you are as an artist. There will always be other songs / painting / poems/ etc … so don’t be too precious.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Interesting question. Both I guess? I think that there’s value in timelessness of certain genres and musical compositions. However when it comes to the industry I think originality and innovation are completely lacking and desperately needed.
I believe accessibility is innovation and I think music is for everyone - both the creation of it and the consumption. Accessibility to parts of the industry that have long been gatekept is crucial. Studios are expensive and to me, technology in this realm can mean freedom. Being able to make and record music yourself is life changing as an artist.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Logic Pro has been one of the most crucial tools for me as a producer and engineer. I used to use Pro Tools when I believed I needed to in order to be taken seriously as an engineer but when I used Logic for the first-time things just clicked for me. It’s very intuitive and built for creativity and I really value that as someone who records and writes at the same time.
When I’m writing I work primarily in the box as I find it to be a quick and easy workflow which I find to be really important to not disrupt the “flow” whenever I’m writing.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
It’s honestly not too interesting!
I’m a morning person so I’ll get up around 7 and have some coffee and breakfast. If the weather's nice I’ll go out to the garden with my partner and pull slugs off our lettuce plants or water things if needed. We both really love it out there and doing it first thing in the morning during the spring and summer is something we look forward to all winter. After that I work out and then head over to the studio.
Depending on the week I may have prompts I need to work on something from my publishing company, a mix due to an artist or a co-write. If it’s none of those things, then I’ll work on my own music either for my solo project or Summer Cannibals. And then I pretty much just do that all day!
I love being in the studio and feel very lucky to get to spend my days down there. At the end of the day I go make dinner for my partner and I and play fetch with the dogs.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Yeah, I like to write in concentrated bursts. So for the new EP, I Think My Heart Loves to Break, I actually wrote about 80 songs in the span of a few months. It was originally going to be an album but since I was exclusively releasing it digitally, I decided to break it up into smaller works.
It was a lot of time alone in the studio to finish the four final tracks that made the EP, trying things and changing lyrics. Because it was the height of covid when I wrote them, I didn’t have a chance to collaborate in the way I would now. But working on them was a little escape every day that I really treasured.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
For a very long time I wrote in solitude and found that to be a critical part of my process. In recent years I’ve been forced out of that comfort zone through the work I do and it has impacted my creativity in such a positive way that now I’ve begun writing my personal music with others as well.
Collaboration is such a cool part of the human experience that I didn’t really allow myself to engage in-mostly of fear that I may be found out as some sort of imposter. But, most artists are not super confident about their work or their process. When we lean on each other and find collaborators who help to fill in our weak spots, magic happens.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Music is a means of catharsis, connection and helps people to feel less alone.
When I hear a song that I connect to, I’m connecting to that artist and also all the other people who have been moved by that song. It’s a crucial part of being a person, in my opinion, and I’m grateful to take part in an artform that can conjure such beautiful connections.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Everything I do and write is a reflection on my life and my experiences and through turning those experiences into digestible and succinct lyrics I find that I understand them better.
Music has been a critical part of healing for me for a long time, but especially in this last year.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Honestly I don’t really think about it that much. I see how they’re connected in many ways, especially in the realm of engineering and technical engineering and like you mentioned before - understanding how music can reach such a diverse group of people in the impactful ways that it does.
But for me, I feel like I exist to create. I don’t tend to overthink it; I just make things. I make things that are meaningful to me and hope that they will also be meaningful to others and in my life, that feels like enough to bring me a very deep level of satisfaction.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Well, it depends. To me, writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from making a great cup of coffee. But to someone else - who am I to say? I think there’s meaning where we assign it and whatever process or task is meaningful to someone is completely valid in my eyes.
When it comes to my relationship to music, it channels all the things that I need to achieve a catharsis that other things don’t necessarily bring me …even my other creative endeavours like painting or writing. The process of writing music involves a cathartic release of emotions while also allowing me to problem solve, connect with others and have the physical release of playing instruments / singing.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I don’t know! Honestly, I don’t really care to know either though. For me, part of the excitement of that is that I don’t understand it. There’s something really satisfying about things that remain mysterious (even if they’re only mysterious to me) and if I knew the equation to musical satisfaction, I think the process of writing would lose some of its sparkle.