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Artist Feature

Jess Jessica Steps into a Paradise of Her Own Making with ‘Streaming Music’

Hailing from Colorado and the Sunshine State, hyperpop/house virtuoso Jess Jessica has been weaving together unique sonic textures from a very early age. Jessica picked up a pair of drumsticks and began experimenting with Ableton on the family computer at the age of ten, her early influences ranging from classic rock to metal, 70s funk, and psychedelia. However, it wasn’t until her gender transition in her early twenties when she discovered the full extent of her musical potential, embracing her affinity for disco, house, and saccharine early-2000s pop. 

Jess Jessica’s latest album, aptly titled Streaming Music, is predominantly influenced by the online landscape in which music is consumed today, with most of the tracks condensed to a minute and thirty seconds. A clear reference point for her sound is the world-renowned 21st-century musical pioneer SOPHIE, with songs like “Magic D” and “Drip,” closely emulating the watery, oscillating textures and the sounds of snapping latex and fizzing liquid that have become hallmarks of SOPHIE’s signature sound. 

But at the same time, the sonic landscape of Streaming Music remains entirely unique. “I love SOPHIE, but I’m not trying to be her. I’ve seen people who are clearly inspired by her doing really cool things and I’ve also seen some pretty distasteful imitations that almost feels like grave-robbing,” Jessica tells me, making it clear that she is much more interested in carving out a path of her own. Her songs are not quite as violent or corrosive as SOPHIE’s. They’re much more chill and pulsing, evoking the lush tropics of a queer utopia in Ibiza. 

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Jess Jessica to talk about what she wants to say with this album, how she fell in love with house music by catching a DJ set at her first festival, and the intrinsic ties between music and personal identity. 

To start, what are your main priorities at this point in your career? 

It’s tough, because there’s a bit of a divide between the career side of things and the musician side. Right now I’m really focused on the direction I’m headed in musically. I’m trying to hone in on this space between house music and hyperpop with an asterisk, since hyperpop means a lot of different things to different people. I kind of regret my first release from a brand standpoint, because it’s totally incongruous with the rest of my work. My musical interests are so wide and disparate, so I eventually came to understand that finding a niche is kind of necessary in order for other people to understand what you’re doing. I might not get to shoot in all different directions, but I at least get to hone in on a sound that I really find interesting and can utilize to find my own place between these two worlds. As a person with ADHD, I kind of detest the idea of hyperfocusing on one thing, but I also see the necessity of it. 

That’s interesting. How does this idea of finding a niche affect your art? 

I think with this new album, attention and focus are really big themes. I basically wanted to make an album that was influenced by the medium of streaming. When you think of records like Dark Side of the Moon, the music is extremely shaped and each song only fits within the context of the rest of the album, so they don’t work as standalone tracks. If that album had come out when CDs were a thing, it would have been an entirely different album. 

In that regard, I’m very consciously allowing the medium of streaming to shape the music. I’m really challenging myself to see if I can tell a fully fleshed out musical story with an interesting buildup and some sort of payoff in just a minute and a half. I’m fully aware of how people are consuming their music through streaming. That thumb is right over the skip button. I do it all the time. So I guess it could also be a strategic way to game the streaming monetization system. 

You started producing at quite an early age. How have you evolved as a producer since you started? 

In terms of the resources available, things are entirely different now. I guess in a way you could look at it in terms of everything being the same or everything being totally different, especially with electronic music. The technology has gotten a lot more advanced, but the basics of synthesis are still pretty much the same. A big difference for me is that I’m actually paying for Ableton now, instead of pirating all my music software like I did when I was thirteen. I think the biggest change is this massive proliferation of free resources that are extremely high-quality, even just professional-level advice on YouTube walking through the intricacies of producing and creative ways to utilize the technology.

When did you first discover house music and what drew you to that particular sound?  

That definitely came in stages. I was really into electronic music when I was twelve and thirteen. Some of those musicians from back into the day are people I kinda cringe at now. I came from a classic rock and metal background which is what I played on drums back in the day, which is a little embarrassing. I think the first time house music sunk its claws into me was the first time I attended a music festival. I think I was a sophomore in college, and I ended up at the house stage for most of it. This was the Sunset Music Festival in Tampa. I saw Claude VonStroke there, and the Dirtybird Records sound became extremely influential to me. The context of a long DJ set is very different from hearing a singular song in isolation. And hearing it on a massive system where the bass is actually moving with you is unparalleled. It was the trippiest shit I’d ever seen. Hearing house music live in the context that it’s built for–the dancefloor–was what really made me passionate about it. 

I also went to a queer nightclub event in Ibiza called Glitterbox, and that really opened up my brain to early house and disco pioneers. I can’t wait to go back. The last time I was in Europe was for business school. Side tangent: I strongly regret going to business school. At the time I thought I was choosing something practical that would guarantee job security, but it turned me into a full-on Marxist instead [laughs]. 

What are the themes that tie Streaming Music together? 

It’s basically me conducting a survey on everything that influences me, but also trying to hone in on something that’s mine. I’m still very much in the process of figuring out what I ultimately want to sound like. I think this is just another step on my musical journey through the sounds I want to explore. I’m at a point in my career where I still have a lot to prove. 

SOPHIE once said “I just don’t have so much fun looking back. The future seems more real.” Where do you see music going in the future?  

In terms of sound, I think SOPHIE was very on top of things. She was one of the most forward-thinking sound designers, even just in terms of texture and timbre. She was just out on her own in open water, doing stuff that was entirely unique. The direction she was heading in continues to be incredibly influential. 

In terms of where I see music going, that’s a tough one. I’m almost a little bit scared of it. I recently found out that OpenAI has Dall-E 2, which you can give any text prompt and it will produce infinite variations of an image in any style. I see the same sort of thing happening to music. I see it quickly turning into something that completely devalues all the hard work that goes into the craft of making music. Even most of the arrangement process isn’t that complicated, and if we can get AI to do that as well, that terrifies me. I’m all for democratizing access to creative expression, but how far are we willing to go, and at what cost? 

How is the way you present your personal identity reflected in your music? 

Once I actually started embracing my transness, I started creating and consuming music more honestly. I had always loved girly, bubblegum pop music, but I was always very secretive about it because of the way I was socialized growing up. In the same way that I presented a masked version of myself to the world—pretending to be somebody I wasn’t—I wasn’t being authentic and that was reflected in the music as well. Since transitioning, my music has become more honest.


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Interview Music

Interview with Francesca Fey of Goth Lipstick

Music fans all over the world were collectively shell-shocked after receiving the news that experimental avant-pop artist and trans pioneer SOPHIE had passed away on January 30th of this year. SOPHIE was constantly challenging peoples’ pre-conceived notions of what pop music could sound like, pushing pop into the ether with elastic, hyper-industrial production and catchy, anthemic melodies. Her work was sacred to many LGBTQIA+ music lovers, myself included. Millions of young queer kids who looked to her as a guiding source of light are still reeling from the loss.

But SOPHIE’s mission to push pop to its most exaggerated, bold, and bright state, is not finished. Just look at the legion of protégées she’s left behind. Maximalist hyperpop acts who followed in her wake, like 100 gecs, Black Dresses, and several artists on the PC Music roster, have all released game-changing records and amassed large cult followings over the past couple of years.

However, the most exciting new bands are the underground acts bubbling to the surface, ready to take the world by storm. Enter Goth Lipstick: a duo on the rise made up of two friends, Francesca and J. The duo has released two full-length LPs and an EP over the past year. Their newest album, crystalline corset, is a syrupy-sweet masterpiece with sporadic production that delves into themes of self-doubt and queer liberation. The watery, crunchy synths and infectious pop song structures are juxtaposed against devastating, angst-ridden lyrics, narrated through various characters Francesca has created from her imagination. With songs like the sugary “catgirl goes to college,” and the menacing and masochistic “10 years,” the album takes the listener on a journey of self-discovery through the musings and personal failures of a young queer person.

I was fortunate enough to chat with Francesca from Goth Lipstick, and we discussed a myriad of topics ranging from her love of classic jazz, to her favorite anime characters, and idolizing Joy Division and the 1975.

Izzy: Let me just tell you how obsessed I am with every single track on this project. It pretty much encapsulates everything that I love about the way that pop is progressing. I would love for you to walk me back to the moment when you and your bandmates decided to make a full project and release it. What drove that motive?

Francesca: After we had put out our first album, Decidere, I was actually really disappointed with it. I had been going for this deeply-emotional concept and it just didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. Then I decided that I had to do something that I would ultimately be proud of. My first idea was to write a concept album about dystopia. I wrote the song “10 years” in one afternoon. I hadn’t [yet] conceptualized the album, but that was the starting point. From there it was just a matter of writing instrumentals that I liked and trying to tell stories through songs that were unrelated to each other.

[Creating these characters] was a good way for me to emotionally detach and feel more comfortable with writing really personal stuff.

– Francesa Fey

Izzy: I was reading that you had created different characters based on your favorite anime to represent your own personal experiences. How have these characters breathed life into these songs for you?

Francesca: So the idea of the album is that there are three characters: the catgirl, the transhuman, and the witch. They all represent parts of myself, but they are each based on a different protagonist from different anime that I’ve been loving lately. The transhuman is based on Genos from One Punch Man, who is a cyborg. I wrote the song “witch on a broom,” after watching Kiki’s Delivery Service, which is a Ghibli film about witches. [The song] “catgirl goes to college” is the most removed from this idea, but the ethos of the catgirl character was based on Aqua from an anime called KonoSuba. [Creating these characters] was a good way for me to emotionally detach and feel more comfortable with writing really personal stuff.

Izzy: The album is all over the place stylistically, which I love. You and I are both really big fans of Black Dresses and SOPHIE, and I can tell that they both influenced the project. I’m even detecting some emo and pop punk influences, especially on “past life / succubus.” Are there any specific artists you were listening to that you feel might have bled into this record?

Francesca: As you mentioned, Black Dresses, SOPHIE (rest in peace to a legend), 100 gecs—I feel like it’s almost cliché to cite 100 gecs as a hyperpop influence at this point, but I was listening to them a lot. Lots of nineties emo for sure. A band that I absolutely love is Saves the Day. I love their guitar tones and pop song structures. Also, the Pixies. When I listened to Surfer Rosa, I felt like I truly understood the value of mixing your drums really high. With tracks like “10 years,” I was blasting the drums to the top of the mix, and that was inspired by the production on tracks like “Gigantic” and “Where is My Mind.” [I was listening to] a lot of slowthai as well.

Usually when I sit down and decide, “I’m gonna write a song today!” it just never works… The best lyrics usually come when I’m least expecting them.

– Francesca Fey

Izzy: I was very drawn to how you were able to synthesize these lyrics that are very confrontational and also vulnerable against the backdrop of this incredibly sweet, bubbly hyperpop instrumentation. I hear queer euphoria, pain, ecstasy, and catharsis. What is the writing and recording process normally like for you. What does it do for you personally?

Francesca: Usually when I sit down and decide, “I’m gonna write a song today!” it just never works. And then if I end up coming up with anything at all, I’ll just scrap it and maybe save a line or two for later. The best lyrics usually come when I’m least expecting them. The song “witch on a broom,” is a track about feeling like a disappointment and a failure. I wrote that track after I went on a long walk alone. I passed an apartment complex near my house and I immediately wished that I was independent and capable enough to have my own place.

I sat down at my phone and typed out notes about how I was feeling, and those lyrics ended up being the metaphorical basis for the character of the witch. The instrumentals are very [upbeat] and contradictory to the [grim] lyrics, which was inspired by the band Third Eye Blind. They write incredibly devastating lyrics, but they’re always set to the most danceable guitar tracks. So that was a very conscious [artistic] decision.

Izzy: One of my favorite tracks on the album is “synthetic girls.” I especially love the glitchy, chaotic, noisy breakdown. How did that song come about?

Francesca: That was actually the toughest song to master. I came up with a great chord progression and a catchy melody, but I couldn’t decide which synthesizer to use. It took a couple of months to develop, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to sing over a track that was so noisy. I’m ultimately super proud of how the song turned out, because of how complex it is. There isn’t one chorus, it’s just a hook and a verse and then the breakdown. My hope is that people who listen to it will want to burst out dancing once that climax hits. That track was heavily influenced by Black Dresses.

My biggest hero is SOPHIE… to have that positive representation of somebody as creative and powerful as she was is very special.

– Francesca Fey

Izzy: So this is a two-part question: I was browsing your album topster the other day and was very impressed with how eclectic it is: we’ve got everything from hyperpop to classic rock, indie rock, emo, shoegaze, hip hop, jazz, post punk, the list goes on… Who are your top three musical heroes and if you had the chance to collaborate with any artist (living or dead), who would it be and why?

Francesca: I would say my biggest hero is SOPHIE. Obviously both of us are trans women; and to have that positive representation of somebody as creative and powerful as she was is very special. She was the person who inspired me to start making music in the first place. Also, Ian Curtis from Joy Division. I just admire his lyricism so much. Lastly, this is kind of an out-of-nowhere pick, but I love Matty Healy from the 1975. I feel like he is a bit of a controversial figure among music nerds, but I just think he’s really funny and clever. And his presence as a frontman in a band is what I aspire to be like. He’s just a funny guy who’s willing to be in the spotlight and have a good time with it. As for collaborating, I would love to collaborate with Miles Davis. I just think he’s a complete genius and I can’t imagine how wild a track that fuses glitchy noise pop and classic jazz would be.

Izzy: Last question: if you were assigned to teach a music history class, what is the first record you would send your students home with?

Francesca: Oh wow… I feel like this is such a boring, by-the-numbers pick, but I would probably just go with some Gregorian Chants. [If you’re teaching music history], you’d have to start far enough back to contextualize everything else. Unfortunately I only know of Pérotin, who was a composer of Gregorian Chants. But I don’t know if anybody has actually assembled any of his work into an actual record. If there was maybe a compilation, like “Pérotins Greatest Hits from the 1100s” or something like that, that would be it!

Goth Lipstick’s newest album, crystalline corset, is now available to stream on Bandcamp.