“It’s pretty terrifying,” laughs Jessy Lanza about the release of her debut album Pull My Hair Back, an effort co-written and produced by Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan.
Her synthy R&B is an unexpected sound coming out of the steeltown Hamilton, and its provocative title has folks talking. “I’ve gotten like the S&M thing, and I’m like no, no, I didn’t mean that. I meant something much more innocent,” Lanza says as she confesses to egosurfing.
“It’s one of those horrible things that you’re just like, ‘I don’t want to be Googling myself, but I can’t help it.’ I just hope that people like it [the album]. That’s all I want.”
Raised in a musical family, her parents sang in a hippie rock band in the ‘70s; Lanza’s sisters gravitated towards dance while she sang and played the piano. “I used to write songs with piano and voice, but I found that I would run out of ideas really quickly. I can make more interesting things when I have the whole palette of sounds to work with that comes with having gear and electronic instruments around.”
Lanza dropped out of a Master’s program in jazz history (the academic approach to music “just wasn’t working out”) and started spending her days working the lunch shift at a Lebanese restaurant, afternoons in the studio, and, during the school year, teaching piano. While working on PMHB, she listened to Womack & Womack, Roy Ayers, and Kashif-produced records “obsessively.” Her gift for transforming diverse inspirations into something unrecognizable was soon uncovered.
Take Terry Richardson’s viral Kate Upton video that inspired the song “Kathy Lee.” “I was fascinated by this video of this really beautiful young girl. It’s essentially her tits bouncing around. It’s totally hypnotic. I sampled his voice blending into her voice and the way it loops ended up sounding like ‘Kathy Lee.’”
In the video, which features Hamilton’s Jed the Dancing Guy, Lanza intentionally remained on the periphery. “When you are a female artist, there’s a lot of pressure to display. Like if you’re hot, you better show how hot you are. I’m just so sick of that kind of bullshit. I thought watching Jed would be interesting for people.”
And the sultry “5785021,” inspired by Ginuwine’s ‘90s “550 What,” serves as an open invite of sorts to another of Lanza’s influences.
“I mean, if Prince was like, ‘I love your music,’ that would be pretty cool. Maybe Prince could call me.”
Jessy Lanza photo credit: Tim Saccenti
Note: Full piece made available on TWM 26/05/2014