The “next big thing” title is an honour artists dream about. The majority have to wait until their debut album or EP to receive such praise; however, singer-songwriter, Jetta, is not one of them.
Since the release of “Start a Riot,” Jetta has, for all intents and purposes, been bestowed the “NBT” title by SXSW. The influential music festival recently described the Liverpool native as, “… an incredible new vocal and songwriting talent, who has put herself in pole position for the next big thing accolade 2013.”
Last fall, after being blown away by “Start a Riot,” I tracked Jetta down for a Winehouse Mag Q&A. Speaking from her home in London, we discussed her fabulous name, (no, it is not inspired by the bad girl in Jem and the Holograms or the car), back-up singing for Paloma Faith and Cee Lo Green, her music icon, Annie Lennox, and her unapologetic do-it-yourself approach to music.
(BTW: She also happens to have the prettiest Liverpudlian accent you’ll ever hear). Chaka V.
Jetta: It is, yeah. My mum has an imagination. (Laughs) I feel like my mum almost planned it. We’ve had these moments where it’s like, “Wait, did you think this up?” And she’s always like, “Uh-huh.”
Jetta: I am an only child. I’ve been singing my entire life. My background is very musical. My mum and three other women in my family sung in an a cappella company so I was raised with a lot of vocal harmonies. My dad is a sound engineer so that’s where the production base side of things comes through. And I have just always loved to perform.
Jetta: I was actually very shy for quite some time. I was used to singing in groups so the exposure that comes with singing alone was definitely a big step. When I was eight-years-old, I was just singing in the playground at school and people literally began asking, “Can you sing again but louder?” and it kind of became the daily ritual at school. Then I went home to my mum, and she slowly managed to get it out of me. Eventually we would have some friends over and I would get a little more confident and it grew from there.
Jetta: I think subconsciously, I always knew that I would be involved in music in some way because it was something I was born into. But to actually consider making it a career, that happened when I got to do some backing vocal work at sixteen. I was also quite lucky to have the opportunity to do some big stage arena gigs around the U.K. and the rush I got from being on the stage, nothing compares. I knew that I couldn’t go backwards. I would always have to find a way to do that [make music].
Jetta: I don’t even remember! But I remember what the first single was. It was actually the Back Street Boys, “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart).”
I used to fancy them all, as most girls my age did. They were a great boy band. They were really fun. But that was a real soppy song and when I listen to it now, I’m like; I was too sentimental for a nine-year-old.
Jetta: There was a No Doubt album that I loved when I was about 12 or 13, Return of Saturn. I remember asking for it for Christmas and I just played it all the time.
It was when I started to feel this whole punky punk side of me, which happens as you get a bit older and you start to try out new sounds and new directions. I just remember thinking she [Gwen Stefani] was really cool, a strong woman just having a bit of fun. And I loved her relationship with her band. Now I have my band, which is also three guys, and the same kind of feeling about embracing the fun side of it all.
I remember my dad was really happy because I was into this whole punk sound and that was what he’d grown up on. That was a big memory for me.
Jetta: The first thing I did was for a singer from a band in Liverpool who had quite a lot of success in the U.K. One of the girl’s from the band did a solo project and I got to travel with her. It was definitely a fun first experience.
Then working with Paloma [Faith] when I first moved to London four years ago. That was a brilliant opportunity.
Jetta: I had started to produce a little bit. My mum had bought me a laptop for Christmas and all of the equipment. I just locked myself away for half the year, played about with it and discovered how to make some songs out of vocal tracks using Logic software. Then I did one big showcase in Liverpool and I had a lot of support from friends and family. Someone in London heard about me and they contacted me from London, and it just so happened that I was going to London the following weekend.
The guy in charge there was Paloma’s tour manager. It meant coming to London, which was a really easy transition. I was flown straight into the music circuit and made some amazing friends that I’m still friends with now.
Jetta: I think the fact that they’re so different benefited me. Paloma has a very theatrical format and her shows are visual as well as being about the songs. It’s literally a whole show. I got to be on the inside without the pressure of being “the person” who had to sing. I learned about even the smaller details like lighting, things you might not think about.
Cee Lo is an international artist so there was a slight boost in my confidence. He has this cool about him. Both were beneficial.
Jetta: No, I don’t think it’s ever been for me. As much as I think some of the artists on those shows have incredible voices, I like having the artistic control because I write my own songs. I like to do things in a slightly different way, working with different people, getting to know them and building a relationship with them. I think that show is really good for someone who may want to perform but are fine with not writing the songs. I just like this approach more.
Jetta: I was very happy. I was actually with Jakwob and Rocky, who created the track with Jakwob. We were in the studio together so that was nice. Obviously the three of us being together made it more exciting to hear on the radio.
With “Start a Riot,” I was actually at home in the kitchen with a group of friends. It first played on Liverpool radio, which was brilliant because that’s where I’m from. I really wanted it to come from my own town. That felt brilliant. I was proud.
The video for “Start a Riot” is amazing? How did that come together?
Jetta: I shot half myself and the rest with a brilliant director. He came up with the concept. I had some ideas; I really wanted it to be as real as possible. Everyone in the video are my friends and family. We shot half of it in London, and the other half in Liverpool. We took a road trip to Liverpool and stopped off at different places along the way. We would just point things out and be like, “Oh that looks cool! Let’s stop there.”
My mum threw a party when we got to Liverpool and it was quite perfect because it meant everyone was there, together.
There are many DIY components to your music. Are you comfortable with self-promotion?
Jetta: Absolutely! I find that a lot more exciting because it means that there’s a bit of a challenge. It means actually knowing the business side of what I’m doing and getting to know my fans and audience on a more personal level. I think it makes it [music] stronger in some senses. And I like being busy. I’ve got sort of a business head. My mum’s quite business savvy and I’ve always been interested in knowing everything about my career. I think that’s important.
Do you prefer song writing or performing?
Jetta: I can’t figure out which is my favourite. I think they all give me a different emotion, a different buzz. When I’m on stage, it’s just mountains of adrenalin. When I’m in the studio it depends on the mood of the song that I’m writing. There are a lot of factors but at the moment I’ve come off of a two month break from any live shows. I had two [live shows] this month and I think that was my favorite thing about the month because that was what I was working towards with the band. My adrenalin was building up and it had to go somewhere. So as soon as I was on the stage I almost exploded because I was so anticipating it.
Jetta: I think he is amazing! It’s going brilliantly. We’re writing some more songs together and I really can’t wait. Sometimes you find a connection, I mean I’ve actually been really fortunate to like everyone I’ve worked with but I think with him we’ve just connected.
I get to go up to the country side and it’s a completely different scene for me. I think with the open space I get to be in an open mind. The whole change in scenery really seems to help us.
Jetta: MS MR, HAIM, I love my guitar bands. I love Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon.
Jetta: Annie Lennox, The Police, Tracy Chapman, Lykke Li…It’s hard to just give 5. Can I change one of those?
Jetta: …Fleetwood Mac, I also want to say Bill withers. Can we say that Lykke Li and Bill Withers got married?
Jetta: Eurythmics, Tracy Chapman, Michael Jackson.
When I got a little bit older my mum played a lot of Joni Mitchell to me. It was interesting in a more poetic way, also a lot of soul like Marvin Gaye, Aretha [Franklin], and Nina Simone. I really like the deep female tone a lot.
My dad also loved Marc Bolan so I heard a lot of that, and some of Mica Paris.
But what really sticks out for me is the Eurythmics, and particularly just Annie Lennox. I’ve always really respected a lot of artist’s and really liked them but I’ve never really been as “wow” about somebody, whereas I would sit and watch her [Lennox] video called Diva; it had a compilation of a lot her music videos on it, and I was in awe of it. She’s a strong woman who very much set a precedent for a new sound and image at that time and I really respect that.
She’s been a strong influence and I think she has influenced more people today than many realize. Her style and her image. (I would have like to give her make-up and her wardrobe a go for sure.) I think a lot of people recognize that Lady Gaga’s been influenced by Madonna but I like to go back a little further, and I believe Lennox has been just as strong an influence on someone like Lady Gaga.
Jetta: I love drawing. I’m really into art and I love languages. I actually studied languages. My strongest is French and I also speak a little bit of Spanish, I can understand more than I’m willing to say. I can also understand a little bit of Italian. I’ve always wanted to connect with music. Whenever I do gigs somewhere, I would like to be able to talk to my audience in that language.
Jetta: I think I would still be doing something creative, drawing and speaking another language, things that would allow me to travel because I just love exploring the world.
I’ve been drawing quite a lot recently. It goes in waves. If I have a free moment and a certain feeling I will sometimes draw it. I’ve actually put a few things up that I’ve drawn. I think it’s good to incorporate it because imagery is so important with music. You create a picture in your head even if you don’t realize it.
Jetta: Oh, I don’t know yet. I’m just working and working, writing and writing. I don’t want to put a date on it. I’m never stopping; I’m always in the studio and creating. But I want to feel free at this point, and then look at all the songs. We’ve written a lot of songs, and I just want to wait and decide what should go where, whether its first album or second album material. I will let everybody know when I know some more.
Jetta: You can expect honesty and something quite raw. A little bit of all of my influences are in there and it will definitely have an edge.
A lot of people have commented on the lyrics and that makes me happy. I know that for many of us melody comes first, that’s what draws you to it, but when someone actually comments about what you’re saying and they can relate to it, that is what I want, and the whole album will be like that. There will definitely be different moods.
Jetta: Raw, organic, and tribal!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the creator of The Winehouse Mag.