Justin Jesso - Interview
By Maya Kubisa
Let me introduce you to American singer songwriter Justin Jesso. He’s written many hits for other people such as HRVY, AJ Mitchell and The Backstreet Boys to name but a few. So you may have heard his work without knowing it was his words.
He’s Collaborated with Norwegian producer, singer songwriter Kygo which shot him into the spotlight with their song ‘Stargazing’ which so far has 700 million streams! In this interview we discuss song writing processes, creating during a pandemic, Black Lives Matter and his brand-new single ‘If you’re meant to come back'.
Image Credit: Marta Literska (@martaliterska on Instagram)
Your new Single ‘if you’re meant to come back ’ is an amazing song, what is it about?
Thank you so much!
So, I originally wrote the song thinking about my ex-girlfriends, while one of my co-writers, Phil, wrote it about his current girlfriend, but it took on a bigger meaning than that. The song, for me, is sort of this emotional catharsis… listening to the song, I want people to feel all these emotions about past loves, past friendships, people you haven’t been able to see, and at the end of the song, realize that if these things are meant to come back to you, then they will. The universe has a way of working itself out. So, this song is really about trusting the universe.
Whether it's a person or the love you had with a person… if it’s meant to come back to you, then it will. I believe overall, it’s a pretty hopeful message and I just felt like it was the right time for the world to hear this one. We are all meant to come back together, and will, when this crazy time is over.
How did the song come to life? What was the writing process like?
I wrote this song with three friends of mine, Mac, Phil and Plested in London a while ago. We all started chatting and Phil had just gotten back together with his girlfriend. He had given her this little speech at lunch: “No one knows where we will be in the future, but I know that be waiting for you… so I’ll let you go to fill whatever hole you need to fill, and if you’re meant to come back to me, then you will.” I turned to him and said: “dude, we have to write that song!” I found out after I wrote it that his girlfriend was actually a friend of mine from College, a songwriter named Emily Warren (who happened to write New Rules for Dua Lipa).
I was personally writing it with my ex-girlfriend in mind. We had just broken up and the sentiment resonated with me. I felt like I had to let her go, and if we were meant to be together in the end, then we would be.
You’ve built a lot of your career writing for other people; what was the turning point for you when you decided to release your own songs?
I always wanted to be an artist, but I kept writing songs for others because I thought like Bruno Mars, John Legend, Megan Trainor, and Julia Michaels, I needed to get taken seriously as a songwriter first so that I could eventually sing my own songs. Various labels heard my songs and wanted to sign me as an artist at first, only to turn around a week or two later and want to take my songs to release on other kids they had just signed who were big on Instagram, and have me continue writing only. I started to feel hopeless because no one was taking me seriously as an artist. One day I looked myself in the mirror and said: “Ok I hear the universe… it is telling me I need to continue writing songs for others and try and write the best songs that I can.” I put my artistic dreams on hold, hoping one day I could return to them.
The turning point came about two months later. I wrote Stargazing with Stuart Crichton and Jamie Hartman and it changed my life. After the label was trying to get Kygo to release the song with a bigger name, Kygo decided to keep me on the record, launching my career as an artist. I never would have been able to write that song if I hadn’t listened to the universe to let it happen. A couple of months sooner and I would have tried to force it, which wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere. When the song started performing, labels started coming around, my audience started growing, and I knew it was the right time to start releasing my own music.
Image Credit: Marta Literska (@martaliterska on Instagram)
How do you find the writing process does it come naturally to you; do you ever struggle coming up with inspiration?
All the time! But it’s really about practice. I believe in the principle of 10,000 hours. You really gotta just keep working at it and the inspiration comes. Sometimes the songs are great, most of the songs are just… ok or good..…
How has that been for you during this strange time, have you felt pressure to create?
Actually, I've felt less pressure to create. I feel more pressure to make sure my career isn’t stagnating… but there are really important things happening in the world right now with regards to Black Lives Matter and Covid, and I feel, right now, my place is to amplify other voices who have experienced racism directly and try to listen. I also feel it is my place to speak up for what I believe is right. There is so much division in the world right now and mis-information, I feel it is my duty to let people know where I stand - for the black lives matter movement, for wearing masks to stop the spread of Covid, for VOTING nationally and locally, and for actively taking steps to continue the conversation of systemic racism in America. There’s a lot of very important changes happening right now… and I feel more pressure to make sure I’m contributing positively and making the world a better place than anything else. And that’s a good thing.
As we haven’t been able to go to concerts recently and many tours are postponed what do you miss from performing live?
Oh, I miss it all! I miss being onstage instead of on Zoom. I miss PEOPLE! Iven been quarantined at my parents now for over 100 days. I have an immune deficiency so when this all started, we thought it would be safer for me here, no contact with the outside world. My favourite part of the live experience is getting to talk to people after shows and learn how the music has affected them and their lives. I miss getting to know people from all over, I miss that social connection, I miss that rush you get hearing your lyrics sung back to you, I miss my touring crew, I miss it all.
Following on, when do you think the music industry will be back to normal?
Fall 2021 it will start to return to a bit of normalcy I think… fully normal… maybe never, maybe 2022?
Have you always wanted to pursue music and what got you into song writing?
I was the kid who loved playing with the plastic microphone. I stepped on a stage when I was 5 and knew that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I started writing songs when I was 9. The first one was about a girl named Leah that I liked at camp. It went “Leah, would you meet me by the pier, you bring the lettuce and I’ll bring the beer. There may be a deer, but don’t you fear, cause I’ll hold you near. We’ll drink some lettuce, eat some beer, look at your rear…”. It wasn’t very good, and I didn’t get the girl, but I liked stringing words and melodies together
What kind of music did you grow up with at home and has that influenced your style now?
I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston Bill Withers, Otis Redding. I love old soul music.
What advice would you give someone pursing a music career in 2020?
Hahahaha you picked a bad year! Work your ass off. Study the greats. Keep writing. Collaborate with friends and the people around you. Get an internship somewhere in the music industry to get your foot in the door.
What’s next for you Justin, any exciting projects in the pipeline?
More music coming for sure!!! Probably an EP by the end of the year. Potential touring plans as well at end of the year, but we will see what happens with Covid.