Jessie Poland

Looking Out From The Second Floor

Remember when you were a child, you liked to perform for your family? Maybe there's even a cassette tape or video that your parents break out once in a while when they want to embarrass you in front of the relatives, neighbors or the date that they're meeting for the first time. For most people, those days of dancing along to something on the television or yelling out some song that you made up, quickly pass with the first day of kindergarten, growing up and that slow, plodding road to wonderful things like the "day job" and "casual Fridays" at the office.

As Jessie Poland, who never stopped singing the songs she makes up in her head, enters the summer break before her senior year of high school, she has already released her second CD, takes bi-weekly vocal lessons in New York City, and plays regular gigs around the southern New Jersey music scene. The six-track EP, "On The Second Floor," displays both her vocal and songwriting talents, and a music style that is evolving as quickly as you might expect from a budding talent a few years from legal drinking age. What's clear is the tremendous promise of a young woman who's been driven to build the start of a solid career in music and lay the foundation of great things to come while (we hope) getting her homework in on time.

Chorus and Verse interviewed Poland about some of the people who have helped her get started, as well as her songwriting inspirations, music as therapy and the positive effects of loving the life of a musician.

You started out singing and dancing as a very little girl, which isn't unusual in small children. Why do you think you've stuck with it and made it something you wanted to pursue for your life, instead of just outgrowing it as a phase of childhood?

I believe I stuck with it because it's the one thing I can depend on in my life. Music is almost a suit of armor that protects me from my real life. It's the one place I feel truly comfortable.

Many teenagers turn to writing poetry or other creative outlets as a means of dealing with all of the issues they face with family, friends, school and so on. Do you think that being able to focus so strongly on songwriting and performing has made you more well-adjusted in dealing with things?

Yes, very much so. Music becomes my therapist, so it makes it easier for people to deal with me and even for myself to deal with me.

Do your songs tend to be autobiographical or talking about things going on with people around you? Are your friends able to see things that go on with them in your lyrics, or does anything ever happen where you go home afterwards and get inspired to write about it?

They tend to be autobiographical, but not always. Most of the time my friends aren't able to see how the songs correspond with my real life. I try to keep my songs open for interpretation, so it's not always completely obvious.

Life is always an inspiration to write songs. High school is like a breeding ground for drama, so I never run out of things to write about.

Your first live performance was at a Wall Intermediate School basketball game in 2001. Were your first times in front of an audience nerve-wracking experiences for you, and are you more comfortable now on stage? Do you have anything that you like to do before a set to relax?

It was a little nerve-wracking, only because I had never exposed the music I wrote to people before. I love to perform, though, so I am not afraid of the stage. Every once in a while I get super nervous, so I just try to take deep breaths and avoid talking to people beforehand.

When you think about having a career as a musician, do you think more of the recording process and releasing albums, or touring and being able to perform live? Do you prefer one or the other aspect of the business and how do you visualize your life being like if you were able to make music your full-time pursuit?

I can see myself doing either, or both. I love both aspects of being a musician.

I visualize my life being very, very busy if music was my full-time pursuit. I don't have high expectations. I just want to be able to make music and not be in complete debt. That'd be nice.

You've given a lot of credit to producer Alex Houton and vocal coach Don Lawrence for helping to develop your guitar playing and singing, respectively. Can you talk about how you started working with each of these people and the lessons that they've taught you that you feel will help in making you successful?

I started working with Alex when I was 14. I started taking lessons with him when my then guitar teacher said he was moving. After my first lesson, I knew he was going to help me become the songwriter I wanted and needed to be. He taught me a massive amount of music theory, that I am still learning today, and the basics of songwriting. I was already writing when I started taking lessons, but he helped me make the most of my songs. I've been lucky with him, because he is so understanding and I can be brutally honest with how I feel about his opinions on my songs or about anything for that matter. That's so important when you are sharing your work with someone.

Alex introduced me to Don Lawrence when I was around 15. I went into Don's studio to play him a song before we started our first lesson. I was so nervous. I finished the song and he had a huge smile n his face and ran out to get my father. He told him we are going to do great things with her. After my class, I had already learned so much about my voice and how important it is to treat it properly. I know I am a bit of a dork, but I cried on the way home because I was so overwhelmed with happiness.

Sticking with the topic of your singing; how often do you take lessons or rehearse your singing and are there any exercises that you do to develop your voice and keep it in shape? Do you need to warm up before a show, or are you usually able to just get on stage and go?

Every day of my life I warm up for 30 minutes. Even if I don't have a show, I do my vocal exercises. It's very important to me that I warm up my voice right before a show, but sometimes you're not always given that luxury. I usually go to lessons in the city once every other week.

Are you done with high school now, or do you have another year left to go? Are you planning to go to college, or is making a jump into music full-time an immediate goal? Is there any "plan b" for you, or another career that you'd like to pursue as a back-up for your musical aspirations?

I will be a senior in high school next year. I am planning to go to college, but I am not going to force myself to go. If I feel in my heart that that's not what I want to do, then I won't do it. We will see how the year goes and what opportunities come up. I know I'd like to be involved in the music business any way I can be involved.

You've released a couple of EPs, the three-song "My T.V. Clock" and the six-track "On The Second Floor". What are your recording plans moving forward? Do you expect to continue to release EPs for a while, or would you like to do a full-length? Have you been shopping the CD around to labels, and what are your expectations as far as working with an indie or larger label at some point in the near future?

At the moment, I've been discussing with my manager recording a new demo. My music has changed so much that it's not a good idea to represent myself with songs I don't even play anymore. I am hoping to do a full-length during the year either with an indie label or just totally independent. I haven't been shopping my CD that much. I really want to figure out exactly how I want to sound first and finish my demo.

Speaking of "On The Second Floor," are those your legs in your closet on the album cover artwork? Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for the design and who helped put it together for you?

I hate to disappoint you, but those aren't my legs in the closet. I needed a cover for my EP and I had just figured out the name when I called my close friend, Maggie Murphey. I knew what an amazing artist she was, so I told her the title of the EP and that I wanted it to be mysterious. She painted this beautiful cover in such a short period of time, I was in complete awe. It's really amazing. She is a total genius.

Let's finish up with your thoughts on the local music scene. Where are some of your favorite places to perform, and where have you gotten the most support for your music? Are there any new upcoming gigs or projects that you're working on that you'd like fans to watch out for?

I really love playing Coffee Blue. The support that I get from them is amazing. We have a lot of unique and interesting places to play in New Jersey and I am glad that I can be a part of the local music scene.

I have a few shows coming up in the Jersey area: July 8 at Espresso Joe's, July 20 at Riverside Gardens Park, July 23 at Coffee Blue and July 30 at Morganville Firehouse.

I promise that there will be new music coming out as soon as possible. Sign my mailing list for more updates!

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Matt Mrowicki

Matt Mrowicki founded Chorus and Verse in 2001. He is a rock star designer and technologist, Internet professional, content creator, and entrepreneur specializing in web development, IT consulting, branding, social media and online marketing.