With her brand new long player, her first since 2018’s Strong, Jesslee uncovers what it means to have balance. From her personal life to the spiritual, she’s never been so in tune with herself. It only made sense then to name her sophomore outing Equilibrium, a perfectly balanced set between bubbly uptempos (“Drinkin’ Thinkin’,” “South of Somewhere”) and deeply moving confessionals (“Fly Away”).
Jesslee is an unmistakable firestarter. Across 12 songs, she captures the breadth of human existence, from heart-shattering pain to intoxicating joy. Through glistening pop-fused country songs, the singer, songwriter, and producer bends genres like fragments of light piercing through a prism. They’re colorful but don’t skimp on the emotion. She also marks each with her signature vocal imprint, resulting in a set that’ll surely catapult her further into the sun.
“While I was writing this album over the past couple of years, the songs came from completely different seasons of my life that all ended up leading me to the balanced feeling I have today,” Jesslee tells Countrypolitan. “I realized the Yin and Yang of life is the balance, and it’s best to just soak it in and be in the flow. I am also consistently trying to achieve that genre-bending balance to remain true to my country roots but create freely in a way that’s best for each song, even if that means exploring different elements of other genres.”
Jesslee hit the national stage when she appeared on The Voice, having turned Kelly Clarkson’s and Blake Shelton’s chairs. While her stint was short-lived, she hasn’t slowed down. She’s since shared stages with the likes of Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett, and Dierks Bentley and amassed an impressive social following.
Countrypolitan caught up with the rising star to discuss songwriting, heartbreak, and lessons learned.
In “Small Town Go Round,” you sing, “I need to strip it back to the bones that built me.” How have you kept that in mind as your star continues to rise? How do you keep your feet planted on the ground?
I LOVE this question! STG-R is literally an ode to the place that balances me the most. As a girl from a small town moving to Nashville, this life is very city-like and fast-paced in comparison to how I grew up. As things continue to grow and move faster I try to stay planted by going home when things get “too much.” I also make sure I lean into friends, family, and God more than ever!
How did this song come together for you?
This was created on a day it needed to be most. I was having one of those crazy homesick moments and happened to have a write that day with two incredibly talented writers, who happened to be two people I trust the most in this crazy town, Steve Virginia and Karianne Jean. I opened up to them, and we all started talking about how we all came from small towns and have this feeling sometimes. We talked about what’s so special about these little towns that are truly the backbone of our country, and the love they emit. How it can get hard being around so many people who are just looking for a come-up and the importance of knowing your people and for us, so many of them are back home.
With “Fading Tattoo,” you draw comparisons between a relationship’s end and a fading tattoo. What’s the hardest part of heartbreak?
I’d say the hardest part of heartbreak for me is that feeling of starting over. Even more so having shared so much with someone who was your everything and suddenly they become just someone you used to know. Everyone wants that forever person in their life, and it’s hard when you think you have it and have to let it go.
“Heart Knows Better” is one of the record’s most interesting, musically. What went into those choices to add textures and the dark, smoldering sound?
Thank you SO MUCH! This means a ton because HKB was one of my favorites to produce! I LOVE sounds. I love the music in music, and the battle of the mind and the heart is undoubtedly complicated and frustrating! I wanted the track to represent that in a steamy way! Variations of light airy string pluck and slide guitar mixed with a thick 808 give me that musical representation of the mind, heart battle.
“Gold Plated” tells the story of holding on to who you are and trusting your heart. Is that something that’s been a big struggle for you? And do you think you’ve been able to reclaim who you are?
Growing up for a large part of my life as a victim of abuse from my own father had a huge part in my having self-esteem issues, to say the least. I undoubtedly had to do a lot of soul-searching to remind myself I am so much more than I’ve been subconsciously programmed to believe I am, from my past traumas! I will never say I “reclaimed” myself BUT, God sure did. I started listening to what HE says I am, and over time I started to remember. Thanks to my faith, I am so proud of who I am and who I am becoming.
You bookend the record with a piano ballad, “Fly Away.” It really gives you a chance to sing and leaves the listener knocked over. It seems to perfectly capture your journey. What’s the inspiration?
Thank you so much. I can’t actually explain how much that means to me because of how special and personal this song is. “Fly Away” was written with Dan Smalley and Steve Virginia about my tattoo that says “One day I’ll fly away.” The song is about being abused, and staring out the windows envying the birds and their freedom to just fly away when something wasn’t suitable for them anymore. I wanted that. It made me happy and sad at the same time to watch. I was hurting but holding onto the hope that God had a bigger plan for me someday in His time. I was honored to have my amazing musician grandfather play piano on this track, as well. My grandparents are one of my biggest inspirations to me, so I couldn’t think of a better way to end the record.
Did you find yourself being able to really play, vocally, in making the record?
I really did feel like this record was a vocal playground, and I LOVED getting to sing so many different yet cohesive songs for it! Writing it was a blast but singing it was absolutely the best part to me! It’s always been my favorite part of the process, but this time truly was extra special.
What did you learn about yourself in making the record?
I’d say the biggest self-discovery was how vulnerable I can allow myself to be. It took me a long time to get here being so hurt in my past. For a long time, my trauma closed me off ,and I love my strong, spicy, kick-ass side of myself but I’m learning I’m loving this new, softer side of me too and I’m excited to finally share it.