It feels almost impossible to me to have lived through 2020 and not constantly want to be screaming. If the want is not constant, the want is at least to have bouts here and there where you’re so fed up that all you want to do is take everything you’ve been holding in and finally exhale. It’s therapeutic to scream sometimes, it lifts a weight off your shoulders–it offers a release.
For Jessica Morale, after being required to be silent for a few months to recover from a vocal health issue, it makes perfect sense that her music when she came back would be bigger, bolder, and even louder. “Those months were especially difficult for me and took a toll on my mental health, but even in the silence, the thing I gravitated to was music,” she says when we catch up. The last time we featured Jessica, at the start of 2020, was right before the world essentially shut down with live music going with it. “I wrote a few songs in complete silence and really focused on how I wanted to present this album cycle visually. Quarantine and being silent really taught me patience and gratitude. I’m so fortunate I still have my voice and I’m able to still do what I love.”
Just a few days ago, she dropped her latest single, “GIRLS!” a song that demands both dancing and defiance. Jessica credits co-writer Alex Ran (“who is a badass songstress in her own right as well!” she exclaims) and a writing session they had for the song’s origins. “I was really inspired by Miley Cyrus’ ‘Mother’s Daughter,’ and I knew right then and there that I had to write a feminist anthem as well. I’ve been wanting to write one for a while, a song that was completely sonically out of my comfort zone and almost ‘bitchy,'” Jessica explains.
“I want women to feel powerful and capable that they can do anything,” she continues. It’s a statement that feels like it’s carried throughout her career as an artist, but in this instance, we get to hear her be more outward on it. “All I told Alex and Beya (who produced the song) was that I wanted to write a feminist anthem. He set the vibe and Alex and I just really clicked chemistry wise and the song wrote itself. It was the first time I ever scheduled a ‘writing session’ for a song on this album, I’m usually used to writing songs alone in my bedroom, so it was really cool to step out of my comfort zone and collaborate with another badass female!”
Being assertive and standing your ground is important for any human being to set boundaries and to assert what you want.
The production of “GIRLS!” finds itself both electrifying and dark with its use of synths, bass, and play on a trap beat. When it came to constructing her own feminist anthem and discovering how that sounds, Jessica starts off saying that she knew she wanted “an obnoxious deep sub-bass breakdown” somewhere in there. She lists artists like Billie Eilish, Sizzy Rocket, Kim Petras, Charli XCX, and Ashnikko as badass feminist inspirations for her while constructing the song. “I wanted something people could bop their heads to and something that was completely different sonically than what I’ve done before. I never want to be a one-trick pony! I like to keep people on their toes. Right when people think they know what they’re going to hear from me, I want to switch it up,” she says.
The beat not only gets to be playful, but it also gets to be layered, showing the multitudes of womanhood. “I knew I wanted something ethereal and dreamlike but somewhat chaotic sounding, much like how we as women are; we’re a beautiful force to be reckoned with, we aren’t just one thing,” Jessica explains. “We shouldn’t have to apologize for owning our sexuality or being assertive in what we want. Both the beginning and the bridge are very dreamlike and seductive, but the pre-chorus gets chaotic to bring it home to a melodic chorus flooded with urban beats,” she links the two. Describing it as her most, “commercially pop” sounding release she expresses her excitement for others to hear it.
To get to a place of writing the song and getting all of her feelings out to mold them into what she needs to say, Jessica starts off with a dump page. Filled with words, quotes, colors, sayings, and anything else that feels topically relevant, the page helps inspire her. “I’ll often go back and look at that page and craft the lyrics. For this one, Beya laid down those ethereal synths you hear at the beginning of the song, and Alex and I just kind of wrote off of that,” she says about the process for “GIRLS!” “It all happened pretty quickly, we pretty much wrote the entire song in a few hours. We really clicked chemistry-wise, it was so refreshing to write this with a fellow female artist!”
Jessica and Alex allow themselves to pour all of their frustrations into the lyrics. It’s energy, emotions, and demands that have brewed, steeped and boiled up inside a lot of us after years and years of being told for us to simply “get over” misogyny and all the actions that result from misogyny being a foundation of society. “When you’re a girl growing up, you’re taught to ‘smile’ and ‘be nice’ to everyone. Being assertive is seen as ‘bitchy’ and you don’t want to be that. Being emotional is seen as ‘weak’ so you don’t want to be that either. Being ‘physically strong’ is seen as ‘masculine’ so you don’t want to be that either. Society creates so many double standards and all these archaic rules for women to follow,” Jessica points out.
“Being emotional and vulnerable isn’t a weakness, it’s a sign of empathy, compassion, and strength. Being assertive and standing your ground is important for any human being to set boundaries and to assert what you want. Fuck all these ‘rules’ that society says women must follow,” Jessica declares. “Femininity is anything you want it to be. Women can be anything they want to be.”
Fuck all these “rules” that society says women must follow. Femininity is anything you want it to be. Women can be anything they want to be.
The way that Jessica beams and exudes confidence getting to talk about her approach to womanhood now creates even more excitement for the “GIRLS!” visual which she says is going to be her most badass visual yet. “It definitely has shock value for sure,” she exclaims not giving too much away.
As one of the leading singles of her forthcoming album, Phases, alongside the previous singles, it sets the stage for the concept she wants the project to carry. “I knew I wanted to write a coming of age album. I was writing songs about past and present things that I’ve been through, that allow me to become a stronger person,” she says about the origin of the album. “It’s all about the trials and tribulations we as human beings must go through in order to become who we are.”
In her album trailer, she recites a poem she wrote based on the album where she refers to the audience in a paradox of being both “the chose ones” and “20-somethings left rotten that longed to be not forgotten.”
“I think the expectation is that you’ll have everything figured out, but in reality, we’re still learning,” she reflects. While your 20s are hailed as the time after adolescence where we all finally get to live carefreely, very rarely is that the case for a lot of people. More likely, your 20s are an extension of what was felt in our adolescence with added responsibilities and altered outside expectations.
“This whole concept is definitely defined as an era for me because all of these songs are little reminders for me to keep going, keep growing, and being open to the process of making mistakes, falling apart, and putting myself back together again. Phases is a metaphor for the demons that plague us, but how we won’t let them define us,” she explains.
When she talks about the way the album came together, she says it started out as a bunch of songs that all had a similar subject matter. “I was going through a lot with my mental health, had just gotten out of a relationship, and lost my voice due to a health issue for a few months. I began writing a lot of these songs in silence when I was going through vocal rest. All of these emotions and things I was going through suddenly blossomed into a collection of works that really summed up how life can create chaos for us, but all of this chaos can bring about something beautiful,” Jessica uplifts. “We’ve got to make this chaos count and let it make us stronger.”
This whole concept is definitely defined as an era for me because all of these songs are little reminders for me to keep going, keep growing, and being open to the process of making mistakes, falling apart, and putting myself back together again.
At the time of our interview, Jessica is in the process of wrapping up the last two songs for the album. The process for this project, she says, has taken a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears. “I’ve never been so excited to release a body of work before. One that I feel truly encompasses my sound and who I am as an artist and human being. I truly hope it resonates with people who feel like they haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I’m still learning and trying to figure it out every day,” she gives herself grace.
“The most important part for me is having artistic control. I’m fortunate where I’m an independent artist who doesn’t have a label telling them who to be, who to look like, and what I should sound like,” she says when I ask her about crafting her career and aesthetic. Having autonomy over her work allows for her work to carry the kind of honesty that she and her listeners both want to see and hear. “Being authentic in my art and having complete artistic control is extremely important to me. I always want my fans to know that I’m coming from the most authentic and genuine place in my art, and no matter where life might take my career, that won’t change.”
Like a lot of us, Jessica has also recently taken to TikTok as another platform for her to express herself and her message. Her videos range from participating in trends to introducing herself/her music, raising awareness, and making space for other emo kids. “I think the most important part is to have fun. Sometimes I get lost in it all,” she says about the app. “I get frustrated when my videos aren’t getting enough views or ‘validation’ from other people, but I think it’s important to just have fun. Be yourself, be authentic, and just have fun,” she exclaims her mantra.
Winding down our interview, Jessica assures that she has a few things up her sleeve before Phases drops as a whole including one more single and some visuals. “I definitely want my fans to feel welcomed and completely immersed in the world of Phases. Creating as much hype as possible through the releases of singles is extremely important to me to give fans a taste as to what the album will sound like,” she explains. “I just hope my fans can really resonate and connect with the album. This album means so much to me and definitely defines a dark yet hopeful period of my life that is defiant in the way that I am resilient to what life throws my way.”
Jessica Morale’s Mini-Playlist for Readers:
GIRLS is available wherever you get music. Her album PHASES releases later this year.
(photo cred: Katherine Gregorio)