By Lexi Riesenberg, Contributing Writer
From busking on the street to opening for Troye Sivan at NYC’s Terminal 5, singer-songwriter-producer Jess Kent has come a long way from the Australian suburbs where she grew up. Coldplay tweeted out the music video for her debut single, “Get Down,” an alt-dance-pop track with a reggae-inspired beat, when it was released in 2015. Now, she can add opening for them to her ever-growing list of achievements after she kicked off their Auckland, NZ show on the A Head Full of Dreams world tour this past Saturday, playing her first ever stadium show. With her EP, “My Name is Jess Kent,” out and a full album on the way, WSN caught up with the busy artist in the midst of her early success.
WSN: How did you get into music?
JK: I got into music through my dad and my family friends that were around. They taught me how to play guitar when I was 7, and then I started to play in bands with my friends. I played my first gig when I was 10 and [when] I moved to Australia I started busking on the street because I was too young to play any gigs. So I would play in the streets and get crowds of people and [sell] CDs… And I started doing open mic nights, and I would book gigs through busking and just cut my teeth on the street.
WSN: What made you want to pursue music as a career?
JK: I always, always, always wanted to be a musician. I just wasn’t told in school that that was a sensible career choice, so for a while I was trying to do it on the side… and I was just finding that… [I was] gonna have to take a risk and prepare to be broke for how ever long and just go out on a limb and give it go. So, I pretty much just decided one day… fuck it, just pack up, literally one suitcase and my little guitar (I play a mini guitar). I took them on the plane with me and then that was it. I was broke for 5 years and just didn’t start, didn’t sleep.
WSN: At what point in your life did you do that?
JK: I grew up in Adelaide [and] when I moved to Sydney I was 18. I graduated [high school] when I was 16, I was super young, so I had a couple years of being like, okay I’m 17, and I finished school, what do I do? …I was studying at uni and working, trying to balance everything. I was just about to turn 19 [and] I was like, if I go for it then you never know. I think I said to my mom, I’m gonna try, just see how it goes… [I] left my family and friends and just went for it.
WSN: You just released your first EP. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
JK: Following on from the previous answer, it’s pretty much birthed out of that time period and that process. In Get Down I’m pretty much talking about being in Adelaide and being in the suburbs and really just kind of having nothing. It comes from me wanting to shake things up a little bit and just being like, c’mon, we’ve got potential, go do something crazy that might make a good story if it doesn’t work out. Same with Bass So Low, it’s just being on the street and being a kid. We weren’t really focused around money or having things. It was all about experiences, ya know? So, the EP is very centric around that kind of concept – not deliberately, that’s just how it all came out. [It’s] a little time capsule of that time period, ya know?
WSN: And how long have you been working on it?
JK: We’ve been working on it for the most part of this year. Get Down, the single, was already out, but that’s included on the EP. I started writing Get Down when I was 17, 18. Sweet Spot I wrote the year before last, and then the others I wrote this year.
WSN: How would you describe your music?
JK: In general, I think it’s an eclectic mix of my old-school influences in blues and even 90s pop. I used to listen to Sting and the Police, so I have an inherent kind of reggae dance-hall feel that I grew up with, and that’s how I learned to play the guitar with a ska punk feel. And then take that and mix it in with new-school dance-hall. I [also] worked with a deep house producer. So it sounds very future, coming from the past.
WSN: How was it opening for Troye Sivan?
JK: Opening for Troye was the craziest thing ever; it was so surreal. That was our first show ever in the States, so we started in New York and we started at Terminal 5 which is an incredible place to start. We didn’t know what to expect, and New York gave us the best welcome we could have ever wanted. They were dancing and they were singing the songs and I was like, how are you singing along? But they were doing it. Troye’s awesome too. [He] was looking after us and making sure we were all comfortable. I found [it] really inspiring to see how he takes care of his team and works the crowd and connects with them really deeply. It was really cool.
WSN: Speaking of you coming to the U.S. and doing shows here, what’s next for you?
JK: Actually, [this weekend] I go to New Zealand to kick off the Coldplay tour. We’ve got shows from now until the [beginning/middle of February,] so we’ll be going around Australia. And then I’m hoping we can get out to States again really soon after that. And we’ll be going into album mode. I’m really prepping now – we’re starting [to write] and we’re gonna buckle down and get into the album.