I do not know much, but most of what I do know, I discovered by learning to sing classically, a revealing journey that I will forever be travelling. To me, finding my voice was like walking through a personalized inferno; tears fell both in practice rooms and on stage, and I tried with more effort than I’ve ever put forth to supply a voice critics wanted to hear and directors wanted to cast. But I learned that the harder I tried to be something that met a role description the more I equally ignored the voice internally screaming to be let out. I think necessity lifted me from my nine circles, and I began the liberating practice of feeling, of using my voice in a way that finally sang something with identity. And because of this, I continue to look to musicians who have similarly gone through hell and back, who sing with an unshakeable resonance and say something with their poetry and melodies that stain the mind and fuse to one’s very core. This is why I look to Jessie Baylin.
Jessie has not only found her voice, in every sense of the phrase, but she has also shared it through a musical catharsis of a concept album, Dark Place, that is lovely and hauntingly and wholly her. “This album was like a perfect storm, and it was really loaded. And I think it had to be, I needed it to be,” Jessie said calmly through the phone. “I wanted to take the things I’m good at, and it’s taken me ten years to figure it out and to just focus on that,” she began. “The great thing about working with my producer [and co-writer], Richard Swift, is that that’s all he’s ever wanted for me, to just totally be myself. I think having the freedom to play in that zone brought this record out of me.” They co-wrote nine songs, spent nine days in October bottling the misty spirit in tracks that were often kept after the first take and even wrote and recorded a tenth original on the second to last day of their session. Fuzzed out instrumentals, potent lyrics, retrograde melodies that inversely push forward a modern sound and midnight foggy noises poured out of the singer-songwriter and into an unanticipated album.
“I wanted to tell these stories for my daughter, so she could hear me say these things,” affirmed Jessie. Violet, her daughter with husband, Nathan, was the catalyst to Dark Place, an obviously more shadowed musical exposition for the singer. “There are darker elements on this album. I’m talking about things that are a little uglier, and I wasn’t afraid to be ugly and honest,” Jessie admitted. “I wasn’t trying to candy-coat anything…I’m older, and I don’t know if I’m wise. But I’m definitely less innocent than I’ve ever been.” The foil to her innocence is not guilt of any kind, but rather, a conviction that in every beautiful and delicate person there exists a detour into an obscure consciousness that one must explore at some point, if not many times over. According to Jessie, everyone has one. (I know that to be true.) “We wrote the song, “Dark Place,” and I knew that this was the title of the record. This was the mission statement,” she serenely explained. “Some have more of a dark place than others…and this [album] is like me telling my daughter that she has filled this place in me. And that one day she is going to have this place in her, too. But just use it well.”
We all have those albums that we swim in to dampen the outside noise or the restlessness of our own minds, but this isn’t an album on which to float upon the surface with ears submerged in liquid distraction. You can’t get lost in this album; it is an explicit map into Jessie‘s dark place where you discover your own parallels and revel in the exposition of one woman’s complete emersion into a part that doesn’t see the sun but glows eerie and stunning in the moonlight. “Creepers” starts the expedition and hooks you with an undeniable groove and reminds you of the allure of the people you just can’t seem to shake. “Black Blood” is a twisted echo, while “White Noise” embodies its title with dreamy vocals anchored by a present bass line. And just when you begin to feel the weight of heavy lyricism interacting with modernized and atmospheric harmonics, “London Time” comes along as a fondly nostalgic reprieve.
The album, influenced by family and written for family, pulses towards “Lungs,” the last song Jessie wrote with Richard in a matter of minutes. “All I wanted to do was be with them, so this was my love letter to Nathan and Violet,” she sweetly said. “Dark Place” follows the fadeout signature of the letter, and its lullaby-like nature whispers the gentle reminder that there will always be the light of home, no matter where the shaded exploration leads. Concluding the album with Bette Midler’s “Do You Wanna Dance,” the final song carries you out of the dark place and takes you back to the lit world, one that seems much brighter with the visited comparison.
Dark Place is inherently moodier and more provocative, and I think it goes without saying that this album could not have been made at any other point in Jessie’s life. Through her undertones and eloquent responses during our conversation, it was evident that this album happened because of her two beloved. And when asked how Violet had changed her approach to music, her response fundamentally strengthened the album’s nature. “I take it a whole lot less seriously. When you have big things that are way more important than anything else, this is just a pleasure.”
It certainly is. Enjoy the beautifully revealed Jessie Baylin tomorrow night at 3rd and Lindsley with Dylan LeBlanc.