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I prayed 'tell me if I'm supposed to keep going'

Singer and songwriter Jess Clemmons on faith, fashion and telling a good story. RUSS BRAVO asks the questions ...

Singer and songwriter Jess Clemmons on faith, fashion and telling a good story. RUSS BRAVO asks the questions ...

It's been quite a rollercoaster ride for Texas-born Jess Clemmons’ career in the music industry, but it’s safe to say the last few years have seen her star in the ascendant.

Brought up to the sound of Motown (her parents) and Country (her grandparents), her powerful voice and soulful tones meant a singing career was always a possibility, and she’s seen things lift off with her band Jess and the Bandits (below), particularly in the UK where she is now based.

A support slot with Boyzone in 2013 followed by regular airplay for early releases on BBC Radio 2, and a stunning performance in 2014 on Weekend Wogan, where she covered Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman, have seen Jess and her band take their vibrant blend of country, soul and pop to bigger and bigger venues, plus a BBC1 Songs of Praise appearance.

We caught up in London earlier in the spring and I asked her about her faith journey.

“I consider myself very fortunate growing up in a Christian home. My parents were always very keen on us asking questions and making our own decisions and of course they did their job bringing us up in the right way and I was six when I got baptised. I was young but I remember really wanting to do it; accepting Jesus as my Saviour.”

Singing in church saw Jess find her groove and she had great advice from her mum – “She said you had to find songs there is an anointing on. You have to make sure that those words are going to speak to people. It wasn’t just singing a song, for me, but for God and whoever needed to hear it.”

Determined from an early age that she would be a singer, Jess learned to battle in what can be a brutal industry. “I needed that guidance from God as I was asking ‘Tell me if I’m supposed to keep going – or take away the desire’. The desire just got stronger and stronger,” she explains.

Validation came via some progress in the early stages of American Idol (“I thought ‘someone’s got to be honest with me and tell me if I have what it takes’”) where she got through five auditions and a final 50 from 3000, and was told “We’ll see your name in lights one day”. This led to some experience in the UK which launched her recording career, and proved a vital stepping stone.

Jess’ early dream was to work in the Christian music industry “but every door got slammed in my face and I didn’t understand why, but my mother said ‘you’ll have a better opportunity winning the lost around the lost so maybe that’s why you’re being placed where you are.’”

Her songwriting has always revolved around telling a story, and she has been privileged to work in Nashville with top country artists like Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban, and says “It’s great to be able to work with these guys because together we’re able to build a story – and it’s nice to get another point of view.”

Jess and the Bandits’ debut album Here We Go Again hit number six in the UK Country Charts last year, and includes the single Nitty Gritty, which has attracted plenty of attention, along with Jess’ work with plus size fashion outfitters Evans.

“I’ve always loved fashion and things girly, and they met me and heard what I was all about. They heard the song and had the Style Has No Size campaign around the same time, and they were looking for something to tie it all together.

“I love the idea of working with them and just especially for women in this day and age who never feel good enough about themselves. There is so much self-hatred, especially among women.

“One girl contacted me who had anorexia. Her parents heard the song Nitty Gritty and they gave it to her and she listened to it every single day and said it helped her get over the tough days.  She’s now recovering and I got to meet her at a show. It was a real ‘thank you God’ moment!”

Like any industry, the music industry has its challenges and Jess is well aware of the need to balance being a confident performer with having a humble approach to her craft. Leading worship at her home church Houston First Baptist, Jess says “We pray that God uses us, and he removes any ego. If we don’t do our job by surrendering ourselves then we’ve ruined what God was trying to do – and I personally don’t want to be the one that does that.”

Expect to hear much more from this talented lady – and watch out for her band in action at a country festival near you this summer. More at www.jessandthebandits.com

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