A Look at the Life, and Music of Jessie Abbey.
A couple months ago I was lucky enough to see Jessie and Blake Abbey perform live in Daytona Beach. I was completely blown away by the creativity and energy they brought to their set. This was a very diverse audience of people from all walks and more impressive to me, ages. We’re talking all ages, young, old, and some were a little lost in the middle, but these two musicians didn’t leave a single person anything but completely engaged in what they were playing.
I got a moment to speak with them after the set, and Jessie was willing to catch up with Landon and me a little later and talk about her new solo album The Deep and the Sea and her upcoming tour. The album is great and the conversation was a lot of fun, my hope is you enjoy it as much as we did.
Setlist: Jessie thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Why don’t we start with how you got involved in music?
Jessie: My husband and I started a band together in 2008 called Musical Charis, we’ve been touring and writing ever since then. I’d been considering doing a solo album for a couple of years but it hadn’t come to fruition until we actually moved to Florida. Moving here really was the change that spurred me on to completing the solo album.
Setlist: What made you move from California to Florida?
Jessie: Right, so I was born and raised in California and that is where my husband and I met, but he is originally from Florida. We were both in different bands and they kind of fell apart and that’s around the time we met and started playing together. We did a lot of touring on the west coast and some national touring as well, but we were ready for a change in location. We thought about the east coast because when we were touring we got a lot of love over here especially our original music. You play covers a lot so when we toured the Carolinas up to New York and were getting a lot of love for our original work; we decided we wanted to try to recreate what we were doing in California but on the east coast. So we consider Florida our home base and will start touring from here.
Setlist: So is recording and performing what you do full time? We saw your show schedule and you guys have your hands full you’re performing almost every night.
Jessie: Yeah we play 3 -5 shows a week and like this weekend we are doing an additional Friday Saturday and Sunday. That’s what’s cool about this area; there are so many places to play. And we do a lot of shows that are performing covers but it all helps with going on tour and recording our original work. When it comes down to it, it’s all in our wheel house and music related.
Setlist: How did you get to this point in your career? What would you attribute your success to?
Jessie: We have always been a really hard working band, through the years playing a lot of shows meeting a lot of people, helping other bands and all of that helped make little communities wherever we are. Playing as much as we can, other bands have said you want to get to a point where your only playing once a month… what other job do you work only once a month? Who only works 12 days a year? So that thinking never really affected us so that’s why we play different lineups or solos or a 10 piece band.
It’s just being able to roll with the punches meeting people and treating it like a business while still maintaining the passion behind it. You know, like I still get excited when I get an email asking us to do a show.
Setlist: That’s awesome. How would categorize what you do?
Jessie: I think folk music is something I relate to as a musician and a story teller. Growing up listening to the music my dad listened to was very “folk” influenced, and I want to say the heart and soul of my music is storytelling, it’s kind of raw.
Setlist: Nice, so who were some of your inspirations, you mentioned the music your dad used to play, can you tell us more about that, if you found those musicians influential to your work?
Jessie: Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, The Mamas & the Papas. A lot of 70’s, and people may argue with how folk they are but that is just the feeling I get when I hear them.
Setlist: Sure all great storytelling coming from that group.
Jessie: Yeah absolutely. Also my Dad plays guitar. I remember he would sit in the backyard with me, and would play the guitar and sing. So I got to grow up around that and they are pretty cool memories to have.
Setlist: So you learned to play guitar from your father?
Well… yes and no. Hmmm.
He taught me to teach myself.
He showed me how to read chord charts, but never said this is how you play and you have to practice.
Music was always my choice. It was nothing my parents made me do or try to push on me. In fact for a while they probably didn’t want me to pursue the arts. You know, they grew up in a time where you go to college and you get a degree and then you work a 9 to 5, so your set up financially and don’t have to struggle. So when I told them I was going to go into music, they were hesitant.
When you’re a teenager its hard to know what your end all be all is going to be. So when an 18 year old says I’m going to drop out of college and do my music, they weren’t necessarily on board right away. Fast forward 10 years and they are behind me now.
Setlist: Oh that’s awesome, good to hear.
So what is your opinion of the traditional route, going to college, getting a degree, then working the 9 to 5?
Jessie: To each their own; what it comes down to is whatever it is you really want to do, whatever career path you choose, you have to take the necessary steps to get there. If that means getting a degree then do it. If you want to be an artist you may not need college and can get an internship and go out yourself and get it, go from there. It just depends on what steps you need to take to get where you want to be.
Setlist: We couldn’t agree more, I think you’re absolutely right.
Was it hard for you taking the nontraditional path?
Jessie: I was always a really good student and enjoyed school but it was always to get to the next place. I excelled in grades and sports and did everything as I should have to get me what I wanted to get. But if I was in college and taking classes that were totally irrelevant I would completely check out. I took traditions of socialism and I was like alright my brain and my heart are conflicting now. That was internally difficult for me. That was a struggle. I’m more of a “doer”.
I guess I’m a dreamer and a “doer” I dream of something then I go out and do it.
Setlist: Was there one moment when you decided to take that leap completely. I think it’s obvious your whole life a part of you wanted to do this, but was there one moment in particular where you decided that you wanted to transition from being a dreamer to being a doer?
Jessie: I think it was when I was on the path of pursuing my college degree and slowly realizing it was unraveling, and that I needed to figure out why it was unraveling. So it was over the course of that year, then all of a sudden figured I can't go back to what I was doing and everything just kind of shutdown, and I was like yeah I can't go back to doing what I was doing I have to do something different. Then everything shutdown and I was like I can't, I can’t do it.
Setlist: So what was the next step for you, when did you decide to do something new?
Jessie: It was really hard because I was young and I didn’t have much direction or guidance. So I started just playing with my band and going in the direction of making music videos, doing showcases and that kind of thing. But honestly over the last 10 years I went from being this young 18 year old girl not really knowing how to go about being, to experimenting with different avenues.
I wanted to keep creating and playing, and that’s when Musical Charis started. It wasn't just a band it was a family; a musical community with rotating characters, always playing with different players. We had a lot of fun!
Setlist: So was it always your husband and yourself that was the core, where you had other players rotating around you?
Jessie: Yeah. My husband, myself and another couple were the core and people would come in and out and play whatever they wanted around us.
Setlist: You said there was a long transitional moment when you where contemplating starting your solo EP. Why did you wait so long when you could've started in California? Why did you wait until your move to Florida to start writing?
Jessie I couldn't put focus on starting the EP just yet. I’m the kind of person that keeps busy, and with the band performing 5 days a week and starting our own Music School which we taught on 2 days out of the week, there was no time for me to think.
So when we finally decided to move to Florida, I had 40 hours to drive across the country to think! And when we arrived we didn't have a lot of shows to play at yet, so I had quiet time to myself to focus. My husband was very influential in encouraging me to get it done, and he introduced me to my producer Clayton Sturgeon. They were longtime friends and former band mates from back in the day in Florida. We musically clicked and spent time on the album,The Deep and the Sea, and got it done. I'm really happy and fond of the product so now I’m kind of running with it and focusing on that!
Setlist: We loved the album. It was so original, especially Vaudeville Baby! I don't think I've heard anything like it, it's awesome! Let me ask you this. What was the best and the worse part of making this EP?
Jessie: It's funny you picked that song, I actually wrote that song when I was in Texas in 2010. It didn't sound anything like it does now, but it came together to fit in the album.
The best part was probably finishing and having a final product of my songs. For myself I was happy with it, but I wasn't sure how other people would respond to it and how they would like it. I was a little nervous how people would react to it, because when you’re in a band you have 6 or 7 or 10 other people to lean one when making and album ha-ha.
I wouldn't say there was a worst part of it but the hardest part was having to rely on myself to make those final decisions on the new album.
Setlist: Let’s hop back to California for a minute. You said you started a music school, was that something you took with you when you moved?
Jessie: I’m starting to teach again here. It is a lot harder to do just because we have more shows that we are doing here than we did in California. It's not like our school we had in California; it's more of a one on one session. In California we had worked with over 100 kids in the course of 5 years. We had them put in shows and recitals to help them on stage and to help them with that process of performing.
Setlist: Your teaching isn't to the extent that it was in California?
Jessie: With all the shows and the tours we unfortunately don't have as much time.
Setlist: When I wrote the blog, coincidentally enough my two favorite tracks on your album where your first ones “Deep and the Sea” and “Rubber Hands”. I wanted to dive a little into….no pun intended…. into your inspiration behind those songs. Was it because of your fresh start and uprooting to Florida?
Jessie: It kind of turned into that. I wrote that song 3 months before we actually moved. I sometimes dream of lyrics and I woke up and ran to my notebook and wrote down what I remembered. I went through the move and finished the song in Florida and got off of the bench and started taking on music full time, which is what the song is about. Taking that leap of faith.
Setlist: I really like that song! I like that you got to experience something and then write about it, and say it in a way you’re passionate about. And whether it's a career move, a new living move or just any transition, a lot of people can relate to something like that. That struck a chord with me so thank you for writing that song.
Do you have any projects you’re working on currently?
Jessie: I am going to do a little tour in April. My first ever solo tour so I’m pretty excited for that.
I’ll be going up to the Midwest and working my way back down to Florida.
Setlist: Well we’re no strangers to the heartland, so we’ll come out and see you. We’ll get as many people there as we can. That’ll be fun! I saw you and your husband play together in Florida and it would be fantastic to see you play again. How long are you going to be on the road?
Jessie: It’ll be for 2 weeks, I figured that would be a good amount of time for me to see how I do by myself. That’s probably the amount of time I could go without really missing the dog …and my husband.
I mean I’m pretty independent and don’t really get home sick but I think 2 weeks is a good starting point.
Setlist: Oh, it’s definitely different when there is a dog involved. I get it.
Jessie: Yeah, he’s really cute, he’s a Yorkie.
Setlist: Oh, maybe I don’t get it…
No, I’m just kidding, sounds like a great dog.
Jessie: if I had a bigger car I would bring him, but then my husband would be sad, so I guess you can’t have it all.
Setlist: Well this has been a ton of fun and we’ll be respectful of your time, so the last question I’d like to ask is why is what you’re doing important?
Jessie: why what I’m doing is important, is because I am part of a whole of art and music and bringing color into the world. I think the world can seem dark and grey and I believe it’s refreshing and necessary to bring a splash of color. So I feel like I am one of many people contributing to making the world in an effort to make it more cohesive and coming together.
That kind of sounds likes a generic answer but I really mean that. I really mean it.
And I want to be one less person going through the motions, I want to be really living, not just existing.
Setlist: That’s damn right (Landon in the voice of Morgan Freeman from the Shawshank Redemption)
Jessie: That’s Damn Right Son!
-So grateful to Jessie for her time and the album she gave us, it is one we keep on repeat. To get one for yourself go to her website here, and go follow her on Instagram to keep up with all her latest happenings.