Jess Best's Saturdays of Yore
On a slow Wednesday morning, I called Jess Best from my bed at Wesleyan; she was in her apartment in New York. We’d never met before, but her endearing demeanor and enthusiastic vibes made our conversation feel like she was an old friend. We chatted about the music community at Wes, the emotional process of creating The Giving Tree, the creation of her video for “Saturday,” her love of old home-videos, and why she’s excited to come back at Wes to play The MASH.
Linne Halpern: Did you find the environment at Wesleyan give you both support and creative freedom? In what ways did Wesleyan’s environment aid in your growth process to become the artist you are today?
Jess Best: Yes, definitely. During my time at Wesleyan, there was a ton of collaboration between all the students. It felt like a musical environment that was non-competitive and very warm. I was able to play with a lot of different people who were experimenting with different styles. Then there were also a ton of people listening to very similar things that I was listening to. So, I just think that the process of being so exposed to different styles of music and to so many different people playing music helped me a lot in being able to leave Wesleyan and know what it was that I wanted to make.
And, especially post-Wesleyan, the music community in New York is pretty insane. I definitely still feel Wesleyan’s presence here in New York very strongly.
LH: That is reassuring for those of us who are preparing to graduate (laughs.)
JB: (Laughs.) Oh my goodness, so this is the first week of your senior year!
LH: Yeah, it’s so weird – so many feelings!
JB: Yes, I totally remember all of those feelings (laughs)!
LH: Yes! So, with Reverberations we’re interested in how art and various artistic responses reverberate off each other, creating ripples, and further artistic endeavors. In what ways do you find your work to be in dialogue with the work of those that have influenced you?
JB: Hmm, interesting…well, I feel like what’s really strong right now is that yes, I always listen to music online, but I really feel like my community here in New York is mostly influencing me right now. I have a lot of artist friends here who inspire me so much. We’ve been jamming and writing together more recently. Sometimes, I just like to be a fly on the wall for their process. Watching how they go about creating music helps me in finding new processes to use in my own work. I would say that having a music community has always been ultra important to me. That is one of the main ways I’ve found to continue growing – surrounding myself with amazing humans who are all inspired writers, musicians, and artists. If you’re getting people in the same room, it’s just inevitable for ideas to pass around.
In the recording process, I’d say that listening to albums that I love and admire becomes a huge part of the creative process for me. Picking out elements of their music that I want to try to incorporate into my own.
LH: I love the choice that you made in incorporating the home-video footage into your video for “Saturday.”
JB: Yeah, thank you!
LH: It was gorgeous. How did that decision come about and why did you feel that a nostalgic atmosphere was important to the song?
JB: I’m trying to think about the process of that video evolving. It was funny with “Saturday,” because before the album was even done, we knew that we wanted to call it Saturday (2017). The first image that came up for us was that image of a Saturday, sitting in your old living room with your old T.V. You know what I mean? It’s kind of hard to explain because I think it was just a feeling; I knew that that image matched some feelings that were a part of the album as a whole. Just placing your personal history, chronologically, is almost insane to watch…
JB: I was trying to find a way to match the auditory feeling of the song with something visual. I thought that really worked with the song because it’s is about missing something.
LH: Right, nostalgia definitely feels inherent to the project.
JB: Exactly, nostalgia is always a big part of my music (laughs). And I just have so many home-videos that have to be used (laughs).
But yeah, it was weird because I thought it was nostalgic, but then I had a bunch of friends who watched the video and had a super emotional response to it. That was really interesting to me because I didn’t realize that it would have that kind of impact.
LH: And it incorporated so many of your friends. It must’ve been cool for them to see themselves as a part of that process with you.
JB: Yes, true.
LH: What was the process of coming off of your experience writing The Giving Tree, which was such an emotionally heart-wrenching, somber album for you and then moving towards a more upbeat record with Saturday? Was that a deliberate, musical choice or was it just what you felt you needed, emotionally, at the time?
JB: Well it’s really interesting because most of Saturday was written before The Giving Tree. We wrote most of it in the Fall of last year. Then, we also wrote some of the songs in the Winter of this year. It was interesting to navigate that because I knew I wanted to finish the project, but I had to continue to let the music transform and be appropriate for the moment. It definitely was a deliberate choice to make the album more upbeat, and I do feel like that is where Saturday came from. Sometimes, in life, you just need that moment of catharsis, or escape, or breaking out of your daily feeling. I felt like it was still honest. That’s why we still put it out.
LH: In your notes for The Giving Tree, you wrote that line about honoring Claire’s (Claire Randall ’12) love of spontaneity, by promising to release whatever came out. Beyond that being such a beautiful way to honor your friend’s life, how did that process of working feel? Did it feel like a productive way of creating art?
JB: The process of making that was entirely stream-of-consciousness. In that sense, it definitely helped me going into that project with that mindset, especially in that moment. That actually has trickled over into a lot of the ways I write other songs, too. I do feel like, oftentimes, your first impulse, the first thing you put down, is the seed, and you shouldn’t change that because usually that is what will be the most powerful and pure in feeling. That is one way to really capture a certain moment in time: to just let it flow out and not edit it.
LH: What does it mean for you to be back at Wesleyan performing? How does it feel being a part of The Mash? And what can we expect to hear from you on Saturday?
JB: We’re so excited to come back. I really love staying connected to the Wesleyan community, and I’m honored that they asked me to come perform at this event. I’m bringing my band; it’s going to be five of us. We’ll play a lot of tunes from Saturday as well as a couple of new ones. Earlier in the day, we’re doing a songwriting workshop on Main Street, which I think will be so fun. We’re going to talk about our process of songwriting, and we’ll play a little bit. I’m happy to be getting that back-to-school feeling.
LH: Yeah, I think there will be a lot of good energy!
JB: Yeah! Have you been to The Mash recently?
LH: Yeah, I haven’t really stayed for the whole day of music, but I’ve definitely popped in and out to see friends perform. But, I just think the line-up is so exciting this year that people on campus seem excited about it!
JB: Oh, great! That’s awesome. I was at Wesleyan for the first Mash they ever did. I remember it feeling like a dreamland because they just set up all these different stages around campus with really good sound, but there wasn’t really a plan. I remember my friends and I galloping around campus to different stages and jamming on every one of them. All day, we were just like, ‘yay, music!’
LH: What could be better than that?
Linne Halpern '18 is an English and American Studies double major at Wesleyan University. She is co-founder and editor of Reverberations.
Jess Best will perform on the Main Stage (Foss) of The Mash Music Festival on Saturday, September, 9th, at 6:30 pm.