We’ve covered Jess and the Bandits a few times on Essentially Pop, but never had the chance to meet Jess in person – although we’ve seen her perform. Winner of Video of the Year at this year’s British Country Music Awards held on Sunday night, we’re honoured to have had the opportunity to speak to Jessica Clemmons, aka Jess from Jess and the Bandits, on a very rare night off. It was a fun interview, with a lot of topics covered, serious, silly and even a bit surreal in parts. Thank you Jess!
EP: So are you living over here now then?
JC: Practically. You know, I go home when it’s a bit quiet, I go back to Houston when it’s quiet, and when something happens, ten and a half hours and I’m here!
EP: 10 and a half hours! I’ve not been back to Australia in 11 years…
JC: But that’s a long flight!
EP: But you’re like, “just ten and a half hours…”
JC: Ten and a half hours is NOTHING at all. Well, it’s nothing when I’ve got enough miles to upgrade. When I’ve gone through my miles…and I’m on there like a sardine, and it’s “this is the longest flight of my life!!” and then I land and I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus!
EP: I don’t think I could cope – it’s the whole recovery thing…anyway! How’s the Evans thing going?
JC: Yeah it’s going really well actually! I had some girlfriends in town, flew in last week, they’ve just flown home – and the day after the gig in Nottingham, Evans came over to the house and we did this makeover day, making over the Texas girls, giving them a London look –
EP: And a London look is?
JC: It’s much edgier than Texas!
EP: I’ve been stalking – all the guys in the band are doing stuff with Burtons? Because Evans and Burtons are related aren’t they, they’re the girl and boy version…
JC: Yeah they’re part of the Arcadia Group, they were kind enough to give the guys some clothes for the tour.
EP: They look like they’re enjoying themselves with their modelling! So you’re at The Borderline on Wednesday! That’s going to be a great show! The Borderline is a brilliant venue!
JC: I can’t wait! I’ve never been!
EP: Your video for ‘Nitty Gritty’ is doing alright – you had all your girls from your competition, how was that day, putting it all together?
JC: That was a crazy day! We had fun though! It was the biggest crew of people – we had the 10 girls, then the people from Evans were there, and then we had a director, then we had a creative director, and thank goodness for him – because he was keeping everybody organised, it was such a great day, and the girls had so much fun doing it! It was a blast. And the boys – they enjoyed it – watching all these girls strut their stuff. “The Boys” – The Bandits.
EP: Well, they’re your support really! You’ve got a name whereas they’re just, “The Bandits”!
JC: Well it’s got a much better ring to it than, Jess and Ricky and Louis and Dave and Steve…
EP: So what’s next? You’re on tour – is London your last date?
JC: Glasgow! Tomorrow we’ve got Bristol, then London, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow – all in a row.
EP: How are you getting around? Are you in a bus?
JC: We’ve got what’s called a splitter – it’s a 9 seater, holds all of us and our equipment. So we’re hitting the road tomorrow for the rest of the week, then I’m here for a week after the tour, because we’re going to start writing. We’ve got a few sessions set up, with UK writers and The Bandits as well, I’m going to do some writing with them. Then I’m heading home for the holidays, for Thanksgiving, and I’m going to spend about a week in Nashville in December and start writing. We’re not really sure yet if we’re writing for another album, or for a deluxe edition of this album, we’re not in any rush. We want to make sure that anything we put out there is right. Especially with things going as well as they are, I know that people are going to expect a lot from us – so the last thing we want to do is put anything out that’s halfway, or just to put it out because we need something out there. I know next year’s shaping up to be another busy year – looks like I’ll be using my miles to upgrade some flights!
EP: Yay! So do you have the same sort of standing in the States as you have over here? Does everyone know you?
JC: Well they do in Houston…
EP: Which isn’t a small town!
JC: It’s the fourth largest city in the US, so I have a fairly decent name in town, but I spend about 90% of my time in the UK now. But we’re looking at, potentially, doing a tour of Texas in the spring, before things ramp up here in the UK for late spring, early summer festivals and all that. Because then it’s just non-stop. We’re going to try and use that time to get over to Texas, do a tour with a couple of other artists, show The Boys where *I* come from!
EP: Yes! Because they’re all from here aren’t they!
JC: Yeah! They’re all British!
EP: You toured with Boyzone a while back?
JC: Yes! That was in the beginning, when I was changing over my style – the boys weren’t *with* me, they weren’t known as The Bandits, it was just Jessica Clemmons. That was when I was switching over from pop music, to get back to what I knew. That was kind of the testing ground…quite a testing ground…”I’m going to go on an arena tour and sing songs for the first time…” Thank goodness it went well!
EP: Well it got you loads of fans! Because I remember the showcase you did back in January, and it was so tiny but it was totally packed!
JC: That was an insane night! I think we expected about 25-30 people – there was a hundred something people! I personally think it was the barbeque that attracted them…”I don’t know who’s playing, but there’s a Texas barbeque? I’m there!”
EP: Wow January…and now we’re in November!
JC: It’s really exciting, to see how much our fanbase has grown in the past year, and it’s exciting to see what’s going to happen next year as well! It makes you feel good, because you’re going, okay this is hard work, and you see that things are happening, due to the hard work.
EP: I heard it said only today, that as soon as you stop trying too hard, I mean, you’ve still got to be damn good, but as soon as you stop *trying* to get specific things, it just happens, it all falls into place.
JC: Yeah that’s what I think we’re trying to do. I know for myself, I’m over 10 years in doing things, I started working on all of this in the UK in 2004, so this has been a long long journey. But there’s so much truth to that, because I think, lately, I’ve just been going, “You know what, let’s just follow our gut, let’s just do what makes sense, let’s just have fun.” If there’s 20 people in the audience or 200, give them all an amazing show and then have fun. I think it’s that sense of enjoying yourself, rather than trying, to get a record deal or something like that.
EP: Stop being that thing you think people want, and be just who you are, and find your niche – and do that.
(Jeremy from Sonnet) People can see the truth when you do that too, people want to believe what they’re seeing.
EP: Are you doing C2C?
JC: We don’t know as yet! We’ll update you when we know…will you be there?
EP: We’ll definitely send someone! You know, I’ve never listened to any country, Americana, anything like that until I listened to you guys, and then we’ve had so much country music come in, it’s been really lovely! I had thought it was all…
JC: Country and Western…
EP! Yeah! And then I went to your show in January and it was awesome!
JC: That sort of set the tone for the whole year, even though we didn’t realise it at the time. There was that gig, at The Social, which was more of a showcase than anything, and the album was just about done…and then after that was C2C – which was huge. That was the biggest surprise ever! I don’t know what happened – something – during November and March – and I’m sure you guys had a lot to do with that, talking about it, and reviewing the album, and people seeing it and seeing the name….we played the Brooklyn Bowl (at the O2) for 2 days, and both days had a queue outside the door – we filled it to capacity, and we didn’t realise it at the time.
EP: Well you obviously feed off the energy of the audience, and they feed off you, and so people go away and talk about what a great time they had, and people like me who know nothing about it come along and are like OMG this is amazing, and go back and write about it. It’s that ripple effect, it does work.
JC: It’s great that The Bandits are such showmen, they have such a great time playing the music – there’s this chemistry, which is why we became a proper band – which is undeniable, which we didn’t know was going to happen, until we started playing together – and especially once we started playing this album. They just rock it on stage, and so between me belting out things, and Louis rocking it on his guitar, we’ve now added – although he’s not an official Bandit, because we don’t have any more room on the album cover – Matt plays steel guitar, he’s part of the band. And I told Ricky the other night, “well now we need a fiddle player” and he’s like “you’re getting out of control, calm down Jessica”. I don’t know where we’re going to fit everyone on – some of these stages are so small! There are some times we get the instruments up and I’m like, right where am I going to stand?! And I move on stage! The other night I kept hitting Louis’ guitar, and I hit Ricky’s cymbal, and it was like “tssssss” and…well that was fun!
EP: You’ll come back next year with a band the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir…and you’ll still be the loudest one!
JC: Yes! They’ll be like – Jessica you’re out of control! Who needs seven guitar players!
EP: Seven guitar players, a didgeridoo, a mandolin…
JC: Someone to play the spoons…the washboard…I’ll play the triangle…
EP: Banjo…penny whistle…everyone needs a penny whistle!
JC: Right…so that’s going to be interesting…next year…
EP: I can see it now…800 people on stage behind you…
JC: I don’t know about that! I move too much I’ll knock them all over!
EP: And Evans and Burton will be saying, “How are we going to clothe all these people…”
JC: Someone else will have to wear Evans!
EP: Let’s make this happen!
JC: Let’s bring this back…
EP: So do you get to keep all the Evans clothes? Do you have to wear them on stage? Is that part of the deal?
JC: They’re not that strict, but I am wearing mostly Evans today! I do encorporate a lot of it, except when I’ve got specific stage wear.
EP: So are you having a hand in the design of this?
JC: Right now it’s just things they’ve got, and pieces I’ve liked.
EP: So how did that come about?
JC: We’ve been looking for a while for a branding partner, and I’m interested in a lot of fashion, and I love clothes – and I’ve always worn Evans since I came over here, and we reached out to them, sat down, had a meeting, and we told them what we were doing and they liked what we were doing – the timing was right with the single, ‘Nitty Gritty’. We’ve got a nice little partnership going. We’re growing as a band, and they’re growing as a brand – they’re expanding their brand a bit more. Because, I know a lot of plus-sized brands tend to get shoved to the side, as being maybe dowdy, and not very good clothes and not very flattering clothes…
EP: Which is wrong, isn’t it!
JC: Yes! And they’ve got a lot of great pieces, and this is also fantastic for them, because they’re being able to change their image a little bit.
(Jeremy from Sonnet) Jess is only the third musical face they’ve hooked up with. She follows after Beth Ditto and Chaka Khan…so you know, that’s pretty amazing!
EP: That’s not too bad – not too shabby!
JC: I just need a line now! Slowly but surely!
EP: Because that’s how it’s going isn’t it, so many brands are linking up with musical artists, because, first of all, they sell stuff with music, and if they can have a face that’s also linked to that music…they borrow from your credibility, and vice versa.
JC: We each gain a lot! And because a lot of my fans are plus-sized, they’ll say to me, “Where did you get that!” and I say Evans and they’re like, “Really! Where!” and I’ll send them a link online and they’ll say, I didn’t even realise they had stuff like that, and again, it’s that stigma around it that’s really great.
EP: It’s really good, it raises your profile in this country, it raises theirs, and all your fans, and all the Evans customers, they’re seeing you as a feisty voice of Evans, and they’re being empowered!
JC: That’s what I’ve wanted for a few years now, to find the right partnership. I think it’s the beginning of something really great, and we’ll see where it goes from here. It’s nice to have some amazing clothes to wear, and my girlfriends who came over, they had so much fun, and Evans let them keep an outfit each, and they’re going to be on the website – it’s going to be like a short “webisode”, making them over, which was so much fun for me, because they brought the hair and makeup artists in, and I got to do what I’ve always wanted to do with my friends, and that was have free rein over them – that was fantastic and they loved it!
EP: So what other products do you think you’d like to be the face of? You got any car brands that you’d like? Lambourghini maybe?
EP: I could see you in a Ferrari…
JC: Landrover would be nice!
EP: Landrover would be very cool!
JC: I think I’d be an amazing face for Landrover! Let’s see…Louis Vuitton…
EP: You know – I saw you, and I thought: LOUIS VUITTON!
JC: They just don’t know it yet!
EP: They only have to meet you!
JC: If I was carrying their stuff, it would just fly off the walls!
EP: Shoes maybe?
JC: I’d love to design a brand of cowboy boots! These are Ariats, they’re proper cowboy boots. They’re handmade, I’d love to have a line of cowboy boots, that’d be very cool. Especially in this country! Jeremy! Get on it!
EP: So Jess are you familiar with Eurovision Jess?
JC: Oh yes! I mean, I don’t follow it, but I went to a Eurovision party this year at G-A-Y, and we had a very interesting time…my friend Kevin, who I was with, he’s Canadian, he said, “Brace yourself – it’s like the Superbowl for the gay community!”
EP: You would do soooo well in Eurovision! You need to go up for it for the UK in 2017! You would go down so well! SERIOUSLY you would do soooo well!
So you’re going to Bristol tomorrow! And then London the day after? So it’s London Bristol London? Who planned this?!
JC: I was thinking that the other day, because our last date is Glasgow, and like, that’s going to be a fun drive home – why didn’t they make London our final date, and then we’d be HOME. But ah well, it should be fun, we’re going to be in Glasgow on Halloween.
EP: Are you going to be dressing up?
JC: I don’t know if I can find a costume in time…
JC: I’d sweat it off! I’ve ordered a fan, and it arrived today, and it’ll be ready for London. I get so into it, so worked up, all the adrenalin, and by the time of the second song…(so sweaty) I may take it for the rest of the tour and plug it in!
EP: Because the Borderline…it’s in a cellar…like a lot of these venues are…and it gets pretty hot very quickly…
JC: I want a kinda Beyonce look – I want my hair to be blowing in the wind…
EP: You and your choir…and your fan…OMG I can see this all now…
JC: I’m coming over as being very high maintenance! “I need my fan, and I need my choir…I need someone to play the fiddle and spoons and the washboard…and someone get me a tiara because I need one!” Noo that’s terrible!
You can catch Jess and the Bandits tomorrow night at London’s Borderline Venue, Thursday night at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, Friday night in Manchester at Gullivers, and rounding off the tour, Saturday night at King Tut’s Glasgow.
For more details, check out their website.