Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, Jessica Mitchell knows that, she told us that. But in those moments when it seems darkest, inspiration is abundant, and art is made.
One year ago Mitchell’s life presented two bright moments that changed the course of her career, and thrust her into a spotlight that she didn’t expect to find. But do not let yourself believe that she is some sort of overnight success, or that Workin’ On Whiskey was anything less than the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and talent.
But before we relive those two moments, we have to go back to other moments that helped shape Jessica Mitchell’s life, music, and direction.
In all of our lives, no matter what our careers or talents may be, there are moments that change us, open us up, and influence the rest of our lives. Some are obvious, some more subtle. Sometimes you know right away that a moment is going to change your life, and sometimes you look back years later and see the impact that it’s had. For Jessica Mitchell, three moments have helped direct her to where she is today. Two she looks back at fondly, and one would break even the strongest of hearts.
When Jessica was 14 years old, living her teenage years in London, Ontario, she was in a neighbour’s basement with friends. The room was dark, black lights were on, states were altered, the stereo was turned up to maximum volume, and Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt blasted through the speakers. The song, the experience, and the moment opened her up to a whole new musical world. She jokes now that people would be surprised if they could see her playlists and what she listens to. The woman that country music fans have embraced, nominated for Ontario and Canadian Country Music Association awards, listening to music so vastly different than the songs she performs with a guitar or piano. And while the music may not be country, it inspires her, influences her, and helps her create her own songs and sound.
Years later, in Manchester, Tennessee, Mitchell stood in awe as Radiohead, her longtime favourite band, put on what is looked at now as a legendary performance. “It felt like I couldn’t breathe for two hours” she says, describing what it was like to see the band on stage. As a fan, those experiences are universal, but individually, we all take away something different from them. Jessica Mitchell, 11 years ago this June, walked away from that show with an awareness of greatness.
Those two moments would be easy for anyone to look back on and smile. The memories of music washing over us and taking us back to a pure and happy time. The third milestone moment, well it puts us back in the dark.
To accurately describe the pain and loneliness that anyone experiences when they lose a parent is impossible. Any of us that have been unlucky enough to go through it know that it’s a confusing mess of feelings and memories and whatever else may come along with it.
Jessica Mitchell’s experience when she lost her mother to a decade long battle with cancer is her own story to tell, not ours, but what she tells us now is that the experience gave her a feeling of freedom to fully and completely pursue her dreams of a career in music. And while she doesn’t speak of her mother often in her public life, we have seen her invoke her memory when partnering with The Lady Ball in Toronto.
That career, the work that she does, and the life that she lives, wasn’t a choice Mitchell told us. “I didn’t choose this. This got chosen for me.” And while we 100% believe her when she says this, and 100% believe that she believes it, her story isn’t that simple. Some artists stories are those of a non-stop, never ending pursuit of music, but Jessica Mitchell’s isn’t. She tried to quit music, she tried to walk away and leave it all behind to live a normal life. But it didn’t work, that wasn’t her path, and now she’s here, doing what she truly believes she was meant to do.
One year ago Jessica Mitchell stood on stage at the Country Music Association of Ontario awards show in Markham, Ontario and performed Workin’ On Whiskey. She stood on that stage alone, guitar in hand, microphone in front of her, and sang the song with all of the emotion and depth that lives in its lyrics. It was a performance so powerful and, quite honestly, unexpected, that it received a standing ovation from the artists, industry professionals, and fans in the audience. At the time the song hadn’t been recorded, released to radio, or streamed online. That changed quickly.
Soon after the CMAO awards show, Mitchell recorded Workin’ On Whiskey with her label, Open Road Recordings, and released the song to radio. And then June 23, 2016 happened.
In a video that’s been watched over 70,000 times on her Facebook page, was featured by Global News and multiple online outlets, Jessica Mitchell cried tears of happiness, disbelief, gratitude and more as she sat in her car and listened to the radio. On her way to Stratford to open for Kiefer Sutherland, Mitchell was shouted out by Country 104’s Matt Weaver as he introed her new single. Nearly a year removed from the video and the response, we asked Mitchell to look back at the moment and tell us what it felt like and meant to her.
More than anything, Jessica saw that moment as validation for all of the work and time and tears that she had put into that song and her career and life in music leading up to that day. She also took away encouragement, a push to keep moving forward with her music, to create more, and to keep doing the thing that the universe decided she should do.
“Jessica is one of those talents that’s undeniable the first moment you lay ears on her. A genuine blue eyed soul singer well beyond her time. It’s like she’s lived many lifetimes and all that experience pours out of her in her songwriting and singing. She’s a rare gem. Whenever I’m around her I feel the need to pull my socks up as a singer and a writer.” – Amanda Wilkinson, country singer/songwriter, and friend of Jessica Mitchell
The months that followed the release of that landmark single have been busy for the Ontario songstress. Tours with Kiefer Sutherland, Royal Wood, and Ron Sexsmith have put her on a number of stages across the country, playing for new faces as she travelled. The summer of 2016 also saw her stop at Boots & Hearts, Cavendish Beach Music Festival, Niagara Wine Festival, Manitoulin Country Fest, the Canadian National Exhibition and more stages that introduced her to more country music fans, and showed them all the face and smile and charm that brought them the solemn song they all knew.
We asked Jessica about her 2017 tour with Ron Sexsmith, and she glowed. The combination of being able to share the stage with the accomplished artist night after night (the show ran 11 dates in 13 days), and driving solo through the Rocky Mountains and beautiful scenery that Western Canada provides was something that she sees as priceless. From a purely personal and perspective driven point of view, Jessica Mitchell highly recommended that we, and everyone else, make that drive, alone, at least once in our lives.
She explained the feeling of independence that she felt, even after experiencing enough of life in her adult years to feel independent, as incredible. And she pointed out, in a very wise and Zen master kind of way, that it becomes very easy to see how small you really are when you’re standing next to a 3,000 foot tall mountain.
And while the last year has been the sort of whirlwind experience that can make things as hectic as you can imagine, Jessica tells us that she has found her calm. In the last six months specifically she feels as though she has found her centre, and is better equipped and able to handle everything new that comes her way.
As spring 2017 approached, and nearly a year had passed since Whiskey was released to the world, it was time for Jessica Mitchell to release new music to the masses. And while a full album wasn’t yet ready, there were songs to play. So on May 12, 2017, two new songs, Don’t Love Me, and Tear It Down, were released to the internet of things, and links were shared and play buttons were pressed.
We asked if there were any feelings of pressure as she endeavoured to follow the success and experience of Workin’ On Whiskey, and honestly, were shocked when she said no. However, she did tell us that there were other factors. Chief among them, fear. Fear that the songs wouldn’t have the same reception, or the same emotional connection to listeners and fans. She says that she has that same feeling with every release, and that these two songs weren’t an exception, but followed the rule.
To sit and listen to these songs is to take a journey, fall into memories, insecurities, love, loss, heartbreak, and loneliness. But they also serve as a reminder that nobody who feels those things is alone. There are many right there with you. And Mitchell has provided the proof.
Don’t Love Me and Tear It Down also offer hope. Hope that a full album is on the way before the end of 2017 (we are lead to believe it will be). Hope that we’ll continue to hear Jessica’s heart and soul through her music. And hope that people will listen and her music can affect them the way it affects us.
That hope that we’ll continue to hear her heart and soul is as close to a sure thing as you can get. Mitchell knows, and told us that her life will continue to influence her songwriting. And that allowing herself time to live that life is essential to the creative process. To make that happen, balance is key. Balance between work and relaxing. Between home and the road. And between being alone and with a crowd.
She also pointed out that she writes songs for people. She wants her songs to connect and be able to mean something to the people that open themselves to their messages. She does not want to simply write about personal experiences for the sake of getting them out of her system, although she does admit that having this outlet is an important part of her emotion balance and being able to keep moving forward in life with a smile and positivity as often as possible.
Jessica places a premium on her alone time. And gave us half a laugh when she told us how much she loves to just curl up on her couch and watch Netflix while cuddling her cat.
But when she’s not at home, binging House Of Cards, or watching movies, you’ll find Mitchell all over the country, smiling on stage, and showing the love she has for what she does. And one of her favourite things is connecting with her fans. She loves receiving messages through her Facebook page that tell her stories about life and loss and love, and how her songs fit or feel to strangers who have opened themselves up to her.
She also loves meeting fans, and can often be seen giving out hugs and smiles and being caught off guard by compliments and the sincere love for her that pours out of people. We’ve seen it, we’ve experienced it. Jessica Mitchell can be a hard person to give a compliment to.
We asked if there were any special stories she could share from the road and meeting fans, and two memories came to mind pretty quickly.
1) While on tour with Terri Clark, a woman named Dee came to three meet and greet sessions, bringing with her a bottle of booze as a gift each time. Jessica laughed about it, but was clearly fond of the memory and connection she felt to Dee.
2) She was once given the gift of hand drawn pictures that a young fan had put the time into creating specifically for the purpose of getting them to her. It melted her heart, and we’re willing to bet that it’s a memory that she will carry with her for a long time.
And we can fully imagine that there are more memories and stories like this to come in the future. More heartfelt stories shared through messages and meetings, more drawings from young fans finding their own artistic identities, and more booze, because why not?
Jessica Mitchell is just getting started, the work that she’s done has brought her to where we have all gotten to know her now, and the work that is happening now, and will continue to happen in the future will take her as far as she wants to go. We fully believe that.
You should too.