Jess Kent Is Ready To Redefine Pop, And You Should Be Paying Attention
She's an artist on the cusp of something truly massive.
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You get the feeling, both from listening to her music and talking to her in person, that Jess Kent is an artist on the cusp of something truly massive.
The Next Big Thing label is bandied about without much discretion these days, but in Kent’s case, she actually has the chops to back it up.
Since she first popped up on Paces’ runaway hit ‘1993 (No Chill)’ back in 2016, and followed it up with her own shit-hot ‘Get Down’, Kent has been at the forefront of Australia’s bright new wave of pop artists.
And with new singles ‘Bass Bumps’ and ‘No Love Songs’ bouncing around the airwaves and the release of her debut album on the horizon, Kent’s rise is set to continue.
For her first full-length album, Kent jumped into the studio with super-producer and songwriter Justin Tranter – who you might know from releases like Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’, DNCE’s ‘Cake By The Ocean’, Selena Gomez’s ‘Bad Liar’, and Kesha’s ‘Rainbow’. You know, just small songs.
With that kind of firepower in her corner, Kent’s debut album is set to be one of the biggest pop releases of the year. Just before she took the stage at Sydney’s Move In The City, we caught up with Kent to find out what it’s like to be pop’s Next Big Thing.
You moved to LA a couple of years ago. What was the decision behind the move and how have you found being over there?
It was more of, like, a transition as opposed to, “I’m moving to LA”. We were touring so much, so we did the Coldplay run here and we did a tour in America and then we left again and did Coldplay in Asia and then we did another tour in America, so I was already spending a lot of time there.
It just turned into a year and then we were like, “Alright, we should probably make a record”.
It felt natural being over there, I had a couple moments where I was like, “Oh my God, I just moved to another country by myself”, but that was kind of like when I was already a few months in. I had three-month shock.
LA opens up so many opportunities for collaboration. Are you a natural collaborator?
I’m definitely open to collaborating. I love collaborating and being with other artists and getting inspired.
You only get one shot at a debut album, so I’ve definitely been focusing hard on making sure that I get my sound exactly right. I feel like, when I collaborate with other people, I will bring them in because I love their sounds and I hope that they would love my sounds, too. You know what I mean? And I think we’ve found it.
You’re working with Justin Tranter, who is one of the most successful songwriters who’s ever lived. How did that connection come about? And what were those first few sessions like?
When I first touched down, I was just jumping in sessions every day, just meeting with some people and finding a crew that I wanted to work with, and then I got dropped into a session one day with him and we just clicked straight away.
In LA, there’s so many avenues you can go down and I can be quite, well, I know what I want in the studio, and he was kind of like, “Fuck it, let’s go for it”. That’s his attitude. And so he called my label the day after and asked, “Can I executive produce the whole record, does she have someone yet?” And I didn’t, so I was like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll check my schedule”. [Laughs] I guess I hit the notes well.
What were the first writing sessions like? How do you guys work together?
I went in super nerdy, with my guitar and my laptop and my notebook – just everything I could possibly need. Literally, [it] was like the first day of school.
I had a couple of ideas on guitar, like an idea of some lyrics in my notes and some chords, so I always like to come in with a vibe and just see what happens in the studio. That makes it easier. Then Justin just sprinkles his magical music dust all over it. I don’t know what he does, but it’s magic.
‘Bass Bumps’ is one of my favourite songs of the year. Can you talk me through how that track came together?
The truthful answer? I’m just gonna tell you. We had a whole week booked out with the same crew, the week right before Christmas, so we were up to over 100 songs by that point. And, honestly, we were like, “Let’s just have a fun night”. We might have been a couple of martinis deep. We were like, “Let’s just write the song that we would want to hear right now”.
And so we were listening to Mura Masa and I was showing them some electronic stuff from Sydney, and I was telling them about going out to the raves here and warehouse parties – just how it feels loose and fun.
We were just dancing in the booth and you can actually hear all the ad-libs we were doing at the time. It’s so dumb, they’re crazy. We didn’t think we’d keep any of it. Half of it was freestyled – you can hear my friend going “BASEMENT BUMPS” and doing all this stuff. We were laughing the whole time and it just somehow mixed itself together into a song.
That’s the truthful answer [laughs].
How far through the rest of the album are you?
Well, we’re just kind of wrapping up mixing but the writing’s done and most of it is almost ready to go, so I’m excited.
Was there a particular theme that you were exploring, or did one emerge at the end, once you had a finished product?
Going from writing the EP in Australia, having never toured, to having travelled the way that I have now – I was very conscious of making sure that I was preserving the parts of my song-writing and my lyrics and the way that I put lyrics together. Those things that nobody else could do except for me.
I wanted to make sure I was bringing my stories to the table, but I also wanted to make sure that I was getting better and going deeper with– getting more honest. So there’s more guitars and more vulnerable writing. I was just being as honest as I possibly can be.
Is that a bit scary to put those things out to the public?
Yeah, it’s terrifying. Justin says this a lot, he says, to speak the truth. So having him there…encouraged me a lot. I was thinking a lot about how I want to position myself as a girl and as a female songwriter, there’s a lot of things that [come] into play, especially when you’re making a pop album.
He kind of helped me to be like, “Fuck all that, just say what you feel”. So that’s what I did.
Do you have a favourite track on the album?
There’s a song on there that’s called ‘Girl.’ It’s a song that I wished had been there when I was growing up, as a girl, and it’s a song that I’m really, really glad that I found a way to put into words how I was feeling.
‘Cause I had been trying for a long time and it’s the kind of thing you never know if you’re going to be able to do it, and I really, really feel like I did.
(All images: Dara Munnis)
Jess Kent’s ‘No Love Songs’ and ‘Bass Bumps’ are out now. Listen here.
Jules LeFevre is Junkee’s Music Writer. Follow her on Twitter.