Jess passionately believes that the most powerful songs out there have a Major Lift - a positive change in the music and lyrics that inspires listeners to find strength and resilience in themselves. Over the past three years, she has helped over 40,000 students write their own Major Lift songs based on their own shame, struggles, and frustration. The loneliness and isolation afflicting countless millions around the world right now are all too real, so her group songwriting work has now moved from the classroom to free weekly online forums. Non-musicians and professional musicians alike come together to build community, create in a judgement-free environment, and gain the strength to be positive and resilient as a team!
Over the past decade, Jess has been creating message-based DIY music videos in her apartment! At first, she started DIY-ing out of necessity - she got to a point where she wanted to create music and videos, but she couldn’t afford to pay anyone. She took to YouTube University and learned about live-looping, production, filming, lighting, set dressing, and editing, thinking that she would just create on her own until she didn’t have to anymore. Now, she realizes that being a DIY artist is who she is! Every piece is a puzzle, and the confidence, joy, and sense of self she has gained from putting each one together is always worth it in the end. Check out the stories behind some of her favorite videos here. Maybe you’ll be inspired to make something of your own!
I wrote this for my friend, Kat! I met her early on in my music career, and she has never stopped believing in me, booking me, supporting me, and loving me for me. Because of Kat, I’ve been able to perform at dozens of LGBTQIA+ events. She taught me about being an ally. Around the same time, I was performing at three different Catholic Churches, and struggling to find middle ground between a church that I grew up in and loved, and what I know deep in my heart to be true: love is love is love. I wrote “Bleed” the summer before most of our country decided to be on the right part of history and legalize gay marriage. Making this video was BONKERS. I covered my piano, computer, launchpad, wiring, lights, camera, mic, entire bedroom in plastic - like a murder room - and did practice after practice take for days. I finally decided to do the actual color take at 3 in the morning. I don’t think I actually breathed once - I was so nervous that I would screw up and have to clean up and do the whole thing over!! I remember vividly the first time I hit my chest with paint - I felt the dust go into my lungs, and I went…oh crap. But I kept going! The very end of the video, you can see my eyes go up because I’m finally taking in the utter DESTRUCTION. I coughed up purple paint for TWO WEEKS. Worth it.
I’ll never stop being proud of this. I wrote this song after enduring 10 years of objectification, assault, and body dysmorphia in the music industry, playing character after character in a desperate attempt to be the person everybody wanted me to be. I never talked about what was going on inside. I suffered in silence until I learned about Brene Brown and her incredible research around shame and vulnerability. Her books and Ted talks changed my life. So THAT’S what I had? Shame?? I made a list, sat down at a piano, and just…talked. I had a really clear vision for the video, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I asked Kat (from Bleed!) to bring her camera, and my choreographer friend, Ashley Rockwood, to bring her brain and some young dancers from the Dancers Awareness Project. They showed up in my living room at 6pm one weeknight, ate some pizza, and learned/filmed the entire video in under 4 hours). They were incredible. We all got to talk about shame while we worked on the video together. It was so empowering to be surrounded by so many amazing women, working through a part of myself that had been hidden for so long. The minute I released this video, and said all of the things that scared me, everything got better. Every time I sing this song publicly, I feel better.
That's my boyfriend, Gabe! His brother, Felipe, was the inspiration for this song. I interviewed him for an installment called “Muses” - I write songs about other people based on a series of interviews. Peep talked a lot about how amazing it was that his wife, Andrea, never gave up on him. I connected to this very deeply, because it’s exactly how I feel about Gabe. Andrea ended up walking down the aisle to this song! I asked Gabe to write a bridge, learn a harmony, help me build a set, put on a GD suit, and film “Amazed” with me. This kind of sums up our relationship to a “T”. I have big, messy dreams and projects, and even though I know I can be a lot, Gabe supports me every single time.
This one took a little bit of trial and error! I initially wanted puppet strings, but they didn’t show up on camera, and I needed something a little more flexible. I got some bathing-suit type material from a fabric store and tied most of the swatches to a backdrop stand just outside of frame. I tied strings around the rest and attached them to various doorknobs, windows, and hooks in my bedroom. This might be one of the weirdest ones I’ve ever made…but it’s definitely one of my favorites. I still love looping these vocals - every time I get to that high “A” I hope to God I still have it! I wrote “Geppetto” for some of my favorite mentors: My high school tennis coach, Joan, my first producer, Tony, my college theatre teacher, Bill, and my voice teacher, Jan!
For some reason, everyone thinks this is about Jesus, but I actually wrote this for my dad. He and I have been going to see superhero movies ever since he rescued me from summer camp Junior year of high school. He drove 5 hours outside of chicago, snuck me out of Interlochen Arts Camp - (amazing camp for musicians…not so amazing for homesick me), and brought me to see Wolverine. Superhero movies kinda became our thing from that point on. I wanted to keep the song and the video simple, so I just sprung for some sticky wallpaper in my foyer and a uke. I got to bring my dad on stage and play this to him once. I’ll never forget it.
This video was SUCH a blast to make. I initially wrote it as a proposal song for a friend, but for me, this song is all about community. After years of making most of my videos on my own, I got to make this video with friends! I built all of the set pieces, costumed my friends, and did my best to wrangle/direct a bunch of people with more musical theatre know-how than me! Thankfully, I brought in some hilarious, creative people who were game to bring their own joy and flair to the project. We thought we could rehearse and film it in one night, but we got to the halfway point and knew it wasn’t gonna happen (changing set pieces in a living room proved to be…nearly impossible). We filmed the first half all the way up to the lights going out that day and agreed to come back for a second day, weeks later. My favorite part of all of this is knowing that there’s a two-week gap before “lights out” and “lights on”, but when the lights come on, it feels like no time has passed. Magic. We all laughed so much. I still crack up when I see Lindsay with the accordion. What a ham.
This one was for my Grandparents. Grandma and Pop Pop taught me to believe in kindness and perspective. As long as I can remember, I’ve watched them lead with generosity. They raised all of us to believe in equity and respect. I started to equate their wisdom with all things celestial and lasting - like the moon. So I painted my piano white (this was a terrifying and exciting project to take on), and stenciled and painted “we’re not so different” in I don’t know how many different languages. I miss that wall - I was so proud of it, especially knowing how much time went into it!
Nobody But You
I can’t even tell you what a pain I was during the making of this video. I spent a lot of trying to get this message right: We are the only ones responsible for our choices, our happiness, and our lives. I wrote and produced about…3 different versions of Nobody But You - but get this - I insisted on building the set FIRST. This is a thing I do. I think so visually when I create, that sometimes the idea and the set come to me before the song gets written. Which is all fine and good…unless the best place for your video is in the doorframe of your bedroom. There were plenty of knobs and hooks to hang the bird cages on, you see. I spray painted the bird cages in the unventilated basement of our apartment, hung them up in the entry way of my bedroom, and…because the song wasn’t right yet…LEFT them there. For 4 weeks. I was about 4 months into a new relationship, and even though those bird cages were about head-height for Gabe, he miraculously stayed! …as I’m typing this, Gabe looks and me and says “gosh, Jess, I had my chance to run”.
Fool Me Once
I wrote Fool Me Once about a dumb boy I was obsessed with who didn’t love me back 10 years before this video was made. But it was even more than that…I felt so utterly alone in my 20s. I walked home after a Saturday night show (The Life, maybe?), sat down at my keyboard, and ugly cried until this song wrote itself. Years later, I found out “Fool Me Once” was randomly going to be licensed on Dance Moms - they found it in a licensing database! For a lot of reasons, I feel like the song doesn’t belong to me anymore, but I don’t mind all that much. It feels nice to be able to share the hurt, because it reminds me that none of us are alone.