Magical jam sessions and impromptu serenades
Interview by Sunshine Gelbolingo, USJ-R Intern
Photos by Arni Aclao
SINGER-SONGWRITER Jessica McYorker may be someone new in the scene, but she has this knack of captivating her audience with the songs she plays and sings. One of her original compositions, “Save it for a Sunday,” is included in 22 Tango Records’ Folk City compilation album, which was launched last month. Get to know more about Jessica, her music, her passion and her “Khaleeshki” in this week’s Q&A.
When did you discover your singing prowess?
I always go back to that afternoon from ages ago when I was alone in my stuffy bedroom, humming along to Schubert’s Serenade, whenever I’m asked this question. I was confident that I could carry a tune when I was about to enter high school, so I took a few voice lessons. I’ve been struggling to find my voice since then, but starting last year, I believe I’ve had a much better grasp of its nature. So I try to use it accordingly so I can last a lifetime as an artist.
Most memorable gigs?
The impromptu performances in the last three to four months. I sang my go-to signature “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess in my usual bebop style to a hushed room of people in our beloved secondhand bookstore the night before it closed its doors. A cappella. I also sang it at Jazz’n Bluz, but the house band backed me up that time.
There were also two other nights when I made some older men cry, once at Eurohub and once in a hotel where my friend celebrated his birthday party. (And they’re still talking about it! Hehe.)
Very recently, I had so much fun jamming at Ola on my first visit there, and of course the first song I sang there was “Summertime.” I love to bebop this song because I have lots of room to play in it. So it’s absolutely different every time.
As a songwriter, what pushes your creativity?
It’s probably the way I see songs that drives me to become a better songwriter or at least to be creative about it. Songs can be very special things whether you like it or not. What especially tickles me is how tiny they can seem to be in the beginning, and yet they grow, and with time they can hold so much meaning and power. They take on a life of their own, and they evolve.
What are the stories behind your songs?
They’re centered on moments in my life, although I don’t like to be so direct when I write about them. At the core, they’re crystallized feelings, and all I have to do is to set the right stage where they can melt or be cracked open. For one song, I was Proserpina telling Hades, god of the Underworld, to set me free. For another song, I was Eurydice allowing Orpheus to lure me back to the Upperworld even if I’ve always known he only likes the idea of me being there with him. I’m a big Rurouni Kenshin fan, so in one song I was Tomoe’s spirit, telling Kenshin to let go of his dark past and to be happy in his new life. Of course I don’t use characters all the time.
What makes your music unique?
I believe it has a great thing to do with my taste in music and my songwriting process. I’ve got an eclectic taste in music. I try to show that in my piano playing, melodies and vocals, but I make sure it doesn’t sound too hokey. When it comes to my songs, I treat them like art works in an exhibition. The verses build the scenes, and the music colors and lights the scenes accordingly.
Which singers and songwriters do you look up to?
Some of my favorite songwriters are Jimmy Webb, Tori Amos, Regina Spektor, Vienna Teng, Samuel Beam, Damien Rice, Sting, and Tim Minchin. Some of my favorite singers are Vittorio Grigolo, Layne Staley and Yasmine Hamdan.
Tell us about your mini Daenerys Targaryen Funko pop Vinyl figure.
I call her “Khaleeshki” because she’s my very own tiny Khaleesi. Ever since I got her last September, I’ve been shooting her every single day for “Daily Khaleeshki”, which is my personal take on the 365 day challenge. I upload the photos on my Facebook and Tumblr accounts. It’s great practice, and it’s been fun! I started out with the Dany in her Dothraki clothes, but now the series features the Dany in her wedding dress. So far, I haven’t gotten any complaints about the switch. It’s all good!
Aside from singing, what else are you into?
I read a lot, mostly nonfiction though. The books I’ve read after college are mostly on general science, art, and language. I’m learning foreign languages, especially Mandarin, but I’m not fluent in any of them yet. I just started collecting kokeshi. I play piano, I dabble in photography, I write.
I’m obsessed with the haiku. It’s my favorite form of poetry. After reading so much about it, I began to understand why I prefer some songs over others and to understand better my own songwriting style as well. So even if I’m not Japanese, I feel that the haiku lives inside me. It’s deceptively simple and yet so much goes into it.