When it appears that everything is lost in the music world, someone arises from afar to jolt our conscience with their music and their good deeds. They even reinforce the person’s belief in God and in goodwill to humanity.
The Lone Star State of Texas is home to an artist who is a postive influence in every sphere of life. Jessica Shepherd is a truly great Texan and International Artist who is being nominated for the Texas Music Awards in the Best Female Vocalist Category.
I have had the honour of interviewing her and this was the result of an E Mail interview between Florida and Texas.
1. How did you start in the music business?
By following what my heart was, and is still telling me. From my participation in high school musicals, I made the connection that singing is my true passion. From that point forward, I have stayed on this path and all that it encompasses.
2. What were your influences and how were you able to form your own style from these influences?
As a very young girl I remember browsing my Grandmother’s record collection and finding an Ertha Kit album. (pretty mature musical taste for a 4 year old, huh?) I must have worn that record out, although at this moment I can’t recall a single song from it. I also watched (as most of my generation do) a lot of TV. It was my babysitter. I just loved the Dean Martin Show and the Carol Burnet Show. I have recently realized, that I too enjoy music with a sense of humor, and perhaps Burnet’s sensibilities and style have influenced mine the most.
When I received a voice scholarship in college, I began lessons with a classical voice instructor, Ephraim Cheng. He was wonderful, but I realized that the techniques I was learning for the classical style of music were not helping me in the real world. (I was already moonlighting in a cover band, playing in nightclubs and having difficulty keeping my voice healthy.)
Finding the right coach for me, Debbie Beinhorn, was and still is the most positive thing that has affected my life in music (other than moving to Austin). I studied with her for a year and learned her contemporary style singing techniques. I then parlayed this into a full time position as her Senior Voice Instructor teaching thousands of students myself over the course of 5 years.
The Singers Workshop was a bevy of talent, opportunity, and music business resources for me. Teaching voice lessons became my day job while I continued to pursue my music goals at night, playing in multiple cover bands and original music groups, where I also started my songwriting craft. Debbie taught me how to “make soup” as she called it. Find the singers that I liked the most, emulate them by learning what they do and then making my own style from that process.
It was during this time in Houston, TX that I met and befriended Shelley King (Texas State Musician 2008) and also discovered Carolyn Wonderland. Shelley has influenced me greatly as we have had a long-term friendship. We have supported each other through the years by performing together, writing, and recording music. Ms. King makes an appearance on You’re Country Now singing backing vocals on several tracks. Both Shelley and Carolyn are incredibly talented, independent, strong women. I have always admired them and looked to them both for direction on how to navigate the winding roads of the music business. Their talent speaks for itself.
3. Your first album is “Travellingirl” and it was a world success even in Australia. How long did it take you to record and produce “Travellingirl”?
Travellingirl was produced by Yoggie Musgrove and David Valley respectively. I began recording 6 songs with Yoggie in Jan. 2000. Yoggie brought to my music the amazing talents of the late and great, Stephen Bruton on lead guitar (Crazy Heart movie soundtrack, Bonnie Raitt – the list is endless), Nick Connolly on keyboards (Delbert McClinton), and Brannen Temple on drums (Janet Jackson, Beyonce), Yoggie played Bass and has an impressively long list of credits as well. By March, I had a 3 song demo and passed it around during the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, TX.
In September of that year, I took a trip to Australia with my sister and brought along as many of my demos as I could stuff in my suitcase. Every town we visited, I went to the radio stations and handed them personally my CD demo and simply asked them to listen and spin it if they liked it. By December of that year, I was having chart success on the independent radio charts in Australia (“Fool” written by Kate McCarthy, had made it to the Top 30).
It appeared that time was of great importance, so I sought out David Valley, to produce 4 additional songs while I completed the others with Yoggie. David brought the talents of Kevin Higgins on acoustic guitar (multiple Texas Music Award winner and nominee), Mark Tokach on lead guitar (now with Charlie Robison) and members of the Cosmic Dust Devils (Kevin’s band).
So, over a year and a half, with some marketing research and a “Loretta Lynn” approach to radio promotion in the middle.
4. How long did it take you to record and produce “You’re Country Now”?
2 years. I like working with different producers and audio engineers. It really helps me hone my skills in this aspect of the music world. I will probably continue this strategy for a while, but I hope to master more efficiency time wise. I recorded and co-produced 6 songs with Scott Harris at Stinson Studios, 3 with Jason Richard (Clockright Studios) and 1 with David Valley (Sonic Arts). In my experience to date, art always takes longer and costs more than I expect, to create. But,I always strive to do the very best that I can in that moment and then let it go. I find that my “babies” take on a life of their own… It’s fascinating to me to be a part of that process as well.
5. In the album “You’re Country Now”, you recorded a song titled “God By Your Side”. What is the significance of God in your life?
God is number One in my heart, I guess that is why I trust my heart the most.
What can we do as a nation to rediscover God?
Go within…whatever that looks like for you – prayer, meditation, yoga, running, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, etc. As there are interpretations of God, so there are many ways to get to the space of “center” and “oneness” simultaneously. A daily practice is most helpful in my ability to “hear” what I call God. And always, always, treat others as you would treat yourself – be kind!! This is just one way we can manifest the love of God here on earth – but a really important one if you want to make friends in the music business.
Speaking of friends, James Dunnam and I co-wrote “God By Your Side”. He and I perform this song in our 8 piece gospel band, The Rockin’ Gospel Project, 2009 Nominees by the Texas Music Awards for Best Vocal Group.
I ask this question since I was born and raised in Ohio with a fear that our nation is losing God.
All paths lead to God. It may not look like it to us, and certainly, the path of light is easier and better in my humble opinion. But, it is just too plain difficult for a finite mind to comprehend infinity – I sure do like trying to, though! All of this questioning only strengthens my faith. It is clear to me that as humans evolve so does God – or rather, our understanding of God. Personally, I welcome differing opinions – it’s all good. We need a new paradigm in religion; discussion is far more preferable than the historical alternative (war).
6. What was your reaction when you found out that you were nominated for the TMA?
JUST ONE?? Ha Ha!! I really DO work at curtailing my arrogance…. But it’s not instinctual… he heh… I think I jumped up and down a few times and hooped and hollered for a few minutes. But, of course!! I am completely honored to be one of the top five, Best Female Vocalists from over 43,000 nominations in the entire state of Texas this year!! Based on that statistic alone, I have already won. I am grateful to Jinelle and Lucky Boyd for co-founding the Texas Music Awards – they are a Texas treasure! We Texans owe them a significant amount of honor and respect for stepping up to the plate and making the Texas Music Awards happen!
7. What is meant by “Western Knight”?
This song is co-written with Cindy Maples, she wrote the lyrics and gave them to me to write the music and arrange the song. It was originally intended as a song for her daughter, Kristen Hart (another fabulous singer and budding songwriter). I liked Cindy’s idea of taking the Cinderella story to a “Western” sensibility – I am a Texas woman born and raised, after all. I figured we could use a different slant on what a knight in shining armor might be today. I love Laurie Gibson’s fiddle playing on this track. She and her sister, Sally Gibson (the Gibson Sisters) also sing backing vocals on this song. Being from Bandera, they know how to put down some sweet,“deep in the heart of Texas” styled harmonies. The cowboys in Texas sure do like two-stepping to the song – I think they can relate to the lyrics. I like performing the whistling parts – suits the song perfectly if I do say so myself. He heh…
8. What are your future plans pertaining to music?
Write, write, write, record, record, and record some more… Oh yeah, I suppose I ought to get out and show off my brand new, smokin’ hot band too! The Jessica Shepherd Band members currently include, Kyle Judd on Lead Guitar and vocals, David Valley on Bass and vocals, Joni Lovvorn on Drums and vocals. I play acoustic guitar, mandolin and harmonica on occasion for some different musical textures. This is our core group and I must say, we’re pretty darn good. We have additional fabulous talent join us depending on what city we’re playing in – Laurie Gibson on fiddle and vocals when we play in the hill country (Laurie played all the fiddle parts on You’re Country Now) and when we’re in Austin, Trisha Keefer on fiddle and Danny B. Harvey joins us on Lead Guitar too.
We have begun recording our live shows and I hope to have a live CD to release at the end of this year. I am planning a radio tour in the state of Texas and live performances. I would like to tour Europe and visit Australia again to re-connect with my friends and fans.
9. What is your recommendation for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Today’s musical “game” is so completely different from just 10 years ago. Digital distribution has forever changed the face of the music business. Right now, it feels like it’s not such a good thing, as record stores are closing left and right and record companies are failing. No longer is a “record deal” the Holy Grail. The power has been returned to the artist. It’s a double-edged sword and works to your advantage and disadvantage, if you are not a self motivated person. Of course, nothing replaces talent. If you’ve got it, then read on…
If you don’t come from a musical family (like me) build your musical team ASAP (Actually, it’s great advice for anyone, but you may already know this if your family is musical). Network, get out, play every opportunity you get, and get educated! Cultivate and nurture your business relationships – and if you don’t get any opportunities offered to you, then make it happen! The ONE thing I DO know about this business is that if you don’t have the burning desire within you to do what is required, you will fall to the wayside. It’s a marathon, honey – they just don’t tell you how long you gotta run…
The other thing that is REALLY important is to get yourself to a musical city. Move if you’re not in one. Just do it. When I moved from Houston to Austin, my musical life and career changed for the better. It is a whole other playing field when you get around professional musicians and start making those connections. It may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me until after I had moved. Also, keep in mind the genre of music you play and look for the city that has an abundance of your style of music and a “scene” that is getting press and attention in national magazines, etc.
10. Do you have any words of encouragement or a message for your fans.
Please remember, success is relative and also subjective…. Much like art. How you evaluate success is up to you. For me, getting to do what I love and love what I do is success – everything else is gravy.
To my fans – THANK YOU for your support!! You make it possible for me to do what I do – I am forever grateful. I look forward to seeing more of you in the near future and hope that I will continue to be worthy of your kind attentions.
Adios, Via con Dios and much Love to you all!
P.O. Box 9332
Austin, TX 78766
(512) 275-6573 Booking & Mgt.
Jessica, I would like to thank you for your time and patience with the interview. It was a pleasure to have this interview and you deserve the best. I hope one day to see your concerts in Florida with my family.