Jesse Jo Stark is a picture of the femme fatale, the edgy punk rocker, the Gothic beauty, the Californian bohemian; the twenty-something is many things, regardless of her style and physical presentation Stark is her own kind of rock’n’roll. Her music, a cocktail of glamour and dark romance, is unique especially in the times that we live in. Rooted in a vintage aesthetic, Stark’s musical noir takes in scenes of rock, blues, classic country, folk and other-worldly pop.
Her background is just as eclectic; her parents Laurie Lynn and Richard Stark co-founded fashion label Chrome Hearts (a Los Angeles staple gone global), her godmother is Cher, and she’s besties with Bella Hadid. Stark is a designer, an actor (if you count her cameo in Gia Coppola’s 2013 indie Palo Alto) and a touring musician (she’s opened for the likes of Jane’s Addiction, Guns N’ Roses and Sunflower Bean). But don’t dwell on her showbiz credentials, Stark is a serious artist; she has been writing songs since she was ten, in her teens she began performing original material and soon started sharing her performances on YouTube. Over the past couple of years Stark has focussed her energies primarily on music—her eternal love.
Stark’s music is beautifully earthy, with natural etherealism and a full band quality Stark’s songs are honest depictions of her passionate self-expression. Her sound ranges broad, from quiet balladry of raw introspection to gritty noirs of sultry spectacular (a nod to her diverse taste in music maybe: Loretta Lynn, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie and The Cramps).
A ballad of twanging slide guitar, hazy and forlorn, couples with soft acoustic strum and mesmeric strides of voice in 2017’s Driftwood. Telling a tale of young love but not taking the old trodden path, Stark twists cliché and narrates her own modern day tragedy about a consuming love. “Love is a beautiful hell,” she says of her inspiration for the track—bleak it may be, but resonant as hell. Stark’s wisdom is timeless and contemporary. Storytelling like Stark’s is important, it doesn’t rely on the re-telling of overused norms concerning courtship; it questions, it sets its own values, it takes ownership, it stands out.
The darker seductions of love is where Stark’s music finds its niche, exhibited in various guises her artistry wears a fury of swaggering presence and enigmatic allure, Fire of Love is undoubtedly a highlight. Purring with charm and sashaying with confidence, Fire of Love grinds a stomping rhythm of heady sensuality, “The song is an anthem about the fiery nature of passion and relationships […] It features a performance by myself which represents a strong female taunting the dangers of love (here taking the shape of The Skeleton Man) which she dances in the face of. My love is dead,” says Stark of the track and its video.
Stark’s filmic music is given further dimension through her artwork, taking cues from early movies and significant inspiration from the horror genre the artist’s visual identity is definitive. Take 2018’s Dandelion EP for example, the art direction suggests a sultry fluidity, a wistfulness, and an unsure air of something darker lurking beneath. Under the exterior lies a collection of stories baring vulnerability, dazzling musicianship and cohesive themes while the songs differ with individuality the EP expresses a vast range in tempo and mood.
Breakfast With Lou, Monster Man and Chelsea Hotel typify Stark’s ranging dynamics, while the EP’s eponymous Dandelion wins the award for most engaging and surprising track of the work. Dandelion is masterful—offering many cool progressions in the body of a slow burning star. Reviving classic rock tropes, Stark’s production is both subtle and grandiose with wall of sound technique and babydoll vocal harmonies. Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones features, providing a stunning opportunity for a beefed up live sound and a captivating crescendo of guitar tones. Her lyrics serenade like a lover’s goodbye, bewitched in velvety tenderness but overcome by misty despondency—Dandelion is the bruised country-folk epic you just can’t ignore.
Stark’s latest double-side release [‘Wish I Was Dead’ / ‘Rot Away’] offers her most ardent creativity yet. Wish I Was Dead is guitar-heavy and cut-throat, a steely glam rocker of fantastic rhythm and plentiful hooks—there’s not a dull moment in sight. On the flip side is Rot Away—a writhing and despicable sleaze of broken down guitar and pitched up chords, razored bass and eerie keys; this is Stark in her element. It’s a dank and gloomy taste of where the artist thrives—and a blinding reminder of the impeccable beauty achieved when a live band collectively synchronize their efforts.
Embracing music’s straight-to-market model, Stark enjoys the freedoms given to the artist in 2018 allowing her to share music more freely and more frequently. As an independent artist at the forefront of her music career, the global reach she’s given by streaming platforms and social networks has allowed Stark to explore territories beyond her native US and connect with new audiences. Stark is soon to join Sunflower Bean on a UK run of tour dates, taking her live show to places she’ll be experiencing for the first time it’s only onward and upwards for this artist.
Jesse Jo Stark tours the UK with Sunflower Bean this November / December, kicking off in Cardiff at the Globe on 19th Nov and culminating in Birmingham on 1st Dec at the Castle & Falcon. Further ticket information can be found here.
Jesse Jo Stark’s UK tour dates w/ Sunflower Bean:
19th Nov | The Globe, Cardiff
20th Nov | The Church, Leeds
21st Nov | The Old Market, Brighton
22nd Nov | Hackney Arts Centre, London
23rd Nov | Dryden Street Social, Leicester
25th Nov | The Bullingdon, Oxford
26th Nov | The Art School, Glasgow
27th Nov | Academy 2, Manchester
28th Nov | Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
29th Nov | SWX, Bristol
30th Nov | The Junction, Cambridge
1st Dec | Castle & Falcon, Birmingham
Photo Credit: Alana O’Herlihy