photos / Rachel Brennecke
styling / Jesper Gudbergsen
MAKEUP / Sophie Ono
hair / Yasutaké @ The Brooks Agency NYC
story / Angie Piccirillo + Talullah Ruff
Jessie Reyez equates her musical style to that of Quentin Tarantino. Reyez says that she loves his use of juxtapositions– the way he’ll have a scene with blood and guts flying while classical music plays. In her own work, Reyez most obviously blends folk, rap, R&B, and pop. Her voice is instantly recognizable as intimate, with it’s serrated, raspy edge.
Reyez’s songs connect deceptively playful melodies with astute lyricism. “Shutter Island” off 2017 album Kiddo, fluctuates between wistful naivety and wild, imploring chorus as she screams, “My straight jacket’s custom-made.” Backed by childlike “Ah’s” and staccato strings, the music itself brings to mind a bouncy Disney number. Similar contemplative vocals grace the dreamy opening track of 2018 album Being Human in Public, where she sings, “I think about dying every day / I’ve been told that that’s a little strange,” and “I talk to god every single day / Devils need Jesus more than someone with a halo.” This combination plays with Reyez’s intense emotional wisdom, and her self-awareness at how young she is to be capable of such.
Half of her charm as an artist is that she makes no self-aggrandizing claims– her humble intelligence is present throughout interviews, performances, and recordings. It seems she learned this humility, as well as her work ethic, from her Columbian parents, immigrants who Reyez says sacrificed for her to have the life they wanted in Toronto– which she brought to her years busking and bartending and slipping her demos to DJ’s.
Whether it’s an intimate acoustic performance or a VEVO concert with a packed audience, she is a one-woman force. Reyez is one of few artists that takes control of a stage, no matter the breed. Which makes the gut-wrenching visuals in her videos all the more poignant, as well. It’s easy to believe her torment in Eminem collaboration, “Good Guy,” a tense, action-packed visual metaphor for toxic romantic relationships. For the more lighthearted “Body Count,” Reyez artfully fluctuates between all-knowing storyteller and righteous prisoner witch-hunted by stoic Pilgrims– a metaphorical depiction of the contempt and degradation women face for showcasing their sexuality. Yet, it’s “Gatekeeper”– a 12-minute autobiographical short film about her experience with one producer’s abuse of power and her own inner clarity, that brings Reyez to stark universality.
Below, the rising artist discusses her inner growth, newfound success, and the meaning behind her music.
It’s been said you have been “catapulted” into stardom over the last year – would you have believed where you are today if you knew this was going to happen, say five years ago?
I’m not sure. I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid, so I’ve dreamed of this, but – it’s still unbelievable a lot of the time so I’m not sure.
Some of your videos have over 1M views today – how does that feel?
Wild. Unreal…I’d even say unbelievable lol
You’ve appeared on Jimmy Fallon and the BET awards (along with many other big TV shows and Awards Events) What has been your most nerve-wracking moment thus far? What do you tell yourself in those moments?
The VMAS for sure. I was terrified. I was terrified on the night before. I tell myself to practice and I practice my way into oblivion until I feel a little relief or as much as I can find. I also remind myself to breathe and get out of my head.
You’ve combined your ability to make films with your music (including some damn good acting) – do you see yourself continuing to merge the two for future projects?
Maybe, who knows. I dabbled in acting a bit when I was younger, but I don’t know. I’d have to completely love a project to dedicate myself to it and it’s difficult for me to find something I love more than music.
The Gatekeeper short film has some extremely heartbreaking and intense scenes in it – how did you feel when you first decided to release the 12-minute short? Were you nervous about letting the public in on an industry secret that happens every day?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive. Of course, I was nervous but more so nervous about my family and THEM being worried about me. I had to sit them down before I released it and warn them…tell them I was ok, tell them firsthand what happened and why I didn’t tell them when it happened. I didn’t anticipate how the song was going to be received so that made me nervous too. The response was humbling. It was crazy that so many women could relate but it was also sad. We are this “progressive society” that still has this cancerous problem that often gets dismissed.
Knowing that this year has been a huge movement for #MeToo – do you think that the story of the Gatekeeper is even more important/relevant than it was at the time of its release?
I hope so. That’s a strange question. I guess I’ll reiterate what I said above, yes I think it’s more relevant but in truth I wish it wasn’t – I wish that in 2018 women could feel safe at work and I feel deeply for the women that message me every day talking about a similar experience they went through that they never got justice for. I hope people do more than just talk about change.
Your new EP, “Being Human in Public” was just released in September – how would you say you’ve grown between “Kiddo” and the present collection of songs?
I hope I’ve grown as a songwriter. I hope I grow as a human being in general and part of that growth is just getting more and more acquainted with my truth.
Bouncing back to The Gatekeeper story, and having someone basically make you think you had to choose to give yourself up in order to “make it” – with this new EP and all this growth in your career, do you think you have reclaimed some of your power from what you went through that night?
Yes, I think I have. I owe that feeling of strength to the women that have come forward before me and after me and to the people who helped me stay strong during that time.
Of the songs on the new EP, which one of them means the most to you and why?
I think saint nobody means the most to me because it’s an ode to my parents. It’s an ode to the hustle. It’s an ode to the underdog. It’s an ode to younger me. It’s me being very frank about how often I think of mortality and how that changes my perspective on life often. How it makes me work harder and love harder because I’m constantly REMINDING MYSELF that it could all end tomorrow.
What are you most looking forward to doing next? More films? More music? More touring?
This year has been wild. It’s been a lot. Blessing and lessons. I’m prepared to hit the ground running again in 2019, more touring more shows more grind, however, my tour is almost done, so right now, I’m looking forward to my last two hometown shows and then disappearing into nature and sunshine 🙂
top , Wanda Nylon. skirt, Land of Distraction.
bra, Juan Carlos Obando. jacket, Laurence & Chico.
sweater, Land Of Distraction. earrings, Stylists own. boots, Pierre Hardy.
fur with pearl details, laurence & Chico.Earrings, CastleCliff NYC.
top, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini.skirt, Land of Distraction.
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