Being Honest: An Interview with Jessie Reyez
Live your truth. It’s enticing to live according to adages and calendar slogans, but very rarely do we think of what that truly means; truth is subjective, but always real. James Baldwin once wrote, “There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves,” and in those “things,” there is the truth. Jessie Reyez is living and singing her truth, she presents and stands by it, in its trial and its glory. In the song “Figures” she says to a lover, “I gave it all and you gave me shit.” It’s a thing people feel, at the end, but Reyes doesn’t judge the entirety by the end: “Figures I am willing to stay cause I’m sick for your love.”
“I don’t think I did it intentionally,” says Reyez of her truthful style. “I feel like my objective is always to be honest, and I feel like life isn’t really black and white. So if you’re stuck in a relationship or if you’re hurt, you can’t help but ignore that at one point before that hurt starts to happen. There were good times, you know? It’s kind of like a ying and yang that I feel like has been depicted by nature of being honest.”
Honesty is a word that one could easily associate with Reyez’s EP, Kiddo. A look at life, perhaps her life, but life in a place of discovery in its various forms, a search for meaning in the living while still believing in the life. Relationships are part of that life, but there is also a song like “Gatekeeper,” a cautionary tale of the music industry from its patriarchal sexist hierarchies. “Thirty million people want a shot, How much would it take for you to spread those legs apart?”
A sobering but true tale — with a killer video — that depicts the idea of fame being connected to “one hand washing the other.” But that is the truth, the tarnish of the dream, but not the destruction of that dream, and in talking with Reyez, it’s never lost that even in darkness we should focus on the light. Reyez is in, but not beholden to, “the industry” — she’s in touch with the fact that definition is not the goal, that there is still the journey, there is still more to do and say.
“It’s not my prerogative for me to peg who I think I am. It goes back to the question of being honest, and if being honest means four or five different sounding songs are gonna come outta me, that’s just what’s gonna come out. I feel like the theme in a lot of my music is not genre, it’s something else; I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s human, I don’t know because I feel like there are so many other dope artists out there who have it, too, that can jump between genres and jump between what other people feel they need to define them as and it’s just a creation and hoping people resonate with it.”
So yes, you may get a gut wrenching ballad like “Figures,” you may get a kiss off banger like “Shutter Island,” you may get a dancefloor/trap romp like “Blue Ribbon,” or you may get something aspirational and inspirational like “Great Ones.” No matter what, you will always get Jessie Reyez, and that is that the main ingredient; style accentuated, not style defined. Still, it is easy to get caught up, it’s easy to become jaded, but you will not kill the vibe. Reyes is overwhelmingly and refreshingly appreciative of what she has been given. But also, Reyez is aware of the long game.
“It’s a nonstop thing you know. It’s like if you are painter and you’re good at painting, you can only sit there and look at it for a few seconds, and then, okay, what’s next? If it’s in your nature to make, if it’s your nature to express,” notes Reyez. “It’s interesting in this climate where sometimes projects go overlooked and it’s more strategic to drop select songs, one at a time as singles, and I feel like it’s important to remember content versus context, and what the climate calls for, but also how I want to deliver the next message I put out. So it’s a matter of stepping back and taking those two things into account and working with the same compass in regards to making it as honest and as potent as possible and as real to who I am.”
Reyez will have you stuck in the realness, but the reality is ever changing and evolving, and that is what she hopes to do: to become and express, progression and all the beauty that accompanies that, not to rest on her laurels, but also to remember treasures in the travails.
“I pray before shows with my team and I thank the positive energy and the blessing received, and speaking of songs or singing the songs, those emotions are still potent, those emotions still affect me. It’s interesting because people respond to it and they respond with love. I am singing about something that messed up my heart and brought me to pieces, but I see someone singing it back to me, but they’re singing with love and it’s such a contrast. That contrast creates energy, and after shows when people come up to me and tell me how the music’s affected them, or how their kids liked the music and it’s helped in raising their kids, things like that, that warms my heart. It’s almost like purpose. It’s like who cares if you’re tired, if you’re able to do this, who cares that you’re tired, you’re blessed. It doesn’t fucking matter if I’m tired. Someone quoted it, I don’t who quoted it, but it’s like, ‘You can’t be sad and grateful at the same time.’ It’s impossible to feel those two emotions [simultaneously], so if ever you find yourself in darkness and you find things to be grateful for it wards off negativity.”
Jessie Reyez performs 6/23 at House Of Blues