We caught up with Jessica Clemmons of Jess and the Bandits part way through the band’s current Carols by Candlelight tour around UK cities. From rebuilding her career after becoming a mum (check out her single Emotional Baggage), to co-writing with some of the UK’s best-known country artists, Jess reveals future plans and hints that we might not have long to wait before we see her on these shores again.
With latest single Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree under her belt, which features a bonus track of White Christmas, the Texas-based singer-songwriter says she is loving being back in the UK. She played what she calls a “re-introduction and introduction” tour here in May and wanted to come back again to spread some Christmas cheer.
Jess explains: “At the end of 2020, we released our Christmas album (Christmas in the Country) and of course, due to just a little global pandemic and uncertainty of those two years, we didn’t get to do anything about it, we just released the music and that was pretty much it.
“After doing the tour in May, which I called a re-introduction tour and was in a sense, an introduction tour to a lot of people, we decided to not leave it so long before I came back.
“We wanted to use this opportunity to do a Christmas tour, play some of the songs from the Christmas album, but also throw in some Jess and the Bandits and make this a bit different. And enjoy the fact we can celebrate together and have a wonderful time and not live in this sense of uncertainty anymore.”
At the time we chatted, Jess had already played Manchester and Newcastle and says: “It has been wonderful. One of the things I find really interesting is that at every gig I always like to ask “who has seen Jess and the Bandits before?”, and it’s really nice to look out and see so many new people who have never seen us play, who have come to this gig to enjoy the festivities of Christmas and kick off the Christmas season.”
One of the highlights, she says, is finding out the number of people who have been following her career for so many years. Having been a regular visitor to the UK since she was a teenager (she has family in Winchester), she has supported bands including the Overtones and Boyzone and, having formed Jess and the Bandits in 2014, appeared on TV shows including ITV’s Lorraine and Sky’s Sunrise show.
“I have been visiting the UK since I was about 13 or 14, we came every summer to visit my aunt and uncle and visit my cousins, travelling around. I had no idea then, when I was just a teenager, that my career was going to bring me back, so that was pretty incredible.”
Flashback to 2017 and the release of Smoke & Mirrors
The band’s 2017 sophomore album, Smoke & Mirrors, debuted at number one in the UK Country Music Chart and over the years, the band has performed at festivals including C2C, Black Deer Festival and Buckle and Boots.
“At shows on this tour, it was so cool to see people that have been following me from prior to Jess and the Bandits, when I was just Jessica Clemmons releasing singles and I did the Boyzone tour…how many people came up and said I’ve been following you since then.
“That’s so amazing, because these two years have brought everything to a standstill. It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that all the hard work and effort that you did prior to that didn’t go to waste. It’s just been so nice to get back in front of people and do what I feel I was born to do.”
All Jess’s Bandits are UK-based musicians – she describes the band as “one part Texan, the other part British” – and they hook up whenever she comes to the UK, while also playing other gigs in between and sometimes writing together long distance.
On the Carols by Candlelight tour, she’s also flying the flag for more UK country acts, inviting different artists to share the stage, including Poppy Fardell, Danny McMahon and The Jackson Line.
She likes to think she has been at the forefront of the new wave of UK country, explaining: “I’ve been involved in this UK country world since, my goodness, it feels like prior to The Shires and Ward Thomas…
“I released a single Tonight and it went out on radio and then all of a sudden we had The Shires and Ward Thomas and all sorts of other country acts started popping up. It’s been really cool to see, even just in the past three years, how many new UK country artists have been coming up. Something I love is it’s not UK country artists trying to be American country, it’s really nice to see them embracing UK country.”
Jess recorded Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree because she says it is one of her all time favourite songs, and she is busy working on a new album, including zoom co-writes with Nashville writers. She is also looking forward to collaborating on more writes in 2023 with British artists, among them Jade Helliwell and Jess Thristan, as well as Kezia Gill and others.
When time allows she also writes with her Bandits band-mates but acknowledges that with their schedules it can be difficult.
Laughing, she says: “They are always so busy. If they’re not playing with me, they’re playing with someone else. We don’t collaborate as much as we’d like to, but we try to get a few writes in.
“I love working with other people, seeing what they can bring to the table and especially, that aspect of bringing in the other part of that American/British feel, because it really can give a whole new take on a song and give it its own life.”
A new single Hey Girl is planned for early next year and the band is currently working on a new album.
“I wanted to make sure this is done right. That the songs are very well thought out, that we pick the right ones, because not only are we delivering something that a lot of fans have been waiting for for a long time, we’re also delivering something to a whole new audience that has just started coming up within the last few years.
“We’ve got to make sure this is done thoughtfully…all albums are, but I think sometimes, there’s a little added pressure, and because of that you want to do everything you can to get it right.”
Recording has already begun and she describes the process as “getting demos of as many songs as possible into a giant pot” before listening to them and starting to piece them together like a puzzle. Once the final songs are chosen, new versions will be recorded.
Last September, Jess released the single Emotional Baggage, a heartfelt – but also humorous – look at life as a Mum. Among the lyrics are the lines ‘I used to hold a drink, now it’s sippy cups and diapers’, words that no doubt many can relate to.
“People are really enjoying that song and it’s really relatable to people who have been in the caretaker role in any sense in their life. I had a fan tell me the other night, she doesn’t have children, but she is taking care of her parents and she said she feels so guilty feeling this way, because she loves them wants to do this for them, but she is so tired. And I’m like ‘it’s ok’, anyone that has been in that role, can I think, relate to the song, it seems to be going down really well.”
She has talked candidly about having children and the challenges of rebuilding her career, so we asked if giving up her music was ever on the table.
“It’s never been an option to give it up. Those couple of years with covid and lockdowns, I felt like there was a part of me that was just ‘gone’ and it was a terrible feeling.
“There are so many people, when I announced I was pregnant the first time, who said ‘…well, I guess her career is over’…what a terrible thing. Would anyone ever say that to a man?
“But it is really difficult to manage both, because there’s the creative side – it’s not just getting out and touring and travelling – that’s a whole ‘nother world in itself because I bring my family with me and the expense and travelling with little ones brings its own challenges.
“And then there’s the challenges of finding the time and the energy to be creative, because you’re so busy taking care of your children and keeping them fed and happy, by the time you get ‘you time’, you’re like ‘or I could just sleep and have a glass of wine’ (laughter).”
Jess has brought her hubby and two boys (aged three and 18 months) on this trip and says they are loving the travelling and having a great time.
Playing in Leeds tonight (December 6) and with more UK dates over the next week (see below) and new music to come, I asked Jess if she has any UK festival plans on the horizon for 2023.
“Not that I can mention,” she says coyly. “But we do have some things in the pipeline, so my next trip over should not be anywhere near as long (apart) as the others.”
Fingers crossed then that Jess and her Bandits will be back again before too long – in the meantime, grab yourself a ticket to this tour to get you in the Christmas spirit.
Dec 7 – Bristol, Exchange
Dec 11 – The Camden Club
Dec 13 – Chelmsford, Hotbox
For tickets, visit https://jessandthebandits.com/#tour
All music available to stream through the usual outlets.