Having performed at the Grammy Awards in front of industry icons including Beyonce, been credited in both Pitch Perfect films and hailing from a family that have written songs for the legendary Frank Sinatra, Jessica Rotter has been surrounded by music from a young age. Now, having followed her heart, she’s pursued her passion for song-writing and performing and released her own album, Plains, to the acclaim of both fans and critics. With dreams of sharing a stage with Radiohead and touring the world, Jessica kindly agreed to this interview to talk social media, upcoming shows and the impact of Regina Spektor on her own career plans.
PW: How would you sum yourself up in five words?
Jessica Rotter: Free-spirited dreamer, colorful, intuitive, spiritual.
PW: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
JR: I first realized it when I was a little girl and I loved singing and performing and would daydream about winning a Grammy. I realized it next as an adult when I couldn’t help but write music and felt like I should play it for other people and then couldn’t stop playing it and had to share it.
PW: You come from a rather musical family and your grand-father wrote songs for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. How did that influence your decision to want to be part of the music industry?
JR: I think knowing my family was already active in the industry and successful made everything feel accessible. I had no problem dreaming big because I was always around dreamers and more importantly doers.
PW: Was there one particular album you bought or concert you attended that made you think 'yeah, I want to do that’?
JR: There have been countless moments like that but one I can remember vividly in my young adult life was when I saw Regina Spektor and the minute her hands hit the piano I started tearing up - and then hearing the audience sing along made me equally emotional. It is so beautiful to see how an artist can reach an audience. I find myself getting choked up when audiences sing along. Even/especially at my own shows.
PW: Which bands or artists most influenced you growing up and have those influences changed much as you've gotten older?
JR: I was definitely more into pop music as a teen than I am now. I listened to Britney and Christina and really loved Hilary Duff in middle school/high school! But I got very into folk music in college - after a brief emo band phase - and artists like Nickel Creek, Sufjan Stevens and Jose Gonzales were big inspirations for me. Now I listen to a blend of everything but I am a big fan of people who use sound in unexpected ways.
PW: You underwent classical training at Pepperdine University, studying opera, musical theatre and directing for theatre and film. What did those studies teach you and how have they helped you advance your career?
JR: Studying voice was obviously helpful because I could build myself as a singer and performer but studying directing has been the most beneficial to me especially in the creation of this album. It taught me communication skills that are so helpful in my collaborative relationships as well as being aware of the messages I am conveying in my art and in the studio. I was just thinking about the theatre of a stage show too. A concert is kind of a mini musical if you want it to be! I love it.
PW: Who or what most inspires you when it comes to your song-writing?
JR: Nature, love, interpersonal relationships, internal struggles and sometimes totally fictional situations I imagine. So, everything.
PW: Is creating a song something that comes easy to you or can it depend on the subject matter?
JR: It depends - usually it’s pretty easy. I have to work a little bit harder if someone wants me to write something based on a prompt or to music that is already written.
PW: In your opinion, which is the greatest song ever written and why?
JR: “Landslide”. I can’t get sick of it. It’s so real.
PW: Your album Plains was released in the spring. How would you sum it up and do you have a favorite track on the collection?
JR: It’s about loneliness and love - being alone and being free and how those feelings can co-exist. Also being in love and how that love can warp and shift and manipulate or liberate. I think “Flying Off” is my favorite because of the way it builds and falls apart and paints a really cool picture.
PW: What did producer Cazz Brindis and mixer Scott. M Smith who has worked with the likes of Katy Perry, bring to the creative process?
JR: Cazz has been one of my collaborators since college and he is really brilliant. He brought a musicality and partnership to this project that is really priceless. I am so honored to work with him and know him. Scott also brought his amazingly polished and knowledgeable ear to this album. His mixes are impeccable and his insights are spot on. He’s also a wonderful person with really fantastic taste.
PW: You've worked with artists including Sam Smith, Carole King and Daft Punk - what did you learn from those experiences and do you have any favourite memories?
JR: I learned to remember that regardless of anyone’s fame, people are people. All of those artists are incredibly down to earth and wildly talented. I was fortunate to be part of their musical work and the experiences felt magical. I have a lot of favorite memories from experiences like that but my best take away was - be nice and be you and treat everyone as your equal. And remember you’re their equal too. But still respect their talent!
PW: You've also performed at the Grammy's in front of some of the worlds' biggest artists including Beyonce. What was that like?
JR: It was definitely crazy thinking about the entire world watching you while in a stadium where the entire music industry is watching you… but yeah, I could still only think about Beyonce sitting in the front row. She’s majestic.
PW: I'd like you to choose your dream show line up consisting of four bands or artists who can be living or dead. Who would you pick and why, and where would you play?
JR: Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Radiohead - at outside lands in San Francisco. All white males? What’s wrong with me!? Sorry, justice - the value, not the band!
PW: You're also credited in Pitch Perfect 1 & 2 as well as Frozen. What can you tell me about the processes you underwent for those movies and is appearing on the big screen something you'd like to do more of in future?
JR: I love being part of movies. It’s super fun and it feels like teamwork. The Pitch Perfect movies were cool because we built out those acapella parts in a really soloistic way. We each got to sing different parts and make them our own and put a ton of character into all of it.
PW: What are your thoughts on social media and how important would you say it is for artists such as yourself to be socially interactive?
JR: Social media is so weird and crazy and super important - but is it? It infiltrates your brain and I am a better artist without it but a better promoter with it. I have a hard time writing songs if I’m too socially interactive on the internet. I might go a little silent when I really dig into my next album. All this promo for this album is starting to drive me insane! But it is really good for one thing - giving fans a place to reach out. And I love hearing from people!
PW: Would you agree that social media can be very much a double edged sword, and do you think you'd have earned the support you have without it?
JR: Yes, like I just said - I think a lot of my fans have found me through websites like NoiseTrade and PledgeMusic and other websites and podcasts and other people know me from my shows in LA but I do think social media deepens that fan connection. People are able to really engage because of it.
PW: What are your upcoming performance plans?
JR: I’ll still be playing shows in LA and will be getting around to other cities slowly but surely! It’s hard to travel with a band at this level but I want to be able to bring this music on the road!
PW: Finally then, where would you like to see yourself five years from now and what's your ultimate ambition as an artist?
JR: I see myself getting into composing a bit - collaborating with filmmakers and other visual artists. I hope I’ll be able to tour officially. And I definitely want to have lots of songs in lots of movies! My ultimate ambition is to be writing songs and singing with the freedom to work from anywhere in the world! First stop, London!
Check out the video for "Pray For Rain" below and for more information on Jessica Rotter, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Her album Plains is available now on itunes.