On her brand new album “The Demos” Jess Moskaluke bares all, figuratively speaking, as she includes stripped-down versions of three of the tracks to pull back the curtain on the songwriting process. The record also contains the full studio renditions of those songs, plus a handful of new recordings that have all of the bells and whistles. Jess worked virtually with her long-time producer Corey Crowder to create the album which features her number one hit “Country Girls”, “Halfway Home” and current Top 20 single “Mapdot”. “Mapdot” is a song about her hometown of Rocanville, Saskatchewan, although it’s really a tale of two towns, and that’s where she’s calling from to chat about her new release on this bitterly cold February afternoon.
“Yeah, even without the wind chill it’s like -30C here so we have a few degrees on you guys in Toronto,” she laughs. “I actually grew up in Langenburg but my husband and I have called Rocanville home for a good long time now. They’re only about 30 miles apart so they’re both definitely my hometowns. We shot the video for the song in both of these towns and people were so pumped when they saw the video crews out and about. I’ve had a really positive and encouraging response. It’s been kind of an emotional ride just knowing that people feel the same way about their hometown as I do.”
The product of an ever-changing world, “The Demos” came to be after international travel came to a halt and it was inevitable that the platinum-selling award-winning country star wouldn’t be making it down to Nashville to record the new songs she had been working on. Jess had not initially planned on putting out a new album but the pandemic caused her to change course.
“I was bound and determined to go the ‘singles only’ route,” she confirms. “But then COVID hit and I realized it was going to be beneficial for my fans and my career if I released a full album, not knowing when I was going to be able to safely write or record the way that I used to. I dug into my catalogue and picked out some of my favourite songs that I hadn’t had the opportunity to release yet. A lot of those songs were demos, which means they were kind of half-finished. We polished and prettied those up and got them ready for the world to hear. It’s kind of a way for fans to see the development of three songs when you compare the finished versions to the actual demos which are also included on the album.
A demo can be an acoustic version of a song that’s recorded on your phone, but when I write I do it in the studio a lot of the time or I write to a track. That’s why there are sometimes a lot of instruments built into those demos. It’s kind of interesting to see where they start and where they end up.”
One thing that’s immediately apparent on the sparser songs is Jess’s strong vocals which are front and centre. Music Express wondered if part of the rationale behind “The Demos” was to really showcase the singer’s pipes.
“Thank you for that, but it’s so funny that you say that because I was nervous and I’ve been saying almost the opposite,” she admits. “I’ve been saying you guys get to hear all of my vocal flubs and whatever else in the demos.”
The songs on the album are varied. There’s a dyed-in-the-wool country number called “Drive His Truck”, in which the guy in the song shows his love for his main squeeze by letting her drive his pick-up. (“In my case, it’s more likely that my husband will drive my car”) Changing gears, the singer then pours her heart into “No Place Like You”, a romantic number with a killer chorus. Jess co-wrote all of the album’s tracks so she’s really upped the ante from her first full-length release “Light Up the Night” in which her writing contribution was limited to only four tracks.
“I would say my confidence as a writer has grown a medium amount,” she says. “I’m still not the most confident writer in the world but I know that I’ve improved by leaps and bounds from my first album to where I’m at now. It has always been a goal of mine to write or co-write every song, so I wrote a little bit more of every album we did. I’ve always said that I’m a singer and performer first and a writer second, but it does feel really great to have had a hand in every song on this record.”
Jess goes outside the box a bit on “Nothing I Don’t Love About You”, a song that’s driven by a funky guitar lick. It sounds as if she may be channelling her inner Stevie Wonder or Earth, Wind & Fire.
“I wouldn’t say those specific artists, because they’re not quite in my wheelhouse,” she chuckles.
“I think it was something that we had written intentionally knowing that it was a different sound for me. It was something to shake things up a little bit and have some fun with. It’s definitely more rock-oriented than my typical pop-country sound.”
Another track that jumps out at the listener is “Leave Each Other Alone”, Jess’s duet with Australian singer/songwriter Travis Collins. For her it was a case of ask and ye shall receive, in what turned out to be a dream come true for her.
“I met Travis in Australia during my first shows there in 2019. I was using his band so he and I got to know each other over the course of my stay there. The first time I heard him perform I was blown away by his smoky, raw and incredibly powerful voice. I thought, man, singing with him is a bucket list item so I just kind of threw it out to him and his management team. I said that I have an album coming out that I would love him to sing on and he agreed. I sent him the song and suggested it could be a duet and he loved it. We were able to turn it around super-duper quickly.”
The last year has been a rough one on musicians who have had their tour revenue flow cut off by the pandemic. To help offset this loss Jess launched an entrepreneurial venture ‘Handpicked by Jess’, a carefully curated collection of local ethically sourced specialty items that includes everything from coffee to lip polish.
“It’s a box specifically curated by me that is handpicked full of some of my favourite items from some of my favourite brands. The first line of items was specifically from the Prairies, all wrapped up in a beautifully designed box. It sold out in just under two minutes so we’re working on a second one right now. We would like to do two or three every year.”
Jess has won a truck-load of awards to date including three Canadian Country Music Association Awards for Female Artist of the Year, and a 2017 Country Album of the Year Juno for “Kiss Me Quiet”. The singer has been on a steady roll from the time Music Express first spoke to her in 2014, a time when she made the decision to pursue a musical path over a white-collar career.
“I think I made the right choice,” she says. “Music is something that takes up 99% of my time, and the other 1% is eating, sleeping and hanging out with my friends and family. I’m in it for the long haul, but right now I’m just going to be selfish and enjoy the current ride. I want to celebrate this record and the fact that I’m able to do something creative and exciting despite all of the negativity and uncertainty in the world. It’s incredibly difficult to look to the future as none of us have any idea of what that’s going to look like. I’m going to take the high road and just celebrate the here and now.”
Other Country Stuff:
Building on the success from a breakout 2020, Jade Eagleson, the pride of Baillieboro Ontario, is kicking off this year with the release of a steamy new single, “All Night To Figure It Out.” The song inspires a bit of a Meatloaf flashback when the love-struck Jade wails “I’d do anything you want right now.” According to the singer, “When I first heard ‘All Night To Figure it Out,’ I couldn’t wait to get into the studio because it’s the kind of song that would push me outside of my comfort zone.”
Multi-platinum, award-winning entertainer Tim Hicks has released a new single “The Good, The Bad and The Pretty”. Co-penned along with Derek Hoffman and Deric Ruttan, “The Good, The Bad and The Pretty” is the first release off his forthcoming EP, out later this year. Of the song, Hicks says, “‘The Good, The Bad and The Pretty” is about that one bar in every town, and it represents a lot of the bars I played on a nightly basis for years. I made a lot of good friends in places like that. The best people. The kind that’d give you the shirt off their back if you needed it, and they did. I wanted to pay tribute to them.”
Shantaia Poulin will be releasing her new single “Had A Good Weekend” on February 26. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Shantaia has opened shows for some of Nashville’s biggest names including Kane Brown and Chris Lane. Summing up the song succinctly, the singer says “It’s about making a weekend with your friends so memorable that you’re waking up still hungover on Monday morning. I hope it can bring up all the good pre-pandemic times.”
Nashville-based alt-rock band Moon Taxi has released their sixth full-length album, Silver Dream, which contains their latest single “Say”. While the band has undoubtedly earned its place as hometown heroes in Nashville – selling out two consecutive nights at the famed Ryman Auditorium – they have also electrified crowds at festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo
Mark it in your calendar, Southern Ontario country-rockers Johnson’s Creek are scheduled to play Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern on Friday, April 23, 2021. Fingers crossed that it will happen, and in order to whet your appetite, here’s a virtual performance video of the band’s smokin’ “Light Up The Honky Tonk.
And now for something completely different…
Open Spaces would like to give a shout-out to KAAJE, a Waterloo-based Emo/Punk/Rock band whose debut release, “Things We Least Desire” is now available for streaming. Drummer Matt Parker describes it as the kind of music that makes you flashback and think “wouldn’t this be a great MySpace album.” Open Space’s favourite track is “Shel Silverstein” a tribute to the man who wrote Johnny Cash’s “A Boy named Sue” and Dr. Hook’s “Cover Of Rolling Stone”.