“This was an X-ray taken of me in 2017,” Jessa Graves says, holding up a flimsy, black transparency in a video on the Kickstarter page for her new project’s forthcoming full-length, Marathon, “and these are my insides. And this record and my music is everything that is inside of me.”
After a tumultuous four-year break from songwriting marked by health issues, Graves has a lot to share. The impetus for the hiatus?
“I had my heart absolutely obliterated by music,” Graves reveals. “From pretty early on I felt and knew that music was my path and my purpose. The band I had built in my early 20s was well on its way to success.”
Graves’ band, HelloKopter (also a moniker she performed under as a solo artist), made some waves in the Portland scene, rocking at small- and mid-sized venues including the Doug Fir and Hawthorne Theatre. One breakthrough moment came at TEDxBend in 2013. Unfortunately, the rest of the band was late for their original timeslot, but Graves’ solo performance impressed the organizers of the event so much that they altered the schedule to allow her to play with the full band later on in the program.
But then, “it all fell apart,” Graves says. “All of that time and love and energy just, gone. I distanced myself from music as a whole, didn’t play my instruments, didn’t sing, didn’t go to shows. I really shut down for a while and fell into what was a pretty dark time in my life. In hindsight, the separation almost killed me and I was a shell of a person—scrambling, desperately trying to find the thing that could possibly come close to fulfilling me.”
“In 2016, I was aching for expression, teeming with all the stored up hurt and experience. Then I wrote ‘Leap Year’ and J. Graves was born.” More emotionally raw and a bit higher energy than HelloKopter, J. Graves gushes with vocals reminiscent of Karen O and Corin Tucker, and fans of Riot Grrrl will appreciate the punk sparseness of the instrumentation, which includes Barret Stolte on bass and Aaron MacDonald on drums (while Dave Yeager covered drums on the record).
In addition to the emotional toll she took when she separated herself from music, Graves also struggled with her physical health, and returning to her passion also signaled a transition into taking better care of her body. “In late 2017, I had some health issues that became the catalyst for a massive lifestyle change,” Graves explains. The chest X-ray on the album’s cover “was the first of many tests I went through while my doctor was trying to get to the bottom of whatever was happening.”
In 2018, the same year that Graves laid down the tracks for her first full-length at The Map Room, she ran a marathon and quit smoking. “I ran my first marathon in 2018 and the creation and release of this record will be my second,” she says.
And though she absolutely believes the record saved her life, it wasn’t without some grueling work and, at times, uncertainty.
“You cannot control the things you cannot control, and the mind is a very, very powerful thing,” Graves says. “Please go hug a musician that has released a record. It’s so much work and love and what I can personally attest to as an extension of their being.”
With feelings that strong, and a darker period in her life behind her, Graves says, “This record as a whole is a massive chapter closed. This record is paying tribute to all those years while also announcing my return to, really, what I should have been doing all along. I’ll never stop again, I just can’t.”
UPCOMING RELEASE: Marathon out September 13