In conversation and onstage at Hollywood venues like Bardot and Sunset Marquis, singer Jessica Childress projects accessibility and authority, wailing with the earthy confidence of a woman who knows herself and exactly what she needs. She describes her personality as “big, loud, aggressive, and wild.” It’s ironic that after being eliminated from the fourth season of “The Voice,” she wondered if she failed because she didn’t know what she wanted to do.
The show’s setup invites vulnerability. As a contestant, Childress was introduced to a vast audience she couldn’t have reached playing clubs, but at the time she was a corporate publicist who occasionally sang with Vaud & the Villains; she was still discovering herself as an artist. She describes her overall “Voice” experience as “profoundly positive” as well as profoundly challenging.
“It was my first actual gig,” she explains. “The first lesson is, if you don’t know who you are, they will quickly tell you. There were so many young people who had been in the music business for years and years and years, and had done major things or had deals or were trying to get their second deal — it was incredibly intimidating. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up as a musician. I was so lost, man. I knew that I didn’t want to be like a super sexy, vixen-y R&B star. But I didn’t know [laughs] what I wanted. I ended up doing a lot of Bruno Mars stuff, and it was disorientating.”
Ultimately, she determined it was not a failure but “an opportunity to be thoughtful” about her music. Being recognized and encouraged by audience members emboldened her as she recorded a soul EP, 2014’s “Don’t Forget My Name,” and developed her piano chops and live show. “I thought, I can’t let this be a period; it has to be an ellipsis to something way better, way more Jessica, my whole personality exposed to the world,” she says. “I found my identity through performing, and my courage.”
Her full-length album “Days,” set for January release, boasts a more expansive sonic palette befitting its varied moods. Songs like “Some Days” and “Waves” track an arc of growth and sometimes stormy change. Childress says she’s inspired by the visual language of Russian novelists like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky: “It gives me mind pictures. My imagination starts to go, and then I hear a melody in my head; that’s how I write songs. Dark situations, whether they be personal or in a book, get my juices flowing. …
“I wanted ‘Days’ to feel really authentic and tell the story of my coming into myself as a woman, especially as a black woman. … I feel good about what I’m saying and what I look like. I feel good about the music I’m putting out.”
Jessica Childress and band play Holidayfest at the Shops on Lake Avenue, 345 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena, 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, followed by James Supercave and the Warbly Jets. Free admission. Info: (626) 792-1259. Please see page 15 for a related story. jessicachildressmusic.com, southlakeavenue.org